Should I use a template for my website?

Whether or not to use a template for a website is becoming much more common than ever.

Templates are cheap, and You Get What You Pay For. That's it.

There are many template marketplaces, and it is easy to search for website templates to use for your business. Why?

Template examples and demos always look perfect.
Pre-built templates are affordable for a small business or startup who doesn't have a budget for a custom site. The downside is there's no way to know if a template is coded well. It's a gamble.

Many website template marketplaces show examples which look perfect meant to encourage purchases. Images, content, widgets, and logos are displayed correctly for one reason: Convincing you to buy.

The cost is extremely affordable and comes with promises including easy to follow instructions, well-documented code, and ease of use regardless of your skill level. It's easy to understand why people are attracted to templates.

Those promises of perfection are intentional.

Templates are created to look and behave easily and typically indicate they can accommodate any scenario. However, your business model, images, logo, and the text hasn't been taken into consideration. You are expected to retrofit your content into the premade mold.

A realistic scenario.

You find a template which includes every feature you could imagine, many you will never need or use. You become inspired with ideas for your site based on the beautiful template example.

Since templates cost between $50-$75, you feel like it's the deal of a lifetime. You think to yourself, “This will be easy and quick. I'll set up my website and get back to my work by the end of the day. All this for less than $100!” You can’t get your credit card out fast enough. You've hit the jackpot.

Reality settles in and the proverbial SH*T hits the fan.

Once you start setting up the website, you immediately discover you are unable to figure out what to do. The instructions are confusing, and you become annoyed. This is the moment you realize cheaper does not mean better.

Depending on the theme, you have to read the instructions to figure out how you are supposed to set it up. Even the best documentation takes for granted you know more than you do so it's not as helpful as it could be. You may not have the experience or tools to edit your photos. You may need your text edited and optimized but don't have a copywriter.

The time you have spent so far is longer than you expected. You continue to struggle to get the website to look right. You haven't gotten your other work done – your actual business – and you have fallen behind. This isn't what you signed up for.

I've done the leg work.

It’s not the first time I’ve been down this road. Pre-built templates have been available for purchase for longer than I can remember.

None of what I describe comes from ignorance or fear of using templates. I have had my own experience trying multiple times to work with templates combined with years spent creating websites from scratch. I needed to try and wanted to know why people were using pre-made sites so much. I tested several from various sources to see if they’re as good as people say.

In one instance, the template I chose to work with looked great and seemed to have what I needed. I even thought it could be a good option for one of my sites to test things out. The size was good, and the code was well written, performed fast and utilized all the most current web standards.

The downside I discovered: It was an absolute must to know how to write and edit HTML to modify the site and populate all the content. I was stunned. No shortcodes. No widgets. All coded areas. It was a developers theme, and I had no idea until after I got it.

Web design and development is my core area of work, and even I ended up sitting for hours staring at the screen and scratching my head. Finally, I had to wonder how a novice with no experience would be able to figure this out if I can’t figure out or understand what to do.

Things you must ask yourself if you choose to work with templates:

  • Do you have all your content prepared and ready to go?
  • Is your photography an equivalent match to what you saw on the template demo?
  • Have you optimized your images so they won’t be too large (or too small)?
  • Is your text the same length as the areas shown on the template demo?
  • Have you pre-planned where you will be using all your content, so things show up in the correct areas?
  • Do you understand how to create user-friendly menus & widget areas?
  • Are you familiar with and able to edit or add custom CSS if you need to change something outside the limits of the theme?
  • Are you familiar with FTP and/or cPanel?
  • Is this template the best fit for MY business as it pertains to the colors, fonts, functionality, etc.?

I understand many people have become more familiar with some of these things to fall under the “I know enough to be dangerous” or “I know how to edit a few things here and there” categories. These skills are helpful but can also quickly be a disaster if something goes wrong. A $50 website can soon become more expensive if you end up having to hire someone to do the work for you.

Therein lies the ruins.

You get what you pay for, and you don’t know it until it’s too late. Sometimes you can spend HOURS upon HOURS working on it until you can’t take it anymore before you call a professional to help or design something custom.

Conservatively, even if a custom website takes a total 50-70 hours from start to finish (and don’t cringe because think about how long it takes for you to figure out how to navigate a template), multiply that by your designer’s hourly rate. This formula should help you understand the general cost of creating a website that suits your specific needs.

Some people disagree with me and have used unflattering words in the process. That's ok. My intent is not to insult or belittle my colleagues if that’s what works for them, all the power to them.

Are you saying templates are okay to use for my website?

To be clear, what I have described are examples based on my own experiences. They are real situations of what may happen when templates are used. It is based on my own testing experiences and in the cases described, they weren't good. And remember, I do this for a living.

There are online shops who sell great templates. However, those I found have been created by experienced website designers and developers who created well-coded products and provided good customer service. But, even with the best template, the above examples will set you back if you are not familiar with how things work.

Many other pre-made templates are created using a massive website builder and can create a domino-effect of problems for you. These website builders, or generators, tend to be very large and have been known to slow a website's speed. Why? Because they are jam-packed with a million and more features you'll never use. The template was built for anyone instead of a specific person or business. It is necessary they add all the extra trimmings because they have no idea who will be using the template.

What's the final outcome?

In conclusion, the difference between a novice who is starting a new business with a small budget, and a larger company who has a budget is huge. I create custom designs and develop sites to suit individual clients who hire me. I work with a team and time is built into my proposals for research geared specifically for that client.

I have personally found templates to be limiting, bulky, and mostly confusing. I did my best to view things from your perspective to better understand how a template can be helpful (or not) for you.

In general, I did not find the support offered to be helpful, and in almost every instance, the sites were vulnerable to hackers or quickly got slammed with hacking attempts. Ultimately, these are sites that won't last nearly as long as you'd like and will need to be re-coded.

$50 doesn't seem like much. In the end, you could ultimately spend a few thousand dollars if you need to hire someone to help get things set up, fixed, or troubleshoot. The process always takes longer than what started as a one-day project.

My advice? Do your research. Seek the help of professionals and make sure you have educated yourself, so you know what you're about to dive into. Time is money, and when you have little of both, it's better to know more, than less.

What is your experience working with templates?

Have you used a template for your website and had a fantastic experience? Did you fall into the trap as I described here?

Template usage may be a controversial topic for many, but I do want to hear from you. There's always something to learn.

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