From time to time I’m asked about these website templates you can go buy for $50. There are websites that sell them and you can browse through hundreds until you find the design you like. Then you buy it, put in your own logo and content, and you’ve got a decent looking website without needing to pay an expensive web design firm like mine. So where’s the catch? The catch is that other people can buy the template as well. Ok, but you can generally get exclusive rights to use the template by paying more, and it’s still less than hiring a firm, so where’s the catch now? There are three main “catches” that I see:
1. Design quality
3. Differentiation and Credibility
1. Design quality. Templates are generally of lesser quality from a design standpoint. That said, I’ve seen websites from design firms that look worse than templates, so going with a firm or a professional designer doesn’t necessarily guarantee the best design.
2. Customization. While going with a firm or a freelancer doesn’t always produce the best design, going with a template never produces the best design, and a lot of this comes down to customization. When you’re working with a live human being to design your website the final design will, or at least should, be customized to meet your exact needs. No matter how closely a template you have found fits your needs, it can never fit your needs as well as a website designed by a qualified, professional designer.
3. Differentiation and Credibility. I think this is the strongest case against templates. I haven’t seen a template or a website built from templates that I couldn’t immediately identify as a template website, and all other things being equal, I will transact business with a company that has a high-end website rather than a template website. Think of it this way–if you were hiring a lawyer to represent you, and you knew the decision could mean a difference of tens of thousands of dollars, would you hire the lawyer that came to meet you in a nice BMW or the one who comes in a 1998 Hyundai? The guy in the BMW might be a lot more expensive, but is what is at stake worth taking the risk?
If you go with a template you’re doing it based on cost. Most other people make the same choice, that is, to choose the less expensive option, and that means you look like most other people on the web. If you want to stand out online and look more credible than your competition then you need to do what your competition is not doing, and the difference needs to be a positive one. That means paying more money for a better design. Hopefully you don’t pay more money for a worse design, because that’s what we in the industry call “getting ripped off.”
But the whole matter is really one of good vs. good enough. For some companies, a template website is good enough, and paying more money for a nicer site will produce marginally better returns that don’t justify the cost. There are some comanies that know better design would help their business but they simply don’t have the budget. Paying high prices for high-end web design is not something everyone should rush out and do. However, I see more companies opting for the less expensive route when it’s not the correct decision for their business. I’m talking about businesses that most certainly have the budget, and for whom a professionally designed site could generate 10 times the cost in additional revenue within 12 months.
Next time you’re considering building a new website or redesigning a site make sure to consider all the options. Get bids from expensive firms, less expensive firms, freelancers, and check out templates. If, after researching the matter, you really feel a template is good enough, then go ahead and get it. All I ask is that you think about it before assuming that cheaper is always better, because like anything else, you tend to get what you pay for.