If you want to experience pure frustration, try making simple changes to a custom WordPress theme somebody has developed for you.

A variety of reasons are given by developers for creating custom themes: it will improve your load speed, it will make your site different and unique, etc. etc. Don’t believe a word of it. They are doing it for one reason, to lock you into having to come back to them every time you want a simple design change. 

For seven years I ran a large website design agency in the Philippines employing over 100 people at our peak. I hired a lot of Php developers at that time. When we started VAvita, I chose to avoid hiring them for one simple reason – They mess with the core code of any theme they work on. It’s what they’ve been trained to do, so when they hit a design obstacle, for example, you request that the phone number above the menu is larger, instead of trying to resolve it by working with the theme, they will dive in and edit the core Php code.

So what’s wrong with that? It’s very simple – When you modify the code, you version lock the theme, meaning if you want to keep those modifications you can’t update the theme. 

WordPress updates are important

Updates are critical with WordPress. It is by far the most popular website platform on the Internet, so it is a real target for hackers. There is an ongoing cat and mouse game of hackers finding vulnerabilities in the system and WordPress (including theme and plugin developers) patching those vulnerabilities with updates. The more people using a theme, the more likely it is to be kept up-to-date. When a developer makes you a custom theme, there is one user, you. How likely is it that he or she will come back and update that theme? Unless of course, you want to rehire them every two or three months to perform those updates.

When we develop a WordPress website for a client, first and foremost, we want to be able to hand it over to the client when we’re finished, lock stock and barrel. It is then their choice whether they want us to continue their work, hire someone else or do it themselves. So that means no custom coding.

If we have a design obstacle to overcome, we work within the theme, which usually involves using simple CSS which popular themes can accommodate, without impacting on updates. When we have a functionality challenge, we can usually overcome it by using an approved plugin (these are also updated regularly).

If you are hiring somebody from Fiver or Freelancer to do work on your website, specify that they do not alter the Php code and restrict them to the back end admin area. Don’t give them ftp or CPanel access unless it is absolutely necessary because of complex functionality requirements, and the developer has explained how they are going to prevent version locking the theme, (by using a child theme).

We don’t believe you should have to marry your developer in order to keep your website up-to-date.

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