Jake Intel

Henry Mesias

Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Themes and the WordPress Admin Panel

Most of the websites we create at the Jake Group are custom solutions, focused on enhancing our clients’ brands and sharpening their marketing goals. But in a growing world of off-the-shelf WordPress themes, it is reasonable to ask the question—what is gained by allocating a little extra time and money to execute a custom theme?

When considering what you want from a website, it’s easy to focus on the front-end—that is, what the website looks like to the public. Large banners, sliders, and animations that enhance your message are always a primary focus, and are commonly made prominent in today’s off-the-shelf themes.

But what is often overlooked is the administrative back-end of the site that allows you to publish and manage all those website elements in the first place. Whereas a template-driven option can offer some of these flashy elements on the front-end with minimal customization, they often lack a streamlined user interface behind the scenes.

A Customized Administrative Interface

A key aspect of the WordPress platform is its role as a Content Management System (CMS), which allows you to manage web content through an administrative interface on a day-to-day basis. Whether a site uses a custom design or an off-the-shelf template, you’ll rely heavily on the CMS to keep the site fresh and up-to-date. That said, it’s important to consider the ease of use that comes with the back-end of a custom site versus a template.

Here at the Jake Group, we believe in the power of brand messaging and content marketing, so we want to ensure you always have the ability to maintain every word on your site after the initial launch. Whether posting articles to your blog, adding a new banner image, or changing a featured item on your homepage, the admin panel is critical. It’s why all of our custom websites apply a variety of strategies to ensure the back-end interface is an easy-to-use tool for everyone, regardless of technical proficiency.

Custom Fields

Part of our process for custom site development is to ensure the admin panel will be intuitive and easy to navigate, so that you will find updating your page as easy as using your favorite text editor. We use Custom Fields to ensure that editable elements such as headlines, subheads and content are clearly marked, and when edited will update the site while preserving the design and layout of the website itself.

This contrasts with many off-the-shelf themes which present users with an overwhelming array of options to enter content as well as adjust the various styles throughout the page. Trying to find the correct place to add a subhead in a complex, template-based theme can be hard enough, and when combined with style, layout and metadata settings, as simple update often times will introduce inconsistency into the website layout.

Site Options

Another unique feature of our custom back-end development is the Site Options section. In Site Options you’re able to update key elements that appear throughout the site such as logos, contact information, social media icons, and more. This allows you to make one edit to affect multiple occurrences of an element throughout the site, maintaining consistency and reducing admin time.

Off-the-shelf themes, on the other hand, often place these elements in hard-to-find and sometimes duplicative areas of the back-end, making them hard to manage. If your business moves, or you want to change the featured news item on the front page of your site, you want to know that your edits will render exactly as you intended.

Custom Training

The Jake Group provides training as part of our development process, which is where the difference between a custom site and template site becomes most apparent to our clients. With a custom site we are able to walk through the admin interface and touch on the specific elements that will be of importance to our client when managing the site. If an item is found to be confusing or does not match the needs of the administrator, we have the ability to alter the interface to better serve its purpose.

Additionally, we understand that the person who initially receives training on how to manage the site is not always the same person who will be updating your site a year after launch. The intuitive interface and training we provide often allow the current admin to pass on knowledge of how to use the system, and the Jake Group team is also able to provide updated training given the consistent approach we use in admin panel setup from site to site.


Custom back-end approaches such as Custom Fields, Site Options, and User Training are what make our custom sites easy to use and maintain. These sites scale gracefully as your organization grows. Regardless of your budget, it is always important to look beyond just the front-end of the site that you want and weigh the choices of how the back-end will best suit your needs. If you’re interested in learning more about WordPress and its limitless capabilities, Contact Us Today, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions.