Should I Pay For Website Development Or Use A Theme?

The internet has changed website development. Not that that’s big news or anything, but the reality is that the more it changes the more confused people tend to get. As a website developer, I’ve seen this first hand in the interactions I’ve had with potential customers over the past 3 years of being self-employed.

The rise of major players in the web design/development industry, and the fall of many small website development firms has also played a big role in this confusion. In this article I’ll try to clarify a few misconceptions and hopefully help you decide which route is best for you and your business.

What Is Custom Website Development?

Let’s start off by clarifying that both custom website development and themes require extensive web development. Both options require an individual or team of developers to take a design and create the code necessary for it to run. Both options likewise have many of the same obstacles to overcome when they’re are being developed including speed, cross browser support, mobile support, and ease of use.

Custom website development is distinct from a theme in that custom website development is not only the process of setting up a website for your business, but the process of finding your business’ unique needs and then creating a solution that is specific to those needs.

A web development agency that provides custom website development as a service will not only be able to deliver a nice looking website to your business, but will also take many things into consideration. They must first understand your business in depth, this usually happens after many visitations with you so that the agency can get an understanding of the product/service you offer. The agency must also have an understanding of your average customer and the process that the customer takes when making a decision to purchase from you. Once these steps have been taken the agency will work hard to build your business a comprehensive solution that will help your customers purchase from you.

In short custom website development is a multi-faceted process to provide your business with the best online solution possible.

What Are Website Themes?

Website themes are pre packaged website layouts that can be customized to the look and feel of your business. Themes are usually very affordable and can come with many options for layouts, colors, logos, etc. Themes can also be very confusing to someone who is not used to handling them because they’re created to be used by multiple people for multiple applications.

Does this mean that a theme can’t be used to meet your business’ online needs? Not exactly. Themes can be very broad in their application or very specific. In many instances theme developers will create themes specific to an industry to meet the needs of that industry as a whole. This can be very beneficial to your business because it allows you to get premium features that would normally be very costly to build in custom development.

Themes can also be very risky. Not all theme developers are experts, and in many cases themes can be done in such a way that they end up worsening the situation rather than helping. On the bright side you can always hire an expert web developer to setup and maintain your theme while still remaining on a friendly budget. The developer should be involved in choosing the theme, because as the expert he will be able to discern which themes are safe and which themes you should avoid.

Final Thoughts

Like I said before website development can be a bit confusing. Because of the success of search engines (namely Google) your website is the first impression that most potential customers will get of your business, so it is important to make sure that it helps them to buy from you. Whether you decide to go with a theme or custom website development is entirely up to you, your business’ needs, and your budget. Either way it’s important that you use a good developer who is an expert in this area. If you would like more information or are interested in custom website development or refreshing your current website with a brand new theme feel free to contact me!

Web Development Blogs, Plugins, And Podcasts

Anyone who’s good at what they do will tell you that you have to surround yourself with people who are likeminded if you want to succeed in the same area as they have.

Today that principle couldn’t be any easier to live by simply because of the advent of the internet, blogs, podcasts, and social media.

Over the past few years (and particularly in two areas of my life) I’ve tried to live by that principle. I’ve been intentional to surround myself with great content and great content producers even if they don’t know my name or who I am. If you’re a web developer and are interested in furthering your craft, you absolutely must continue furthering your education and sharpening your skills.

Web Development Blogs

Before there was Youtube, there were tutorials. Most of which were written, and contained a few images or snippets of code. As a developer who’s been in the game for a while, I had to learn by reading countless tutorials, forum posts, and product documentation. If you’re not a reader of web development blogs, tutorials, and documentation then you’ll never be a successful developer, so learn to read and most importantly learn how to search for the solutions to your problems. Some great web development blogs to help you get started reading include the following.

Pippin’s Plugins

Pippin's PluginsPippin Williamson is one of the most widely known WordPress developers out there. He’s produced many premium and free plugins such as Easy Digital Downloads, Affiliate WP, and Restrict Content Pro. Pippinsplugins.com is a great resource for WordPress developers who are looking to learn about advanced WP techniques. Pippin frequently blogs and releases tutorials that will help you sharpen your skills tremendously. Check out his blog and help him out by purchasing a subscription.

pippinsplugins.com

Monday By Noon

Monday By NoonMonday By Noon is one of those sites that really amazes you once you start to dig into the old posts that are archived on it. Jonathan not only teaches you about certain aspects of code and things that he’s done, but he also teaches a lot about business and how he runs his business as a web developer. Jonathan is also the creator of a really awesome search indexing plugin called Search WP, I suggest you check it out and purchase it to better power your site’s searchability.

mondaybynoon.com

CSS Tricks

CSS TricksCSS Tricks is one of the longest running sites that I still go to on a regular basis. Its got countless articles on how to sharpen up your skills on everything from CSS to Javascript, and PHP. CSS Tricks is headed up by Chris Coyier who is also a pretty well known name in the industry.

css-tricks.com

Codrops by Tympanus

CodropsCodrops is a really neat source for learning how to sharpen your frontend development skills. They have tons of articles that deal specifically with CSS and JS development as it’s related to the user’s experience.

tympanus.net/codrops

Deep Dive Into Plugin Code

One of the best ways to learn is to learn by example. This principle applies very obviously in industries that are very hands on, and it also applies in web development. Over the past year, the way that I’ve learned the most has been by breaking down the code of other plugins to understand why things were done the way they were.

Now not all plugins or plugin developers write the best code, or follow the best practices so you do have to have some discernment when you’re looking at plugins and seeking to learn.

Some of the plugins that I’ve personally done a lot of diving into and reverse engineering have been the following.

WooCommerce

WooCommerceWooCommerce is probably the most used e-commerce platform in the world. It’s a powerful plugin that allows you to sell all kinds of goods and services. Woocommerce has one of the best file architectures that I’ve come across, and is actually the basis for a plugin that I’ll be releasing later this year. Things you can learn a lot about include.

  • Creating templates with your plugin
  • Overriding the template if it’s included in the user’s theme
  • Installing new database tables
  • Applying filters and actions (These are all over the place)
  • The upgrade process for the plugin

Easy Digital Downloads

Easy Digital DownloadsEDD does as the name suggests, its handles the selling of digital goods online. EDD is another one of those plugins that you can learn a lot from. Two things that stuck out to me was the way they handle database transactions, and the way they handle generating html fields. I’d strongly recommend diving into the following files to soak it all in.

  • class-edd-db.php
  • class-edd-db-customers.php
  • class-edd-html-elements.php

CMB2

CMB2CMB2 creates custom metabox fields for post types, taxonomies, user meta, options, and more. CMB2 is also a plugin that is very easily and widely extended, and I’ve personally done so for many sites myself. CMB2 uses a really neat singleton class that basically handles all of the data that is passed into it via hooks. It also has many actions and filters that make CMB2 a pleasure to work with. Some files I’d suggest you check out include the following.

  • CMB2_Boxes.php
  • CMB2_Field.php
  • CMB2_hookup.php

Podcasts For Developers

Podcasts are a great way to learn from the experiences and expertise of other developers. Many developers have been in the same circumstances and faced the same problems, so to be able to get free advice from them is literally priceless.

Podcasts for developers can range from business management and practices, to plugin development. A few of the podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis, which are not limited development include.

Apply Filters

Apply Filters PodcastApply Filters is a great resource for WordPress plugin and theme developers. It is hosted by Brad Touesnard and Pippin Williamson, and they frequently have guests who talk about their products, business, and how they developed their products. Apply Filters’ best selling point is Pippin’s and Brad’s experience in web development.

applyfilters.fm

Post Status

Post StatusPost Status is another great podcast for developers and WordPress entrepreneurs in general. Hosted by Brian Krogsgard, Post Status is much like Apply Filters in that there is a ton of talk about code, and web development practices. Post Status also has many guests who share their WordPress development experience.

poststatus.com

Matt Report

Matt ReportMatt Report is run by Matt Medeiros where he interviews guests who speak about their experience as a WordPress entrepreneur. Many of his guest talk about the problems they’ve faced as business people, the solutions they came up with, and the products or services they’ve built since being in business.

mattreport.com

Final Thoughts

Web development is an ever evolving industry. To be a web developer requires a person to be motivated and willing to continue learning. The resources I’ve listed are just a few, there are plenty more to help you sharpen your skills so keep searching and keep learning.