Learning Hub | Website Design Inspiration

More Than Design: Where Templates Miss the Mark

December 2, 2016 | Jon Teodoro

I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t use a website template.

Wait….did you just double check which site you’re on?

Yes, we are a web design and marketing firm. And yes, we hope to get as much business through our door as possible.

That being said, we use these articles as our way of spreading information to anyone that needs it, potential customer or not.

The truth is, website templates work perfectly for certain scenarios, but (as with anything that you can easily do in your footie pajamas on your couch) there are some drawbacks that you should know about before making your design decision.

Let’s start off on the good pajama’d foot and cover some template pros.

Website Templates: The Benefits

Maybe you already know the top benefits of using a template , but we’ll cover them briefly.

1. Cost

Although every business owner is concerned about costs, we have found that owners of small companies are not only the most concerned about expenses, but often are the ones most likely interested in using a template.

For large corporation or chains, a template is an immediate no-go. Not so for the little guy.

Small businesses work with a smaller budget than the “big boys” do. Because of this, shelling out thousands for a custom site can seem intimidating and/or make owners question how necessary it really is.

While hiring a web designer can cost upwards of $5,000 (this is a ballpark estimate from what we have quoted some of our clients in the past), a template can be bought for a one-time price of under $100 (many options sell for under $50).

Cost is probably the top reason that people choose to go with a template service, which is totally understandable in our modern economic landscape. Business owners want the best option for the cheapest price tag, and many times quality is sacrificed when the quantity ($$) gets too high.

However, we want to encourage you to consider that not all costs are monetary. We’ll look at this more a little later.

2. Ease

<href>, <html>, <head>, <p>, </title>: Do you know what any of these mean?

That’s okay, you don’t necessarily have to. Templates are fairly easy to use without any coding knowledge.

Sure, I’m saying this from the perspective of a 26-year-old copywriter that has been immersed in Internet culture for most of my life…

But really(!), template sites have gained so much popularity because they make the web design process easy enough for anyone to figure out, and most sites offer a help desk of where you can chat with a professional coder if you run into any trouble.

Despite a slight learning curve, you can figure out how to buy, edit and launch a template site with few hiccups.

3. Time

Timing is another top concern for most business owners trying to launch a site. If you need it completed within a month or so, then a template may be your best bet.

Custom sites take time (months) to build because they come from nothing whereas with a template, a lot of the development work is already done when you purchase it. You just customize visual aspects like colors, fonts and photos on top of a completed structure.

A template site could potentially be launched in the same day – all you are really waiting on is yourself. Once you edit all of the site’s aesthetics to make it more personal to your company brand and buy a domain name, it’s ready to go public.

Timing is definitely something to consider if you want a custom-built site because these unique designs do take longer to complete. Every site is different so specifics will boil down to what you are looking for exactly and should be quoted to you at the beginning of the project.

If you decide that you do want a custom site but need to get one up immediately, consider using a cheap template for a temporary site. While your designer builds your custom site, you can use your template to promote the exciting new launch date and brand while at least having something for your consumers to view.

4. Full Control

Another popular aspect of using a template is that you don’t have to sacrifice any control over your site. (Now, this may be a positive or a negative depending on your point of view and how much work you’re willing to put forward.)

Any professional web designer should let you have full approval over every step from design to copy to development, but they will still be driving the car. They’ll just be stopping to ask you for directions.

With a template, you are your own boss every step of the way. You have full creative control. For some of you, this is extremely appealing. For others, this may be the point where you decide that a custom-built site is definitely the way to go.

Website Templates: Where They Miss the Mark

Templates do have several downfalls that we want you to be aware of before you sink your money into one.

Let’s get negative.

Other businesses will no doubt be using the same template as you.

Sure, you can slightly customize the color scheme (sometimes), and all of your photos and logos will be unique, but the overall design of the site will be shared with others.

Moreover, if you choose a specific industry template (i.e. band, non-profit, retail), there is an even greater chance that one of your competitors will be using it too.

If all of your competitors are using custom sites, we would suggest that you take that as a sign to do the same.

Your site performance can suffer.

Because templates are supposed to be a one-size-fits-all solution, they often include lots of code, scripts, images, etc. to fit all different kinds of business needs.

Often times in an amateur’s hands, the resources left unused won’t be deactivated or removed. This means that although the website isn’t using specific scripts or lines of code, they will still be loaded in the background because they haven’t been properly deactivated.

This GREATLY reduces page load time. If you run a speedtest on most out-of-the-box themes, you’ll see that they’re incredibly slow.

Template customization is limited.

Depending on the template and your skill level (coding), the opportunity for customization can be slim. Some templates are extremely specific about what you can and cannot change, but you likely won’t find this out until after you’ve bought one.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) could suffer.

Not all templates are built with SEO in mind. With custom sites, this is one of the top priorities of the designer.

If your site isn’t built for SEO, your placement on the SERP (search engine results page) will suffer greatly. Fewer eyes on your site = fewer leads generated.

Most people won’t click through to the second Google results page so if you don’t show up on page one, you’re already facing greater odds than your SEO-savvy competitors.

Your template may look funky on mobile.

While many templates are responsive (i.e. work across all devices), some aren’t.

BEWARE: Some templates claim to be responsive, but don’t end up working all that well on cell phones/tablets and may require further edits on your part before they look nice and work across devices.

Mobile responsiveness is everything in the current landscape of web design because most of your customers will probably try to find your site using their cell phone. If your page looks unprofessional, doesn’t load quickly or isn’t easy to digest, it could sway them to visit another site and give their money to another business.

Your site may not be able to grow with you.

A custom-built site is scalable. It can grow as your business grows. This may not always be the case for a template site. Sure, you may be able to add more pages, but the page layouts offered may not be suitable for a future need that you cannot yet predict.

Custom-designed pages can be built to suit any need.

You have to wear all of the marketing hats.

This goes hand-in-hand with the full control we mentioned above. If you choose to use a template, you are choosing to wear the many hats of a designer/marketer.

  • You will have to write.
    • Do you know anything about SEO?
  • You will have to design.
    • The template will help you but if you want to change something, do you know how to code?
  • You will need to gather all photos/logos.
    • Do you have stock photos that you can publish on your site legally?
    • Do you want custom photos?
    • Do you know how to take high def pictures and upload them in the right file format and size?
    • Will they be visible on all devices?
  • You will have to maintain.
    • Do you know what your future needs will be?
    • Do you know which CMS to use?

More Money Doesn’t Always Mean More Problems

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of website templates, it’s time for the grand finale question: Is it worth it to shell out more money now for a custom-built site or will a template meet all of your present and future needs quicker and cheaper?

We want to urge you to look beyond the price tag. While the initial expense of a template is much less than that of a custom-built site, we hope you realize that all costs are not monetary.

You will have to spend your time, resources and perhaps sanity on a template that may end up hurting your business growth in the long run.

We encourage you to see your site as a virtual business card that anyone anywhere can access at any time. We believe this type of exposure is worth the initial investment and when done correctly, a custom-built site will pay for itself over time by generating leads, engaging your audience and increasing sales.

What a web designer/marketing firm can do that a template cannot:

  • Implement SEO into your content so that you generate a better ranking on SERPs
  • Build a completely unique site that no one else has on the Internet
  • Dedicate one team member or one group for each aspect of your site (architecture, design, content, development) to ensure expertise each step of the way
  • Take future growth and goals into consideration and design for scalability
  • Hire and manage photo shoots or utilize designers/photographers to ensure that your content is 100% legal and unique
  • Teach you about laws, regulations and best practices in marketing
  • Maintain your site for you, including writing and posting blogs or articles and connecting with your audience via social media accounts
  • Maintain email marketing campaigns for your business
  • Track website interaction data through platforms like Google Analytics and share your results with you regularly
  • Understand when and where site problems are occurring and fix them for you
  • Provide a reliable communication link between you and any of your third-party providers (i.e. hootsuite, mailchimp, Google, etc.)
  • Take your competitors’ sites into consideration and make sure you have something that stands out in your specific industry

We can Help!

Still not sure exactly what you want to do? We’d be happy to help guide you to the decision that is right for you and your specific business goals. If we can help, we will.

Even if our guidance leads you to a solution other than what we can provide, we’re happy to help you find your way.

Feel free to call us at 586.434.0678 or fill out our online quote form to tell us a little about your business and inquiries. One of our team members will contact you within one business day.