Hugues Audouard Freelance web designer and wordpress consultant

How is a WordPress website built

There are multiple ways to build and set-up a WordPress website. The way in which your site is built has a direct impact on how easy (or not) you will find it to make changes to it yourself. This post is not meant to be a comprehensive overview but simply a brief introduction to key concepts. I hope this will help you in being able to ask the right questions of your prospective web developer.

How a WordPress website is built

A WordPress site is made up of three key components:

  • WordPress – This is the “engine” which powers your website and manages everything in the background
  • A theme – This is the “bodywork” of your website which, broadly speaking, determines the look and feel of the site by managing things like headers, footers, fonts, colours
  • A range of plugins – These are the “optional extras” which extend the functionality of WordPress and enable your site to have many additional, useful features such as contact forms, ecommerce, animations etc..

There are literally thousands of different themes and plugin available for WordPress. Some are free, some are paid. Some are good and well coded, some are not quite as good or well coded and some are, well, best avoided altogether…

A WordPress website can be built in a number of ways:

The way in which your new site will be built generally depends both on the developer correctly identifying your needs, as well as on your overall budget. It also greatly depends on the developer’s expertise and preferred way of doing things.

There are broadly four ways of approaching the development of a WordPress website, with many nuances between them of course:

1. DIY & free themes

At the bottom end, the site may be built using a free or niche premium theme, chosen based on the way it looks. You would then add your content and images and may perhaps be able to make a few changes to the theme settings. This approach tends to be the one adopted by DIY site builders and, whilst at the cheaper end, can present several issues in terms of quality of code, ongoing software updates, site loading speed and limited ability to make the site more individual

2. Premium commercial themes

The next step up would be to use one of the better known and more reputable premium themes, of which there are a dozen or so. These “premium themes” tend to come packed with all sorts of design features, making many things possible. They can include their own page builder, sliders, image galleries, portfolio options etc. Whilst this is great for some users, it can also have several disadvantages. Each of these themes does things differently so there is always a learning curve. They may offer lots of features but as most websites only use a fraction of those, your site is likely to end up with a lot of un-necessary code which can impact loading speed.

In my opinion, the biggest downside of using these “full features” premium themes is something called “theme lock”: these themes tend to cross the boundaries between theme and plugin by adding features in the theme which are best left to separate plugins. They also tend to build pages in a way unique to them, meaning that it may be very difficult later on to change the theme while still keeping your content ( for example, in the event that you would like to re-design your site or if the theme developers no longer support the theme).

3. Theme framework & page builder

This approach uses a combination of a quality theme framework together with a leading “page builder” This enables great design flexibility and provides the user with an easy way to update their content. Specific features or functionality can then be added using tried and tested plugins. The end result is a website which combines great features with custom design alongside high quality code which delivers better speed, security and search engine benefits. There are no prizes for guessing that this is the method I use to design and develop WordPress sites !

Using this approach enables me to produce a custom designed website whilst enabling my clients to easily update their own content. Whilst I do use some custom code to build elements of the site, this is transparent to you the user, as most of the content updates you will need to make can be done either using a simple and intuitive page builder or the standard WordPress text editor. I have produced a couple of short demonstration videos to give you an idea of how this works, you can access them here >

4. Custom coded

Whilst some developers or agencies use this approach for some small business sites, this tends to be the method of choice for larger budget websites with very specific functionality requirements which are better addressed by developing something from the ground up. The advantage of this approach is that you end up with a solution that is totally custom coded to your requirement and doesn’t rely on commercial plugins. One of the downsides is that it can be quite a lot harder for the client to make content or design changes to the site themselves and so they would need to rely more heavily on their developer.

One final word, don’t forget that, however it is built a website site is only ever as good as the developers building it…



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I'm a freelance web designer & developer, as well as a bit of a digital marketing expert. I love all things WordPress and helping people make the most of their website and digital marketing presence. You'll sometimes find me lurking at various WordPress meet-ups, Facebook groups or the support forum...


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