Should You Pay To Install a Website Theme?

POSTED BY Liz Kennedy - 02.18.15 - Website design

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Perhaps your business has determined 2015 will be the year to do a website overhaul. Great move. Now you’ve been tasked to figure out “How much does a website cost to build?” There are many options on the table, from a completely custom build to a less expensive, template type solution.

Often for price-conscious businesses, the idea of a theme install is an attractive compromise. A theme is a design template with built-in functionality ready for content and configuration. They are like house plans, in that you still have some customization to do after purchase.

Rip-off or Right Move?

Recently, I saw a blog post about how charging someone to install a theme-based website is a rip-off, because, in theory at least, themes promise ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities. That claim really got to me because in my experience, few of those making these claims have any concept for what most people’s technical abilities are.

Themes are usually built around a focused use: blog, commercial, portfolio, ecommerce, etc.  You should test drive a theme before purchase by viewing a live demo of the site. This will also help you determine how much technical expertise you’ll need to customize it to your needs. Popular CMS platforms like WordPress have many theme designers and developers that have prepackaged themes available for purchase. You can browse for free or low-cost themes on or find pricier themes on marketplaces like

So Why Do I Need a Designer or Developer?

If you were going to build a house, would you just purchase the plans and then build it yourself? Probably not. Like blue prints, a theme is just a guide. It still needs configuration, website strategy and design sensibilities to make it come to life.

If you do plan to go it alone, expect the project taking twice as long as you anticipate and plan accordingly. Failing to allocate the appropriate time and resources will likely lead to DIY (Are you Done with It Yet?) Syndrome, and your anticipated costs savings will shrink as frustration with the pace mounts.

Common Causes of DIY Syndrome?

  • Other stakeholders failing to help produce content
  • Leaving everything to one person
  • Lack of technical support resources to help you push the site live
  • Lack of design skills
  • No contingency plans for when you break your email configuration (or something worse) in the process.

Many companies try to configure a theme on their own and end up bringing in a development team when they realize the complexity and time necessary to complete a ‘plug-and-play’ theme. 

Configuring a Theme – Professional Efficiency

Hiring an agency or development team is like hiring a general contractor to handle the day-to-day site building. Your project manager makes sure all obstacles are cleared before critical delays happen. The person in this role should be able to help you identify the functionality you need before the project begins so you don’t get shocked by a bill for scope creep at the end.

You need a designer to make sure your vision for your new website is realized. Some of the things a designer may do is to change the layout of the theme, create a color scheme, or modify the font scheme to match your business’ branding and site goals. They may also create custom graphics to help your site stand out, or draw attention to calls to action.

You need a developer to make sure everything works on all devices. The developer will make sure you have the functionality you need, or if necessary, be able to implement alternative solutions if the original theme doesn’t have all the functionality you need.

So a Website Theme Should be Cheaper, Right?

Web redesign costs for custom-developed sites are usually going to be more expensive than a theme-based solution but, obviously, more expensive than the cookie-cutter, type-in-the-boxes templates you can get for next to nothing. Depending on your needs and the level of customization needed, a theme install may actually end up being more expensive than a completely custom website.

Always have a conversation with a potential vendor first to see if your needs are best suited to custom or theme configuration.

Fusionfarm recommends an integrated approach to design, development and content marketing. This means having a specialist in each area and a single point-person or project manager to keep your project on schedule. Still puzzled about what steps to take next? Check out our redesign guide to get started.

Website Redesign Guide

Liz Kennedy

Liz Kennedy

Website Project Manager Liz Kennedy hails from a multi-disciplinary background. Her training in instructional design, multimedia, website development and deep understanding of small business helps Liz bridge the technical divide for customers going through the website development process. And she makes a mean potato salad.

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