If you're a new site owner with little to no background in web development, chances are you're relying on a prebuilt template for your website rather than a custom theme. Prebuilt templates are extremely convenient and of course, better than having no site at all. However, if you'd like to grow your online presence and be taken seriously, you need to consider going custom, as your brand's growth might depend on it.
The Advantages of Pre-built Themes and Design Templates
There are certainly some advantages to using pre-built themes, as evidenced by the healthy demand for them. Namely, the demand of new, small businesses with limited web development budgets and solo business owners who just need a website up and running as quickly and cheaply as possible.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of both free and paid pre-built themes to choose from. You don't have to spend the time and money envisioning your new site from the ground up. There is no waiting for a web designer to build it for you, like you would with custom website design. What you see is what you get and the ability to do a "test drive" with the different templates to experience the look and feel for yourself is quite appealing.
If you want to get a website live immediately and for a very low cost, pre-built themes are definitely the way to go. All you need to do is find the free or paid template that you like best, download it, add your content, and have it ready for visitors in a matter of hours.
Pre-built Themes Are Bad for Branding
While these premade templates are great for just getting started-- and let's face it, having a prefab website is better than having no website at all -- they're bad for your business in the long run. Templates meant for hundreds of thousands of different users to create a website quickly have a uniform, utilitarian look which shows that little or no thought was put into branding and making your company stand out.
Think about the conclusions you would draw if someone gave you a business card that was bland black text on a white background, used the same exact background art as someone else's cards, and/or had the printing company's name on the back. It gives the impression that your venture is a hobby not a business, and that you aren't invested in its success.
For many businesses and freelancers, your website is the first impression people will get. You don't get a second chance at that, so if you want to build a brand the right way, the best thing you can do is invest in custom website design from the get-go. You can change colors, fonts, and put your own logos and professional photos on your site, but if it looks like a cookie cutter design similar to many sites on the internet, people will notice.
Custom Websites Are Custom-Fit to Your Needs
Another major drawback of templated themes is that they are not built to be custom-fit to the many differing needs of the broad range of business owners who apply them. For instance, an individual who makes custom jewelry is going to have drastically different CMS and e-commerce requirements than a regional store that carries hundreds of different retail items. A small law firm that needs to offer convenience and confidentiality to their clients has different security needs than a freelance writer, who is using their clients' document delivery systems and has a PayPal link for payment.
Working with prefab templates winds up creating more work in the long run, as you realize that many needs of your business are not met. Custom website design will keep all of your individual needs and considerations in mind, including plans for your business growing or any other circumstances that would cause your site's needs to change.
Utilitarianism is a Bad Approach for a Strong User Experience
This is especially true when it comes to paid templates. In addition to trying to fit multiple types of site owners' needs, pre-built themes can tend towards sloppy delivery, on account of their intent. Their intent is to turn a profit by delivering merely adequate design and development to as many different users as possible, never serving as the perfect fit for any one user.
Going pre-built doesn't just result in a bland and utilitarian appearance, but also user experience. Even if take your website for a "test drive" and have other users beta test it for you prior to launching and they see no issues, user experience problems crop up over time. Depending on the functionalities that your website requires, "dark patterns" can occur which is when a user is trying to execute an action that should seem obvious but doing so is either heavily cloaked in bad design or entirely missing.
Even when dark patterns aren't an issue, your brand needs a user experience that is unique and well-designed. Bad user experience contributes to high bounce rates and short visit times. Prefab templates have not been fully optimized for your specific site content, and the user experience that comes with these templates is generally bland or a poor fit for the specific purpose of your site.
If you're looking for longer visits, lower bounce rates, and subsequently higher conversions, time needs to be spent on designing and implementing the perfect user experience for your individual site.
Better Than No Website at all, But Not Much...
Pre-built themes will work if your website needs are incredibly simple and you are unlikely to face significant growth. However, if you want to build your brand and make a lasting impression, custom website design and implementation is the way to go. You'll have full control over the way your site looks, the user experience, and the ability to form a cohesive and professional brand that visitors will remember. The site will be designed to custom-fit your specific content, rather than having to adjust your content to fit the template.
Custom built sites will plan for the future of your company, take into account your specific e-commerce needs, provide you with the ability to play with custom functionality, implement top notch security, and start you with the best platform from which to grow your brand.