I'm going to start this blog post with a confession: Rare Form websites aren't cheap.
There I've said it. Not that we are ashamed of that. Not at all - if anything it's something we wear proudly.
The truth is, we could make much cheaper websites if we wanted to. But the only way to do this (other than all our staff living in their cars and surviving on Ramen and tap water) would be to base all of our websites on premade site templates.
And the chances are pretty high that if you go to a web designer and are given a price with just three figures in it, they will be simply buying a WordPress theme from somewhere like ThemeForest or Template Monster and shoehorning your content into it.
Now, this is not to say that template sites are bad per se. There are plenty of good sites built on WordPress themes, or online site builders like Wix, that do a good job for their users. The question is would you be better off with a template-based site or one that was custom built for you? To answer that, it’s worth starting with what exactly a template is in web building terms.
Like most widely used terms, it’s actually a little deceptive. Most of the time when we talk about templates, we are actually describing premade templates. What’s the difference? When building a website using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you don’t actually build each page. Instead, you build a page template for each different type of page that will appear in the website (eg. one for the home page, one for each product, one for each blog post, etc). If your content is the ‘meat’ of your site, then each of these templates acts as a skeleton to hang the content for each page of that type on. Although all pages of a certain type, (like blog articles), will be different, they are all using the same design.
A premade site template is as the name suggests: all the templates for a site are designed and built and offered for you to hang your own content on. Many will be biased toward certain uses (blogging, gallery sites, e-commerce sites, musicians’ sites, etc) offering certain features specific to their intended use. Despite this apparent specialisation, they are still a one size fits all option. You may be lucky enough to find a template that suits your needs perfectly, but more likely you will find one that is simply a ‘best fit’ - perhaps it will have more features than you actually need, or maybe not quite everything you need but covers the main bases.
A custom site, on the other hand, is built to your needs and specifications. It will include features that are of benefit to you and your audience and not burdened by any elements that are of no use to you. Because of this, it will inevitably be more expensive and take longer to deliver but will result in a much higher quality online presence. If you are looking for a short term and quick solution to your web needs, obviously this is not a good fit for you. However, if you are investing in a site you wish to serve you for the long term then may end up being a solution that ultimately saves you time and money. A bespoke site is much easier to customise to the changing needs of your business and could save you the necessity of an entirely new web presence a year or two down the line.
Here are the main advantages for both template and bespoke sites:
Advantages of a template website
It's much cheaper.
Let's face it, not everybody has the budget for a custom website. You might need a presence online, but for whatever reason be on a very tight budget. In which case, if you're happy to accept the limitations imposed by using a template, then this becomes a very affordable option. You can even keep the cost to a real minimum by using page builder services like Wix or SquareSpace and doing it yourself. They may not provide the most elegant of solutions, but they will get you online. In the short term, this might well be far more important.
It doesn’t take as long to get online.
Whether you are doing it yourself or having a third party do the work for you, getting online with a template-based site is much quicker. You will be effectively sidestepping the design and build processes and going straight to populating the site with your content. If you are using an agency or designer, they may well tweak the design of the template slightly so that it doesn’t look too much like the sites of everybody else using the same template, but there will be limits to how much it can be modified. But, ultimately, not going through a rigorous design process and a custom build will save you a ton of time.
Advantages of a custom website
It's designed just for you
One of the problems with a website based on a premade template is that you will not be the only person using that template. Take Astra for example, which currently bills itself as “The Most Popular Theme of All Time”. It also boasts over a million and a half users. That’s a lot of sites built on the same theme. No matter how you tweak it, there’s going to be a number of sites out on the web that yours will look awfully similar to.
A bespoke site, on the other hand, is designed just for you. Because the design starts from scratch and the site is built from the ground up, it can focus purely on what your needs are rather than needing to be many things to all people. The result is that your site will stand out from all those other sites that look like all those other sites, not just in terms of appearance but also in how well it works for your business.
It can grow with your business
Countless pre-made templates just don’t have the foundation for growing with your business. It’s not what they are built for. Their primary purpose is to help you get online as quickly and cheaply as possible, not to adapt to your changing needs.
Imagine your company is going through a growth spurt. The last thing you want is to have to go through a complete website redesign so that your site continues to work for your company as you need it to. A custom web design can be coded to handle high traffic as your company expands. Anything that needs to be added to the site can be done so relatively quickly because your agency understands your website inside out.
Admin controls can be tailored to your requirements
As well as building the front end of the site, (ie. what your visitors see), bespoke web developers can also customise the back end to your requirements. If you are likely to be accessing the site often to manage the content, this can make all the difference to the amount of time you spend doing this work. Understanding what tasks you are most likely to carry out means a developer can tailor the interface to make such jobs more of a breeze than a slog.
Better SEO support
If being found on Google (other search engines are available) is important to you, and for most businesses it really is, then it’s worth noting that a bespoke site will have a natural advantage over its template-based competitors. Not only will on-page SEO be built into the website at the development stage, but having people working for you who understand SEO means your agency will be able to take your content specifically into account and tailor the page optimisation to the search terms you want to be found for.
You have ongoing support
Using a premade theme could mean sacrificing any support for your site in the future. In many instances, the designers offering them are focused on volume and so have limited post-sales support. If you have trouble deploying your site properly or there are design errors, the chances are it’ll be your problem to deal with, not that of the template provider. Using a custom design agency means they are focused on the end result, the live site, rather than just providing the stepping stones to that destination. If there is a problem with the site or an unforeseen design consideration, your agency is on hand to sort the problem out for you.
Quality Assurance is part of the package
Having a bespoke website made means knowing it will function properly in the scenarios you need it to. It will be designed for and tested with a number of browsers at different screen sizes so that it will work just as well in Safari on an iPhone as it does in Edge on a Windows desktop. It can also take into account accessibility concerns in a way that a template site could not.
So which is better for you?
In deciding whether a bespoke or template-based site is best for you, the overriding factor is whether you are looking at cost or investment. A bespoke site may well cost more right now, but will be worth the investment both in the long term as well as being of far superior quality and better for your business now. A template site will enable you to get an online presence much quicker and for much less initial outlay, but is (literally) not built for your purposes and will have to be replaced at some point, costing you more in the end.