Do You REALLY Want to Build Your Own WordPress Theme?

Artist Palette‘I can’t find any WordPress themes I like so I’m going to build my own’ is a statement I see a lot on places like Twitter.

If you’re an ace coder (really ace) with a good understanding of SEO (really good), that’s a great route to follow.

There’s also the option of using Artisteer, a platform developed specifically to enable you to create your own themes.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year or so it’s the importance of the underlying code in a theme.

It can have a big impact on the speed with which your site loads and its search engine friendliness.

And its stability, particularly after WordPress upgrades or when you add new plugins.

(I wrote more on that here).

So if your blog is purely there for your enjoyment and you’re not too fussed about any of those things, then I say go for it.

But if you use your blog for business, and stability, speed of response and SEO are important to you, then I’d go a different route.

I’d find a premium theme with the best underlying code possible and learn how to customize it.

If your coding skills are good enough for you to consider building your own theme, they should certainly be good enough to enable you to customize a premium theme to your liking.

And you can do so in the knowledge that not only is the underlying code stable, efficient and properly optimized for the search engines, but it will be upgraded over time.

All you need to do is focus on the design and layout.

About 2 years ago I switched from the WordPress Dream Theme to Thesis, and at first I was disappointed. The WP Dream Theme looked great and I received a lot of compliments on my site’s layout and appearance.

But as I learnt how to customize Thesis I became a lot happier.

I’m neither a top line designer nor a hot shot coder – but I know enough to be able to produce WordPress sites in a variety of layouts, with designs that I like.

And I have the comforting knowledge that the underlying code means my sites are stable, fast loading and well optimized.

This is not, by the way, a plug for Thesis. You can follow this approach with any top premium theme.

It’s simply a better way, to my mind, of getting yourself a site design that you like. Unless you’re a hot shot coder and a top line designer.

Update: 20th November, 2018:

I wrote this original article in 2010. Since then I’m pleased to say that things have moved on. Thesis is now a superb design platform – it’s moved towards being a tool for designers and developers, and away from the mass market (for want of a better term).

Some years ago I set up my own WordPress design and development agency and I use Thesis exclusively to build websites for my clients. If you would like to talk to me about website design on WordPress do please take a look around this website.


Martin Malden

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Prajish Sankar Apr 13, 2010 @ 19:00

    I’ve been using free WordPress templates so far. And recently do minimal code customization.
    I hope to learn more and create my own theme! 🙂
    .-= Prajish Sankar´s last blog ..Speccy – Advanced System Information Tool For Your PC =-.

  • Angiel Apr 14, 2010 @ 6:08

    I agree with you Martin. It is the underlying code that matters most. Carefully choose a stable theme with ample customization options and you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel!
    .-= Angiel´s last blog ..A Burst Of Creativity =-.

    • Martin Apr 14, 2010 @ 6:59

      Angie, hi,

      Yes – reinventing the wheel is a tiresome, dispiriting process and wastes a ridiculous amount of time 🙂



  • Sharon@internet-marketing-business-opportunity Apr 20, 2010 @ 16:48

    Just signed up to your newsletter,looking forward to receiving
    your tips to help me grow my on-line business.
    Best Wishes
    .-= Sharon@internet-marketing-business-opportunity’s last blog post: Why I Have made My Blog “Do Follow” =-.

    • Martin Apr 21, 2010 @ 7:03

      Hi Sharon,

      Welcome – and good luck with your business!



  • Rick Apr 26, 2010 @ 2:32

    Hi Martin,

    Good points concerning the coding of Wordpress Themes or any website template for that matter. I started out a long time ago coding websites and realized that as the web became more and more interactive I could not keep up with the knowledge required to code everything. That’s when I first started looking into templates.

    Today – I pretty much swear by them, especially Wordpress Themes. It is so much easier to let someone else write the code and then simply modify graphics, placement and onpage seo to create a really outstanding site.

    Thesis is a very good theme but does have a bit of a learning curve to really make it compete with the “beautiful” blogs of today. However, when it comes to search engine optimization, not many themes can touch it.

    Keep up the good work, and excellent writing.



    • Martin Apr 26, 2010 @ 7:09

      Rick, hi,

      Thesis certainly used to have a learning curve because if you wanted to get away from the native Thesis traits you pretty much had to get into CSS and hooks.

      But each release that comes out puts more of the design options into the options pages, so the requirement to use both CSS and hooks is lessening.

      WRT the SEO – I absolutely agree. The SEO options now are excellent.



  • marvin Apr 27, 2010 @ 8:08

    I’ve been using free themes. But I make sure that the theme has a good public feedback before I use them. Then I’ll do some customizations.

    I do plan to purchase a premium theme. Probably after I move to a paid hosting. 🙂

    Nice post.
    .-= marvin’s last blog post: Reflection on Isaiah 40:30-31 =-.

    • Martin Apr 28, 2010 @ 6:27

      Hi Marvin,

      I think you’ll find when you move to a Premium theme that you’ll notice some little improvements to your site – among others, it will load faster and the SEO will be better.

      I wrote more on that here.



  • Elayne@ local marketing Oct 8, 2010 @ 10:04

    I use Artiseer and found it very easy to use so that my WP blog theme matches my tour company Joomla theme (for my lord of the rings tour site). The great thing is it only took a few minor changes (basically the phrase under the blog title) and change to WP export and I was off.

    • Martin Oct 8, 2010 @ 11:52

      Hi Elayne,

      Yes – Artisteer seems to be very popular. I look at it as very similar to the frameworks like Thesis and Genesis in that it provides a core platform onto which you can build your design.