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Custom Websites vs Template Websites: Everything you need to know

We take a look at the pros and cons of custom vs template websites.

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When it comes to deciding on the best approach for your business website, the choices can be overwhelming as you’ll need to consider your budget, vision, skill set, business model and online requirements. Website design is all about building brand identity, customer loyalty and optimising the user experience – and, generally-speaking, it falls in two categories: custom websites and templated websites.

The majority of websites today are built using a content management system (CMS) - such as Umbraco or Wordpress. These CMS frameworks allow web developers to create a bespoke website from scratch and for businesses to subsequently update their sites, easily and quickly, often without the need for ongoing technical support. A great example here is ourselves, Yoyo, we’re a Umbraco development agency who use the Umbraco CMS to build bespoke websites for clients.

Template-based websites, however, are essentially pre-designed webpages or sets of webpages that are clones of a website’s main core framework elements. These can then be marginally customised with your business brand identity and populated with your own content.

In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the pros and cons of each option.



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Why have a custom website built?

No matter whether you’re a global multinational, a small to medium business – or even a start-up, no two businesses are exactly the same – and so, no two websites should be the same. One of the major benefits of a custom website design is that it’s entirely bespoke, built around your business specifications - and will bring that unique quality to your online presence, allowing your business identity and personality to shine through. 

But choosing a custom-built website, using a CMS such as Umbraco, goes beyond simply the ‘look and feel’ of your website. There are also a number of very practical benefits

A custom website will be tailored entirely to meet your current business needs and, thanks to its flexibility, custom features can be added over time, allowing it to adapt in line with future growth and to help achieve the best results for your business. This makes it an ideal solution for businesses looking to scale and grow. 

By allowing you to integrate additional tools, custom-built websites can become part of your wider business ecosystem, to help develop and expand your business. This might be through the addition of custom advanced functionality such as ecommerce features, integration with third-party APIs or lead management tools to allow you to track engagement, performance and user experience.

For businesses working with a web development agency such as Yoyo, with a long history of experience in building custom websites from scratch, not only do you have access to skilled developers, in the case of an Umbraco registered agency, you can also access a wealth of resources and tools to ensure your website is up-to-date, secure and meeting SEO performance benchmarks.

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When should you consider using a template website?

A website template is a pre-designed layout for a page or set of pages of a website and is a relatively simple way to plug content into a website without having to build it from the ground up.

Pre-built web templates come in a variety of designs and build qualities. Some designs are generic static pages - simple enough to set up and use yourself and ideal for smaller budgets. Other templates allow users without any prior experience of web design or coding knowledge to create a website through easy-to-use ‘WYSIWYG’ drag and drop features for adding and manipulating web elements; while the layout, design and navigation may be pre-set, you can make it your own through a choice of different colours, fonts and imagery.

Pre-built templates not only provide you with all the tools required to get your site launched, the development time of building a new website will be significantly faster – ideal for start-ups, for instance, who need to launch their online presence quickly and at low cost. Some web development agencies will also offer an option of using a pre-existing template they have built in house.

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What are the main differences between custom websites and templated websites?

In most cases, the primary consideration when choosing between custom and template websites is budget and development time, so let’s start by looking at both those key differences before moving on to some of the others…

Budget

A high-quality website will always be a sound investment and it’s fair to say that, in most cases, a quality custom website will be a more expensive option than a pre-built template. Because they’re built from the ground up, they will offer more design flexibility and advanced functionality and with that comes more web development hours - and cost.

But not every business is in a position to afford a bespoke, customised website so, while templated websites offer less flexibility in design and function capabilities, they usually have a cheaper cost upfront and are well suited to businesses working on a tighter budget.

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Time

Alongside the issue of budget is time - and it’s no surprise that a custom website takes longer to design and build, depending of course on the size and complexity of its features.

While most web design agencies have their preferred pre-designed elements such as contact forms, image sliders, and navigation layouts, custom-built websites mean a more intensive planning/design process to customise the website to the needs of the business. Producing a visually stunning, secure and scalable website is an all-hands job and will require a greater level of client input/approval in order to successfully craft a website that meets the client’s needs. The processes involved are complex and include the initial planning stage, through to wireframes, design, development, content and copywriting, photography, testing and search engine optimisation.

Using a template dramatically simplifies the website design and development process and will almost certainly to be quicker to design and build. Working from a pre-built layout, you simply need add content - text, image, videos - ideal for budget-conscious businesses. The compromise lies in the limitations that come with a templated website – and the knowledge that someone, somewhere else probably has an almost identical website to yours…

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Brand

The purpose of a website will differ, depending on your business model, but for most, your online presence serves to position your brand, to become more visible and build trust, to engage with clients and customers and generate leads. Done well, your website will become your most credible, purposeful marketing asset.

A custom website enables businesses to start with a blank slate on which to create a bespoke experience and create an emotional connection with customers which in turn builds brand loyalty. At Yoyo, the journey begins with an in-depth analysis of your brand’s unique personality before our web developers get to work, designing a site that is a reflection of your brand identity, ensuring its relevance and consistency.

With web templates, you can select from a number of designs, features and add-ons to match your requirements, but there are limitations and you may risk missing out on the level of personalisation that truly brings your brand to life (as well as the risk of using the same template as another business).

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Functionality

Before you embark on creating your online presence, it’s essential to understand what you need from it. Your goals at the outset may be relatively modest – maybe you just need a simple ‘brochure-style’ site with no customisation or special functionality needed – or perhaps you want something more bespoke and complex, say, for a global website with multiple pages and an eCommerce functionality in multiple currencies. Both options clearly have very different requirements.

One of the obvious strengths of a custom website is that there are almost no limitations on design and functionality. As long as you can imagine it, a custom site can be programmed to do it.

A template site does exactly what it says on the tin - it is purely a template for the user to change the text and images, but the layout and colours etc are fixed; because of this limited functionality, template-based websites tend not to offer the flexibility to accommodate more complex requirements such as eCommerce.

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Security

Ensuring the security of your business website is critical and no-one can afford to be open to cyber-attack.

Thanks to the unique development of custom sites, they are generally less vulnerable to attacks while, unfortunately, hackers are drawn to template-based sites because one single piece of malicious code can be used to hack multiple sites at once. In addition, if you choose a template that isn’t regularly updated, the site will soon become more vulnerable to hackers.

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Mobile Responsive

With mobile traffic accounting for more than half of all internet use these days, it’s paramount that websites work seamlessly across all devices and browsers – it could make all the difference when it comes to a potential sale.

Thankfully the functionality required to be mobile responsive is made simple with a custom-built website as this can be coded from the outset.

The limitations of website templates mean that not all pre-designed templates work as well on mobile devices as they do on a desktop – due in part, because some templates have been around a while and haven’t necessarily taken advantage of the latest technology or trends. Definitely worth checking this before you embark on using a website template.

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Search Engine Optimisation

Web development agencies, such as Yoyo, which specialise in delivering custom websites have the resources and the budget required to adhere to SEO best practices. Built from scratch by experienced web developers, these sites will be carefully optimised for search engines, using the latest code to the highest standards.

Template-based websites are effectively a blank canvas with a basic framework onto which third-party optimisation tools are added, such as UX, search engine, speed and performance optimisation. Due to the lower cost of web templates, these optimisation mechanisms tend to be fairly basic; coding on templates can even become outdated, meaning that they can’t always take advantage of the latest way search engines such as Google rank websites.

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Ecommerce

With the UK boasting the most advanced ecommerce market in Europe, a good ecommerce website needs to manage complex ordering systems, multi-currency, language and shipping and will require a sophisticated custom online solution to handle them. Although this requires increased time and financial investment, custom ecommerce websites offer greater return in the form of greater control, flexibility, security and scalability. 

However, there are also some excellent template sites which host a wide collection of free and paid ecommerce themes to suit your brand and with all the tools and services you need to start, run, and grow your business - including Shopify, one of the biggest and most profitable ecommerce platforms in the world.

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Flexibility & Scalability

As we’ve seen, a custom-built website is built from scratch and coded entirely around your business needs without the inherent limitations of a template to hold you back.

An experienced web developer can build a site to cater specifically to your current objectives and budget but which will also be easy to expand and modify as your business grows, adding more features as you need them, ensuring that the site is easily scalable as you grow.

Template websites can’t really offer scalability. Instead, they are essentially a “one size fits all” solution, offering a range of additional features which you may or may not need but which can significantly slow your site’s loading time as traffic to your site grows. If your business improves and expands, you might want to scale up your website too, in which case a custom-built site will make it much easier to update.

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Conclusion

While it’s true that pre-built web templates have improved vastly in recent years, most will struggle to incorporate advanced functionality simply because their goal is to keep costs low for the customer.

In our opinion, to achieve a powerful, credible online expression of your brand, which offers unlimited web optimisation and personalisation, functionality, flexibility and features which can be scaled as your business grows, a custom website can’t be matched by a pre-designed template.

Yoyo’s dedicated team of Umbraco-certified web developers have many years’ experience of creating beautiful, bespoke websites. A great deal of work, care, expertise and budget goes into the design and development processes of building a custom website – but the cost will most often be offset by other financial returns in the long run. Once their site is completed, our clients can be confident that it will need little or no modifications or support afterwards - including support with hosting, speed, performance, SEO and other integrated third-party services.

Contact us to find out how we can design a robust, manageable, bespoke website to suit your business, your budget and your future growth ambitions.

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