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Do you really know what your web designer is giving you for your money?

You might think you are getting a bespoke website when really your designer is using an ‘off the shelf’ template.

There are numerous popular content management systems available including Joomla, WordPress and Drupal; they all facilitate the easy editing of content on websites. These content management systems (CMS) all work in a similar way; the underlying code runs the basic functions of your website and a template (or theme) gives the website it's 'look'. Without a template your website would just display content, there would be no colours, no layout, no styles at all. The template is an extremely important aspect of the website build process and with a bespoke design and build, it is likely to be a significant cost element.

Due to the increasing popularity of content management systems there are many templates available online which anyone can download and install on their CMS website. Some of these templates are free and some you have to pay for (usually between £25 - £50).

The advantages of buying an ‘off the shelf’ template are generally to do with cost. Your website designer doesn't have to create the template himself, so this saves your designer his time, but equally, it should save you money! It has to be said though that this isn't always the case. In other words, you could end up paying for a website that looks like many others on the web and at the same time being charged for a bespoke service.

With an ‘off the shelf’ template approach, there are some important issues to consider. Firstly, your website will not be unique. It is highly likely that other websites, using the same ‘off the shelf’ template, will have a similar look and feel to your new website; this may in effect, dilute your brand.

Furthermore and importantly, your future options for site development may also be limited by the template and also the designers ability to make changes to the template. If you want your website to do something that is not within its remit then modifying the code can be difficult, time consuming, costly and in some cases beyond the capabilities of your web designer.

From a search engine point of view, an ‘off the shelf’ template will normally be built with many scenarios in mind, this means that whilst it can be customized, it is likely to contain a good deal of code and information that is superfluous. This extra code can slow down your site and have an impact on your search engine rankings. Ultimately, your ‘off the shelf’ template was not built specifically for your website so there will be many compromises.

Betton Design does not use generic ‘off the shelf’ templates!

At Betton Design we don't use ‘off the shelf’ templates. We create all of our templates from scratch.

By creating our own templates it means that your website will be unique, no other website on the Internet will use your template. Another advantage is that the template is built specifically for your website with your needs in mind, so there is no unnecessary code. If we need to add a feature to your website which requires modifying the template code then it's far easier because we built the template and we recognise the code.

Because we use bespoke templates we (and you) have much more control over how the website looks and operates. This results in a better experience for your customers and usually a more search engine friendly website.

We feel that building unique templates is the best way to do things. Unfortunately, it takes us longer to create a bespoke template which means that you might pay more for your website, although this all depends on whether your previous designer was transparent when it came to the use of an ‘off the shelf’ template.

Conclusion

As the general awareness and understanding of the potential of the Internet increases, it is becoming very apparent that ‘off the shelf’ templates can fall short for many reasons as an effective and future proof option. Flexibility is key; off the shelf may satisfy in the here and now and will often be leaps ahead of a previous website, however you and your business should be well informed regarding the many compromises that are inherent with a far less than bespoke approach.

Over the last few months we have been asked to pick up the pieces of a number of jobs, which have been started using ‘off the shelf’ templates. One common theme between these particular commissions was that as the site development took shape, there was an insufficient flexibility in either the ‘off the shelf’ template or the web developer’s ability to make changes to the template.

It does strike a chord that we are being approach more frequently by businesses that have commissioned web designers for significant projects only to find that the project has run out of steam. Often the business has paid for the majority of the project only to find that the developer loses interest. There could be many reasons for this, although the most likely explanation is that the developer has been pushed well out of their depth with coding that has been handed to them via an ‘off the shelf’ template and a client who is expecting the sort of flexibility that a bespoke service would offer.

It must be said though that a bespoke service does not suit everyone or every situation and there is a place for ‘off the shelf’; but what does need saying is that when you engage with a web company, there should be a very clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the service being offered. Transparency is key.

Like with most things in business there are compromises with both techniques, it’s your job to figure out what compromises you and your business are willing to take. The main point of writing this article is to educate, if you take one thing from this article let it be this: Always ask your web designer if they use ‘off the shelf’ templates or bespoke templates, after all, you should always know what you are paying for.

If you know where to look it's normally fairly easy to figure out if a website uses a generic template or a bespoke template, just ask us we will have a look for you.