There are an overwhelming abundance of inexpensive or sometimes free themes available online in template marketplaces. So why pay to have a custom theme made when so many inexpensive options are available online? It’s important to keep in mind that while saving money is an obvious benefit, there are considerable risks to buying preemade themes. To be clear, we are not making the claim that there is no scenario where pre-made templates are a viable option.o the contrary, there are rare times we suggest it. However, pre-made templates do come with risks that may be problematic to some customers so it’s important to know what those risks are so that you can determine if a pre-made site or a custom site is right for you. In this article I am going to explain what the difference is between pre-made and custom templates, what the pitfalls are in purchasing pre-made, how to avoid them and when to know if you should invest in a custom made website.
What are you paying for?
Let’s take a moment and consider what a pre-made template actually is. It’s nested directories of files that contain code that, when activated in a content management system, alters the functionality and look of your CMS site. To that end, picking a theme would seem pretty straightforward. One might assume that it comes down to the look, feel and functionality of the site. But like most everything, what goes on under the hood can greatly affect the quality and effectiveness of your presence online.
Often overlooked aspects of purchasing a site are how well the site performs, is it supported, what type of support are you getting, are the technologies employed up to modern standards, and does it allow for quality search engine optimization? These are all questions that you should ask yourself before you invest in what will be the face of your business or organization online.
What’s under the hood matters
Having grown up without being given an education on automotive technology, a car simply came down to how it looked and what features it had. Obviously, if a car looked like it went fast, it did. Right? This rationale is what motivated me to agree to purchase a 1982 Camaro. I was so excited to own such a cool car at 18 years old. I remember all the looks I would get as I drove it around town, occasionally somebody would rev their engine at me and entice me to a red light jump-off. I never indulged them because, to be honest, I couldn’t.
I had selected Time Magazine’s #36 of the top 50 Worst cars of all time. It was a rather heavy sports car fitted with a 4-cylinder engine. It took literally 20 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph, which made even getting on the freeway a bit of an adventure if the ramp was not very long. Sure, it looked like a fast car but looks can be deceiving.
A beautiful site is great, but studies have shown you have 7 seconds to capture the user’s interest. If half that time is spent waiting for your page to load, you had better hope your site makes the user feel like it was worth the time. Factors that affect load times are everything from how many external libraries are included, to plugin bloat, to the actual condition of the servers hosting it. Additionally, many users today still have slow internet connections, particularly in more rural areas. This means, with too many bells and whistles, you can be making the load time painfully long for these users and again, cause your users to flee from your site.
There is a delicate balance and many factors a developer should consider when making your site. Sure, beautiful sites are great. But my Camaro was also, until you needed to, you know, drive it.
Who ya gonna call?
In a recent situation, we had a customer who wanted to save money and purchased a pre-made template. It met all of the basic needs for the company and for a year, worked pretty well. Recently, some changes to the company required some modifications to the content and to the customer’s dismay; the pre-built structure of the site went haywire. Icons were too big for the page, text was misaligned and responsiveness pretty much went out the window. They contacted us for help with the problem and, upon investigation, we discovered that the template they had purchased included two plugins to format page content, one of which was built by the theme authors and extended the other’s functionality. The former was out of date and the company who created it was no longer in business while the latter couldn’t support their plugin because it was modified. We were then encouraged to contact the theme author for support, but as stated, they were no longer in business.
We did resolve this problem but it was not cheap for the customer. The hours it took to extract all their content from the plugin and replace it in theme. It was money that might have been better spent on a custom website. Truth be told, as upgrades continue, they will likely be hiring someone to fix it multiple times. So how could this have been avoided? Simply put, it can’t be as long as you are buying pre-made themes.
The Circle of
Technology is always changing and, at least in theory, getting better. The web is no exception, and as systems are getting faster and holding more memory, web technologies are growing in complexity.
At the beginning of the web when most everybody was on dial-up, images had to be kept to a minimum or your page would take too long to load and you would lose potential visitors. Then internet speeds increased. But then screen resolutions improved which made it possible to design more beautiful websites, but you had to be careful of load times again. Then came web 2.0 and, as of last year, mobile devices now account for the majority of web traffic.
The landscape of the internet changes and in order to keep your site usable, it needs to change also. In fact, if you are using your site for business, it is important to stay ahead of technology to maximize its availability to your customers.
SEO – The web’s version of ‘Location, Location, Location’
Your website is essentially your storefront online. The phrase “location, location, location” is no doubt familiar to nearly everybody and emphasizes the importance of choosing the best spot for a business or home. But the internet is not a physical place and with over 1 billion websites on the internet, how is your site going to be found? Without search engines, finding relevant content would be like finding a needle in a haystack. This fact makes your placement in search results critical to the success of your business online. Search engines use algorithms that crawl your site and score it in order to help determine the value of a website and which sites are relevant to the searcher. Search Engine Optimization is the industry term for meeting the best practices as well as techniques in development for achieving a high ranked site by search engines.
These templates are not feature specific, they are feature generic with the goal of meeting the greatest number of needs. Since that‘s the case, it’s nearly impossible for a generic template to be designed in such a way that it meets the needs of even the majority of websites on the internet. Most template makers don’t bother trying, they just stick with the design styles that give them the highest sales numbers. You know these sites, right? They have a navigation bar at top, a rotating banner, a couple of content areas, some icons and a footer. They have a contact page with a contact form. They usually have a grid page for products, portfolio or news content. And they usually offer several templates with various layouts as options to your pages. This, sadly, will meet the needs of many websites on the internet, but these sites do not stand out. It’s like comparing a custom art piece with a printed canvas. It is not hard to spot which is custom and which is a template.
When you build a site cheaply, you are getting it cheaply for a reason. These are not sites designed to accommodate your company’s particular feature needs. They are generic in every sense of the word. The objective of theme developers is to sell templates. In order to do that, they create sites that have the most common basic feature sets, the most popular design trends, and a focus on the number one factor for most template buyers – a modern appearance. But when it comes to features, I know what you are probably thinking — why not just hire a company to add the features for us? Paying to have features added to a pre-made template is like buying a Ford Fiesta and adding features in an attempt to make it a Ferrari. Even if it managed to work, and that is a big if, it‘d certainly cost more to painfully build out a Ferrari piece by piece than to buy a fully built one in the first place.
Sometimes hiring a company to add a feature to a template actually works out but much of the time, it requires a substantial amount of discovery to know what the developer is getting him or herself into. You would be amazed what some of these template writers try to pull. Many development houses aren’t even willing to consider altering pre-made sites because often the headaches involved drive up prices. It makes basic alterations more complicated and expensive, driving prices up beyond the scope of what is reasonable for a template.
Order out of Chaos
Take a moment and review the picture of the closet above. What about this closet makes it beautiful? If you were to take all the stuff off the hangers and shelves and shove it all back in without taking into consideration how it looks, would it still be beautiful? Probably not! What makes it beautiful is the color balance between the different sections, the color qualities, the organization of the content of the closet and most of all, the space.
You may think to yourself: “Hey! This pre-made site I purchased looks pretty good. I can make it work for me if I just remove this and add that”. But, doing so takes the template, which was designed to hold certain sized images and certain amounts of text in certain places, look terrible.
A website looks good because the sections that lay out the content are designed piece by piece to ensure the images are quality and match the content, the content is not beyond the text limit, that there is adequate space for organization. These things taken together produce a pleasing result. If you replace a template’s content with your own, and it doesn’t match, you are going to change the whole look and feel of the template.
Often, the result is a cluttered mess and you’re left wondering where their beautiful template went.
Does it ever make sense to buy a pre-made template?
There are times when a pre-made template makes sense. In order to determine when that is, let’s take inventory of the pitfalls and benefits we have already covered:
1) If making your site be seen is not important to you
2) If the features required for your site are basic
3) If your features are available on a pre-built theme
4) If you are willing to stay within the parameters of the spaces available
5) If your business and profitability won’t be affectedeffected by issues (not sure what we mean here by “issues”?
If you meet these criteria, then it makes much more sense to buy an inexpensive WordPress pre-made templatesite. But let’s face it, if you’reyour going through the trouble and investment of putting a website up, you probably want it to be a good one.