If you appreciate the importance of online presence, you’re not alone. Millions of enterprises realise the immense business potential of online digital marketing, too. One of the ways we know this is by the sheer number of active e-commerce websites online. As of March 2021, the worldwide web consisted of 1,187,527,949 websites, according to Netcraft’s Web Server Survey. On average, 547,200 new sites go live every day; that’s 380 new website launches every minute!
Nowadays, online trade is nothing special, and neither is running an e-commerce site. So, to stand out from the crowd, you have to bring something really special to the table. Give potential customers a convincing reason to visit your domain and interact with your business. And all that begins with your website’s appeal – the basic foundation of online digital branding and e-commerce.
A custom web design brings that much-needed unique touch to your online presence. There are basically two main approaches: template web design and custom build if you’re unfamiliar with web design methods. In this article, we’ll discuss each design principle in detail to understand their differences, when to use either of them and why custom design is ideal for any business application.
Let’s get started.
What is template web design?
Templated web design is a simple, quick, low-cost way to design and build a website. All you need is a template and content (text, image, videos, etc.).
A website template is a pre-built web page or set of web pages. They are usually coded in HTML and CSS into ready-to-use websites. All templates are customisable, meaning you can add your own content and fiddle with the styling, layout and colours to match the desired visual appeal, branding scheme and functionality.
Web templates come in a variety of designs and build qualities. Some are generic static pages, while others are sophisticated, dynamic and robust.
How to design a website from a template
Designing a website using templates is pretty straightforward. The easiest way to do it is through a web builder platform such as WordPress, Squarespace or Wix. These are WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) builders that have built-in template presents and paid ready-built templates.
The first step in creating a template website is selecting the template itself. You’ll probably come across thousands of different designs; the trick is choosing one with all the features and functions needed for your site. Most template marketplaces have search and filter functions that allow you to narrow down on a suitable template based on your kind of business. For instance, you’ll find templates for online retail stores, forums, user portals, blogging sites, and so on.
After finding the suitable template, you can start customising the navigational, visual and functional elements to your liking. This is where you incorporate your branding through colour, typography and style. You only need to customise one page for each category and duplicate the rest. For instance, you can design one service page and simply duplicate it for all the other services. Doing so maintains consistency and saves time.
Finally, after you’re satisfied with the site’s look and feel, you can go ahead and populate the blank pages with custom web content, whether it’s blog posts, product/service catalogues, marketing material or interactive features. And that’s it; your site is ready for hosting.
Template web design: Pros and cons
What are the advantages of a template-based standard or e-commerce website? And more importantly, does the shortcoming of this simplistic design approach outweigh its benefits?
You don’t have to be a programming expert to customise a web template. It’s so easy that anyone can do it. Most WYSIWYG website builders use low-code drag-and-drop tools for adding and manipulating web elements. All you need is a mental image of what your site should look like and a basic understanding of web navigation.
The price of a web template depends on its complexity and customisation limits. But all in all, it’s an affordable web page design solution, especially for start-ups and small businesses. Some of the most basic templates are freely available, and even the most premium ones cost between $30 and $500.
You can set up and launch a brand-new templated website in a matter of days. All the code is already written for you, and the site doesn’t have to go through rigorous testing and iterations. The website is ready for launch the moment it’s fully customised and loaded with content.
Wide selection of designs and features
With web templates, you’re literally spoilt for choice when it comes to design, features and add-ons. You can select any number of templates matching your requirements from an abundance of unique designs.
The designs are simple
Generic web templates are designed with familiarity and simplicity in mind. Even if the layout and structure differ between templates, the website’s fundamental architecture remains the same. That makes template websites easy to navigate and use.
You can’t be too picky
If you have a very unique business model, it’ll definitely demand an equally unique website. Even with thousands of templates to choose from, you might only find a few that fit your particular description. That means you may have to compromise on the design or functionality and go with whichever template comes closest to what you need.
Template customisation has its limit
There are only so many changes you can make on a web template. They have limited flexibility. For instance, you can only add images with specific dimensions, and text containers will only hold a certain number of words or characters.
With most templates, you can only view the code underneath but not change it. Even if you could edit the rigid base code, doing so would be painstakingly tedious since most of the code is computer-generated. In some cases, altering the code may actually break some features since the whole system is so tightly knit.
Most web template vendors will charge you by the hour to fix errors or make custom modifications, if they provide that kind of customer support at all. It’s often easier to hire a third-party developer to support and maintain the site through a fix-break model. Although templates may be a cheap web page design solution, you might actually end up spending a fortune on building and running a template-based website.
Templates are produced for the mass market. Buying a template doesn’t mean purchasing the design; what you’re actually buying is more or less the right to use it. That means many enterprises can purchase and use the same template, including your competitors, throwing exclusivity out the window.
While the templates may look like a cost effective solution, you are likely to find that the time you need to spend yourself on turning the template into your website will amount to a more time than first thought. When you apply your hourly rate, that can really add up.
Optimisation is your baby
A web template is basically a blank canvas with a rudimentary website framework built onto it. So, the intangible optimisation aspect of the site is your responsibility. That includes UX, search engine, speed and performance optimisation. The low cost of web templates only gets you the most basic optimisation mechanisms. You have to fill in the remaining gaps with third-party optimisation tools and expert-level skills.
What is a custom web design?
Unlike a generic template design, a custom web design is tailored to your brand, business, company or offering. The site is also specifically created for your target audience to align with your marketing strategy. Custom web design starts from scratch so that the branding, purpose and functionality of the site are built right into the very foundations of each page.
Building a custom site from the ground up is obviously a lot more complicated than simply customising and enhancing a ready-made template. Here is a brief outline of steps of web design and development.
- Goal identification: Before any coding can begin, your dedicated project manager will first discuss the site’s objectives with the client. We also do our own analysis of the client’s technical needs and make recommendations on all the most helpful web solutions to incorporate into the website.
- Wireframing and prototyping: We start sketching out rudimentary frameworks of the proposed site. These wireframes guide the development team in creating web page prototypes to demonstrate how certain functions will work and how the entire site will tie together in the end.
- The design and build process: At this stage, we combine the design and functional aspects of the site. This is where the actual coding really takes off, carefully crafting all the web elements and knitting them together into a unified system.
- Testing: Every web page goes through several testing phases to check for any errors, consistency, performance and speed issues.
- Launch and support: After successful tests, the site is ready for launch. But our work isn’t done just yet. Custom-built sites are is likely to need more ongoing support (especially if complex), even if it means just keeping an eye on things to ensure all the pages run smoothly.
Custom web design: Pros and cons
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of custom web development to see if all that effort and expense is justified.
Unique and fully customisable
This is one of the main advantages of custom-built websites – the site can be whatever you want it to be. First of all, the site fits into your business model and not the other way around, like in the case with templates. Second, you can have any feature, layout and function to solve your every e-commerce and online trading need. Ultimately, a custom web design is one of a kind. It naturally becomes part of your brand, style and culture, making it so much easier to promote the business online.
Built-in UX and SEO
With custom design, essential web characteristics such as performance and user experience are baked into the site’s core. One of the most critical UX features is responsive web design, especially on mobile. Custom web builds incorporate automatic responsiveness, rich snippets and AMPs to optimise the user experience and search engine visibility.
A custom developer will design a website that can easily grow with your business. By changing just a few lines of code, the developer can add new features or enhance existing ones to support emerging e-commerce demands such as increased traffic or new product/service categories. Scalability is often overlooked, but it’s essential for future-proofing a website.
Internal integration with third-party services
Developers can embed third-party services such as MailChimp, HubSpot and Google Maps through integrated APIs during the coding and design phase. Any service integrated this way becomes part of the main website. You can also add third-party services on web templates, but they often require extra plugins and add-ons. The problem is that every plugin is its own system, and having too many of these might affect the site’s loading speed and functional performance, not to mention compatibility issues.
You work hand in hand with an expert
We like to think of custom web development as a collaborative effort between the developer and the client. Working with a true professional gives you valuable insights into the design. The developer will help you understand the site on a deeper level and avoid costly investment mistakes along the way. On the other hand, you may never fully understand what some of the features or functions on a template do or the thought process that went into designing them.
Developing a website from scratch is a highly evolving process that takes a team of experts to complete. Unfortunately, all that work is reflected in the price. The average price of a corporate custom-designed website ranges in the thousands of dollars – several times more expensive than an equivalent templated-based site.
However, the high price is gradually offset by other financial returns in the long run. For instance, you may not have to pay extra for support; hosting; speed, performance, SEO and conversion rate optimisation; and integrated third-party services. In the end, the site’s ROI more than justifies its price tag.
It takes longer to develop
Depending on the site’s complexity, it can take a team of experts anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months to develop. That’s because a lot of work, care and precision go into the design and development processes. But once the site is completed, it won’t need modifications afterwards. Although it takes longer to develop a custom site than a generic one, it at least saves you the hassle of making endless alterations.
Template vs custom website: Which should I get?
Now that you understand the differences between custom and off-the-rack template websites, only one question remains: Do I get a template website or a custom-built site? Although a custom site has several advantages over generic templates, it’s not always the obvious choice. Here are some of the crucial factors you should consider when deciding between the two:
- Budget: Compare template vs custom website design pricings and choose the one that aligns with your budget.
- Goals: What is the purpose of the site? What functions and features do you need, and can you find them in either a template or a custom website?
- Target market: Your target audience and market should dictate the kind of website your business needs. If a template-based site isn’t ideal for a particular niche, go for a custom website instead.
- Requirements. Can you design and build what you need with a templated off-the-rack theme? The more moving parts a website has (like a complex online store), the more limitations and trade-offs you’ll face.
- Niche competition: What sort of websites are your competitors using? Borrow ideas from the competition, and more importantly, determine how to make your website stand out by analysing what’s out there.
- Timeframe: There is no way to fast-track the custom web design process if you want to end up with a high-quality web design. If your site’s launch is time-sensitive (you might even have the time and skills to build your site yourself) it’s using pre-existing templates and a website builder that requires no-code experience.
In most cases, the primary consideration when choosing between custom and template websites is the budget and development time. But there is a simple way around this. If you’re working with a tight budget or strict deadlines, you can use a web template as a temporary placeholder or a proof of concept and later switch to a more robust website that’s specially designed for your brand, market niche and audience.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for a uniquely branded, high-quality, versatile website, then deciding between a custom build and a template-based design is easy. Working with a professional web design and development agency to build a specially-designed site from the ground up is highly recommended compared to scouring the internet for generic templates and hastily putting them together into a website.
Web templates and DIY web builders have come a long way in the last couple of years. And they do have their strong points and uses. In fact, some developers use premium templates in some design scenarios. But the point is, a custom website offers unlimited web optimisation and personalisation that templated website simply can’t match.
Get in touch using our contact form below, to learn more about professional custom web design. We are a custom web design agency that takes pride in consistently delivering top-notch custom websites. Look no further for a custom web design company with a rich success history, a dedicated team of highly experienced developers and a keen emphasis on customer satisfaction.