Why I Ditched My $2,800 Custom Theme For A Cheap Premium Theme

November 10, 2014

I remember it like it was yesterday. Become A Blogger had actually started making a decent income and I had some money to spend.

I had always seen many of the “big bloggers” invest a significant amount of money to get a custom theme built – one that would be 100% unique and 100% awesome.

It was my turn, and I was going to invest in getting exactly what I wanted.

So I did it, and $2,800 later I had something that looked awesome (well, at least in my mind).

I was 100% satisfied and received a lot of compliments from people who visited my blog.

11_10_Custom_Theme_PinterestA few weeks ago, I decided to get rid of this custom theme and just use a regular old premium theme. Why? Keep reading . . .

The truth about WordPress

I love WordPress because it gives you the ability to do almost anything you want. There are all kinds of plugins that you can use to add extra functionality.

If you want a blog that doesn’t look like a blog, you can have that. If you want . . . forget it . . . just know that you can basically have almost anything you want on WordPress.

As a result, the number of WordPress sites are increasing by leaps and bounds. According to estimates in the Usage Statistics and Market Share Report

Usage-Stats_Wordpress

With the internet reaching over a billion websites in September of 2014 , we’re talking over 230 million WordPress sites.

As great as this is for WordPress, it also makes us a target for hackers – the gangsters of the internet. Unfortunately, they take tremendous pride in finding security flaws and taking advantage of them.

The need to update

One of the great things about WordPress is that it gets updated on a regular basis, with multiple updates coming every month. The goal here is to try to stay on top of any security issues that arise over time.

Along with the updates to WordPress, plugin developers who are proactively working on their plugins are also constantly releasing updates. The same goes for theme developers. They update their themes to work seamlessly with the new versions of WordPress and to patch any security flaws that arise.

proactive_designers_Custom Theme

I’ve been the target of hacking numerous times over the last six years, and let me tell you – it’s not fun. So I try to be as proactive as possible about ensuring that my blog is as secure as possible.

Edited to add: As DebG pointed out in the comments, this is not an issue if the theme developer creates a child theme. It makes it so that you can update the original parent theme without affecting the custom child theme that was built. You can see Elegant Theme's child theme tutorial to find out more. Thanks for adding that bit of info Deb.

The problem with custom themes

As much as I consider having a well-done custom theme to be the ideal scenario, I’ve come to realize that it’s not a realistic scenario for where I am in my business.

If you pay a quality designer to create an awesome WordPress theme for you, whether from scratch or as a child theme (modified version) of another theme, you end up with a great theme that doesn’t get updated or fixed, unless you are willing and able to pay them (or someone else) what it takes to update them.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

AngryA while back, someone hacked into my site and inserted a bunch of code into the theme files that resulted in a bunch of malicious links added to my site. After doing a bunch of work, I was able to find the files that were affected. So I deleted the code and thought to myself – “Yes, I figured it out”.

Unfortunately, they did it in a way that even if I deleted the code, it got automatically reinserted into the theme file and I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

In another situation, my site started taking a long time to load and we figured out that it was because of issues that arose with my theme over time.

At a certain point, I got so fed up, that I decided to simply install a premium theme from a trusted site – one that I knew would get updated whenever there were security flaws found.

When issues arise

As a point of comparison, after making the switch back to an unmodified premium theme, I had a similar issue happen to my site. Some idiot hacked me again and inserted code in the site that resulted in malicious links.

However, in this situation, instead of combing through the code of my site, I went back to the site I got the theme from, re-downloaded the theme and just replaced the old – problem solved in approximately five minutes.

Every so often, I go into my WordPress admin area and see that there’s a new update. I get the warning that if I have any customizations, they could be lost when I do the update. I smile and think to myself – “Ha, I don’t have any of those silly things”, and just click the update link without thinking twice.

I have an entire team of developers behind me without having to pay for a ton of developers, and feel much more at ease than I’ve ever been before. Life is good (well, at least better than it has been).

thumbs_upYou can still customize

The beauty of a premium theme that is well done is that you still do have the ability to customize that theme using the theme’s built-in features.

You can customize basic features such as the header, logo, font, etc. In some themes, they come with a bunch of different page layouts that you can choose from.

With a few, they even allow you to basically build your own design. I give examples of these themes later on.

Will I ever go back?

I still consider having a custom theme to be ideal. You are able to do so much more, and get EXACTLY what you want.

However, I’ve decided not to get a custom theme again until my business can afford to have a team of people behind me actively working on optimizing and updating that theme.

I can see it now – they will be constantly split-testing different elements of the blog to see what’s working and what isn’t. They’ll be proactive about looking for ways to increase conversion. They will always be making sure that the blog is as secure as it can be.

For right now, that ain’t happening, and I’m ok with it.

Premium themes I recommend

There are many premium theme sites out there. However, I can only recommend the ones that I use and trust. Here are a few:

Elegant Themes  – I love this site because they have a lot of nice themes at one very affordable price. My favorite theme is their Divi theme, because of the flexibility it has to come up with all kinds of cool designs. You can customize it in so many ways, without going beyond its built-in features. For an example, check out Cassandre Beccai’s Blog (my partner in blogging crime).

Elegant-Theme

Woothemes – This one is a little more on the pricey end, but they are good at what they do. They go beyond just themes to plugins that help you expand the functionality of your site. They also have a very customizable theme called Canvas. However, you have to know a little bit of that coding stuff and have a very keen eye to come up with something awesome.

WooThemes

The X Theme – This is the WordPress theme I’m currently using at Become A Blogger. I love it for one reason – you have the ability to create an unlimited number of designs. However, it does take a bit more work to really come up with something completely custom. The default options are AWESOME, and they have something like 44 customized templates that you can download and import that all give your site a different look and feel.

X-Theme

Whenever I’m in need of a new design, I just go to one of these sources and choose the one that jumps out at me for the purpose I need it.

Side note: if you’re just starting out, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going with a free theme from the WordPress repository. The main reason I choose not to go with free is that the developers aren’t incentivized to keep the theme updated. When you are paying people, they are more likely to deliver value.

What about you?

Are you using WordPress? If so, where did you get your WordPress theme? Let me know in the comments below.

Related Posts

46 Comments

  • Hi, Leslie,

    I switched this year from Thesis to Studiopress’ Genesis. I love it and it can be updated with one click!

    Great article,
    Sue

    • Yeah, I always found Thesis to be a challenge to work with. Studiopress’ themes are pretty solid. I’ve used them in the past. A bit more technical than some of the others but the foundation is pretty strong.

  • Dawn Jumper says:

    Thanks for the helpful info! I’m researching the best way to start a new site now.

    I am not tech savvy—- which themes are truly EASY to set up and have good tech support for questions?

    Looking for nice looking blog, email list building, ability to use plug ins for social media.

    • Hi Dawn,

      Glad to have you here. I would recommend checking out my free videos first to find out how to go about setting up your site. You don’t even have to sign up to access them.

      In terms of themes, I mention a few in the post that I think are really good. Divi is great but it’s not very easy to set up. However, both Elegant Themes and Woothemes have some nice themes that are easy to set up.

  • DebG. says:

    I agree with you completely, Leslie, but…

    as a Web Designer who LOVES working with Elegant Theme’s Divi, I would ALWAYS recommend that everyone use a Child Theme. I’m not sure if I understood you correctly, but a Child Theme would have saved you all the headaches you talked about in your post. You do all your customizations in your Child Theme and then update your actual WordPress theme at any time for any reason (security updates, etc.) without fear of losing any of your customizations. That’s the whole point of a Child Theme. It’s the first thing I do on any new installation of WordPress.

    I know there are a lot of people out there that don’t want to mess with anything “under the hood” of WordPress – no matter how simple… Here’s Elegant Themes easy-to-follow method of how to create a Child Theme:

    http://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/resources/wordpress-child-theme-tutorial

    but there are also WordPress plugins that will create Child Themes for you lickety-split! One of them is: One-Click Child Theme

    Hope all that helps and thanks for your post!

    Deb

    • Thanks for adding that bit of info. I should’ve spoken about Child Themes in the post. I’ve added a section in the part dealing with Updating your theme and referenced you (and linked to your site). Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  • Cedric Earl says:

    x would be perfect for affiliate sites.

  • Rochelle Knight says:

    Thanks for the info Leslie. I am thinking of starting a blog soon and this information was very helpful!!

  • I had my blog revamped at the start of the year, I hired a developer and based on the information you & DebG shared, I’m even more confident that I went with the right developer. She created my blog using a Child Theme. I didn’t get it (I didn’t need to, I’m a shoe blogger) lol but I am happy that she knew that this would protect me & my fabulous shoes over time. I’m dangerous enough to myself without worry of hackers (completely wiped my blog out last week, all 5 years of it) had to get help for that too but at least a hacker is less of a worry now with this knowledge. Thanks Leslie & DebG 🙂

  • Peter says:

    Hi Leslie,

    I do use WordPress and I’m using a WordPress framework. I’m using the framework from the guys at Headway themes.

    It also gives me great flexibility and I can create any kind of layout that I want. I’ve also installed visual composer plugin and it has been such a blessing.

    I know that your familiar with visual composer because it comes bundled with X Theme. X Theme is a great theme and I really like the people that are behind it. You can be sure that their team will always update the theme.

    Thanks Leslie 🙂

    • I’ve heard of Headway themes, but I don’t know anything about it. Glad it works for you. And yes – the visual composer ROCKS. Makes it much easier to get something that looks awesome.

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

    • Ed says:

      I too use Headway. It’s a drag & drop framework that’s super flexible.

      In my opinion (and experience grrrr) it’s often through a plug in that hackers make their move. (I’m hoping there’s a special place in hell for those jerks).

      I would highly recommend checking the update logs of any plugin that one is considering installing. If there’s been a WordPress update in the last few months but no updates to the plug in since before that, STAY AWAY!

      Thanks Leslie! You’re the man!

    • Wow, a lot of you guys are using the headway theme. I just checked it out. Seems to have some decent flexibility, like the one I’m using.

      And yes – I too think that hackers suck. I just don’t know what they get out of it. I don’t even know how many times I’ve been hacked now.

      Good suggestion about the plugins. That can be a huge backdoor for hackers.

  • Steve Kerner says:

    I’ve been working on a book and my writer’s Meet Up group facilitator helped me create a blog on Blogger. I was told Google like Blogger as it’s there Blogging platform.

    It drives me crazy. Whatever I do to create a post never gets published the way I intended it to be. I will change to WordPress. It seems Google likes it also.

    Thanks for the good info.

  • Great post Leslie! This is exactly the reason I use a premium theme.

    I use to have Thesis Theme but I switched to StudioPress because of the ease to update the theme and framework with one click of a button.

    I to would love to have a customized theme but like you I just don’t have the team to back it up.

    This brings me to a question that I have for you. Is there a service or solution you recommend to protect your site from hacker?

    • Man, hacking is a huge deal. I use WP Curve and with their premium service, they not only take care of all your wordpress issues. They also will work to get your site fixed if it ever gets hacked. However, there’s no 100% successful way to protect your site from hacking. Having a good backup system and a good host go a long way.

  • I went to elegant themes after reading your article and found that you had to pay $69 just to look at the themes. That’s BS! Paying to buy a theme is one thing, paying just to look around is garbage. Also I don’t agree that you have to incentivize people with money. Some people respond strongly to that incentive, but some people can be incentivized by fame or reputation, or have internal incentives, such as curiousity or the desire to stay one step ahead of the hackers for the joy of thwarting them.

    • I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. On Elegant Themes, all you have to do is click on the big fat “View Our Themes” button and you can view all of their teams. I also have no idea what you’re talking about with the incentivizing. Did you read some other post and made a mistake and comment on mine?

  • Mary says:

    Thanks Leslie, I have always wondered about from “scratch” themes.

    I wondered how long they would function if they weren’t updated. They never seemed feasible for a blogger (like me).

    I know a little about child themes. I use one with the free version of weaver 2. It has a page with child themes and it is installed with a simple click.

    2 questions

    Does elegant themes have child themes available that easily?
    When you re-downloaded, did you lose your customizations?

    Thanks for the great blog. I have never been clear on any of this!

    • Yep, they allow you to have child themes. In terms of the customizations, it all depends on what kinds of customizations you have. If you customize a child theme then no, you don’t loose them.

  • Michelle says:

    I was so frustrated after having one of my shared hosting sites hacked (which then affected 5 other sites of mine!) that I switched the hosting for my highest priority site to WPEngine. After speaking to several techie guys, NONE of them suggested I just re-install the theme to fix the injected code problem! Is that really all one has to do???

    I really like the X Theme, but it’s so different that it makes me wonder if it’s as compatible with plug-ins as the other themes…do you know, Leslie?

    Thanks for clarifying that child themes are the versions you customize, while parent themes are what you update that keep your customizations in place.

    Thanks for this post!

    • I haven’t had any plugin issues with the X theme.

      Now, it also depends on the type of hacking that’s done. If WordPress gets hacked, then changing the theme won’t fix it. But if it’s related to the theme, then just reupload a new version. That’s what I’ve done.

  • Danielle says:

    Urghhhh couldn’t you have wrote this blog post 2 weeks ago before i paid my deposit on a theme!! *shakes fist at you* good thing she is only a fraction of what you paid for yours, but i’ll recommend this post to my other blogger friends.

  • Vickie Maris says:

    Thanks for your article Leslie. I recently switched away from Thesis and over to a Genesis theme (with the assistance of a web developer). I’ve been repositioning my biz and making changes and updates to my blog and website a little each day. When I added my podcast, I needed to change things around on the site. It’s still not exactly where I want it to be, but getting there. I echo your sentiments about protecting your site and having a backup.

    By the way, I get so many great tips from your podcast (and blog). Thanks for what you do. I just finished a new ebook that is out with reviewers right now. I called it Social Media First Steps: A Guide for Business. It’s targeted towards the new entrepreneur, small biz owner, blogger, or one-person marketing department who would like to get established in social media channels, but who needs a starting point and a sequence that makes sense. In my section about websites and blogging, I’ve referenced your site and podcast for my readers. I know they are going to get similar value from your content as I have. Thanks again! Vickie

    • Glad to hear that you are getting so much value from my content. That’s awesome. I hope to continue proving you with more and more value.

      Wishing you all the best with your new ebook. Keep taking action and you will see results.

  • David Braun says:

    Good article, Leslie. As a wordpress developer I mostly use iThemes themes, in particular those that have Builder as a foundation. They are pretty basic but VERY flexible. For example, on one of the sites I did, yoogozi.com, we have a page that looks completely different than anything else on the site. That is because each element in the site is wrapped in CSS classes that you can target, including a unique ID for each one and each page.

    I use their security plugin, iThemes Security Pro, on my sites, and the free version I’d recommend to everyone as it provides a nice level of security.

    It’s also important that you have your own backup solution and not rely on your host. Make sure you read their terms of service carefully. I remember reading one that says they will backup but in case something happens they’ll credit you a month’s service – like that will do me alot of good in case something happens!

    I’ve got lots more tips, but will leave you with this: make sure you create and upload your favicon…looks like you haven’t done it with your theme.

    Thanks, Leslie!

    • Yep, thanks for the reminder. I’ve had the favicon on my mental todo list for a while. So I just added one now. Thanks. It’ll change in the future, but it’s better than nothing 🙂

  • David Foster says:

    I really like X as well. I am putting together another site, and it is the one I am going to use. Thanks for the recommendation!!

  • Joan White says:

    Well I’m fairly new to all this but I hired a coach. He recommends OptimizePress so it is what I use on WP. Wouldn’t it have security built into it? Can I make a child with that? Where would I find info on how to do this? I downloaded a backup plugin and I backup my files, but should I save the files on my computer?
    I’m so glad I found this site, I’m learning lots
    Joan

    • Hi Joan,

      I actually used to use OptimizePress but I decided to stop because:
      1. Version 1 was VERY prone to hacking. There were some security flaws that resulted in a lot of people’s sites getting hacked. In one case, I had a friend who would all of a sudden had porn showing up on her site because of those security flaws.
      2. They came out with version 2, which I really liked, but it was just extremely slow and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

      So I’ve decided to wait OptimizePress out for a while and then check it out again in the future, in the hopes that they figure those issues out, because I do like its features.

      Concerning your other questions, I don’t think it has much security built into it based on past experiences. In terms of child themes, I wouldn’t worry about trying to make one. If you are using OptimizePress, just use its built in features and you should be fine. In terms of a backup plugin, it all depends on what plugin you’re using. If you tell me, I can give more specific advice.

      Blessings!

  • Brian says:

    Great post, Leslie. I use a Genesis theme with no customization for many of the same reasons.

    I think one of the fears people have with using a template is that a lot of other people will be using the same theme, but interestingly enough, most bloggers that have reached any level of popularity end up customizing their own theme.

    The only reason I think I would consider the custom route in the future is to speed up load time by reducing plugins and incorporating those functions into the theme.

    • It’s funny though – I think that most people who visit your blog will never run into another blog with the same theme even if you use a popular theme, unless you’re in a niche that’s related to internet marketing and online business. For most of the world, they just don’t care about things like WordPress Themes that much to even recognize.

      However, I do like the idea of speeding up load time by reducing plugins. If you have a great developer, that can definitely be done.

  • sonia says:

    Studiopress’ Genesis is best and light weight theme and security depend on your settings and directories permission.

  • Tracta says:

    Leslie, what’s your opinion on the MINGLE theme? I’ve been using it for quite a while now and for me it seems to work fine. Do you think that this theme doesen’t fit on a blog?

  • Kulwant says:

    Hi Leslie,

    I loved your points about a custom theme which are valid if we talk about frequency of WordPress updates and new technical additions like schema, rich snippet etc.

    I have one question – Why don’t you use genesis child theme? They are much faster than other + 100% SEO optimized.

    • I don’t have a problem with Genesis. However, I prefer the ones I’m using because they are easier to configure. I also wouldn’t say that they are much faster than all others. They are definitely good, but there are also many other great themes that are just as fast and just as SEO optimized.

  • Tyrone says:

    Hey Leslie,

    I was wondering are you still using the Membership Plugin by WPMU? Have you had any success integrating it with your current website so you don’t need to setup two websites? I’ve been having a lot of problems with this and not able to get it to work and integrate with the existing content and hide membership content. Any feedback is appreciated.

    Also what other membership plugin do you recommend that works?

    Thanks,

    • Man, I had to leave that plugin behind. Too many annoying issues. Biggest issue for me is that you can only have people purchase one product. I’m now back where I first started back in 2009 – Amember. It’s one of the oldest plugins available and is as solid as they get – and no limitations like many of the others, and trust me – I’ve done EXTENSIVE research.

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