Template based versus custom-built websites

Your website is your most important asset – the shop window for your brand. It’s so important to get it right, but it’s no easy job and there’s lots to think about. One of the first steps for many is deciding on a custom build or a template website. Following we delve into the pros and cons of each.

SO, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A THEME AND CUSTOM BUILD WEBSITE ANYWAY?

Let’s tackle this one with a metaphor. Imagine you’re buying a house. A template website is when you buy a display home with all the fixtures and fittings designed and included. It still looks great and works well – it’s just that it’s not as bespoke as you might like. Now, imagine you have a clear idea of what you want your house to look like, the functions you want it to have, the materials you want it to be built from. That’s all possible, but you’ll need an architect and other specialists to get your vision realised. And of course, it will come at a higher price point.

TEMPLATE WEBSITE

Pros
  • Cost-effective: There’s no need to design, build, or code a site from scratch – so you’ve instantly saved on the bottom line costs of your website build
  • Quick: Breathe a sigh of relief if you go down the template-based route because your web build just got a lot quicker. With lots of the coding done already, you can adopt a sprint-based approach to getting your website ready for market
  • Suited for brochure style websites: By this, we mean a website that simply informs and educates people about your company – no overly fancy functions, complex requirements, or custom software integrations
  • Tried and tested: The online landscape changes constantly and websites will always need maintenance and monitoring. If you buy a popular theme from a reputable source it is likely to be updated regularly by the original developer. This means it should be up-to-date most of the time, with responsive layouts, and tweaked to work with any new trends in design, etc
  • Flexible: With a template design, it’s ‘off the shelf’ and a lot of the programming has been done already. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that your site will look exactly like everyone else’s. There are lots of ways to customise themes and many are built with flexibility and customisation in mind
  • The look & feel is still yours: The overall look and feel of a template website can be updated relatively easily to achieve a marked difference to the starting theme/template. This is the stage where a branding agency and experienced designers can make a big difference to a theme/template and add real value. Choice of fonts, applications of colour and hierarchy, combined with image treatment, selection and cropping will help in a large way to stop it looking like a ‘template’ site
Cons
  • Limiting if you need something more bespoke: A theme is not a tailored individual brand piece. The colours, fonts and imagery can be updated, but if a unique brand experience is required it can be limiting
  • Can be frustrating if you have complex functions: Templates are built to be ‘one size fits all’, which means that if the content of the business/website is not the norm, it may be difficult to find a theme that will suit it as well as it probably should. If users are forced to work through a process that doesn’t fit the product/service they’ll soon find it frustrating
  • You won’t know everything until you’ve bought the theme: There is a limit to how much a template can be updated. Some elements will be hardcoded and will require additional development to change. This often this isn’t discovered until the theme is purchased
  • Expect a few bugs: When you’re not entirely in charge of the coding, there can be unexpected bugs – especially when the template is tweaked or has different content applied to it
  • Not all templates are built equally: Anyone in the world can design a template and put it for sale on a template marketplace. The result? There’s a variety of build quality between themes. So, if you want your own development team to tweak a template – even in a small way – they might have to wrestle with things not done the ‘right’ way by the original developer, which can take longer
  • You’ll need to think about integration: Using a template means there may be limitations with backend connectivity to internal business systems. It’s one to think about

CUSTOM BUILD

Pros
  • Perfect if you want to deliver a brand experience: Custom-build websites are the ideal solution when you have a unique brand or product experience required from your website
  • Better user experience: Custom built means that every step in your user journey can be considered and tailored to, which allows for an exceptional user experience
  • Efficient and secure: When a website development is done from the ground up the site can be built with the most up-to-date systems, security and performance. While custom build can sometimes take longer, they can be built quickly and efficiently with a good set of requirements and total stakeholder buy-in
  • Custom integration with business systems: Backend systems can be built with custom integration to greatly impact business efficiencies (think about if you need integration with systems taking care of ordering, inventory, invoicing etc)
  • Business efficiencies for the future: Custom built backend reporting can translate directly into staff/business efficiencies and real customer insights. You build the system you need to get the data you want to your business
Cons
  • More expensive than a theme: You’ll need to budget quite a bit more for a custom build. How much more depends on the functions and integrations required for your website
  • Extensive planning and requirements stages: When commissioning a custom build website there is a lot more planning to be done. Why? Well, the sites generally tend to be more complex than a template-based website, which is part of the reason. But also, your developer will need a very clear scope in order to quote. Extra functionality or extensive changes during the project will usually be charged as extra
  • Longer build times: Now, this depends on the complexity, but a custom-built site can often require extensive build timelines which will need to be factored in
  • More extensive testing required: When you use a theme, a lot of the testing across multiple browsers and devices has already been completed, which means you won’t need to do as much
  • Expect higher maintenance costs: The online landscape is constantly changing and your website will need maintenance and updates. With a custom build, this, and additional ‘out of scope’ functionality can be a higher ongoing cost

BUT, IT DEPENDS…

With all of this in mind, it’s worth noting that every business is different and every website is different. There are some fantastic templates out there that allow for a lot of flexibility and integration which will be used as the basis for complex websites. Equally, there are clients that have simple brochure sites who still chose custom-build simply because they want that freedom to represent their brand 100%.

Published: July 10, 2019

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