Should You Use a Template for Your Website? Probably Not

By July 27, 2018Websites
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You’ve seen the ads encouraging you to “build your own website in minutes.” Maybe you even know someone who can design this type of site for you, as a favor or on the cheap. It’s tempting, I know.

While it’s wonderful that website development has been simplified, template-based web platforms are geared primarily toward small-scale, low-stakes users. If you are a hobbyist or just need a landing page, pick a template and have at it. If you are serious about your business and brand, build it right and invest in a customized website from the start. When used in the wrong capacity, template websites have some serious shortcomings. 

A Mess Under the Hood

Freelance web developers can build template websites in a snap, at a low cost. The problem is that they’re not thinking in terms of usability or accessibility; they’re thinking about quick completion. Look under the hood, and you’ll likely find a web of “plugins” that we sometimes call “spaghetti code,” meaning it can be difficult to untwine. In many cases, we find that figuring out and fixing the backend of a broken template website takes two to three times longer than it would to build a new site from scratch.

More Questions Than Answers

Let’s face it, all websites are prone to problems – a button goes haywire, an image gets distorted, a page doesn’t load, etc. These are typical annoyances of running a business in the digital age, but when they happen to a template website, they can be extremely frustrating to solve.

Remember those plugins we mentioned? They are essentially tiny pieces of software that any developer can release, and any user can download. We don’t know–and we might never be able to trace–the origins of certain plugins. We are left to wonder whether they are vulnerable, and if they’re being properly maintained. To further complicate things, the interaction between plug-ins is undocumented and uncharted territory.

Understand that if you use a template and something goes wrong, diagnosing the problem will be painful. The most common issue we have to unravel in template websites is site speed. Plugins get clunky and can slow page load times, which results in high bounce rates. When this happens, it’s more of a research project than a quick fix. In contrast, customized websites have a more orderly portal.

Design Flaws

Most, if not all, website themes are responsive; they automatically reconfigure on different devices. Sure, everything will resize, but will it resize appropriately?

Templates have a tendency to glitch from one device to the next. Text boxes might not line up correctly on an iPad. Copy could be cutoff on older iPhones. The banner above the fold might lose its context on mobile devices altogether. User experience is a real and legitimate concern with templates. A custom website, meanwhile, gives the designers and developers complete control of what they are building.

Lack of Strategy

Every page on your website should have a purpose and lead visitors where you want them to go. A template designer isn’t taking this into consideration. They are designing for the masses and not your specific business. When someone else plucks that template, haphazardly modifies it, and slaps some copy in there, it’s simply not the same as developing a cohesive strategy for how your website should look, feel and function.

The old adage, “You get what you pay for” rings true when comparing the cost of a template website vs. a customized website. The former might be $3k, while an intricate, high-end website built from the ground up could run more like $30k. The reason for the large discrepancy is that an agency proposing a custom website is saying, “Let us build not only your website, but your brand.” They want to deliver strategy, scalability, security, maintenance and more – all wrapped into a long-term investment.

Everyone visits your website—current customers, new prospects and even pre-prospects. The latter are the web browsers, Google searchers and those who are generally curious about your offerings. If you don’t have a strategy to lead them to a call to action, you’ll lose them without even knowing it. These lost business opportunities more than outweigh any perceived savings with cheap website.

I’ll reiterate: There is a time and place to use a template. I’m willing to bet, though, that your business’ single most visible asset – the website to which all roads lead – is much more than a DIY or freelance project.