Which is better? Pre-Made Website Template Or Custom Website Design

By: Auxilia | Date: November 2, 2018

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When considering having your company’s first website built or to have your current website rebuilt there are some considerations you need to keep in mind. Keep reading to learn more.

The Trend

There is a trend among those that work within website design in the world of WordPress. That trend is to sell a client a website–or even worse to sell them a “custom” website–but then utilize pre-made templates to build those sites. The process goes as follows: the web design agency sells a website, then buys a pre-made or pre-built template from an online store, then adds the client’s colors and logo customizing the site, and voila, the client has a “custom” website.

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There are several places where pre-made templates can be purchased, such as Envato, Theme Forest, TemplateMonster, and others. The web designer or agency can purchase that theme (or rather a license to use that theme’s bells and whistles) for a specified duration at which time the theme’s license either needs to be renewed, the theme needs to be repurchased, or you use it until it breaks. Typically, once the license expires, mysteriously the plugins stop working and site functionality breaks. (In fact, Auxilia just re-coded a site like this that was using a TemplateMonster theme. The license expired and things broke so badly that the only choice was to rebuild the site using actual code). The theme will usually have a swarm of plugins that add functionality to the website such as a contact form plugin, shopping cart, employee/staff widgets, gallery/project widgets, and so on. Supposedly anyone can create a beautiful looking site which is responsive…supposedly.

But the question has to be asked, is this what a client really wants? What if the client is on a budget and just needs a “cheap” site built?

Why is this a problem?

The problem with using a pre-made template is apparent in a couple of areas. Each will be addressed below.

  1. The licensing issues that usually occur. As briefly mentioned above, store-bought themes come with rather standard licenses ranging from 3, 6, or 12 months. You “buy” the theme initially and for a specified period of time, you have “access” to support and updates. If something unexpected or bad happens then you can get assistance. Some theme developers are good and have the support in place to help you if problems arise. Others will respond with chirping crickets…meaning you’re not getting a response. Other theme companies have a rather obvious foreign headquarters and, well, good luck communicating. When you do have a good theme make that actually responds, please note that assistance and support does not mean they will solve your issue per se. At times what you want may call for custom coding at which point, your support ends. There are a host of caveats in the previous statements. Forgive me, I’ve seen a lot! Again as stated above, when something breaks outside of the license you either have to re-buy the theme or just leave it broken. If the client moved forward with this lower costing website, guess what? This is where templated sites begin to cost more. Some agencies solve this problem by offering monthly support of the website. But isn’t this considered part of the total cost of the site? In the end, while a custom site might have cost more upfront these issues are largely avoided.
  2. The stability and security of the theme. The stability and security of the site is a huge factor as well. Now granted, not many hackers are wasting time on getting into a typical WordPress website. There is simply no valuable information. If anything, they might hack the site to scare you, mess some things up, and ask for a payment to reverse their damages. Provided you’re not storing credit card information or personal information there probably isn’t much of value on a typical business website. However, hacks can cost money. Imagine if your site is actually producing leads or showcasing your work to prospective clients and then your site is royally messed up. Then what? Most theme makers build custom plugins to add functionality or they use free ones. If the theme, the theme’s custom plugins, and the free plugins aren’t updated regularly then you present a loophole to hackers. One of the highest-grossing themes of all time is the Avada theme by Theme Fusion. This theme was used heavily by a marketing company that I used to work for, and I found that there were massive updates on a weekly basis. The updates are caused due to a hacker penetrating a code weakness in the theme, the theme’s custom plugins, or how the theme interacts with free plugins. This is no bueno! Again, these types of issues are common and must be considered part of the total cost of a website. So if the decision to go pre-made vs. custom is cost then add this to the cost of a pre-made.
  3. Site speed. Site speed obviously impacts SEO as I’ve stated in my lengthy treatment on SEO. (SEO considerations is the next point in this list and will not be discussed in this point.) So why does site speed matter? Well, picture this. You’re a salesman and you’re trying to show off your company’s website to a potential customer, but the site simply doesn’t load fast. You wait and wait in front of the client but nothing happens for a few seconds. This speed issue is quite common in pre-built theme websites. Since the theme maker wants to ensure that all website builders have a drag and drop experience they seek to build the site with as many bells and whistles as possible. Want a gallery? Just drag and drop! Want to add your “team” or employees? Just drag and drop. Want to add a new section? You guessed it, just drag and drop. Well, those drag and drop features have to compile and they do so terribly slow. Furthermore, as plugins are working to create that “wonderful” functionality that makes building it possible for everyone, the plugin code is firing and perhaps interfering with other plugins. I’ve also seen it where this drag and drop functionality creates a ton of tasks that need to run, which slows down the site. Lastly, I’ve seen where the theme or theme plugins even interfere with the WordPress core codebase. I’ve been there, done that, and I don’t want the t-shirt! Custom coded sites avoid these issues that cause sites to load slowly.
  4. Negative impacts on SEO. Again, on our SEO page, there are nearly 2500 words going over the topic of SEO in-depth, and since there’s even more to SEO than what is written on that page, we have written more about SEO on our blog. Since we are lead generation fanatics, though, we have to bring in the aspect of SEO. How is SEO impacted negatively by pre-built templates?
    • Pre-built templates can hurt SEO by not giving the website builder the option to have carte-blanche control of the permalinks and site structure,
    • They can hurt SEO by limiting the ability to gauge a page’s written content and it’s SEO health,
    • They can hurt SEO by failing to inject Schema into website pages or doing this incorrectly, and
    • They can hurt SEO by limiting the use of custom post types to provide dynamic, SEO rich content.

Custom website design is ALWAYS better in the long-run

So is there a place for pre-built templates? Let me narrow this by saying that for a small business (in my opinion), no! I’m thankful I have comments turned off for this post because I’d get blasted by those that disagree, so let me defend this position.

First, I would argue that customers are not knowingly paying for a pre-made, cookie-cutter, drag-and-drop site. No client says, “Hey, I want a website that looks like everyone else’s. One with no unique flare. A site that lacks originality. No customization. That is what I want representing my company!” A website is for all intents and purposes, a company’s online brochure. Whether they say they want a budget site or not, no one wants a cookie-cutter website.

Second, given the considerations above, can you imagine selling a website with those four points above listed as disclaimers? Of course not! Usually, when clients make an investment in a new website or a re-designed website, they want to know that their investment isn’t unknowingly shooting them in the foot and potentially costing them more in lost sales and repairs.

Website Design Orlando 3Third, anyone that knows how to build websites from scratch understands that it takes years of practice and training in website design to build a site that loads fast, scales correctly, has minified files, high-quality images, originality, and the list goes on. Not to mention, there are many times that a client wishes to add to the site in the future which is difficult to do using a pre-made template. And let me interject that the reason it is usually difficult is due to the way in which template factories structure their code. They are building it to give the drag-and-drop functionality so modifying it for even the slightest customization can many times break parts of the site. Also, if you ever update the theme, many times those changes are written over and thus lost. This fact cost more money than simply custom building the site to begin with.

Final Thoughts

I probably should not have entitled this to say “final thoughts” because this is a topic near and dear to me and I would bet I’ll revisit this post in a year to add on. I’ve worked on 100’s of websites and seen many issues with pre-made themes. It took me years to perfect building a custom website. Over the years, though, I’ve become convinced that custom website design is in the client’s best interest and gives them a solid product that will last for 3-4 years with the least problems. For these reasons, Auxilia only offers custom website design. We want to give our clients the best product for their business even if they’re on a budget. Call us today or drop us a line on the contact form to discuss your company’s website needs.