This article was first published on Feb 9, 2018 and has been updated in August 2021. 

Purchasing a website can be difficult and confusing. There are thousands of options available with differing costs and features. Every option has it’s pros and cons depending on your budget, business model, and website needs. Generally, websites fall in two categories: templated websites and custom websites. Let’s take a look at each type and weigh the pros and cons of each.

Difference Between Custom Website and Template

In a sense, both of them achieve the same goal of creating an effective design layout for your business website. However, they achieve it in different ways. One might be easier than the other, but that doesn’t mean you should go with the easiest and quickest method. It all depends on your business needs and the vision you’re imagining for your site.

Templated Websites

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

Templates lower web development costs because these pre-designed layouts are generally pre-built on mobile-responsive frameworks. These frameworks reflect general best-practices in web design. Most template websites struggle to incorporate advanced functionality because their goal is to keep costs low for the customer. Yet templated website pricing varies drastically.  If your total marketing budget is less than $20,000, using a template might be the best choice for your business. Some web companies also offer a free basic website as long as the customer pays a monthly hosting retainer fee.

Custom Websites

Custom websites are generally built from the ground up without any use of a pre-designed layout. As a result, custom websites can become more of an expensive option over using a template. Pricing depends highly on advanced functionality. If your total marketing budget is over $30,000, then a custom website is more likely a possible opportunity for your website. 

It’s important to remember that custom web design involves more than simply how a website looks. It could involve back end coding for custom advanced functionality, lead management, APIs, and ecommerce features.

Every web design firm will use pre-designed elements such as contact forms, image sliders, and navigation layouts. But custom websites have a more intensive planning/design process to customize the website to the needs of the business.

The secret about custom websites

Many customers don’t realize that when they purchase a custom website, the designer is often basing the design off of a template! It makes sense though when you realize that great architects do the same thing. Why start from scratch when you can piece together elements that have proven to fit together well in the past? The designer customizes the template, but much of the design may stay true to the template that was the original inspiration.

Custom Website vs Template Pros & Cons

Here are a few pros and cons you can find from using a custom design versus a template for your website:

Being Consistent and Original

With website design, unique is not always the right choice. Statistics repeatedly show that visitors leave websites faster when the design does not conform to what they are used to seeing. The visitors coming to your website are looking for consistency.

Templates deliver consistency over custom design in an incredibly effective manner. However when it comes to creativity, using a template could mean you’re using the same template as another website. While there are always a variety of templates out there with different customizations, you lose the opportunity to be more original with a custom design. If you’re able to make your website more responsive, while still being consistent, custom design can still be an option if done correctly.

Balancing Design Flexibility and Costs

Fully-custom websites offer higher flexibility in design capabilities and advanced functionality. As discussed earlier, consequently, fully-custom websites also have higher costs required. It’s important to note, don’t go for custom just because paying more may seem to make it higher quality. Go with custom because you truly have unique needs for design or functionality.

Templated websites offer less flexibility in design capabilities, but the templates used often possess widely-accepted design principles and best-practices. They often tend to be cheaper than custom design as well. Templates are great for lower budgets and usually have a cheaper cost upfront. Though templated websites can be less flexible, it doesn’t matter because many of the customizations customers request do not actually impact customer acquisition.

Decision Making

Templates often achieve objectives better than custom sites because they require less decision making from the customer than a custom site. We have noticed many customers become fatigued by the decision making process associated with reviewing a mockup, discussing with other stakeholders, and requesting revisions.

In comparison, templates offer structure to the design that is most often in the customer’s best interest. While not all template based websites may follow design best practices, the nature of the template process allows providers to build templates based on the most effective design elements created across a large array of websites. That means the customer gets the best offering, at a lower cost, with much less time invested.

Great firms are able to achieve a higher design quality using templates without increasing costs for clients.

Design Planning and Mockups

Every website project requires client input/approval in order to successfully craft a website that meets the client’s needs. Custom websites usually have a way to mock up the website before going into development in order to lower development costs. 

Templated websites allow the customer to choose templates prior to development and changes can be done more easily, lowering cost of development.

End-to-end Fulfillment Time

Custom websites take longer to complete due to the higher level of client involvement required to plan, revise, and approve designs and functionality. Custom websites also require more time due to the development time required to create advanced functionality. Some of these functionalities include ecommerce, APIs, and advanced design.

Templated websites will also require client feedback/approval. But the simplicity of the site’s functionality and the ease of use of the CMS dramatically shortens the end-to-end fulfillment time. Sometimes, custom websites are a necessity. But for the vast majority of small businesses, modifying a templated website is the best solution. It all depends on the needs and opinion of what’s best for your website.

Where Can I Go For Help?

The fact of the matter is that website templates are great solutions for certain companies just as custom websites are necessary for others. The right decision boils down to certain considerations your business needs to discuss and decide.

Once you’re ready to choose which way you want to start building out your website, you’ll need to focus on an SEO campaign as well to help optimize your website. Having SEO lays the groundwork for success down the road. It helps get your website noticed by people searching for the kinds of things your business offers.

If you’re looking for help in creating a website that won’t break your budget, check out Manta’s website creation services! Having successfully created over 5,000 websites, their team can certainly help a small business like yours achieve the same goal.