Design UPDATED: 04 August 2022

WordPress vs Custom Websites?

Tassos Antoniou

11 min read
Image for WordPress vs Custom Websites?

The WordPress vs Custom websites debate is still ongoing even in 2022!

WordPress has come a very long way in a relatively short time. At the time of writing (July 2022) it now powers a staggering 43% of all the websites out there. With tens of thousands of themes and plugins to help you build the perfect website the question has to be, why would you choose to build a truly ‘custom’ website?

Well, there are times when a custom website makes sense… but a lot of other times when WordPress is likely to be the best solution for you. If you’re confused about the pros and cons of each then read on and we’ll do our best to demystify the two options. Read on!

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Search Engine Optimization

One of the key things to consider with a new website is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Good SEO optimization helps ensure your website ranks well in Google and with it, helps drive traffic to your site. After all, you presumably want as much traffic as you can get!

WordPress websites are generally pretty SEO-friendly straight out of the box. But (and it is a big but!) a lot depends on the theme and plugins used. Poorly designed themes will hobble your SEO efforts no matter how well the underlying CMS (in this case WordPress) is designed. In some cases it can feel a little like SEO is an afterthought with WordPress-powered websites as designers tend to dive in and focus on the aesthetics and function of the site and then try and ‘bolt on’ SEO-friendly elements afterwards using SEO plugins like Yoast.

And, as friendly as WordPress is when it comes to SEO, you’re still moderately constrained in how this is undertaken by virtue of the fact that you’re working with a CMS which does ultimately have certain restrictions on what can and can’t be done.

Custom websites don’t suffer from this downside. By their very nature, you’re free to do exactly what you want. Because building a custom website tends to be a larger, more expensive project than setting up a WordPress website, odds are that SEO is something that is thought about right at the outset. This means you have an opportunity to get it absolutely spot on from the get-go instead of trying to optimize your site after it’s been built.

The Winner: Custom websites

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Design

When choosing between a custom website or a WordPress website, no doubt design is a huge consideration. WordPress used to be the loser here… but things have improved no end when it comes to site design and WordPress. For starters, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice if you want to use a pre-built theme to kickstart your site design. As we mentioned at the start of this article, there are tens of thousands (probably more!) themes that can be used to create a great-looking WordPress website. And, if you don’t like any of them, then you can always build your own theme.

Of course, there are possibly occasions where you might find yourself ‘fighting’ a particular aspect of WordPress that makes it hard to implement. This might happen when you’re undertaking a particularly advanced design. In these instances, a truly custom website might be the optimal way to achieve the look and function required for your website.

Website Responsiveness

Whether you’re opting for a truly bespoke website or are using a WordPress theme, you’ll want to make sure the end result is a responsive website. Responsive websites work across a variety of devices and with more and more people using their mobile to browse, if your site doesn’t adapt to suit these smaller screens you’re not going going to annoy your customers but Google may actually even penalize your site from a Search Ranking perspective. All good WordPress themes will offer a responsive design right out of the box which means it’s one less thing for you to worry about. When designing a custom site however, you’ll need to make sure you factor this crucial element into your overall design.

Uniqueness

Whilst there are tens of thousands of WordPress themes to choose from, many of them might look pretty similar. Whilst a lot can be done to add your own twist to themes to make them stand out, it’s likely that a truly custom design will be better placed to give you a truly unique website.

The Winner: A Draw

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Functionality

WordPress is a standout winner when it comes to functionality. Not only do its underlying CMS (Content Management System) functions make managing your site easy (more on this later) but loads and loads of helpful, time-saving plugins are available in the official WordPress library and from third-party developers that you can easily install to add additional functionality to your website.

The one caveat however is that most plugins may offer features that you may not need. This adds so-called ‘bloat’ to your site which can slow it down and make day-to-day maintenance harder. To avoid this you can build your own WordPress custom plugin that will include only the functionality you need.

Themes themselves will also provide levels of functionality that might be helpful to your site without the need to install additional plugins. As a rule, there isn’t much you can’t achieve with the help of the right theme, plugins and perhaps a little bit of custom coding.

This ease of use when it comes to extending your website functionality is not something that is afforded to a custom website. Truly custom builds will need to hand-code every element of not only their design but also their functionality. This takes serious skill as well as time.

The Winner: WordPress

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Development

When it comes to developing a new website you’ll want to know what’s better. WordPress or to custom develop a site? Well, as with many things in life there isn’t necessarily a simple answer.

A number of questions are worth asking such as, how complex is your site, how big will it be? What functionality is required? What’s your budget (more on that in a bit). The thing you want to ascertain is what is likely to be the easiest, quickest and most affordable way to get the website you need. If you can find a WordPress theme you love, know that plugins exist to add the functionality you require and your budget is tight then WordPress has got to be the obvious choice. If however, you really need something very bespoke and the functionality required is unusual (and therefore odds are that plugins won’t give you what you need, then a custom site has got to be the way to go from a development perspective.

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Certainly one major plus when developing a custom website is that you can avoid any necessary bloat (or overhead). This means your site is likely to run faster and load more quickly. Whatever you do though, don’t underestimate the challenges of developing a site from scratch!

The Winner: WordPress

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Scalability

One of the many cool things about websites is their ability to grow. Certainly, regardless of whether your website is run off WordPress or a custom design built from the ground up, you’re unlikely to have any issues scaling say from ten pages to twenty. Issues with scalability tend to arise when things begin to really get big. Perhaps you’re running a successful eCommerce website and your catalog of products has been rapidly growing. You’ve gone from 100 products to 500 but are on track to hit 10,000 over the coming two years… could your existing website cope?

Scalability isn’t something people really think much about when designing a new website for their business and this is unfortunate. It’s often better to lay the groundwork for growth at the outset than to have to effectively start over when things get too big. In reality, WordPress is likely to perform better in this regard than a custom website thanks to the Content management tools that are baked right in. Adding multiple new pages to a WordPress website is quick to do. Custom websites however tend to be much more labor intensive when it comes to scaling.

One thing that is well worth looking at in the early days of a new site is the hosting you’re using. Can it handle spikes in traffic and larger volumes of content? Moving to new hosts is a major hassle and something you probably won’t want to do when business is booming. Getting this right at the outset can save you a ton of grief in the future.

The Winner: WordPress

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Maintenance & Updates

WordPress is a complex piece of software. Throw in plugins and themes and there are a lot of moving parts. All these elements need to be maintained normally by upgrading to the latest versions when they’re released. This is normally pretty easy to do, especially when you use a managed WordPress host like Pressidium. But updates do not always run smoothly and can be time-consuming to do.

The level of maintenance required for a custom website will depend hugely on the complexity of it, the language used to program it and the hosting. A super simple site that uses just HTML and CSS might never need any real maintenance at all.

From a day-to-day perspective when it comes to updating your content, WordPress is the clear choice. It is a Content Management System after all and that means it’s been designed to allow you to quickly make changes, add new pages and post to a blog with minimal effort. Custom websites can’t touch it in this regard.

The Winner: WordPress

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Security And Performance

When WordPress first jumped on the scene you often heard a lot about it being hacked. With the right hosting and a good maintenance regime, hacking is far less of an issue for WordPress than it used to be. The key to maintaining a secure website and one that runs smoothly is to only use plugins and themes from reputable developers who continually keep their products up-to-date. If you in turn update your site accordingly you should be good to go. As a worse-case scenario, having decent backups helps mitigate any issues caused by hacking.

Custom websites may or may not be more susceptible to hacking. It comes mostly down to the skill of the developer who designed your site and whether or not they followed industry best practices. The underlying hosting environment also plays a role here too.

Performance-wise, a clean, well-designed WordPress site run on good hosting should absolutely fly. The same however could also be said for custom sites. Custom sites may just squeak past WordPress in the performance stakes, especially if they are simple. WordPress by its very nature runs a lot of code and this comes at a modest cost.

The Winner: A Draw

WordPress vs Custom Websites: Cost

Let’s cut right to the chase here. Almost without exception, a WordPress website will cost you less to launch than a custom website. Why? Time. Time is money and building a custom website is exceptionally time-consuming, even for expert developers. WordPress on the other hand can be spun up quickly and you can be looking at your brand new website within a matter of hours (or even minutes!).

The Winner: WordPress

WordPress vs Custom Websites Takeaways

We’re probably a little biased it has to be said but, for pretty much most websites, WordPress makes a lot more sense to build than a custom website. It’s quicker and easier to develop and certainly easier to keep content up-to-date on a day-to-day basis. But, custom websites do have their place. For bespoke projects that require truly unique design and functionality then a customer website might just be the way to go. It seems like this decision onces again comes down between time and budget.

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