Janet A Johnson's Business and Lifestyle Blog

Custom Web Design Vs. Website Template

Posted: August 3, 2017

Website Development Options

One discussion I often have with clients is the different options for building a website along with the varied expectations and outcomes. Creating a website can be achieved in a number of ways, most notably using a DIY approach, which may include website builders/template sites, prebuilt or purchased themes/templates, and using the professional services of a competent web developer to create a custom designed theme/template. Current technology does give users the option to create their own websites, albeit with varying degrees of difficulty. The aim of this article is to only explore the general advantages and disadvantages of using a prebuilt theme/template and a custom designed theme/template.

Custom Website Development

A custom website is one that is built specifically to suit user requirements, which may focus on brand, service offerings, and online goals, including competitive advantage. Needs may also vary depending on other factors such as time constraints, budget and your immediate goals.


Unique Design

Your website should be a reflection of yourself, brand or company. Custom web design and development ensures that you are getting a site exactly as you envisioned it, without the restrictions that are inherent in a mass produced template. A competent web designer/web developer will be able to craft a suitable end-product that, ideally, should engage audience, and present your content in an attractive layout that is user friendly and mobile compliant.

Get the Exact Features You Want/Require

There are some features that may not be built-in a template, and will likely require advanced custom coding that is geared towards functionality and website security. These may include features that extend e-commerce functionality, calculators/converters, custom animations, advanced forms, app like capabilities, among others.

SEO Focused

A website that is developed by a professional will, at its core, utilize integral Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to increase website traffic and ensure your site is able to attract its target audience.

Focused on Branding and Marketing Your Product/Service

Intrinsic to custom web design/web development is crafting a design and story around your brand. This requires research, the right combination of graphical components, user experience (UX) design and content development. Each is important to building your brand’s identity and is critical to making your site stand out from the crowd. Read Personalizing Your Brand for more information on branding

Gives You More Time to Focus Your Energy Elsewhere

Having a seasoned web designer and developer craft your website removes the headache that can come with a DIY approach. Putting a few images and information in a website template may not seem difficult.  However, the results can border on abysmal if the content is not well written and the images are low quality or do not suit your brand’s message. A website is a sum of its parts and shortfalls in either its layout or content will take away from user experience.


Requires a reliable web designer and developer

A custom design requires a web designer and developer you can trust to produce quality work within the strictures of a contract and pre-specified time frame. He or she should be able to detail what the expectations will be, what each stage of the process will involve and what you will be required to provide before development begins.

Should ideally use a content management system

A custom design that includes a blog or other dynamic content should be placed on a content management system (CMS) which allows you to make changes and updates without always requiring your developer’s expertise. Your developer would then create a custom template which differs from a mass-produced template, in that it is specifically tailored to your requirements.

Website Templates

A prebuilt website theme/template is a tool that allows a user to place content and images in a mass-produced predefined layout. This layout is connected to a content management system (CMS), which stores the information in a database for display on the site.


Less Development Time

A website template allows you to create a website in a shorter time frame. You can place information and images in the pre-constructed layout that allows you to make changes and updates yourself. The end product will largely depend on your own eye for design and layout and content development, unless you hire a competent web developer to assist you.

Lower Cost

There are many affordable templates available on self hosted website providers or via open source content management systems. These will vary in terms of quality and functionality.


All Templates Are Not Created Equally

Templates will vary in terms of how easy they are to use. Popular content management systems, like WordPress, are relatively user friendly yet may be difficult for a first time user to fully grasp the powerful tools at his or her fingertips. Getting familiar with a specific CMS may require some patience and may not be the quick and easy option you envision when you first start working with one, especially if you consider yourself technically challenged.

May Slow Down Your Site

Many website templates are built with extra components to accommodate a wide subset of users. This means the template uses additional website resources and may lead to poor load times, especially on slower internet connections.

May Break When Updated

Templates often require periodic updates and may occur without issue.  However, they may also cause the template to break, which will affect the layout of the website. The extent to which the website may be affected depends on the specific issue with the update. While these may be fixed by getting in contact with the creator/distributor of the template, this may come at an additional cost if it requires hands on technical support. I recall purchasing a popular WordPress template some year ago and finally abandoned it because the theme would break with major WordPress updates. I would then have to rollback the WordPress update and wait for the theme developer to push out their updates. Delaying WordPress updates created security risks and my site got hacked a few times.

May be Unsecure

Templates are hosted on third party websites which may be unsecure. This can sometimes lead to malicious codes being injected into the template structure, if the creator of the template no longer maintains it. Subsequently, when you download or update an unsafe template you may be exposing your website to a virus, which could corrupt your database and/or affect your website’s layout and other critical components.

Less geared towards branding and Extending Functionality

A template will often look generic and be used on multiple sites. You may also be limited to the types of changes you can make and the level of customization you can employ. While there are templates that may be extended to add extra functionality via plugins, these plugins may cause conflicts with the website architecture and break the layout.

May not necessarily be SEO compliant

A template is not guaranteed to be SEO compliant. Many affordable or free templates are created with mass production in mind. They are not primarily focused on any one site. Therefore it is up to the individual who uses the template to create his or her own SEO strategy. While this can be achieved with some patience, research, tools and time, this may not always be suitable for a novice who does not wish to delve into this territory.

Quicker is not always better. With the number of websites currently online, you should aim to stand out or ensure your website follows best practices with SEO and content strategy, UX design, and layout.  While you may save time putting together something rushed, you may end up with a final product that does disservice to your brand.


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Janet A Johnson

Hi, I am Janet A Johnson a Management Consultant and Life Coach with over 15 years strategic program/project management and business management experience. I am the owner of StrategyNook LLC, a consultancy agency specializing in strategic project management, business management, web development, branding, internet/social media marketing, life coaching and stress management. Schedule your free consultation today and let's talk strategy and customized solutions.

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