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Getting a new website is daunting. There’s a lot of technical jargon and different types of website and suppliers – most of whom will tell you their type is the best!
In our opinion, there’s no ‘best’ or ‘worst’ type of website, just different ones. Some may be suitable for your needs and others won’t be, and this may change as your business evolves.
This blog is part of a short series that demystifies the different types of website and helps you decide which one is right for you.
In this article, we explain what a bespoke website is, what makes it good and not so good, and whether it might be suitable for your business.
A template website is a website that has already been built with a number of flexible design options and elements. Using the template, you can set up a website and customise it around your business and brand. You can do this yourself, or get a professional to design it for you.
You can buy templates from stores such as Themeforest, Creative Market and MOJO Marketplace where they’re referred to both as website ‘templates’ and ‘themes’. As well as generic templates, there are many specialist ones e.g. for restaurants, clothing stores, corporates, fundraisers, event organisers and more.
Template websites are very affordable, with prices starting from around £40 for the template itself. You can easily create your website using drag and drop design elements without needing any specialist technical knowledge. And because you own your website, you can decide what to do with it, where to host it and who looks after it.
On the flip side, the quality can vary wildly; some templates are excellent, others are riddled with issues that can cause more harm than good. As does the ease of editing; some are sensible and intuitive, others can be overwhelming and confusing. You’re also limited to working within a fixed environment; you can typically achieve around 80 – 90% of your vision, but not everything
Template websites can be one the most affordable type of website you can get, if you do it yourself. You pay a one-off fee starting from around £40 for the license, which gives you the right to set up one website using the template.
If you work with a professional, the costs would be more to pay for their time and expertise. Depending on who you work with (there’s a big difference in price between an online designer, a local freelancer and a multi person agency) you could typically pay anywhere between £300 and £3,000, although this in turn depends on the size and scope of your site.
On the surface, using a professional costs a lot more than the DIY route. However, there will be potentially significant costs of your time, and opportunity costs if you don’t design your website optimally. Sometimes, DIY could end up exceeding what you’d have paid to hire a professional.
Finally you’ll need to factor ongoing website maintenance and hosting into your costs. Hosting tends to start from around £5 p/m for a basic hosting plan, but could be a lot more if your website gets a lot of traffic or does a lot of data processing (e.g. e-commerce).
You own the website that you create with a template. Unlike a website builder where you’re paying for access to a website rather than ownership of a website, with a website template, you’re the boss. Decide what you want to do with it, where to host it and who looks after it.
As well as the options provided by the template itself, frequently there are many compatible third party extensions that can provide extra features, giving you more freedom to develop your website as you need.
If you wanted to do something outside of the template/ compatible extension environment, you could ask an experienced developer to modify the source code.
They’d need to approach it carefully to ensure their work won’t pose a risk to any future updates of the template – but it’s risky and potentially expensive, and you’d have to evaluate whether the time and money spent is worth it.
Realistically, with a template website, you’re still limited by the environment and can expect to achieve most but not all of your vision, meaning they don’t give you as much control as a bespoke website.
You should also be aware that whilst you do decide what happens with your website, the ultimate IP or copyright for the template or theme belongs to the template creator.
In reality, this doesn’t really affect you; your license typically gives you a lifetime right to move, host or develop your website in any way you want. But you couldn’t resell the template or claim IP rights over the code or design.
If you’re working with a professional who’s using a website template, they may have additional copyright or IP rules. Check their T&Cs carefully to find out what belongs to you, what belongs to them and any restrictions that may apply.
The quality of template websites varies considerably. Some are excellent, others shouldn’t be touched with a long barge pole.
Partly this is because templates are mass market. The creators want them to be bought by as many people as possible, so stuff them full of options and elements to make them more appealing. These can be combined in thousands of ways, meaning it’s not always practical to test every combination which can result in layout issues or bugs.
Of course, website builders are also mass market and have thousands of combinations, but when you have 2,000+ people working for your company, you can identify and fix a lot more issues!
Template creators tend to be a lot smaller – from sole individuals and 2-3 person teams, to the occasional small specialist company – and they don’t have anywhere near the same manpower or breadth of specialisms as website builder providers. This can result in more layout issues or bugs, clunkier designs and less attention to detail.
To pick a good template, try to find one that has been purchased many times and has lots of high star ratings. Evaluate their testimonials and how helpful and extensive the support is – you’ll need it sooner or later.
However, the template is only half the puzzle. The quality of the finished website also depends on the person who creates it – this means you, or the professional you hire.
Just like a top of the range camera won’t make you an award winning photographer, a good quality template won’t by default result in good quality website.
If you’re creating your website yourself, you’ll need to understand website user journeys, usability, conversion optimisation, digital marketing and graphic design principles, to ensure you build trust and appeal with your target audiences and achieve your desired outcomes.
If you’re working with a professional, evaluate template websites they’ve created for other clients. Do they look high quality and professional, or can you spot issues, bugs or sloppy design? Do they show off the company in the best light, or put you off contacting them?
What are your goals for your website? Do you want to increase your product sales or enquiries, hit your target number of newsletter subscribers or see an uplift in the amount of traffic and time spent on your site?
Be clear on what you want to achieve right from the outset – it’s one of the most important things you can do. Read this article for tips on how to do this.
Results from template websites do vary, depending on how they’ve been created. If you’ve done it yourself, you may not get your desired results unless you have a background as a web designer or digital marketer, or you’ve put in the effort to learn these principles.
If you work with a professional, you generally stand a better chance of getting the results you want. However, like any industry, the quality of web designers varies considerably.
When meeting potential professionals, ask them for case studies and dig into what results they’ve achieved for other clients. This won’t guarantee that they can achieve the same for you, but it’s a good indicator.
If you’re creating your website yourself, be prepared to invest time. It takes a while to understand the language and interface of the template, especially if it’s not user friendly (see ‘Editing’ below).
You’ll also need to learn what it takes to design a good website that appeals to your target customers, is easy and pleasant to use, and delivers your desired outcomes.
If you work with a professional, you’ll still need to put aside time (especially for writing your content, unless you’re hiring a copywriter) but it will be mostly limited to meetings, feedback and reviews.
Template websites are generally not as easy to edit as website builders, although it depends on the CMS (Content Management System) and template creator.
Installing them is the first step. With a website builder, you sign up and you’re ready to go instantly. With a template, it needs to be installed on a host before you can start work.
If you’re doing it yourself, some creators offer installations starting from around £20. If the creator doesn’t offer this, you’ll need to find a website developer or hosting company to help. If you’re working with a professional, they’ll do this for you.
Once installed, you can edit your template website via a CMS or e-commerce platform. You don’t need any special technical knowledge; anyone can learn. Drag and drop elements help you design and lay out your pages, and you have full control over creating pages, editing text, configuring products, etc.
There are hundreds of CMS’s and e-commerce platforms, the most popular being WordPress. Some are easier to use than others. We don’t have enough time here to judge the pros and cons of each, but try searching ‘best Content Management Systems’ or ‘best e-commerce platforms’ to research for yourself.
However, even a CMS that’s normally easy to use could turn out to be a complete nightmare in the hands of a substandard template creator.
At worst, you’re faced with a confusing, overwhelming and frustrating mess of hundreds of options, poorly labelled elements and unclear instructions, with key items hidden away in places you’d never guess.
At best, providing you take the time to learn the interface and don’t mind a bit of trial and error, you’ll eventually get to grips with it. And some creators offer excellent support (normally in the form of documentation or email requests) to help you if you get stuck. But overall, template websites are just not as easy to edit as website builders.
Many templates include updates as part of the purchase cost, meaning you get to benefit from future improvements, fixes or additions for no extra cost. However, this is often limited to a time period, after which you may need to pay a small fee to continue getting updates.
If you’re going down the DIY route, check if the license includes updates, and for how long. If you’re working with a professional, they may have their own maintenance package; check to see what this includes.
All websites need to live on a server that’s connected to the internet so your customers can find you online. This is referred to as website hosting.
With a template website, you get to choose where you host it. Of course, many people won’t mind where their website is hosted. You can sign up to a hosting package online, or go with whatever package your web designer offers.
But for sites that are bigger, SEO driven or crunch lots of data (e.g. e-commerce stores, membership sites, etc.) you may have special requirements in terms of the server location, size and security protocols etc.
In which case, it’s easy to work with a website hosting or IT company who can understand your requirements, advise where needed and ensure you have the right hosting to meet your needs.
Template websites can be great for businesses with smaller budgets who need greater control over their website design, features and hosting.
It’s essential to find a high quality template, otherwise you could be in a world of pain and do your reputation more harm than good.
Because of the drag and drop elements, you can create your template website without having to hire a professional, providing you’re prepared to put in the time. But don’t expect to be flooded with enquiries unless you understand web design and marketing.
Alternatively, pay more and hire a professional with a sound track record. Leave it to them to guide you through the process and create a website that works for you and your customers.
Template websites can be more flexible than website builders because of the large number of compatible extensions. And because you own your website, you decide what to do with it, where to host it and who looks after it.
But ultimately you’re still limited by the confines of the template and extensions. If you need to do something really specific, or want things looking just so, you’d need to consider whether a bespoke website (which gives you 100% of what you want) represents a good return on investment.
If you need some help deciding what type of website would be best for your business, feel free to give us a call.
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