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What is a Theme?

WordPress websites are built on top of themes. Here are two examples of theme libraries people use to create their WordPress websites:

  • This one is from iThemes, an Oklahoma based company specializing in WordPress security and serving integration companies like mine.
  • This is a more general library from, a repository of significant Theme code from overseas, usually from very small independent authors, no integrator support, no security expertise, and often no way to reach them by phone or through any sort of timely online support system. The glitz and glam visual impact is usually achieved with plug-ins that must be maintained aggressively and which themselves may contain vulnerable code. The dashboards of these websites, where you would do work to update your website’s content, are usually very elaborate. The expense of producing even one of these themes usually starts at 7x the cost of our Foundation Package. 

Themes contain the code that generates a given design for desktop and mobile experiences. If you hire me, I will start with a theme and modify it to conform to our needs as appropriate to the package type you’ve purchased.

Getting a theme to behave well on mobile is called “responsive design”. Creating a CMS-based website with good responsive design requires considerable effort. It has to be built so that a non-techie can effectively run with it. This eliminates 80% of the themes I’ve encountered.

Beautiful pre-built themes, like those found on, are great if the code base is known to be safe and the theme authors are in business, actively supporting their theme and releasing updates to stay ahead of hacking. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case on the glitzy, pretty theme re-seller websites. You get beautiful responsive themes for cheap, with virtually no business-grade support or a clue about where the code has been before it was implemented in your website.

Why do you need ongoing support from a theme author? Why can’t you just get your website built and be done with it? It’s because you’re building on a public-facing Content Management System (CMS) that must be continuously updated to remain safe and functional. If you’re coming to me to build a website, you’re doing it because you don’t want to have to learn how to do it yourself, you don’t like cookie-cutter design from the DYI website builder services, and you need a website that you can manage yourself. I address such requirements by building with WordPress, which results in your website being a public-facing CMS.

The cost to build a theme with all the custom functionality and high-impact graphic design you could ever want, and do it safely, is usually so far beyond the reach of the average website owner, that it is only through the mass resale of a single theme, on websites like, that they become affordable. Even then, the cost is just for the theme. It does nothing for:

  1. Implementing it safely,
  2. Learning how it wants you to interact with it for updating your website content (as opposed to building into the theme the best way to do that…which is what our Deep CMS approach addresses) and other aspects,
  3. Or what to do if you mess something up and need help recovering.

However, sometimes a $20K expenditure to have your very own high-end theme created just for your company is a trivial cost if your market space values the experience such an approach delivers. I currently don’t build websites that require such a high level of engagement, but I am glad to make a referral to someone I trust to do this for you.

Why SMASH requires a theme audit fee with  my RapidRollout Package

As you may have guessed by now, my two levels of web build services are aligned with how Themes are currently offered, and is predicated on the assumption that you do not need 50 hours of high-end graphic design and a hundred hours of coding a theme to generate the desired experience for your visitors. The RapidRollout package fills a critical void in current web design approaches. It engages a security-conscious company (mine) that understands how complex it can actually be to update the content on a website built with a beautiful, visually sophisticated theme (regardless of what the marketing people say). 

It also provides a way for you to get a theme evaluated for safety, and in fact overall suitable for operating in a business environment, before you start depending on it for your online image and reputation.

You’ve probably also noticed that the iThemes themes aren’t as pretty, or as elegant, as those offered on The difference is striking in most cases, and illustrates an issue everyone struggles with to some degree on both sides of the web design experience. The iThemes approach supports integrators like myself, for creating a starting base theme on which to build a CMS designed for ease-of-use and security best-practices. The design presented is a starting point, not an ending.  The approach presents largely finished designs that are difficult to change (they are built with the assumption of “minimal modification required”) and impossible to modify to the point where a Deep CMS approach can be utilized. However, they are often visually stunning, but that is usually their only actual benefit.       

You cannot get to a visual experience like those offered by themes using an iTheme theme for the price point provided by any of my services. This is because my company does not build visually expensive themes, with a production cost to match, for mass resale.

If we select a theme together that is from, and not from my iThemes repository, then we will have to evaluate the theme for safety and professionalism; thus the fee. 

I hope this explains not only why such a fee exists, but also provides you more context about the way WordPress works in general. My goal here was to provide you with the critical context you need to make the right decision about who to to trust with your website build, and how much they can stand behind what they build for you.                                                                                                                                  

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