WordPress Website Design
The Definitive Guide


Why WordPress Website Design for Your Business?

If you have questions about WordPress website design you’re in the right place.

But first I wanted to talk to you about the Medieval crossbow, how it was outlawed by the Pope and why that relates to choosing WordPress for your next website design project.

In 1139 Pope Innocent II banned the use of the crossbow.

wordpress website design

Up until that time armies needed skilled archers, which were limited and expensive.

With that advent of the crossbow, a cheap, unskilled peasant was now just as accurate and deadly as a skilled longbowman.

Which is why the Pope decided it offered an unfair advantage and banned the invention.

WordPress is just like the crossbow.

Back in the day (10 years ago), it required many different platforms and tools to launch and update a website on the web. And this could only be done by skilled and expensive technicians.
Today, you can launch a new WordPress website with the push of a button and no technical skills required.

Not only that, but there are many best practices in terms of design, backend development, SEO, 3rd party integration and more that are all done automatically and for Free by WordPress.

Much of the value of a WordPress website is invisible to most people.

This article hopes to shed some light on the benefits as well as limitations of using a WordPress website, and also answer any questions you may have regarding using WordPress for your next website project.

Intro - Is WordPress a web design software?

WordPress is an Open Source CMS that allows you to update and edit your website with an easy to use backend interface. When websites were first invented, each page existed as a separate HTML page in a file folder. If you wanted to update one link in the navigation menu, for example, you literally had to go into every single page on the site and manually update the navigation link. A CMS allows you to update the navigation link once and for that chance to take place across the entire website.

wordpress website design

What is a CMS?

CMS stands for Content Management System. And just as the name would imply, it is a system for managing your content. Basically, a CMS is a piece of software that allows you to update and edit your website without having to know code.

Content Management System

What is Open Source?

I remember going to my first Word Camp. This is a developer conference where independent developers who help maintain the WordPress codebase go to share information. I was blown away by the fact that there are over 10,000 independent developers who actively maintain and update the WordPress code base free of charge, out of the goodness of their heart. That’s what Open Source means. It means it’s free for you to own and use as you please.

wordpress website design

Can I use my own domain with WordPress?

Yes! You might be confused because sometimes you’ll see a url that says www.domainname.wordpress.com. What you are looking at in this instance is a website running on the WordPress.com platform, which is different than WordPress.org. Explained here. Even on WordPress.com you can have your own domain but sometimes people don’t which leads to the confusion. But yes, you can absolutely use your own domain with WordPress.

WordPress Stats

  • WordPress powers 34% of the internet in 2019
  • There are currently 44,622 Plugins
  • WordPress powers over 30% of the Top 1,000 websites on the web

Is WordPress Website Free?

Yes. Sort of… As mentioned above, WordPress is Open Source, meaning it is free to use. With that being said, ALL websites need to be hosted on the web for them to be seen by people. There are two versions of WordPress, wordpress.org and wordpress.com. The wordpress.org version is the free Open Source version. Basically what they are providing you is a free piece of software, which you need to download to your server and then use for your website CMS. The wordpress.com version is paid, and what you are paying for really is the hosting of the website.

wordpress website design

What is the programming language for WordPress?

WordPress has a L.A.M.P. setup, which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PhP. This is the same setup used on many of the top websites in the world including Facebook.

wordpress website design

Intro

When you hire someone to build a WordPress website, that could mean a lot of different things depending on who you are hiring. This could range anywhere from having a freelance WordPress designer install a $30 premade template for you and adjust the colors to match your logo; to hiring a large agency for +$30k to design and develop a custom WordPress site; to everything in between.

There are a few key variables that will greatly affect your project scope in terms of pricing, timing, quality, etc…

The main point to understand is the difference between a custom WordPress website and using a premade template.

WordPress Website Design

What’s the Difference Between a WordPress Template and Custom Design?

So, to clear things up, ALL WordPress websites use templates, even “custom” WordPress websites. Think of the word “template” as the word “recipe”. Each template is a specific recipe to make a certain website. So the real issue is the word “premade”.

I like to think of a “premade” template as IKEA furniture. There’s nothing wrong with IKEA furniture. They provide nice looking furniture at a very low price.

But…

IKEA’s furniture has to be assembled on your own, they all look slightly generic and at the end of the day, the furniture isn’t that well made.

Not to stretch this metaphor to far, but let’s say buying a $30 WordPress template is like a college kid buying IKEA furniture and assembling it himself in his dorm room.

Then paying $30k for a custom WordPress website is like hiring a high end Interior Designer to do a full renovation of your house, taking everything down to the studs and having all the appliances, fixtures, furniture, etc.. all work together to create a stunning design.

custom WordPress website

At the end of the day, you’re “fixing up your place” but the difference between the two scenarios is huge. Both in terms of pricing and results.

So, one of the first thing you want to ask the WordPress web agency you work with, is if they made custom or premade themes?

What’s the Difference Between a WordPress template and theme?

There is no difference! Confusing huh? Yeah, the words are used pretty interchangeably. So, if you hear talk of a WordPress template or WordPress theme, they’re talking about the same thing. Sometimes you’ll hear mention of a “child theme”. Kind of don’t worry about that. Basically a child theme is a way of securing the code base of the main theme, but otherwise shouldn’t really interfere with your theme development.

wordpress website design

WordPress Front-End Design

The front-end design of a website can include a lot of different things. Like understanding who the users are coming to your website, creating wireframes and mockups of the website, do coding the actual HTML, CSS and Javascript on the site.

WordPress Backend Development

WordPress Backend Development

There are two main things to think about when it comes to the backend. The magical process of displaying different content to different users depending on their queries is done through backend development. Specifically with the PhP programming language when it comes to WordPress.

Another unrelated usage of the term backend development has to do with actual development of the WordPress dashboard and the backend interface of all the pages on your site when you are editing them. Website development is a lot like an iceberg, with most of it being below the surface of what you can see.

wordpress website design

The long and short of it is, the backend of the site is just as important as the front-end. So before you go about hiring a WordPress developer ask if you can look through the backend of one of the previous sites they developed. If it’s hard to use, then keep looking…

WordPress Limitations?

Does WordPress have limitations? You bet! In fact we did a whole Pros and Cons section below, so scroll down to get the whole skinny. The point I want to make here is that most of WordPress’ limitations don’t belong to WordPress they belong to the developer you’re working with. At the end of the day a website is a website. They all use the same basic code of CSS, HTML, Javascript and PhP. And WordPress is no different. WordPress uses the exact same code stack as Facebook and some of the other top websites on the web. If you have a good enough developer, you can get a WordPress website to look and behave pretty much like any other website you may see no matter how unusual or uniqe.

wordpress website design

Are WordPress websites responsive?

It depends on the theme you use. These days almost ALL premade themes are responsive and adapt for the iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices. And if you’re getting a custom theme, then you really should be expecting that it be responsive. It’s pretty standard these days.

WordPress website responsiveness

Pros

Easy to Use

WordPress has an easy to use backend interface, where you can easily update and edit your website without having to know code.

WordPress website development

Open Source

When you have a WordPress website, you don’t have to pay anyone to use WordPress. It’s free to world to use as you like.

wordpress website design

Wide Adoption

Over 33% of websites on the web run on WordPress. Which means it’s been well vetted by millions of users.

wordpress website design

Large Developer Base

WordPress has thousands of developers who actively update the code base for free, out of the goodness of their hearts. There are also a million WordPress developers out there, so if you get a WordPress website but end up firing your website agency, it’s easy to fire them and find someone else.

wordpress website design

Established History

In this ever changing world, it’s hard to predict the future. WordPress has been around for over 15 years, which means there’s a good chance it’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Great For SEO

One of the most underappreciated aspects of WordPress is how good it is with SEO. There are so many great SEO plugins that help you right out of the box that you are way better off using WordPress for SEO than any other CMS.

Wordpress SEO

Large Plugin Library

With so many websites running on WordPress there is a huge library of plugins available to help you perform any function that you may need.

Integrates Well With 3rd Parties

WordPress plays well with most 3rd party integrations. There are many out of the box solutions that make integrating with sites like MailChimp, Salesforce or Hubspot a breeze.

Flexible Backend

There is a quite a bit of flexibility with a WordPress backend, allowing you to create easy to edit website pages that are tailored specifically to your needs.

Cons

Slow

WordPress are notoriously slow. At least they can be if you don’t know what you’re doing. This has to do with its using the PhP programming language, which has to call a database before rendering it as HTML on your screen. One workaround is using a caching tool, which basically takes a snapshot of all the pages on your site helping it to load much faster than otherwise.

Vulnerable to Hacking

It’s true, WordPress is vulnerable to hacking. The main reason has to do with its ubiquity. Because there are so many WordPress websites out there and because all WordPress websites by default have the same file structure setup, they are the biggest and easiest target for hackers.

The flip side is, if you know what you are doing, it’s pretty easy to secure a WordPress website from the most common attacks and if you use good hosting, it will almost never be an issue. We actively Host and Maintain about 200 WordPress websites and in the last 3 years we’ve had maybe 2-3 hacking incidents. In each case we were able to restore the site within a minute or so without any further issue. So don’t let the hacking thing scare you too much.

But DO get good hosting. I highly recommend WP Engine for WordPress hosting. Trust me, you’ll sleep well at night…

Generic

Going back to my previous IKEA furniture analogy, a lot WordPress websites look generic. Here’s why. I’m guessing well over 90% of WordPress websites on the web are premade templates. And premade templates in general need to be slightly generic because they need to work with all different kinds of businesses. So it’s not the WordPress is generic looking, it’s that premade templates are generic and most WordPress websites that you see are premade templates.

Template Limitations

As I mentioned before, this is a bit of a misconception. The limitations really like with the developer, not WordPress itself. If you ever hear your WordPress developer say something like “WordPress can’t do that” translate that into your head to “I (the developer) can’t do that”

Not Always User Friendly

Remember when I listed the easy to use backend as a “pro” above? Well it is. Sometimes. Really it depends who’s developing the site for you. Truthfully, when you get a premade them, you might be dealing with a bizantine mishmash of short codes to edit your site. So really it depends.

Overwhelming. That’s what finding a WordPress web design agency can be. There are just so darn many companies and options to choose from that it’s hard to know where to begin and where to look.

At the risk of changing gears let me share with you a brief story that will help you in selecting the right company to design your WordPress website.

I remember in High School we had a Secret Service agent visit our class, which was super cool. And he was in charge of catching counterfeiters who were knocking off US currency.

He was an expert as spotting counterfeit currency and could identify any bill as fake within a couple seconds.

What struck me about his talk was when he mentioned that he didn’t actually ever spend time studying fake currency in order to spot it.

Instead, he spent all of his time studying genuine currency, such that whenever he saw fake currency he would immediately spot how it wasn’t real.

So how does that relate to finding a WordPress company for your project?

What you need to do first is get crystal clear about the exact website you want. Your budget. Your needs. Your timeline. And only when you’re clear on all of those factors should you start to look for a company to help you. Because, then when you do, you’ll know exactly who is the right fit for your needs.

Start with the end in mind

If you had a magic genie and could make a wish and instantly have your ideal website appear, what would it be like?

Now imagine it was one of those genies from the movie where it mischievously granted your wish, but in such a literal way that it would always screw things up somehow and the only way could really get your wish is to be as specific and detailed as possible.

Here are some questions you should get really clear about in terms of the site you are looking for:

How do you want it to look?

What other websites do you like the look and feel of? HINT: Look outside of your own industry and instead model the best websites on the web.

Who do you want to impress?

Is this website generate new leads, or wow potential investors, or lure future employees, or keep current customers longer? It definitely can be for more than one person but you want to get clear on who this new website is for.

What is the goal of this website project?

What does winning look like? Do you want more traffic? Awards? Praise? A reduced bounce rate?

What do you want the website to do?

Are there any unique functions you want the website to perform? Any 3rd parties you need to integrate with? Do you need a membership area? A shopping cart? Custom forms?

Establish your budget for the project

Okay, now that you have a good sense of the type of website you want, what is your budget for this project? And when thinking of your budget, don’t forget to factor in invisible costs, such as your time or your employee’s time who is working on the project. A $5k website might not be “more expensive” than a $1k website if the latter required an extra 40 hours of your time and you value your time at over $100/hr.

Custom WordPress Website Design vs. Pre-Made WordPress Template

So the big question you want to ask yourself is if you want to get a custom WordPress website or a pre-made template. Typically, you won’t be able to get a custom WordPress website for less than $5k. If you need an offer for a “Custom WordPress website” for around $1,000, you are almost certainly getting a template. It might be “customized” to match your branding but it won’t be a fully custom design.

WordPress developers

To clear the air on this, let’s go through various levels of WordPress customizations and see what might be right for you.

DIY WordPressTemplate - How do I use WordPress to build a website?

At the lowest level you have a WordPress theme that you install yourself. This could be a free or paid template, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, you’re not changing it because you can’t. Sometimes, these end up looking better than a “customized theme” because, if you choose a nice looking template, then you’re not screwing with it. A big mistake I see is people who don’t know what they’re doing messing with something that is already pretty good. How many hours does it take to build a WordPress website? It really depends. Anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the project.

Pros

If you have almost no budget, you can still have your own decent looking website on the web. This is a great way to quickly test a business concept.

Cons

While it might not cost you much money, it will likely cost you some time to figure out how to install WordPress and set it up on your server.

Customized WordPressTheme

A customized WordPress theme is when you make minor adjustments to the CSS and HTML to match your company’s branding and colors. Generally speaking, this is where problems arise. Your logo won’t quite fit the format of the design. Your about us text doesn’t really work with their layout. You can’t really find a place for your call to action the way you want. And there’s this stats counter that you don’t really need but can’t seem to get rid of. Basically your trying to shove a square peg into a round hole and it shows.

WordPress themes

Pros

An affordable website that has your company’s logo and colors

Cons

Sometimes sites like these end up unusable, so your ‘cheap’ website just ended up becoming expensive because paying for something you don’t use is never a good deal.

Price

A customized site can cost you a few hundred dollars hiring a freelance designer or a whole lot of your time if you want to figure it out yourself.

Semi-Custom WordPress Template

What are the pros and cons of using a template?

How custom is semi-custom? The answer depends on the skill of the developer. The most important thing to understand is the sequence of events and what it implies. In a fully custom WordPress website, the sequence is design/content > development. With a semi custom WordPress website, the sequence is development > content > design.

Basically, you are limited by the structure and functions of the WordPress theme. The developer can change the colors and fonts. He can he even get your logo to fit properly. And the site itself to look cohesive and well put together.

Some popular themes used for semi-custom WordPress sites are the Divi Theme and Avada Theme.

Pros

These types of websites can be a real crap shoot. I’ve actually seen some very decent websites that were semi-custom, but I’ve also seen plenty of disasters. This is usually a great option for a company’s first website when they haven’t established a proven business model yet but need a respectable presence on the web.

Cons

Generic. That’s one of the main knocks on WordPress template websites. They look good but they look generic and safe. Anything that has mass appeal is usually vanilla. In fact the most widely sold ice cream flavor in the world is plain vanilla.

Price

Semi-custom WordPress website packages should run you anywhere from $500 to $3,500 depending on who you’re working with and what they are offering.

Fully Custom WordPress Design and Development

A fully custom WordPress website can run anywhere from $5k to over $35k. So why is a custom WordPress website so expensive? Because it’s worth it. Both in terms of what you get in the process of design and development but also in terms of results for your business.

custom WordPress website

Discovery

Rather than quickly slapping on a template and shoving your messaging into a premade design, a truly custom design starts with you and your business. You will establish your goals for the project. Understand the user personas related to your business. Establish traffic currently coming to your website. And clarify the desired actions you want your visitors to make.

Website UX UI

You will establish the sitemap for the website and the desired user flow. Put together a centralized place for organizing content. Perform on-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on all website page and source stock or custom imagery for all pages of the site.

Custom Design

In the design phase you will typically start with your typography and colors, along with the overall mood for the design, outlined in a mood board and style guide. Then you will move on to wireframes, which outline the structure of the pages. And then mockup to high resolution mockups, which are essentially pictures of what the new website will look like. Because the designs are done in Photoshop, there is plenty of flexibility to iterate the design until it is exactly what you are looking for.

Custom WordPress Development

Typically, the developer will code the CSS and HTML design for the site, also known as the front-end design, first. Then once the front-end design is completed the developer will add that to a custom WordPress theme where they will code the backend development. If you get a good developer, the backend will be custom developed in a way to make it very easy for non-technical users to edit and update the site on their own.

Mobile Development

The mobile design is typically done during the development phase by the developer. This is generally done through CSS media queries, which basically give the browser specific instructions on how to render the page based on the browser width you are viewing the site on.

Search Engine Optimization

A good website design agency will also help you with our on-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and will perform proper keyword research and make sure all pages are tagged and structured to rank for your agreed upon keywords. This isn’t a given, so make sure that is included when negotiating your agreement.

And Much More…

There’s so much more that can go into a custom WordPress development, depending on the scope of the project. Ranging from 3rd party integrations, to secure user portals, or accepting payment processing.

Pros

  • Time – You don’t have to spend as much of your own time
  • Expertise – From design, development, content and SEO you will rely on an expert for each aspect
  • Unique – A custom design is typically more unique and original than any other option
  • Results – At the end of the day, results is the name of the game. And if you do it right, the website should more than pay for itself.

Cons

  • Price – Custom WordPress websites typically cost a lot more than other options
  • Pricing – In addition, WordPress design agency pricing is all over the place, so it’s hard to understand what is reasonable
  • Timeline – Custom WordPress designs typically take longer to make than a semi-custom design

Price

Pricing is a little all over the place and ranges from $5k to +$35k depending on who you work with

WordPress Website Design Agency vs. Freelance WordPress Developer

Another question people often have is if they should hire a freelance WordPress developer or work with an agency. Typically, but not always, a freelance developer works with templates and performs semi custom work.

Why do I say this?

Because there are really two different breeds of people, the design and the developer and they are complete opposites.

A designer is very creative and thinks abstractly in terms of images and symbols. While the developer is literally minded, and analytical; usually lacking imagination.

It is rare to find someone who is both a designer and developer and is really good at both.

So generally speaking when you hire a freelance WordPress developer, they are basically more of a design type who knows a little code. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as they’re up front that they are working with templates.

An agency usually has different people with different roles. Such as your project manager who will be guiding you through the project. A designer who is your creative free thinking type. The developer, who will code the site for you. An SEO guy who will select keywords and do the on-page tagging. And maybe even a content writer who will help you with your content.And then as you get with larger agencies, you will focus more on strategy and traffic acquisition.

So to give you a bottom line, a freelance developer is probably the way to go for a sem custom project. And an agency is better for larger and more professional projects.

My advice would be to look on Google. A few good searches would be “website design ” or “hire a web designer”

The most important thing on your end is to have a crystal clear criteria for what it is you are looking for and what kind of website you need.

From the potential WordPress agency’s end, the only thing you should really care about it their portfolio. Everything else is just talk. At the end of the day, it’s do you like their work or not. If not, then keep looking.

Another great way to find a WordPress agency is by looking at other websites you like the look of and find out who designed the site. Usually they will put an attribution link at the footer of the website. If that doesn’t work Google “ website design portfolio” and you may find that company’s name listed on the portfolio of the company who designed it.

If you’re looking for a freelance developer, some of the top WordPress web developers can be found on UpWork, which is a review based marketplace for hiring freelancers.

Another great query is just typing into Google “WordPress website designer near me” or “WordPress developer near me” Anything along those lines should help find a WordPress developer in your neck of the woods.

WordPress website designer

Does hiring a WordPress near you make a difference?

Not really. Because of the connected nature of the world today, it’s possible to work with someone half-way across the world and not know the difference.

Free Custom Mockup

We’re so sure that you’ll love our work that we will design for you a custom mockup of your new website, for free, before you sign or pay for anything. If you like it, we can move forward working together. If not, there are no hard feelings or other obligations. Click here to learn more.

We Know SEO

If you Google “San Francisco Web Design” or “Hire a Web Designer” we’re the #1 result. A lot of people like to talk about SEO, we actually know what we are doing. Better still, we can help your business achieve great results as well.

San Francisco Web Design

We’ve Worked With All Size Companies

We’ve worked with National brands such as Zircon Tools and the California Olive Ranch, to local law firms, dentists and financial services companies. We love working with service business companies and can do a great job to help you generate more traffic and leads to your website.

Thomas Digital clients

Check Out Our Portfolio

At the end of the day, either you like a company’s portfolio or you don’t. We’re proud of the work we do and hope that our portfolio will speak for itself.

Website design company

Great Reviews

But don’t just take our word for it. We have over 50 Five Star Reviews on Yelp. Some of them have been hidden by Yelp but they are all genuine. We also have a 4.8 star rating on Google Reviews and an A+ rating with the BBB.

50 Five Star Reviews

100% Custom Design

We never use pre made templates. Ever. All of our work is 100% custom designed in Photoshop for you. All of our WordPress web design packages start by getting a deep understanding of your business, customers and goals.

Amazing Backend Development

Our backend development is just as beautifully designed as our front-ends and we are happy to give you a backend tour of some of our previous work so you can get a sense of how easy our websites are to edit and update on your own.

Wordpress backend development

Celebrating Our 10th Year

We started business in September of 2010 and aren’t going anywhere. We are a growing company of 12 people and will be here for all of your website needs long into the future.

Wordpress development

All We Do is WordPress

We specialize in designing and developing custom WordPress websites. And that’s all we do. We don’t do web apps, mobile apps, eCommerce, logo design or Social Media management. We just do one thing and do that very well. So if you’re looking for a custom WordPress agency, you’re in the right place.

WordPress website design

We Care

This may sound corny, but we actually care. About our clients, our work and about making a difference in people’s lives. Both in the work that we do and the experience we share when working together. We want you to have a happy experience working together and to be proud of your new website. If there’s an X factor to working with us is that we strive to add humanity to static pages on the web.

Frequently Asked Questions

Over 33% of all websites on the web run on WordPress. WordPress typically has common file structure in the backend. Because of these two factors, WordPress is often targeted by hackers because they can develop a malicious script taylored to WordPress’ file structure and then have over 1/3 of the web to go after.

That doesn’t mean WordPress is inherently less secure than on CMSs (content management systems) it just means WordPress is a victim of its own popularity.

WordPress Security

WordPress actually has far more resources to keep it secure than most other CMSs. If you set things up properly and most importantly use good WordPress hosting, you really won’t have to worry at all about the security about your WordPress website.

Here is an entire article on WordPress security. My main advice is to just get very good WordPress hosting and that will solve 99% of all of your security issues.

WordPress has a reputation for being good with SEO and it is well deserved. The basic out of the box setup of WordPress already points you in the right direction. The way the page URLs are setup along with the ability to tag pages, gives you a great head start.

But where WordPress really shines is the huge number of SEO plugins available that can be used to improve your website’s rankings on Google. The granddaddy of them all is the Yoast SEO plugin, which is pretty much essential for your WordPress website. There is a paid version but the free version gives you more than enough to properly setup your website’s SEO.

Search Engine Optimization

In addition there are plugins that help speed up your site, improve mobile optimization, recommend linking structure, save missing backlink juice and much more.

Here is another article on all the ways WordPress can help your SEO.

The main thing to note is that it is a big factor to consider. Other website builder sites such as Wix and Squarespace don’t offer nearly the capabilities of WordPress despite what they say.

WordPress offers the ability to have dynamic pages where the content on the page changes based on the query by the user. To do this it uses the backend coding language PhP which has to call information from the server and spit it back to the front-end turning it into HTML.

Because of this process, WordPress websites load slower than static HTML websites, which don’t have to call anything from a backend.