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A website is a website, right? As long as it looks good and people like it, then the only thing you need to do is find the cheapest option and away you go!

If only it were that simple!

Actually, I’m glad it’s not that simple as that would mean nobody would need me for anything!

The reality is that what makes a site good lies underneath the surface. Making a site look impressive and making a site work well are two very different things (although ideally you want both, of course).

What makes a good website

At a fundamental level, every business wants a website that works well for their customers, so that it is simple, quick and easy for them to use.

What that means is that you need a website that:

  • Shows up on search engines (so that people can find you);
  • Loads fast (so that users and search engines like you);
  • Works well on phones and wider screens; and
  • Is easy for you to manage and make content updates.

A site may look slick and modern, but if it doesn’t tick these four boxes, it isn’t a good site.

The Heaton Hops website displayed on a mobile phone.

The ecommerce website I custom built for Heaton Hops was designed specifically to make it easy for customers to find and buy beer. Showing useful information such as the name of the brewery, ABV and whether a beer is Vegan friendly would not be possible using a generic template and the site would be less successful as a result.

And if you’re going to try to achieve this, you need to go right to the foundations upon which your site is built.

I work with a variety of  businesses using both custom-built websites (that I design and code myself) and template ones that my clients have set up themselves (and I advise on where improvements can be made).

While I am a huge advocate for custom-built sites, like the websites I design, I wanted to outline some of the advantages and drawbacks of both custom-built sites and those using templates.

A custom-built site is superior in pretty much all ways, but it isn’t achievable for absolutely every business. For example, if you’re just starting out and have no budget for a website, then setting up one using a template is better than having none at all!

That said, here are the cases for and against.

The benefits of a custom-built website

The big benefit of having your website custom built is that it is, obviously, designed specifically for your business.

It’s highly unlikely that you will find a template that ticks all the boxes for everything you need or would like for your site.

The North Product Design website as viewed on a laptop.

North Product Design have seen a noticeable increase in search traffic and project enquiries since building a new custom website.

A good web designer will be able to create site elements that do exactly what you need them to do with minimal issues.

Because the site is coded from scratch for you, the only code present will be high-quality and fast. No unnecessary extras, meaning it loads fast and gets the job done. This is good for search engines and good for your visitors, as it is professionally designed to be easy to use.

Drawbacks of a custom website

Good design takes time. For most changes, you can’t just click a single button and apply them sitewide.

Because you are engaging a professional to create something custom-made for you, it’s a bigger investment than an off-the-shelf template.

Benefits of using a pre-built template

The website for Another Architectures + Interiors in Stockport was set up by company owner Sarah Green using a template. After making improvements based on my advice and SEO training she has had more customer enquiries.

Template sites are cheap and relatively quick and easy to set up yourself. They are a popular choice for some startups or personal projects for whom the priority is to get online without spending (much) money.

Drawbacks of using a pre-built template

Because a template needs to include code for lots of different features, it means the code is usually slow and bloated – whether you need every feature or not! This can lead to unhappy visitors who turn away when they get too impatient waiting for your site to load, and it can impact negatively on your performance in search as well.

Despite being created to offer lots of different features, templates are still limited. It can lead to frustration when you find a template you’ve picked cannot do something you need it to do for your site to work well.

Depending on the system, the simplicity and ease of use of page editors can vary wildly.

The limitations of using a pre-built template can lead to various issues down the line, such as these common website problems I am often asked to fix.

Things to consider when deciding on the scope of your website

Now I’ve shared some of the advantages and disadvantages of both options, the choice is over to you.

The things you need to keep in mind when choosing between a custom site and a pre-built template include:

  • Your current business goals. Are your objectives basic, such as just getting online, or more advanced, such as increasing sales?
  • What is the aim of your website? Is it having a brochure site to which to direct people who already know your business, or do you want to attract new audiences and customers through search?
  • Your budget is an obvious consideration, but do think about the long-term cost implications too, rather than just the initial investment.
  • What’s your time frame? Are you in a hurry or can you wait for something that can save you time over a longer period?

Every business needs to decide what is right for them, based on their goals, resources and circumstances right now and in the future.

If you’re interested in working together on a professional website build, you can learn more about how I work on Web Design projects.

Alternatively, if you’re working with a pre-built theme, I offer SEO training workshops as well as Website Reviews and half-day consultancy sessions to help get the most from your website.

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