Website Templates Vs. Custom Website Design

When you’re ready to build or redesign your company’s website, you’ll often start with one decision: do I use website templates or custom website design?

Websites serve as your home on the internet. Pages on social media sites allow you “free” access to your customers, but you’re subject to the site’s community rules. Your website provides the opportunity to present yourself to your customers the way you want. So when you’re designing your website, it’s important to make a decision that reflects the quality and professionalism of your company.

Pros of a Custom Website

Custom websites may be built on a WordPress or other CMS base. Yes, WordPress has a reputation as a blog platform, but it’s also known as one of the most used and flexible website platforms around. It’s an open-source CMS which means developers can create your website with a custom look and functionality while maintaining an easy to use back-end interface.

More advanced websites may be built completely from scratch with custom code. These sites are typically used for enterprise-level companies with teams of developers to update and maintain the site. This level of customization typically costs tens of thousands of dollars compared to a WordPress based custom site which may be built for much less.

Just to get this out of the way, we create custom websites, so it’s our stance that for most businesses a custom site is far superior to a template site. We’re trying our best to not show our bias in this article, but it’s there. Now that we have that out of the way, here’s why a custom site is your best bet.

Functionality — Our initial conversation with a new client centers around their goals. What you want to accomplish determines how your site will behave. A non-profit whose main goal is to educate their audience about an important topic will want a different design than one whose website functions mainly as a fundraising engine. A retail business and a manufacturer will have different needs as well. Do you want to allow your customer to log in to the site and access secure information? Do you want to include e-commerce?  A custom site is built with your goals in mind, so you’re automatically more likely to succeed because you have the right tool.

SEO — In the same vein, custom sites are built with SEO in mind. SEO dives deepers than keywords and metadata. A site’s speed and backend information also affects SEO credibility. A custom website takes this into consideration in the building process. While it doesn’t guarantee a spot on the first page of Google, you’ll have a lot better chance of scoring that placement with a custom site.

Design — Simply put, most custom designed sites are prettier than template sites. Don’t get us wrong. Many design sites offer some beautiful templates, but after you tweak them for your content and business, they rarely hold the same look. Template sites are like a sweater that fades and shrinks the first time you wash it. Web design agencies consider your target market and your goals so your design hits home in both areas.

Hosting — When you hire a web design agency to build your site, they will help you find secure hosting. Some years ago when our agency was very new, we contract with a local web designer to build and host our clients’ websites. He did great work, but eventually left the industry to pursue another career. We moved all our clients’ website off his server except for our own. We were in the middle of a website redesign when his hosting account was hacked and our domain was blacklisted on Google. Getting our site back up and going was a pain. For that reason, we now offer secure hosting services for our clients which includes security and plug-in updates. All reputable website design agencies will offer secure hosting services.

Scalability — Businesses change. We’ve seen that pivot more this year than ever. When your business or industry changes, your website needs to change too. A custom-designed site offers the possibility of changes and updates without upsetting the entire design of the site. And most of all, these changes can be made without tearing down your hard-won SEO credibility. 

Unique Design — A popular template may find its way to many websites, so your site no longer stands out from the crowd no matter how pretty it is. A custom site may take elements you like from various sites across the web, but the end result is completely unique to you. No twinning here.

Responsiveness — Your customers access your website from their desktop computer at work, their phone in their car, and their tablet from their sofa. They expect your site to keep up. A responsive site changes to fit the size screen on which it is viewed. This functionality is no longer optional. Your customer expects it. Not every template delivers.


Cons of a Custom Website Design

Not everything is rosy on the custom site side though. You will run into a few negatives along the way.

Timeline — A beautiful website that performs the way your customers expect and offers the potential for building onto later takes time to develop. After we’ve discussed goals with our website clients, we then discuss designs they like, their branding, and their voice. All these go into creating the best site for their company. And it all takes time. If you need your website live today or even next week, don’t count on a custom site.

Cost — Custom sites cost more. In addition to the design, you’re paying for someone with expertise in content and security of your site. Most WordPress sites range from $2,000 to $10,000. Sites built with custom coding will reach much deeper into your pockets. Only you can decide if having a professional site that represents your business well is worth the extra money. (Side note: We think it is.)

No DIYs — Unless you know a good bit about coding or the CMS you plan to use, you’ll need a website developer to help you. You can learn a lot about website designon YouTube, but everything takes time. Wouldn’t yours be better spent taking care of your customers?

Pros of a Template Website

Template websites have their place. Solopreneurs, mico-businesses, new artists, and even job seekers will find templates fit their needs well.

Price — Template websites cost much less than custom sites. In many cases, you can build these yourself with a plug-n-play site like Wix. You won’t spend thousands paying a designer, developer, and content creator. 

Timeline — Because you’re involving fewer people, you can publish a template-based site in a few hours if needed and certainly in a couple of days or weeks if you want to spend more time tweaking your content. 

Design Options — Honestly, you have hundreds of terrific template designs available. Whether you choose a drag and drop option like Wix or purchase a theme for WordPress, you’re sure to find a beautiful option for your business. 

Hosting — Many of your DIY website builders also host your site and offer domain email addresses which makes it easy to publish without having to figure out how to change CNAME records.

DIY-friendly — If you’re looking for an option you can do yourself, templates sites are what you’re looking for. For artists who need a play to display their work to job seekers who want to make it easy for employers to find them, template websites fill a much needed niche.

Cons of a Template Website

While a website template holds a certain appeal, everything has drawbacks.

Customization — If you need more than a static “business card on the web” kind of site, you’re out of luck with a template website. These sites lack the ability to customize according to your goals and the functionality your customers want to see. What you see is what you get with a template website. 

Professionalism — You know how that craft project on Pinterest you attempted never turned out like the images online? Very often, a template website turns out very much like this. Even with a beautiful base site, the images, graphics, and content just don’t flow together like they do on a custom website. 

Security — Here’s a biggie. Cheap hosting abounds, but you’re in charge of making sure security and plugin updates are installed. The internet is like a sponge. Every site has a ton of holes waiting to be exploited. Developers create patches for the largest holes as they appear. It’s up to you to ensure those patches are applied if you choose to host the site yourself. Plus, hackers can secure access to multiple sites that use the same theme or website template, so it’s low hanging fruit for them.

SEO — Most templates are not created with SEO in mind. Even making basic updates like alt image titles or keywords can be harder with a template site. If your goal is to make it to the coveted first page of Google, a template website makes it that much harder.

No Support — If your website’s hacked or a CMS update messes with your website template, you’re out of luck. Very often your host didn’t save a recent back-up of your site and you’ll have to start all over from scratch.

Lack of Originality — Template websites offer trending designs, but your site will look like a hundred (or more) out there. Yes, you can use your branding, but that only alters the design a certain amount.

Your success is our goal. We’ve learned a lot of lessons about website design and content over the years. Take advantage of our knowledge and access to quality designers and developers and secure hosting. When you’re ready to launch a website that ensure your customers see your company as unique and professional, give Hilary at call at 662-416-8674.

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