Custom Website Design vs. Template

By Wednesday February 25th, 2015

Unsure whether to go custom or template with your website? This article outlines the reasons to choose each option, based on factors like company size, needs, functionality and budget.

I was chatting with the founder of a small retail ecommerce brand recently, and he asked me a poignant question: “Even if it ends up being an amazing product, how can I consider spending 50% of last year’s online revenue on a custom website design?”

I was reminded that custom web design is not for everyone. Even though the founder was interested in working with us, our custom approach did not match up with his size or budget.

In eleven years of running a digital agency I’ve been involved in hundreds of custom website redesign projects ranging from small startups to large global brands. It’s my responsibility to guide the founder or marketing director to the right solution for their business, even if the right solution doesn’t directly benefit Brolik. If I don’t, the budget falls short or the product doesn’t reach expectations, and that doesn’t bode well for a long term relationship.

Business development is all about building trust. Forcing the wrong solution is extremely shortsighted

Needs, goals, concerns and creative input vary from one client to the next, but there is one question I find myself answering over and over again. In an effort to help businesses find the right web design solution, I’ve answered it once and for all.

Should I choose a template website or custom website design?

This is a debate for many emerging companies. These companies are often forced to put marketing budgets on the back burner. Flexibility and performance get trumped by ease of implementation and budget limitations.

If your budget for a website redesign is less than $10,000 (using general numbers here)…

You’ll probably want to look at a hosted template-based solution like Wix, Weebly or Squarespace. These solutions can be a perfect stepping stone for a startup. They put website creation at your fingertips, without requiring any coding or design expertise.

If your budget is between $10,000-$20,000…

Your best bet is finding a small website design shop or experienced freelancer to build you a site using an open source CMS like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. In this case you’re using a popular platform and are able to customize the front end. This route comes with limitations as you grow and requires some development expertise and technical updates on occasion. For example, WordPress requires regular security updates.

If your budget is above $20,000…

You might want to start looking at a website design company that can build a fully custom website experience and support that website after it launches. If you want to know more about budgeting for a custom website design, read this: What does a custom website cost?

Building a custom website provides for more customization and control

Building a custom web experience comes down to your need for customization, control and performance. If you build custom, you have the potential for all three. If you’re willing to compromise, you’re better off with an template website solution.

Other than budget, how do I know if a custom website is right for me?

  • You have strict expectations for brand presentation
  • You require a good deal of customization on both the front end and back end / CMS
  • You don’t want to deal with templates or the restrictions they impose
  • Your goal is a truly unique experience
  • Your project requires advanced functionality (ecommerce, lead databasing, customer portal, etc.)
  • You require specific backend integration(s)
  • You’re building a web portal or web-based application
  • You want the ability to truly own the website and move it or manipulate it in the future
  • You have some development or IT support in-house
  • You’re willing to pay for attention and support
  • You’re willing to spend the extra time to get it right

When would a template website solution be a better fit?

  • You have a limited budget
  • You want to move quickly
  • You need something simple, like a brochure site or a blog site
  • You are willing to give up some flexibility
  • You don’t want or need an agency partner to support you
  • You don’t mind paying a small licensing or usage fee on a monthly basis after the site launches
  • You don’t have any in house IT or development support
  • You have an in house designer
  • You understand there may be limitations as you grow and that doesn’t bother you
  • Customization is not a big focus
  • You’re willing to stay on top of security updates

One word of caution: If you’re leaning towards a custom website and CMS, make sure you don’t get locked in by the web design company. You want to host and own the final product. This article provides questions to ask before you hire a web design company.

Still not sure if custom website design, template or some combination is right for you? Here is a tool to help you decide on custom vs. template websites.

Interested in Brolik? Check out our web design and development services for more info.

Like what you just read?

Sign up for updates whenever we post a new article. No spam. Promise.

About the Author

Jason is co-founder and CEO of Brolik, a digital agency in Philadelphia. As an entrepreneur, Jason is passionate about helping other business owners navigate the complicated journey of owning a business and developing marketing strategies to grow their brand.
Follow @jaybrew on Twitter or connect with Jason on LinkedIn or Google+