Are They Right for You?

A website template is a package including a base design, a content framework and a set of features. For example, a template may have placeholders for your logo, headline and text. And it may have tools allowing a layperson to select font styles, change colors and add slideshows.

For the purpose of this post, we’ll define templates as including both “website builders,” such as Squarespace or Wix, and (perhaps the more commonly termed) Wordpress or CMS (content management system) templates, which allow someone with moderate to low coding skills to hit the ground running with much of the site’s infrastructure already in place.

Over the years, templates have become more affordable, powerful and user friendly—and there are many packages for companies to choose from. But are they the best solution in reaching your marketing goals?

Why Do Businesses Use Templates?

Templates were created to standardize the process of creation. Their goal was to output cheap, fast, flexible websites.

Cheap: Templates range from free to $100. All you need is a computer, software and staff time.

Fast: Templates come to users practically finished. Just add content and customize.

Flexible: Templates attempt to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Whether you’re an auto shop, doctor’s office or manufacturer, the website package should accommodate your needs.

Why Do Some Businesses Dislike Templates?

Companies sometimes find a website template that exactly matches their needs. That’s great. But companies can also run into problems. Here are some of the complaints we’ve heard from businesses in the past:

Cheap = Complications

“The slideshow doesn’t work on my phone.”
“My internet host says my website has security risks.”
“The template vendor says I need to know HTML and CSS, but I don’t have time to learn.”

Fast = Generic

“My website looks a lot like others I’ve seen.”
“This page looks a little—well—boring.”
“This doesn’t look like it’s going to elevate our brand in the ways we’d like.”

Flexible = Limitations

“I want a special callout.”
“Can my content be four-column on desktop, three-column on tablet, and two-column on phone?”
“Why can’t I add a product features table that looks like this?”

How We Approach Templates

While standard templates can be great for some companies wanting a DIY web design solution, many businesses are looking for a more comprehensive tool kit. That’s where a professional can really help! Web design agencies (freelancers, pros on staff, etc.) are able to offer specialization, one-on-one attention and troubleshooting for your website. For example, here’s how we approach new projects for our clients, plus some of the benefits of working with a design team like ours: 

Process Done Right

So far, this article may lead you to believe we hate templates. That isn’t true; we use them in some of our work. They promise time savings, so we can deliver projects faster and with lower costs to our clients. But our approach is unique. For many projects, starting with the template can be a backwards process. When we design or redesign a site, we believe the purpose and message, not the format, should lead the process.

Our typical workflow is:

1. Establish business goals
2. Develop marketing strategy
3. Craft content (messaging, photography)
4. Create design (look and feel, font styles, colors)
5. Evaluate templates (format, features)
6. Customize
7. Publish

Evaluating Templates

When the time comes for selecting a template, we focus on features, not styling. Example: Does the package offer slideshows, accordions, mobile navigation, responsive grids, user management, etc.? Next, we do a vetting process. Is the engineering of the system robust, secure, and maintainable? Will the website function on multiple devices at varying screen sizes and resolutions? And finally, we judge the longevity of the template provider. Has the seller been around for a while? Is there an active support forum? To sum up, we see templates as just part of the foundation of a successful project — a system of building blocks backed by an active community to speed up implementation.

Be Unique

It’s a web site’s design (in terms of usability, aesthetics and messaging) that really pulls users in and keeps them engaged. That is why we never use the default template styling. Our designers add special touches to make each company we work with stand out and make a memorable impact. The last thing we want is site visitors thinking, “I’ve seen this before.”

Custom Solutions

With that said, not every project we work on can benefit from templates. We have clients whose business needs are beyond the capabilities of any template. That’s where custom web development comes into play.

Endless Possibilities

We employ a team of specialists in the fields of strategic marketing, content, design and programming. What that means for our clients is that anything is possible. Businesses aren’t limited by the constraints of a pre-packaged website template. Whether it’s a custom shipping method, shopping experience or a multi-location enterprise, agency and client can collaborate to develop a site that is the right fit. No matter what type of website you need to build — template or custom — working with a web development firm (like ours, ahem) can benefit your project. However, many businesses don’t need the outside support: you’ll have to be honest with yourself about your team’s experience and capabilities to customize and troubleshoot a website. Should you decide to call on professional help, know that you’ll typically be getting more than just a new design. For example, here are some of the things we value and strive for in our work with clients:

Transparency

We begin each project with a roadmap. It lists the goals of your website and a timeframe for completing each phase of the project. We break these goals into tasks and assign to our team members with project management software. We hold regular status meetings to keep up momentum on the project. Along the way, we ask for client involvement in reviewing progress and authorizing decisions.

Stability

Accidents happen. Maybe your IT team makes a site update that breaks a feature. Or your new intern deletes your contact page. We build safeguards to recover from these setbacks. We implement incremental backups, version-controlled changes and regular site audits to keep client websites healthy and resistant to disaster.

Data Management

Your content is complex and varied. News articles, product groups, and dealer locations all have unique data requirements. Our goal is to create admin systems to simplify managing this complex data. During our training sessions, we often hear that the editing tools are self-explanatory and easy to use.

Automation

Speed is important. We use software to handle repetitive tasks, from image compression to script validation. Even so, the demands of a multi-device world have doubled the amount of code needed to launch an effective website. Our developers leverage industry-leading libraries, such as Bootstrap, Foundation and JQuery, to move more quickly.

Technology Opportunities

The web is changing fast, and so is the software powering it. Right now, WordPress is proving a good solution for many of our clients. For others, it’s Drupal. And for yet others, .NET or Ruby on Rails. We strive to be unbiased toward a particular platform. Our driving interest is to find the best long-term solution for client website needs, regardless of whether that technology is trendy or long-established. Our team knows these tools well and can inform the decision-making process with plain language.

Last Word

Templates can be a good solution for delivering entry-level websites. Templates done right are a foundation, rather than the finish line, for creating engaging, memorable digital destinations that capture your customers’ attention and make your company stand out in the marketplace. Have any questions about which mode of web development is right for your project? Contact us. We’d be happy to offer some advice.