Do you have a website? Are you considering getting one?

There’s a huge difference between template and custom-built websites.

We want to give you enough information to stop you making a costly mistake. Take a look at what we have to say before leaping into the unknown. A ten-minute read could end up saving you a lot more in the long-run. 

We speak to clients every week with the same problem. They built their own website or had one built on the cheap, but instead of saving them money and time its ended up costing them big time, and despite their best efforts, they now need a completely new website. So what started as a ploy to save money and time, ends up costing them more than twice the amount of money and time than if they’d have just had it done properly in the first place.

What’s even worse is that some of these clients have actually paid custom web rates to cowboy web developers who go and use all of the DIY methods to piece together a sub-standard website, and pass it off as a professional bespoke site. It only becomes apparent when it’s too late. 

So we want to give you some food for thought, some information so you can make an informed decision before you proceed with your website plans. You see, it’s not that we are against DIY or generic web designs and builds, it’s just that we know there’s a time and a place for them, and helping you to understand that will hopefully help you avoid the pitfalls and make the right decision for your business. 

Irrespective of which route you’re thinking of taking to have your website built, there’s one piece of advice we would give to everyone: Understand what you want from your website right now and give consideration to what you may want from that same website in the future. The aim is to have one website designed and built that can accommodate your current needs, and grow and adapt with your business. Avoid the need to have a second website built later on when your business outgrows the basic functionality of your original website.

So custom-designed websites vs generic website templates – let’s take a look! 
tom-designed websites vs generic website templates – let’s take a look! 

In short, custom-designed websites are built from scratch, a completely blank canvas, by an experienced web designer and developer. Generic DIY style websites are built by almost anyone using a page builder, a pre-built theme, and templates. 

What is a generic page builder?

It is a platform that allows you to create your own website using prebuilt themes and templates. I say ‘you’ because that’s kinda the point. It’s meant to be a DIY option for having a basic website. 

Unfortunately, many self-proclaimed web developers will use these page builders, along with a generic theme and maybe a template, to deliver a website they claim to have designed and developed themselves.  

What are generic themes and templates?

The first stage in designing a website would usually be establishing the websites layout and menu options. How many pages do you need, how many menu options do you need how many sub-pages do you need etc. Makes sense, right? It gives the starting point for the in-depth design. 

A generic theme is precisely this; its a prebuilt site layout plus the menu structure, and don’t forget we are not just talking about appearance here, its all the clever code that sits behind the scenes making the menus work and pages load.

A template is a further addition to the theme to alter some of the functionality or appearance of the original theme. Once again, don’t forget, while this can give the appearance adjustments you’re looking for, it’s also all the code behind the scenes that let the template do its thing.  

So what’s the problem with a template website?

The site is not built with your needs in mind. Or put another way, the site IS built with your needs in mind, but with the needs of every other possible need in mind too! 

Behind every website sits lines and lines of code. The code determines how the website looks, what functionality it has (all the cool things it can do) and offers a space for possible integrations. These websites are designed to capture the needs of many different people and business types. While this sounds great, if you look a little closer, you’ll see why this becomes problematic.   

With a custom-built website, the theme is blank. The web designer will ask what you need your website to do, and what you’d like your website to look like. The theme is then made accordingly. The only code in the theme is the code added by your developer. It is all necessary code to give your website the functionality and appearance characteristics you have asked for. !00% of the code is used to run your website efficiently.

Compare this to a generic theme. The generic theme will have many different user types to consider. There will not be one set of functions and one set of preferred visual characteristics; there will be multiple, which makes the generic theme bloated. The theme will have lines and lines of code to capture as many possible functional requirements and appearance characteristics as possible. You may utilise 10% of the code to run your website, leaving 90% sitting there dormant. This inefficient coding has a significant effect on the performance of your website, leaving you with an unresponsive slow website that your customers aren’t going to want to use. 

A prime example that I’m sure we have all experienced; slow page loading! You click, and you wait… and you wait… and you wait some more before giving up and going elsewhere. The ideal average page loading speed of a custom website is under 2 seconds. The most recent generic template built site we have been sent to ‘fix’ was just under 10 seconds! Who’s going to want to hang around for that? 

There are also integrations to consider. By integrations we mean things like having the option to add payment methods to a checkout, having options to add a live chat system, having options to provide a booking system, options for users to upload files such as CVs or photos. You see? Integrations give options, lots of options! All websites need to integrate with various plugins at some point. Plugins are what provides the site with its functionality.

Custom-built websites are built with the functions requested; no more, and no less. As your business grows and evolves, it’s likely that your website requirements will also grow and evolve. There will be no problems adding new functionality to your website, integrating new plugins as required. In doing so, you can maintain all of the existing functionality without compromise. 

A generic theme can also offer integration with multiple plugins. But as with everything else, it will offer a whole host of integrations to try to capture every possible need. Ultimately the website could have been coded to support 100 different plugins, of which you use 2. Once again, you are left with 98 plugins and their supporting code sitting idle within your website hindering the overall performance. It’s also pretty common to find yourself with a theme that will not support certain plugins, so if you decide you’d like your website to remain as it is, with the addition of eCommerce functionality you’ll be disappointed. Best practice for overall website performance is to limit the number of plugins used, with a generic pre-built site this is rarely possible. 

Security, of course, is important to everyone. Nobody wants to pour their heart and soul into their business and their website, only to be met with the ever-growing efforts of hackers, malware and all the other undesirables floating around the internet!

These undesirables that we speak of, often see template websites as a quick win in the sense that they give the opportunity to hack multiple sites at once. While template developers may make efforts to customise their templates using various plugins in a bid to improve CMS security, they can often make the problem worse without even realising.

Regular updates are also a must, WordPress CMS, for example, updates frequently to stay one step ahead when it comes to security. New security patches come out all the time as and when needed, and major updates happen several times per year. Not all developers are so diligent when it comes to updating their templates; subsequently, they don’t keep up with WordPress updates. So when you come to install the latest WordPress update, there’s a good chance your website will not be compatible and will stop working. Your only choice then is to run an older version of WordPress, leaving your site much more vulnerable to hackers.

It’s like a domino effect! Should you find yourself having to use older versions of WordPress, you’re likely to encounter further problems when it comes to hosting your site. Quality hosting providers place security as number one on their priority list. They will not be willing to host those sites that are running severely out-of-date versions of WordPress.

Another domino falls with your sites integrations. Certain integrations that you use within your site, such as PayPal integration will update automatically. When you’re running out-of-date versions of WordPress, these integrations can often cease working, and there’s not usually an option to run older versions. 

Another security weakness with a template site lies in the bloated code we have already mentioned. The lines and lines of code that are just sitting there unused, unneeded. The more code you have the more potential doorways there are leading from hacker central right into a cosy spot within your website. 

Appearance

A distinct difference that doesn’t require much explanation. It goes without saying that template websites are going to look the same right? There are the options to tweak some of the appearances, but when choosing a template, you’ll want one with a good reputation for things like regular updates, user accessibility and so on. The templates with a good reputation have been used probably thousands of times, so there’s no getting away from the fact that your template website is going to look much the same as many other template websites. 

Compare this to a custom-built site. A custom-built site has no limitations; it can be designed exactly as you wish. With an excellent designer, a custom-built site will stand out from the crowd, and should you decide later on that you’d like to change the look or layout of your website, it can be achieved without everything else within the site falling apart.

So how do you choose?

As the decision-maker for your business, hopefully, you’ll feel a little more confident in making the choices for your website creation. There’s no doubt that your website can, and should be a very powerful tool for your business, adding unquestionable value. When done correctly, this is precisely what you’ll receive, but a poorly-executed website will fall short and end up working against you. Whether you choose a template website or a custom-built website, choose your developer carefully and understand any limitations and the shelf-life of your website to avoid any disappointment down the line. 

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