| Apr 5, 2023 | | 11 min read

WordPress themes vs templates: Which is better for selling websites to clients?


If your agency offers website services, you’re familiar with the delicate balance between optimizing pricing, the speed of website design and development, and the customization of client projects. When it comes to building websites on WordPress, themes and templates can help provide this balance: since you don’t have to build every project from scratch, you can reduce project costs, speed up the design process, and still provide a unique, on-brand finished product.

Start diversifying your revenue stream. Get your “6-Step Guide to Selling Website Services to Local Businesses” now.

However, while themes and templates may seem interchangeable, they have distinct differences that can impact everything from your workflow to the look of your websites. In this article, we'll lay out the pros and cons of both options to determine once and for all if themes vs. templates in WordPress are better. Whether you're a seasoned WordPress developer or newer to the space, read on to learn more about these useful resources.

What’s a WordPress theme?

A WordPress theme is a pre-designed set of files, styles, and layouts that determine the overall appearance and structure of any website created using that theme. Imagine you’re building a house. You’d start with an architectural blueprint for the new build, defining the overall structure, style, and appearance. This blueprint sets the foundation and parameters for the entire structure, from the color scheme to the materials used. A WordPress theme serves a similar function for a new website.

As the blueprint, a theme defines a website’s design, colors, typography, navigation, and other visual elements, as well as how these come together to create a cohesive look and user experience. Themes can be customized to suit your client’s brand identity and the required functionality of the site. For example, a theme might define how five primary and secondary brand colors are used throughout the design. A designer can define those colors to align with their client’s brand guide, and where the colors appear on the site would be defined by the theme.

If you’ve done any digging for WordPress themes, you’ll know that there are endless options available, both free and premium, catering to various verticals and design preferences. You can find these in the official WordPress Theme Directory, in third-party marketplaces, or included with popular website builders.

What’s a WordPress template?

A WordPress template is a single file, often within a theme, that controls the layout and design of a specific page or a group of pages on your website. Let’s return to our house-building analogy for a moment: if themes are the architectural blueprint, templates are the interior designer’s plan for each individual room in the house. These plans specify the decor, arrangement, and function of each room, like where the windows and doors are located, the placement of furniture, and the type of flooring. When it comes to building WordPress sites, templates give more granular control of the structure and design of individual pages or subsections of pages.

WordPress templates are created using a combination of PHP, HTML, and CSS code, and are usually included in WordPress themes. Specialized templates can be found online for custom post types, archives, search results, and just about any other section you can dream up. More advanced designers can also create custom templates by editing the theme's PHP files or using a child theme.

What is the difference between themes and templates in WordPress

Themes vs templates in WordPress serve different but complementary roles in shaping the design and layout of your websites. Themes provide the framework and appearance, while templates allow for more precise control over individual pages or sections. By understanding the distinctions between these two elements, you'll be better equipped to easily create websites that your clients will love.

Comparing the function and scope of themes vs. templates in WordPress

Themes can be used to define the overall design and structure of a website, saving the time and resources it would take to build the structure from scratch. They also determine the colors, typography, and layout, helping to pout a business’s brand guide to action. In doing so, they create a cohesive experience for users as they navigate the site. Themes:

  • Affect the entire website
  • Consist of multiple template files, stylesheets, and scripts
  • Establish global design settings

Templates zoom in further than themes by offering granular control over how specific sections of a site look, feel, and function. If a change is made to a theme, it will affect the whole website by definition. However, if a change is made to a template, it will only impact the part of the site where that template is being used. Templates:

  • Influence single pages on the site, or multiple limited pages, rather than the entire site
  • Are a separate file within the theme, not independent of a theme
  • Provide customization for specific sections or elements on a page

Comparing customization of themes vs. templates in WordPress

If using WordPress directly, themes can be customized using WordPress’s native Customizer, or by changing the theme’s options. If using a WordPress website builder, changes can be made within the builder by changing the universal settings for the theme.

Regardless of how you go about building a WordPress site, theme customizations will apply to the entire website. For example, changing the fonts assigned to H1 and H2 headings will change the appearance of those headings site-wide.

Customizing WordPress themes is quite user-friendly, and can be done without much (or any) coding knowledge, depending on the extent of the customization.

On the other hand, WordPress templates are not as easily customizable as themes. Since they are created using PHP, HTML, and CSS code, customizing them requires editing this code. When templates are customized, those changes only apply to the part of the site where the template is being used.

What do users think?

Before getting into the debate about using themes vs. templates in WordPress, let’s clarify one important point: when building a WordPress website, a theme must be installed. To get rid of a theme, users need to change themes in WordPress rather than deleting them altogether. Web design agencies have a choice between:

  1. Choosing an ultra-basic and lightweight existing theme and largely building out the site with custom templates and code
  2. Building and installing a completely custom theme, or,
  3. Choosing a robust theme that includes lots of templates, and working with those to create a customized website

So, which option is better? It largely comes down to factors like budget, customization preferences, and maintenance requirements, all of which we’ll cover in just a moment.

Given an unlimited budget and time, the most customizable option will be to build everything, including the theme and templates, from scratch. Web developers who specialize in completely custom sites tend to fall on the build-it-yourself side of the fence. Their arguments are that by creating a completely custom theme, they can offer more robust customization, limit the use of clunky plug-ins, and provide total control over all aspects of the site.

However, we’re willing to bet that most of your web client projects don’t come with the luxury of unlimited funds and time. In that case, agencies offering web design services often prefer to strike a balance by starting projects with highly customizable themes that include well-designed templates. This way, it’s possible to create a custom-feeling website for every client, without actually building each site from the ground up.

Pros and cons of using WordPress themes

When selecting a theme, designers and developers should consider factors like compatibility with your desired plugins, responsiveness for different devices and screen resolutions, and the availability of support and updates from the theme's developer.

Themes usually offer a live preview feature, so it’s easy to test how it looks and functions before committing to a theme. Let’s dig into some benefits and drawbacks of using WordPress themes.


  • Easy customization. Many themes come with user-friendly customization options, enabling users with limited technical knowledge to modify the appearance and layout of their websites easily. This means your clients can make small updates and modifications themselves, which is often a valuable selling feature.
  • Saves time. Starting with pre-designed layouts and styles saves a ton of exploration, trial, and error, speeding up the time needed to create professional websites quickly.
  • Endless options. Thousands of free and premium themes are available, ensuring that you can find an option that approximates the needs of your client.
  • Responsive designs. Themes built these days are designed to be mobile-responsive, which is essential from both a SEO and UX design perspective.
  • SEO-friendly. The best themes are designed with SEO principles in mind, like accessibility and mobile-friendliness, helping your client websites perform better on the SERPs.
  • Cohesive designs. Since themes apply site-wide, they provide a consistent design, making it easier to maintain a cohesive and professional look from empty states to product pages and beyond.
  • They can come with support. This depends on the choice of theme, but some themes on the market come with excellent support to help you and your team troubleshoot issues.


  • Limitations to customization. Yes, our first item in the “pro” list was that themes are easily customized, but while this is true, there are restrictions on the degree of customization. Colors, logos, and images can easily be customized, but layouts and navigation options may be more difficult to change.
  • Extra code can get “bloated”. Too many bells and whistles in the form of extra code, excessive features, and the need for many plugins can result in a slower or buggier website.
  • Potential compatibility issues. Some themes may not play well with specific plugins or custom code, leading developers to spend needless time troubleshooting and trying to identify the source of functionality problems.
  • Some can pose security risks. Poorly coded or outdated themes can expose your website projects to security vulnerabilities. Choosing reputable theme providers is a must.

Pros and cons of using WordPress templates

WordPress templates provide flexibility and control over the design and layout of individual pages on a website, which can help you deliver websites that meet your clients’ briefs. However, they also come with their own set of challenges. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of WordPress templates:


  • More granular control. Templates allow you to customize the design and layout of individual pages, giving precise control over a website's appearance and structure.
  • Enables specialized layouts. Templates can be used to create unique layouts for specific types of content or page requirements, providing creative freedom.
  • They’re reusable. Just because WordPress website templates aren’t universal, doesn’t mean they can’t be used throughout a site. Once a custom template is created or purchased, it can be reused across multiple pages on your site, streamlining the design process.
  • Easier content management. Using templates makes it easy to switch out and update content by updating the template without impacting the overall design of the website.


  • Less user-friendly. Customizing or creating WordPress website templates involves editing PHP, HTML, and CSS code, limiting updates to users with coding experience.
  • Options can be limited. The available templates within a theme may not always suit the specific design requirements or your project, leading to a need for custom template development.
  • Occasional compatibility issues. Custom templates may not always work seamlessly with certain plugins, themes, or WordPress updates, which can lead to functionality issues.
  • Requires regular maintenance. Custom WordPress website templates require regular updates to ensure ongoing compatibility with the newest WordPress version, web standards, and other changes.

Key considerations

Every web design project you quote on is unique. Rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach to your use of themes, templates, and combinations of the two, it’s better to know the difference between WordPress themes and templates, along with key considerations when deciding how each project will be created.


Costs can vary dramatically for both themes and templates. Theme costs broadly fall into three price ranges:

  • Free: these come with pre-built WordPress website templates and page types, and while they can be customizable, they may also have less reliable updates and no support, creating a higher security risk. An exception to this is free themes included with website builders, which can have excellent customizability and support since they’re included the in the price of the builder.
  • Premium: These can range from just a few dollars to several hundred dollars depending on the developer and the complexity of the theme. There might be ongoing subscription costs, but you can usually expect better support.
  • Custom: Custom themes can be built in-house or by outsourced developers, and the price for this will depend on the complexity of the project. However, they will likely cost more than premium themes.

The cost of templates depends on the type of template being used:

  • Included: These are included in the price of a theme, so they can be considered free.
  • Third-party: Third-party templates can range in price, but it’s important to choose only those that are compatible with your theme.
  • Custom: At the upper end of the cost scale are custom templates, custom templates can cost several hundred dollars or more.

Customization options

Since templates offer a higher degree of granular customization, they are more likely to be part of the mix when building client websites that have specific requirements that can’t be produced within the constraints of a theme. Alternatively, drag-and-drop page builders can offer this high degree of customization without the need to purchase templates.

However, for many websites, the customization available with themes is more than enough to create a website that meets all the required specs. It all comes down to your client’s requirements, and you can always test their WordPress site to see which option is best.

Theme vs template in WordPress: How to choose

  • Platform being used: If you’re using a website builder with built-in themes, you can likely create any project by using the themes as a starting point and making further adjustments with the page builder, no extra templates necessary.
  • Client budget: Adding lots of extra templates can increase the cost of a project.
  • Plug-in compatibility: If plugins are being used, it’s essential to know what they are up-front and to ensure they’re compatible with any theme or template being used.
  • Website responsiveness and SEO: Responsiveness is non-negotiable today, since so much web traffic is mobile.
  • Maintenance: Custom templates may require more ongoing maintenance, so it may be best to use those only if you will have an ongoing relationship with the client.
  • Frequently asked questions

    Are templates and themes the same thing?

    Templates and themes are not the same thing. Themes define the overall appearance and structure of a website, while templates are used to define the look of specific sections.

    Is a WordPress theme a template?

    A WordPress theme is not a template. Themes apply a design, colors, and typography to an entire website, while templates are not universal and only define the appearance and function of specific pages or sections.

    About the Author

    Lawrence Dy is the SEO Strategy Manager at Vendasta. His career spans from starting as a Jr. Copywriter in the automotive industry to becoming a Senior Editorial Content Manager in various digital marketing niches. Outside of work, Lawrence moonlights as a music producer/beatmaker and spends time with friends and family.

    Share This