Websites: Custom vs. Template: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Truth

It’s been nearly two decades since the dot-com boom, and in the fast-moving world of commerce, that equals roughly two centuries of change. Through the years, your business has likely evolved from a physical storefront to a digital experience, allowing consumers to browse, buy and review your offerings online, anywhere, anytime. And, if you’re like many businesses, you may already be considering the next step in your evolution by investing in a new website to showcase your goods and services. As you research this important investment, one question may continue to present itself time after time: “Template or custom?” What are the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of these two options? And which choice will set you up for long-term success?

The Lowdown on Pre-Built Website Templates 

WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix are all good places to get started with a basic content management system (CMS). At LuckyTamm Digital Marketing, we’re partial to WordPress, an industry standard-setter that offers open source capabilities, endless plugins and vast theme architecture within the platform. If you’re looking for a quick, relatively simple solution, Wix and Squarespace are easy to use and allow you to make content updates within their framework.

As your next step, if you’re looking to go the template route, regardless of which CMS you choose, we’d recommend browsing ThemeForest, Template Monster or Elegant Themes to explore which “skin” best suits your business and scalability goals. But, be aware when using a template website that many themes come bloated with plugins and other features that can impede page load speed as well as SEO performance. Another setback of templates is that customization may be limited, especially if you choose one of the aforementioned quick-and-easy solutions. 

An Exception for Online Sales

This being said, if your business sells products online, you’re better off setting up a Shopify account or enabling a similar platform tailored for e-commerce… In this instance, data security should be your topmost concern, but a close second is making your online customers feel safe buying goods from you. This means prioritizing quick load times and SSL certificates and minimizing  jumps between checkout and final payment. 

Focus on UX and UI

Regardless of your site’s intended use, be sure to keep user-experience (UX) and UI user-interface (UI) on the frontlines of your decision-making process. Each should  support conversions and provide your audience with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling when interacting with your brand. We’ve talked about UX, CX and experience management on our blog. 

A classic example of excellent UX is the magic one feels when walking through the Sistine Chapel. Its masterful design and  execution continue to dazzle visitors from around the world and leave a lasting impression on their lives – despite the fact that   its awe-inspiring beauty  has been a household name since shortly after Michaelangelo’s final sky-high brushstroke in 1473. Now that’s amazing UX.. Imagine the results if you applied the same forethought to your business website and how it may evolve over time. 


Custom website created by LTDM: Women Against Crime. Image credit: Kevin Donnigan

What is the difference between a templated website and a custom website? 

Any time we’re assisting a client with the template vs. custom question and we arrive at a crossroads (which is normally price-driven), we provide them with the good, the bad and the ugly truth behind the implications of their web design decision.

Templated Websites

Templated websites are built from a pre-designed layout for a page or set of pages. These are plug-and-play solutions witha built-in framework.

The Good — Lower web development cost, faster project timeline.

The Bad — Most templated websites include plugins and other (possibly excessive) code that slows the website down, plus there is limited advanced functionality when it comes to look and feel. You must also consider that other businesses may be using the same template so depending on the level of brand perception or reputation management you’re working towards, this could influence buyer behavior in a negative manner.

The Ugly — Many clients become frustrated with the inability to change and update different elements within a templated website, and subsequently end up paying for customized features anyway. 

Custom Websites

Custom websites are built from the ground up with a focus on advanced functionality and matching  the client’s long-term needs. As such, custom websites have a more intensive planning and design process, but they are also much more flexible in terms of capabilities and functionality. 

The Good — A great deal of flexibility and optional features to fit long-term business goals (e.g. forms, ecommerce, online training platforms, booking/scheduling options, etc.). From an SEO standpoint, custom websites are also easier for the developer to optimize to enhance crawlability for Google and other search engines. This leads to better ranking and more opportunities to attract quality leads. Custom designs also ensure a site is responsive across all devices and browsers. 

The Bad — Higher production costs. When everything is built to suit a business’s needs, careful planning of plugins and functionality necessitate greater development time – and therefore more billable hours… 

The Ugly — There really isn’t any “ugly” part of a custom website. Similar to a custom house, it’s built to fit the client and scale as needed. The only setback is the initial investment on the frontend.

In the end, the answer to the “custom or template” question almost always comes down to three criteria: budget, timeline, and business goals. If a client wants advice and understands the value of the initial investment, custom is our first choice because the long-term benefits almost always surpass those of a template. Better to invest upfront than to pay twice – once for a template and then again for a custom site after continually running into functionality roadblocks as your business evolves.

If you’re at a crossroads deciding whether a custom or template website is best for your business, let’s chat. Our team is always happy to answer any technical or project-related questions in order to find the best solution for your business.