Is a Commercial Theme and DIY Website Right for You?

diy website

With more DIY website building platforms available than ever, and with the huge range of pre-designed themes and skins available, do you really need to pay thousands of dollars for a professional Web design?

The answer depends on two things: how much flexibility you need in your design and how suitable a match you can find from among the commercial offerings.


When you look at most commercial themes, they include a gallery of sample sites built with the theme. These are generally shown in a shockingly broad range of styles as a way of saying, “Hey look, you can do anything you want with our theme!”

What they don’t show you are the buckets of sweat and tears that were shed in getting the theme to look this way or that. They also don’t show you who did the sweating — was it a small business owner building her own site or a professional designer investing dozens of hours (and all of her professional design experience) to make it look just so?

So unless you’ve worked with a company’s themes before, or can talk to someone with first-hand knowledge of how easily the theme can be styled and manipulated, be very cautious. It may not be that easy to remove the one little feature on the home page you wish wasn’t there.


Whether or not the theme is flexible, if it’s not a good match right out of the box for your business, you’re going to invest way more than you want in customizing to meet your needs. Even if you don’t have to sweat blood to make it happen (see above), the time and resources are going to eat into any savings you were hoping to reap.

The chances of you finding a suitable theme are pretty high — there are themes designed for nearly every industry and business niche — so this is probably the first test to filter possible themes through. Once you’ve found a few here, you can investigate their potential flexibility.

Mistakes to Avoid

There are two big mistakes we see clients make when opting for commercial themes: letting form lead function and not considering the team behind the theme.

If you shop for a theme first and then build your website to fit it, you’re not really building a website for your business; you’re building a generic website. So your first order of business has to be to map out your goals for your website:

Who do you want to reach, what action do you want to encourage them to take, and how will you get them to take that action?

Answering those questions will help you build out the structure and shape of your website. You can then create your navigation and page structure, determine what kind of sidebar content each page might include, and plan for the kinds of marketing functionality you need. (Gated content for downloads, email newsletter signups, social sharing, etc.)

In effect, you need to create your shopping list before you go shopping.

The other item that’s frequently overlooked is what kind of support does the theme include? Is the team behind it well established and with a good track record of updates and support. If not, you may find yourself without key updates as browser change over time and, more importantly, as new hacking threats present themselves. (This is particularly true if you’re using WordPress, which is updated frequently for security. If the theme isn’t compatible with the new version of WordPress, you can’t install the security patch and, eventually, your site will get hacked.)

DIY commercial themes can save your company a great deal of time and money, but you have to evaluate them realistically or you’ll wind up not only not saving time or money, you’ll wind up with a weak website that drives potential business away before you can win it.

Web Design Photo via Shutterstock


Andrew Schulkind Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: What does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms encourage profitable engagement with their audience. He holds a degree in Philosophy from Bucknell University.

4 Reactions
  1. Love it! I deal with this all the time with my clients and trying to explain to them that they can do this… If they have the time. Or pay me to expedite the design process. Thanks for the write up!

  2. Great points. I would suggest that there are two additional possibilities as well.

    Firstly, a commercial theme on a diy site can be an excellent learning experience. You may very well have to replace the entire thing, and you may even conclude that you need a professional designer. But if you pay attention to what went right and what went wrong, you will be in a much better place to get it right, from the start of your new Web design experience.

    The other possibility is using a commercial theme as a starting point, and having a professional designer take it from there. All of the caveats mentioned above do apply though. You still need good support, a reasonable upgrade policy and real flexibility. It won’t work for every site, but if you have the capacities to explore that option, it’s worth looking at.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for pointing out these issues.

    We are currently using Genesis on most of our sites but currently very impressed with the Avada theme and integrating it into our teachings and blogging.


  4. You make some very good points. I think it is always wise for do-it-yourselfers to select very basic and minimal themes. There are a few companies that do a very good job of producing quality themes and also provide great support. One that comes to mind for me is MyThemeShop. I think that at the end of the day businesses want to remember that it’s not how cute the site is, but whether the site can compel the prospect to do what you want, which is execute your desired call-to-action.