WordPress versus a Bespoke Website: What’s the Better Option?

We discuss the virtues of going ready-made or custom-built

As a small business, a website is an integral part of your marketing toolkit. It’s your online presence where you can promote your products and services, raise brand awareness, build trust, and convert your audience into paying customers. 

There’s a lot of decision-making and planning for each stage of designing a small business website. When it comes to developing it, a choice you need to make is whether to opt for custom-made or use an off-the-shelf website builder. 

There are various options when it comes to website builders. These include Squarespace, Wix, HubSpot, WooCommerce and Shopify. WordPress is the world's most popular CMS (content management system) software. It accounts for 60% of all CMS-built websites and powers roughly 40% of all sites on the internet. In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of using WordPress compared with having your site custom-built.

If you’re building the site yourself, and have no knowledge of web design, WordPress is a good choice. Building a site from scratch requires knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP. That’s a lot to learn and is probably not worth the investment of your time and effort if you’re only going to use the knowledge once. Plus, of course, using WordPress means you don't have to look for a web design company that meets your needs.

But, if you’re employing a professional website developer, should you look for one who uses WordPress or one with the skills to build a custom site from the ground up?

Affordability

On paper, WordPress should win hands down, as the software is free to download, use, modify and build on.

It uses themes which are essentially templates that allow you to personalise the layout, typography and colour of your site.

The platform offers a modular design that enables you to add widgets and plug-ins. These enhance the functionality and can be for anything from eCommerce stores to booking systems, contact forms to live chat. This means you can build extra functionality into your site as and when you need it by simply adding more plug-ins.

WordPress is popular because it’s easy to use and you don't need any real technical know-how to get started. If your web designer creates your site using pre-existing templates and plug-ins, the development time and cost can be reduced. But if you want to harness the full potential of WordPress, perhaps with a bespoke theme, or you require functionality for which a plug-in doesn’t already exist, you will need a more skilled developer, which will inevitably increase the price.

Generally, anything bespoke is more costly than off-the-shelf – a custom-built website that’s designed specifically for your unique needs with scalability, performance and speed as priorities makes it a more expensive option. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Often starting with something off-the-shelf and personalising it for your needs can take longer than starting with a blank canvas. Similarly, buying plug-ins and themes from multiple sources takes time to make them play nicely with each other, so again it can be easier and more cost-effective to start from scratch.

Also, as you’ll see, a custom-built website can be the cheaper option once ongoing development costs have been taken into consideration.

Verdict: Draw

Uniqueness

The problem with building your website using templates is that yours can end up looking similar or even identical to another company’s. Even if you change the layout slightly, and the colours and fonts, it can still be obvious that the site has been built with a particular theme.

The beauty of custom-built sites is that your design will be unique to you and your business.

Verdict: Custom-built win

Flexibility

One big advantage of custom-built websites is that they can be made into anything you need and have few limitations in terms of design and functionality. You can tell the website developer exactly what you need it to do and what you want it to achieve, and they can create the perfect solution. There is less need to compromise on your wish list with a custom-built website.

Verdict: Custom-built win

Scalability

Custom-built websites allow for full scalability so you can change and adapt your site as your business grows without having to start from scratch. This isn’t always the case with WordPress.

Verdict: Custom-built win

Security

Hackers have many reasons for attacking websites. These include anything from gaining access to sensitive information and payment details, to delivering malware and using sites for SEO spam.

As WordPress is the most popular CMS on the internet, it’s also the most hacked. Hackers are targeting WordPress sites on a large scale hoping to affect as many websites as possible. Small business websites are often not prepared for these attacks or equipped to deal with them. 

WordPress has a reputation for being unsecure, but in truth the responsibility lies with the site owner and the developer, not the platform the website is built on.

As long as your developer buys themes and plug-ins from a reputable source and you take the security of your site seriously by following best practices, there’s no reason that sites built on WordPress should be any less secure.

That said, security is less of an issue with a custom-built website. As they don't rely on external themes and plug-ins, you can be more confident that they do not contain any malicious code. Furthermore, individually designed sites simply aren't as vulnerable to attacks because they don’t offer the large-scale reward for hackers.

Verdict: Draw

Ongoing Maintenance

All websites must be maintained to keep them secure and operating at peak performance.

For WordPress users, this means making sure you’re running the latest version of the software (only 47% of WordPress sites are currently running the latest version). Each update brings new features, but it also includes bug and security fixes, which help to protect your site from vulnerabilities.

Check with your web designer on who is responsible for the updates. Often a WordPress developer would consider it your responsibility once the finished site has been handed over. There were 44 versions of WordPress 5 released between the launch of 5.0 in December 2018 and the final version 5.9.3, in April 2022 – so it’s a significant undertaking!

With a bespoke build, updates are required less frequently, and are more likely to be the responsibility of the developer, so it’s something that you don’t even have to consider.

WordPress users also need to keep themes and plug-ins updated as these too can compromise the security of your site. Misaligned versions – where a theme or plug-in is written to work with an older version and is not updated to work with a newer version – can be a potential pitfall. If a plug-in is incompatible with your WordPress installation, it will affect the way your site performs and could even stop it from working completely. Furthermore, if your web developer has bought the plug-in from a third party, they may not have the know-how to update it, and a potentially costly workaround will need to be found.

With a custom-built website, you don't need to worry about misaligned versions. All the additional functionality required is built in.

Verdict: Custom-built win

Ongoing support

Paying a web developer to build your site should come with ongoing support, so you know that you can go to them with any issues in the future. This is not a question of WordPress or custom-built but more a question of working with someone you trust and have a good rapport with.

Verdict: Draw

Performance and Speed

Many WordPress websites suffer from poor performance and site speed. 

WordPress is designed to be an all-in-one solution. Its success is down to the fact that it serves a broad spectrum of needs. As a result, it has a lot of code that will not be needed for your website. Web designers call this code ‘bloat’. It can mean your site is slow to load, which will leave your users frustrated and hurt your Google ranking.

Plug-ins are extremely useful for expanding the functionality of a website but using too many can lead to poor performance. Code is often duplicated unnecessarily slowing the site down further.

A custom-built website can be created in a much more streamlined way. With no superfluous code slowing your site speed down, a custom-built site has the potential to perform better in terms of user experience, audience engagement and lead conversion.

Verdict: Custom-built win

Search Engine Friendliness

WordPress comes with lots of SEO-friendly tools to help your website rank well. SEO can get technical, but it doesn’t have to be. Learning a few basics can give your site a noticeable boost. Out of the box WordPress has several options and plug-ins such as AIOSEO. The Yoast plug-in offers further options.

Site speed is a very important aspect of SEO and, as we’ve noted elsewhere, WordPress can suffer in this area. However, if you successfully avoid these pitfalls there’s no reason why a WordPress site can’t rank very well in the search engines.

When a web developer builds a custom website for you, they can incorporate SEO best practices into the site to help it do well in search rankings, without the need for plug-ins that could potentially slow it down. They will also be able to make changes and updates in response to inevitable algorithm changes.  

Verdict: Draw

Ease of Use

It’s not only the design of the front end that can be custom-built. At We Make Magazines, we can also create a custom-made backend that’s bespoke to your needs and those of the business. This speeds up the process of maintaining your site, freeing up time to concentrate on other areas of your business. 

WordPress does have familiarity on its side. As WordPress powers 40% of the world’s websites, you may have prior knowledge helping you to create posts and pages quickly and easily.

The WordPress backend has been described to us as “very intuitive” as well as “confusing and cluttered”, proving that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So it’s worth asking for a demonstration of both before committing.

Verdict: Draw

So, what is the better option?

Both options can create great websites, but they cater to slightly different needs. Take some time to work out the following to help you decide:

  • How important is it that your site is unique?
  • Will you want to scale it in the future?
  • How much time do you have to dedicate to regular maintenance?
  • What level of technical know-how do you have?
  • What specific functionality do you require?

Once you have a better idea of these things, you should be able to tell if a WordPress website will meet your needs, or whether investing your time and money in working with a professional web developer who can create a custom-built site for your small business and provide ongoing support would work better for you. 

If you’re still struggling to decide, we'd be more than happy to help. We offer a free discovery call, so please do get in touch to book a time to chat. We'd love to hear more about your business, what you're looking for from your website and whether one of our custom-built offerings could help you to achieve your goals.

Book your free consultation

Jeff Cooper. 1 August 2022

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