Website Templates vs. Custom Website Design

Emily Crymes

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If you’re an online business owner, chances are you’ve come across a website template. Maybe you’ve purchased one and had great success with it, or maybe you’re not sure if you should. Either way, I’m sure you’ve seen an ad at some point and time for a Customizable Website Template.

Website Templates

Website templates are a great option for someone who is just starting out in business. You’re likely still figuring out your offers and what it is you want to do, and your revenue is probably not at a place where you can invest in high quality custom website design

If you’re tech savvy, have some extra time on your hands, and feel comfortable with customizing a template on your own - these can be a great option for your business.

Usually, those who are selling the website template provide a tutorial library that walks you through how to edit the template and customize it to your brand by changing the colors and fonts, uploading new photos, etc. So you’ll be given a ton of the information you’ll need to be able to customize and continue to maintain your website.

A Website Template Client Story:

Client A came to me needing some help finishing up her website template. Her business is relatively new, so she didn’t quite have the budget to pay for a fully custom website. Additionally, she’s still figuring out what she wants to do with her business. Right now, her site is mainly an informative site, and gives her a place to link her credentials and professional information. 

Client A also did not have a site prior to using the template. She was starting from scratch, which in my opinion is the best time to use and implement a website template.

This is a great example of where a website template is a great option for someone. She was able to get her new business off the ground and start showcasing her expertise for a relatively affordable price.

HOWEVER - this is not the case for everyone.

Some downsides to website templates:

Number 1: Website templates are only “so” customizable, and they’re pretty easy to break. 

There are sometimes custom coded elements in place to give something a certain appearance. If you’re not aware of this  and try to modify that, you could accidentally break something without knowing what you did or how to fix it. 

If you’re okay with having the template exactly as is, you may not experience this.

Number 2: Website templates are often built in Showit, which is not my preferred platform for websites for a variety of reasons

A main thing about Showit is that you have to remember to edit the mobile version of your site too. Otherwise, you could have overlapping text or elements on your mobile and create a poor user experience.

To have certain features or effects, things may be hidden or set up differently in mobile, and it can be confusing if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for or why things are set up a certain way.

Number 3: Website templates can be really intimidating for people who aren’t tech savvy

There are so many moving parts and things to keep track of, and there is also a lot of prep work in the installation of your template and just having to learn how the program works. 

It can also be really overwhelming to try and learn a whole website builder through tutorials, and because you don’t really know what you’re doing, it takes you forever.

Number 4: Website templates are really hard to scale for large sites.

You’ll end up just duplicating pages for the ones you need that the template didn’t provide, and then you’ll have a ton of pages that just look the same.

Number 5: Website templates take a lot of time that seasoned business owners just don’t have.

Installing the template, learning the site builder, sourcing all of your images, customizing the template, writing your website copy - it’s just a lot that you have to do on your own and takes a lot of time. 

Custom Website

A custom website is definitely the way to go if you are an established business. You have clear and defined services and offers, you likely have established branding, or you’re in the process of rebranding, and you may have a lot of content on your site already. You see the value of a custom site and how much it’s worth to pay someone to handle things for you so that you can stay focused on your business and client work.

A Client Story who used a template, but should have gone with custom website design:

I worked with Client B through contract work with a different agency (she was not my client and did not work with me through Crymes Design Co).  She wanted to implement a template for her business’ site. Client B has an established business, for quite some time. I wanna say 5+ years? 

She is a very active blogger and influencer, with a site on Squarespace. However, the template she purchased was for Showit. And here’s where things get tricky. 

Squarespace and Showit (wordpress) are not pals. Transferring a site from Squarespace to Showit is normally a pretty intensive task and process to make sure that everything gets transferred over correctly. Now let's add in the HUNDREDS of blogs that this client has…

The amount of REDIRECTS that I had to set up and check was honestly insane. And this is because of how the platforms structure your URLs. So with her being an established blogger and influencer, we had to make sure all these redirects were in place because of all the possible links that are out there, linking back to her blog. 

The use of a template was pretty limited for Client B. We made a lot of tweaks to the template to make it look “different” and implement her branding that she had. 

We honestly spent just as much time customizing this template as we would have if it were a custom website design and build.

Let's Recap: Why Custom Website Design vs. Website Templates

If you’re an established business owner, you need a site that sets you apart from everyone else in your industry. Chances are, if you found the template, so did someone else in your industry. 

You also don’t have the time to sit there and watch a ton of tutorials and then try to replicate what you learned in your template. You need something that is tailored to your business and services, and sets you apart from others in your industry. 

But if you’re just starting out, a template may be the way to go for you. You likely have more time on your hands, and are still figuring out what your business does. You don’t necessarily need a ton of custom features with your site. 

Why I don't sell website templates

Selling website templates just doesn’t work with my business model, my expertise in proper website building, and honestly, my values. 

I actually started to create templates a while back, but never launched it as a digital product. Why? I care about your site working for your business, and being structured in a way that works towards your goals. 

If your site goal is to increase blog traffic, your site will be structured differently, with different priorities and pages, than someone whose site goal is to increase leads or grow an email list. Unfortunately, templates just can’t take these into account. It would take a business a lot of manpower and time to build one template 3 different ways to suit different goals. 

Templates can also feel really restrictive when it comes to implementing your branding. There are no “fun” elements or layouts that speak to your brand vibes, and everything is pretty standard. Sure, you can find templates that are maybe more in line with your brand vibe, but none will be 100% in line. For new businesses, that’s great! You don’t have too much wiggle room to go crazy and can just use simple branding for now. 

But for established businesses - your branding is one of your key differentiators! Show it off in all the fun and unique ways you can. 

I also feel that templates force you to pick a website platform that maybe isn’t the right fit for you. Most attractive website templates are Showit or Squarespace, with a few Wordpress ones out there. If you find a template that you really love, but it’s only available in Showit - chances are you’re starting in or switching to Showit.

*Psst - check out Podcast Episode 2: 'Which website platform is best for you?' on Spotify or Apple Podcasts- Or read the blog post here.

Every business has unique needs, and each platform offers different things. But being forced to pick a platform because of a template just doesn’t sit right with me. 

What I do support: Semi-Custom Website Projects

Keeping in mind the reasons that a template may be the best solution for someone, without actually selling a template as a digital product, led me to some reconsideration on how I can support these businesses at this stage. 

Instead of offering a website template that is 100% DIY, that you have to customize, or connect to your domain and all the other confusing aspects of building or launching your website, I offer a done-with-you website package.

This takes a template that I have created and keep locked away in my arsenal, and I customize it for you with your branding, images, etc.

The benefit of Done-With You Website Design

  1. Created in the website platform that works best for YOUR business
  2. More opportunity to implement the fun elements of your brand without being too confined by a template
  3. Gives you a fantastic jumping off point for those who don’t have a website yet but need to get SOMETHING up on the web
  4. You have expert eyes on your site the entire time to make sure everything is done correctly and strategically (yes, this means a review of your copy that you wrote with an outline provided to you)
  5. You have support in launching your site and feel empowered by what you’re capable of handling with a little extra support

Ultimately, it’s your decision on how involved you are in your website build. You can hand it off 100% to your web designer and let them handle ALL of the tech, integrations, implementations, etc., or, you can be a bit more involved and slow things down a bit to a pace you’re comfortable with.

Let’s Recap

A website template is great for new business owners who either don’t have a website or currently have a very small one. They’re sold at a lower price point and give you a solid starting point for your website and what you should have on there. However, you’re responsible for sourcing all of your content, completing the tech integrations, and making sure your back-end is set up correctly.

Custom website design is great for established business owners who have a site already and either want to refresh it or change it entirely. Since you’ve been in business longer, you see the value in outsourcing this service to an expert who knows what they’re doing. Custom website design also provides the opportunity for custom features on your site that work towards your business goals and future plans. 

Remember - I offer a done-with-you website package as well that is a fantastic little combo of both Custom and Template websites. Learn more about my website design packages here.

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