Epidemic of the Template

Reading time: 4 minutes

Your website represents you and what you stand for. It’s your window for the world to see you. A powerful unique design can really tell your story and helps show users what separates you from everyone else. Your site should have personality and meaning geared toward your target audience that meshes with your company’s goals.

What do you want to achieve with your online presence, with your business in general? There are all kinds of considerations, such as what is the overall emotion of the message you’re trying to convey? What would be a logical goal of a user visiting your site? Knowing the answers to these and many more questions like those helps to plan a great user experience for both your intended and unintended users. What’s the return on a great user experience? Glad you asked.

In a world with unlimited budgets, I’m sure every business owner out there would choose to pay a team of professionals to build them a custom website tailored specifically to their business that is unique and distinguishes them from all of the competition. They would also want it to be constructed to be search engine optimized and scalable to accomodate future technology as it becomes available. Furthermore, as long as money isn’t a restriction, I’m betting they’d hire a seasoned graphic artist to create custom graphics, animations, video, etc.

But in the real world, money is an object, which contributes to the temptation of resorting to a template. In full disclosure, this very site was built starting with a template, but this is simply a blog I use to express myself. I’m not saying templates are necessarily bad, but you should be informed of the pros and cons before going that route.

To me, the most obvious pitfall of using any template is the notion that because it looks good to you, the business owner, that it will also appeal to your clients. This is such a trap. The designer of the template most likely never met you, doesn’t know who your audience even is, let alone the goals your users hope to achieve on your site. A template with all the bells and whistles in the wrong spots with no call to action (or too many distracting calls to action) that doesn’t offer a clear value proposition to the user is a recipe for failure. Overcoming such issues will require time (and money) to customize said template, which in the end might still run you close to what a custom design would have been in terms of time and/or cost.

Templates can often leave a site feeling generic and lifeless with a poor user experience flow. They are typically low budget and have a ‘been there, done that’ vibe to them, which users can often sniff out immediately, putting your business’s credibility on the hook. Even if you purchase the “exclusivity rights” to a template, there could be others who have already bought the template prior you who are completely legal in continuing to use said template.

I’ve looked at a lot of different templates, from parallax designs, to single page templates, to your traditional grid layout template, to email marketing templates, and the list goes on. You name it, I’ve probably investigated it. And the common “problem” across most, if not all of them, is in trying to incorporate your own graphics or unique existing content (i.e. a menu or catalogue you have) into the specific layout you’ve purchased in a way that doesn’t BREAK the template. Furthermore, even if/when you get that resolved, you need to realize that a nice looking website is only part of the package. How well does your search functionality work in your site? Does your site flow as a user would expect? Does it have a clear call to action (the thing you want users “to do”)? If a user comes to you from an online search and lands in the middle of your site, will they be lost? Is the navigation clear and can the user figure out quickly “where” they are in the hierarchy of your site? Does your site take transactions or need other secure functions built into it to safeguard both you and your users from others with ill-intentions. Does your site have a lot of content to display, such as a catalogue of products? If so, the performance (the ability to load quickly) of your site could be the most challenge obstacle to overcome, especially if your target audience includes a lot of mobile users coming in on a 3G network, for example.

Usually with a template, you get what you see, meaning templates are quite limited in what changes can be made to the design and functionality. For a lot of companies, paying less for a template is not worth the limitations offered by said template.

Also beware of companies that say they build custom websites but in reality use templates while still charging you thousands of dollars or the equivalent of a custom site. Get a quote from a custom website design firm and compare it to that of a template website company. A template should be nowhere at all near the cost of a custom design. You can find templates, and I mean decent, responsive, modern templates for under $50 with a quick online search.

So while it may seem appealing to purchase a $45 template, do yourself a favor and do your research first. Even if you do choose a template, don’t buy the first one that appeals to you. Wait a day to come back and revisit your favorite ones and document why you like the ones you like. Spending hundreds or even thousands on a custom site may not be in your budget right now, and that’s understandable. But keep in mind that it only takes users an average of 3-5 seconds to make a judgement on your business when they arrive at your virtual doorstep.