Custom Design vs. Off-the-shelf Template

A lot of websites these days are built using content management websites such as WordPress or Drupal. These websites save companies money because semi-technical personnel can upload content and manage some the most frequently modified areas of most websites. You can have a content management system and still utilize a template (pre-built layout) or a custom layout. Let’s look at some of the differences between custom sites and website templates.

Template Website Advantages

Speed of Implementation

Template sites are normally easy and fast to implement. They usually include wizards that help guide builders in creating the site. You’re usually given a specific set of options that you can choose from. Even the structure of the site can be chosen. Some examples are where the navigation goes and the items that comprise menus and links. Also, you can decide whether to use several standard web page makeups. For example, you can choose between 2 or 3 column pages that silo your content into specific areas on the page.

Reduced Cost

Templates are also usually less expensive since most or all the code is canned and already in place. You don’t have to go through the time and energy of creating a design that matches your company or brand because you don’t really have a choice on design. You are looking through a list and picking one that is hopefully close to what you wanted.

Management

Templates usually come with something called a page builder. This is a drag and drop system of laying out content. It is easy to use but creates inefficient code that may make the website take longer to load. With more access comes more responsibility. With this much power, you could easily break the layout and not even know it.

Effort

If you are looking for simple functionality and are open to compromise, then a template may be a good option. If you are not looking for anything unique and are a paint by numbers type of person then this will make you smile.

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Template Site Disadvantages

Uniqueness

Template sites and sites built with CMS software tend to look like a lot of other company’s websites. This is because sites are built from a few different choices, and there aren’t enough to prevent a host of others from selecting the same options. They also have canned graphics with static sizes and placements. The logos and colors might be different, but you can easily tell if the site has been created from a template most of the time without even looking at the source of the pages. You can’t be picky.

Personality

Templates have a generic personality. They are designed to match almost any type of company. If your company has a special culture that you want to communicate, you may be stuck with a design that doesn’t match anything else you do.

Inflexibility

With a template, you are presented with spaces to fill. If the home page has 3 boxes, you normally need to find 3 things to fill those boxes. If you don’t like where something is, you will probably have a hard time changing its behavior. Forced content areas become problematic when you don’t have enough content (or you have too much content) for the template and have to start creating filler content just to keep from having empty areas. Filler areas can cause confusion for visitors.

Maintainability

Templates are built to provide the most bang for the most people. Therefore, they are usually filled with bloated code that you will never use. When making code updates you will most likely have to wade through this code to make the change you were attempting.

Effort

I know we have Effort listed as a Pro and a Con. The issue with templates is that you really don’t know what you are going to get until you try to implement it. Some templates are very difficult to customize if you are looking for anything besides the out-of-box experience. Maybe there’s a photo on the homepage and you want it bigger. You may spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get that to work and you’ll most likely break the layout in the process.

Expansion

If the new functionality you want to add is available as part of the template or as an off-the-shelf plugin, then you are most likely fine. If not, then you are potentially stuck. The existing layout may not support what you are trying to do and the web development company you hire may not want to work with a template because they don’t know the code. They could easily break the site or your budget if they have to work with someone else’s code.

Support

Unless the company you bought the template from offers support, you are pretty much on your own. Many templates are built overseas and only provide support over email (there’s a cost).

Advice

With a template website, you don’t have anyone to ask for advice on best practices. You’ll have to become good at knowing what to google for your answers.

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Custom Built Website Advantages

Branding

Sites that are built from the ground up by professional developers display the brand of the customer that commissioned the site much more clearly. This is because the entire site is made to showcase the brand instead of trying to fit the customer’s image into a downloaded template. A custom site is designed for your company and keeps your target audience in mind.

Design Direction

Anything you can dream up can be designed and programmed. You aren’t limited to the choices provided by templated layout – the sky’s the limit. Graphics can be created from scratch and the overall layout can be customized as needed to enhance the user experience and optimize performance for the site’s intended purpose. It is designed with your specifications and preferences in mind.

Performance

Built just for you means that there isn’t as much bloat or random code that you will never use. This just leads to faster processing which means a speedier and better experience for your visitors.

SEO

Search engine optimization is better in custom sites because there is a human element involved and new trends or advances in technology can be accounted for more quickly than with a site builder software. In the case of a template, what you get on the first go around is all that you ever get.

Support

Whoever designs and builds your website knows you and knows the website. Support is much easier to obtain and the likelihood of getting a useful answer also increases.

Longevity

If it is custom designed and built, it should last longer. The design will remain appealing to you and the backend will continue to work. This should be considered when calculating the cost of a template. You may change your template website 2 or 3 times in the same span as you would have 1 custom site. Each time requires effort and cost.

Expansion

If you ever need to add functionality to your website, you are usually able to do so with a custom site. It’s because your development company knows the site well – they built it. Therefore, they can more easily add to it.

 

Custom Built Website Disadvantages

Cost

Depending on the size and sophistication of your business and the site you want, it may be prohibitively expensive to build given your current cash flow, or it may be a great investment – that’s for you to decide. However, most development companies will work with you to find a solution that fits your needs. There’s just more to do when starting from scratch, and that time costs something.

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Implementation Time

Custom built sites can also take longer to build since they must be created from the ground up. However, custom built sites have the advantage of including specialists that are professionals at creating each phase of the website. You have analysts that can take your requirements and accurately communicate them. You have graphic designers that know how to make your site pop and bring your brand out front where it should be. Then you have developers that can write custom code to support complex parts of your website such as eCommerce, blogging, email distribution and other more technically advanced features. Then you have testers that make sure everything is working as intended before it is published. This gives you a more customized look and feel, but it takes a while to move through the different phases to completion.

Conclusion

There are pros and cons to each type of website. You can usually look around and find examples of both types. Ultimately, you need to choose based on what is most important for you and what resources you are working with. You may only be able to afford a template for now or you have very few needs. On the other hand, you may want to portray a certain style or specific functionality, which is when a custom website takes the lead.

Cost, quality, and development time are all factors to be considered. You must evaluate your needs and requirements to determine which one is right for you.

Contact us today and let one of our expert team members guide you towards the best website your business has ever seen.

Filled under: Web Design

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