Websites of the Future: WordPress Themes vs Custom Design with Jon Hollenberg

Custom website or wordpress theme? Author of “Love at First Site” Jon Hollenberg explains where WordPress websites are headed & how to choose between a theme or a custom site. Find out where web design technology is headed in 2017.

5 Questions You Can Answer After Listening To This Episode On Websites Of The Future With With Jon Hollenberg:

1. Should I choose a WordPress theme or go with a custom design?

2. Considering his first two jobs, why is Jon’s favourite food a surprising choice?

3. Does the value of a custom website justify the cost?

4. What would Jon Hollenberg look like if he were a puppy dog? (HINT: keep scrolling)

5. What can we expect from the websites of the future?


Jon Hollenberg is your typical beard-toting, wave-surfing, meditating, long distance-running, public-speaking, web-designing, business-owning, author.

Like your average 33 year old, he’s got over 17 years’ experience delivering thousands of bespoke websites to a range of different clients including Qantas & Jeep.

So yeah, pretty ordinary, but we decided to ask him on the show anyway because we think he’ll have some pretty helpful insights on today’s topic: WordPress websites of the future and where web design technology is headed in 2017.

If you’ve been wondering whether to opt for a ready-made theme or have your website custom built by an expert, this practical guide will arm you with all the pros & cons as well as other relevant knowledge to simplify your decision.

Just as you would when building a website, we’ll begin by picking a host.

INTERLUDE! If you’ve just discovered Redback Solutions, below is a short video about who we are and what we do. If you just came for the article, you can simply skip past the video and keep reading 🙂


What’s So Good About WordPress?

WordPress is an open-source Content Management System (CMS), which basically means it’s a free platform anybody can use for their blog, portfolio, online store — pretty much any kind of website you can think of.

Dominating the web, 27% of all websites are built using WordPress — that’s over 76.5 million users, with around 50,000 new sites added daily! They’re certainly doing something right, which is probably why Jon covers WordPress websites a lot in his book Love At First Site.

What makes WordPress so popular is its combination of practical features like permalinks and plentiful plug-ins, combined with ease-of-use and great customisation options.

Being such a massive platform means that WordPress is constantly updating and releasing new features. This is something website owners and developers need to be aware of, always keeping their software up-to-date in order to prevent issues and hackers.


Custom VS Pre-Made Themes

Your shop front isn’t your shop front anymore — it’s your website. By equipping your website with the best user experience possible, you’re ensuring that the first point of contact with your potential customers will be a positive one.

Below we’ve listed the main benefits and drawbacks of both choosing a pre-set theme and designing a custom website from scratch.

From A Template


  • Themes or templates are relatively inexpensive, with many available for under $1000.
  • Large platforms like WordPress come with quite a broad range of customisable options in terms of layouts, visual style, features & functionality.
  • Templates are fast and easy to complete, you just need to slot in your content.


  • Obviously there are limitations in terms of customisation — you must work within the constraints of your chosen theme.
  • Even minimalist themes tend to have a lot of extra bits and pieces of code which most people don’t need and tend to slow down performance.
  • While a website may look sleek and sophisticated on the surface, Google isn’t shallow like us humans. Search engines have very different ideas about what’s attractive and the sloppy coding that can sometimes be hidden beneath a beautiful theme isn’t one of them.
  • Many templates have some form of SEO built in, albeit quite generic and primitive. Templates will need to be corrected in order to suit your business’ specific SEO needs.

From Scratch


  • A custom website won’t look like anybody else’s — it’s completely unique to your brand.
  • Having ongoing support from an agency will be much better in the long run regarding sustainability, as opposed to paying for a one-off job with zero support. Your developer should be able to assist you down the road with any changes & issues that crop up.
  • Building from scratch means the developer can weave SEO elements into the very fabric of the site that are specific to your business.


  • Custom websites take more time to build than simply personalising a theme.
  • Obviously all the extra time and effort means they attract higher up-front costs.

Regardless of if you decide to go with a template or a custom site, when choosing a web designer (whether it’s your mate’s mate or a web design team) ensure that they’ll be reliable and contactable, in case any issues arise or you need to make changes in future.


How Much Should You Invest In A Website?

Of course (unless you’re Nike) not every business has the time or money to spend $100 per second on Marketing, but a good quality website is an investment everyone can justify.

Both Dave and Jon are often baffled by the large amounts of money business’ are willing to shell out on advertising, like $20k on a 30 second TV spot, yet they baulk at investing $8k in one of their brands’ most important assets.


“Generosity is the new currency of choice”


When considering the costs involved in building a website, it’s important to consider the value. How much is each customer worth for your business and what will it cost to attract them?

By giving away “quick wins” and readily-available information through your quality, user-friendly website, it will be faster and easier to earn trust and solve problems for consumers who are searching for a solution.


Websites Of The Future

Gone are the days of designing whizz-bang websites for optimal viewing on a desktop, then squeezing “only the essentials” into the mobile version. Oh, my how those days are gone!

Think Mobile First, Desktop Second

Google recently released a Mobile First Index, which basically means it will judge your website based on the mobile version in terms of SEO.

If you only have a desktop version (for shame!) it will still notice you, but realistically you’ll have more of a chance of impressing it — and potential customers — if you have a well-designed and optimised mobile site.

Get Specific With Your Customer Journey

Think about what you want visitors to your site to do once they get there. What are the key actions they should take first and then second? Do you want them to read a bio, watch a video, start scrolling through a portfolio, or just marvel at your psychedelic background for a few moments?

Videos Are Still All The Rage

People like to buy from people, so let them buy from you. Having a video that is uniquely connected to your business (even if you choose not to star in it) will not only appeal to consumers on a personal level, but also prolong their engagement and time spent on your website, boosting search rankings.

Keep Scrolling

Today, users are much more comfortable scrolling than they used to be. For one thing, it’s easier to scroll than navigate a menu on desktop and as far as mobile is concerned, scrolling is becoming something of a natural instinct.

With a plethora of options available for both themed and custom websites, it’s never been easier to have a free-flowing site with just a couple of pages and simplified navigation.

Speed Up

Facebook Instant Articles & Google AMP are the bee’s knees of new tech that every business should be aware of, as they benefit both website owners and their users.

Clicking on articles from Google or your Facebook feed can be quite slow and annoying as you wait for them to load. Now thanks to Instant Articles, AMP and other similar software, if you see a little lightning bolt on the post or listing, it means you’ll be directed to a scaled back version of that particular website in order to reach the content you want much faster.

Slim Down

In addition to using instant articles, improve your load speed and deliver potential customers to your WordPress website faster by scaling back all files like images and videos to their smallest possible form.

Custom Imagery

Put. The. Stock. Photo. Down.

Consumers and search engines alike will appreciate your unique, personal photos, illustrations, infographics and widgets. Also, we’ve all had enough of this.

To find out more about today’s guest Jon Hollenberg, follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn and check out his Gold Coast web design business Five By Five.

While you might find a very professional portrayal of Jon on social media, we’re all about listeners getting to know our guests for who they really are. With that in mind, check out the epic holiday beard Jon was sporting when we recorded this episode:



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