During project planning and initial conversations with clients, one of the very first questions we get asked is “why can’t I just use a website design template?”.
The truth is any business can use a standard content management system (CMS) and template design, but the differences in results are clear.
For us, unless it is an absolute imperative (due to scope, budget or timelines), we refrain from advising clients to use template module builder plugins or website themes.
This isn’t a monetary issue, this is a desire to put our names to a quality piece of work (as any respective agency would wish to) – a beautiful, streamlined and high-quality website that performs for you, search engines and most importantly, the end-user.
Think of it like this…you pay more for a Michelin star restaurant, due to the quality of the meal than you do for a fast-food meal. The fast-food meal is a quick fix for a required appetite, but soon after you’ll feel the effects of it.
Template website development versus customised website development should be considered in the same manner.
What types of website templates are there?
Before understanding the differences between a templated versus customised approach to website development, it is important to understand what website template design looks like.
There are two ways to develop websites using a templated approach. One is to use plugins with module builders, the other is to buy themes that layer them over the CMS and then tweak accordingly.
Both are quick fixes and take less time to implement than custom development approach, but both have a clear level of restricted quality.
Module builder website template plugins
This is a newer way to build templated websites that has drawn inspiration from websites like WIX, Squarespace and Weebly.
Specifically, WordPress websites use module builders such as Elementor to inject templates into the CMS – a quickfire approach with serious limitations.
This approach allows you to choose from multiple full-page designs or ‘module’ blocks and inject them into the site template.
Theme website template designs
This approach requires buying and downloading a theme or ‘skin’ for the website and layering this over the content management system. This usually comes with instructions and most people can implement the theme.
There are companies who use both of these templated approaches and provide lower-cost solutions. The resulting output is of lesser quality, which is to be expected.
From an Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) point of view, the result of these poorly implemented themed solutions result in your SEO project focusing on putting out fires rather than creating incremental website growth within the first few months.
Often, we find that the website can only be pushed so far in terms of optimisation before a new website is required. This means the client has had to pay more in the long-run and has still had to get a bespoke website built.
For big eCommerce websites, the themed approach shouldn’t be considered under any circumstances, purely from a CMS, CRM and shopping cart perspective.
What are the differences between website template themes and custom designed websites?
It is natural for small-businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups to budget more conservatively and this restricts the opportunity for a quality website to be built.
For more well-established businesses, however, there is no excuse to not have a bespoke, high-performing and quality website for your customers to experience.
There are distinct differences between a customised website build and a templated solution. Often, the decision is made based on commercial factors. i.e. financial restrictions, strict deadlines and/or a limit on development quality.
Performance and accessibility
A templated website will use code that will likely need updating after 2-3 years. Additionally, there will be redundant code within the page content that will either slow the website loading performance or impact page accessibility by search engines. This can be detrimental to your search performance.
For bespoke websites, the quality and efficiency of the code make the website perform better, more efficiently and is easier to access and crawl content by search engines.
The result is a site with code that is built to last much longer than templated solutions. In fact, a custom built website can last up to 6 years due to the quality of the code delivered within the project.
Search Engine Optimisation implementation
Templated designs take into account the SEO best practices and compliance of the time they were created. However, SEO changes daily and best practices are constantly changing.
Themes that are not constantly updated will fall foul to not being up to date with SEO compliance and will the performance will be hindered as a result.
You could argue that this is the same with bespoke builds however, as mentioned in the previous point, the use of quality, efficient code safeguards your website for a longer period of time.
In both instances, however, you will need an SEO professional to ensure the website remains optimised until the time is right for a new website build.
A lack of differentiation
When templates are used, there must be an understanding that at such a cheap price, there will be hundreds to thousands of other companies using the template, too. This means a lack of differentiation from your website with the design and structure of other small businesses.
For search engines, this is clear to see and can impact how your site is ranked versus competitors who use bespoke solutions.
Basic structure, simple UX principles only
With templates, there is a standard practice of UX design (user experience design), but nothing more. Site structure and user-journeys are considered at a basic level, but nothing beyond this.
With bespoke websites, the design team are able to stay at the forefront of user experience trends and can map out customer journeys through the website based on your projects key deliverables and overarching goals.
This also allows for effective funnels to be mapped out and created so as to allow your target customer to be filtered through to your required conversion more efficiently.
A lack of ability to map content to search
Again, a bespoke approach allows you to map your content against your keyword strategy, allowing you to also perform gaps and identify areas of opportunity for content creation.
With a templated solution, you are limited in the ability to do this based on the template navigation and content structure within the template you have chosen.
Businesses may not initially consider mapping content-to-keyword as part of their website design project. It is only at the level of bespoke development that your website development team are considering these sorts of angles.
Limited functionality & Interactivity
If there is a desire to have a specifically innovative functionality that is different from all else on the market (think P&G’s parallax scroll interactive homepage banner). Templated development approaches do not cater for this.
Generally speaking, templates are cheap because they are limited. They are highly unlikely to have interactive and innovative functionality, until this becomes a cheap and easy to implement or standard practice. By then, it’s not an innovative feature anymore.
This is where you can get value from money from your bespoke build. Yes, it might cost more, but this is a market differentiator – it says to prospective customers that you value the quality of experience they have on your website as much as you do their experience of your product or marketing.
It is these types of experiences that can be the tipping point between your company and competitor for a customer.
Cost and time to build
In a way, templated websites have benefits. These are time and cost.
As already mentioned, a templated development approach can cost as little as a few hundred pounds. They can also be built in 1-2 weeks, which is efficient for a deadline.
Bespoke websites differ based on the resources required to design, develop and plan the website build throughout the project. This can usually take in excess of 2-3 months depending on the scope of the build.
For some clients, this is the difference between using a template and building a bespoke website. An alternative for this would be to reduce scope to a minimum viable product for your deadline and build upon this thereafter.
That way you are able to still take the bespoke approach, but in a manner that suits your deadline goals.
In the end, what matters is quality
The old adage “you get what you pay for” has always been used when purchasing products or services, and websites are no different.
For example, you can tell a Macbook apart from any other laptop, you know, feel and understand the quality you are paying for.
The same occurs for your customer when using your website. Ultimately, if you pay for a template approach, expect a cheap, buggy, unoptimised approach with no thought into your businesses longevity and your customer’s experience.
So if you’re planning a future web design project, consider this – would you rather use a Macbook or an entry level laptop? It might cost more upfront, but it’s worth it long-term.
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