Web development

Bespoke vs template web design: A guide.

Picture the situation: you have a website idea in mind but you don’t know how your idea is going to be conveyed online. Usually when someone gets to this stage, they begin to look into a web Content Management System (CMS). The benefits of using a CMS usually outweigh the disadvantages, which is why it’s estimated that over half of all websites on the World Wide Web are using some form of CMS software. That might be WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal for smaller scale sites and e-commerce or Magento for larger scale operations.

Once you’ve made the choice on which CMS software you’re going to use for your site, the next step is to decide whether you’re going to use a pre-built template or “theme” that can usually be integrated into the CMS of your choice, or hire a web developer or agency to create a bespoke website for you. Here, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these choices.

Template web design
Templates – sometimes referred to as themes – are pre-built website designs that can be bought from a marketplace for consumption within your chosen CMS software. Usually these templates are created by developers and approved on marketplaces, and the marketplace will take a percentage of the sale.

One of the biggest reasons for using a template over bespoke design is because it is significantly cheaper and usually shaves off considerable development time. It gives you a website out-of-the-box that you can edit straight away yourself with little to no web development experience.

A template might come with some predefined content of its own – this is to demo the various sections, widgets and layouts that it can offer before purchase. This content can be replaced with your own. This gives you a good measure for the content you might need on your own site, but alternatively it also means you might struggle to make the website look like-for-like. Your content may be in danger of becoming irrelevant, which has a negative impact on SEO value, potentially reducing the traffic to your site.

Templates usually use third-party plugins to enhance the features of your website, which is good. However, these plugins regularly release updates for security and improvements, and your theme could quickly become outdated and insecure. This also means any plugins you might not need in the website will inevitably slow page load speed. Some themes do offer extended support and updates, but if you need to alter the theme to fit your needs, the changes may be overwritten or your site could become unresponsive due to a conflict in the changes and the new updates.

Bespoke web design
Unlike template design, bespoke web design is precise web development that fits your requirements verbatim. If you don’t have any web development experience yourself, you will have to hire a developer or agency to build a website for you. Usually this begins with a meeting to discuss the best CMS for your needs. You’ll go through your design preferences and branding – this might also include a walkthrough of your customer’s journey if you are building an ecommerce website.

Bespoke websites might mimic a template or design you’ve seen and liked previously, or they can be completely unique and unlike anything seen on the web before. The only limitation to a bespoke website is your imagination. The result is a seamless experience that conveys the message and journey you require to maximise your target audience while keeping the site streamlined and efficient.

A bespoke website is an entire package, built completely for your own needs, and because of this, the result is the best quality you can buy. However, this comes at a cost of time and money. Bespoke sites usually go through several rounds of proofing and back and forth between client and developer before it is ready to be published, which can be time consuming. Depending on the size of the site, expect a bespoke website to take weeks or possibly even months to be completed. You’re also paying someone for that time and that can quickly become a costly affair, which is no good if you have a tight budget.

An advantage to a bespoke site is that if any updates or security patches cause issues, you can return to the developer who built the site to rectify the situation. This can save a lot of time because they will know where to look and how to fix it in a much more timely manner than template-based support. A developer can also streamline the CMS to fit your needs and specifications, rather than the default system that comes with a template. This means you can find and alter your own content faster.

Deciding which way to go
There are obvious wins and losses to weigh up when choosing between a template or bespoke web design. Here, we provide a summary of the main points to consider when making this choice:

Template design may be best if:
• You need some inspiration and don’t have a vision of what your site may look like.
• You are on a budget.
• You don’t have any specific functionality that may require the template to be changed.
• You have a small or limited amount of content.

Choose bespoke design if:
• You know what you want your website to look like.
• The site’s functionality or layout is likely to change in the future.
• You want the website to be optimised for your target audience.
• You have specific content management requirements.

There is no right or wrong answer when making the decision between a template or bespoke website design but by using this article, you can get a feel for the main variables to consider. Budget, requirements and personal preferences will always come into play when deciding what is best to represent your brand online.

Written by John Bell
An experienced web developer on multiple platforms. John takes like a boat to water on any project, no matter how big or small.