Custom Websites vs Semi Custom Websites vs Website Templates

There are so many options when it comes to how to build your website. First deciding on which platform will be best for you and then whether you’re going to take the DIY route or hire professional help.

I’m going to break down the differences between custom web design and website templates and a third option that may just be the best of both worlds. (Is the suspense killing you? Skip to the good part.)

What is Custom Web Design?

A custom website, is a one-of-a-kind design. The process involves working with a professional web designer to develop a website strategy and design something completely unique to your brand and business. Depending on your needs, this may also involve implementing custom code to achieve certain features and functionality.

Working with a designer you’ll have expert-level support and guidance when it comes to everything involved in creating and launching a website. Things like user experience, tech integrations, SEO, hosting and more.

Custom Web Design is typically a lengthy process and the timeline can run between 6-12 weeks. You can also expect to pay more for custom design than you would with a website template.

What is a Website Template?

A website template is a pre-built web design that you can purchase and use as a base to build your website from.

Typically this is a DIY method of launching your website. It involves changing the colors and fonts to match your own brand as well as adding in your own images and copy. You can find free templates included in some platforms like Squarespace or purchase templates from web designers directly.

Because templates are available for anyone to purchase, it’s possible your website may look similar to others. Through customization you can modify a template to be more unique and sometimes even hire a designer to do this for you.

When to use a website template for your business

You’re a brand new business.

Your business will change and evolve so much in its first year. You may refine your offerings, expand or narrow your audience or tweak your messaging and positioning. All of these things can cause changes to your website. By starting with a template, you can give yourself the time to really clear on your brand vision before investing in custom design.

You have a lower budget.

Website templates are much less expensive than working 1:1 with a designer. They can range from $150-$600 depending on the platform they’re built for and the designer who created them. Custom design can cost you $3,000+. If custom design isn’t feasible right now, hold off. Your money can probably be better spent elsewhere while you’re still building your business.

You’re on a strict timeline.

Working with a web designer on a custom design can take weeks, or even months, to complete. And typically you have to book out weeks in advance before you can even get started. If you’re looking to launch ASAP a template may be the best solution. You’ll get access to the template immediately upon purchase and can launch in as much time as it takes you to customize.

You have the time and patience to DIY.

While website templates offer a quicker way to get online, they still require time and effort before you’re ready to launch. Most designers include video tutorials teaching you how to set-up and customize the template, but this can be a frustrating process if you’re not very tech-savvy.

A simple site is all you need.

Website templates can be great for “brochure-style” websites. This means your site is 1-5 pages and acts like a brochure for your business. It includes information about you, your offers and a way to get in touch. In most cases, this is all you need to start a business and make sales. If you’re looking for more complex or advanced functions, custom web design may be better suited for you.

When to hire a web designer to build a custom website for your business.

You are more established and have a solid brand strategy.

Once you have more experience under your belt and have clearly defined your audience, offers and positioning, a custom website can have some serious benefits. By working with a designer you’ll create a web strategy and design that’s a true reflection of your brand. You’ll set yourself apart from the competition with a completely unique design and experience and be able to connect with a higher end audience.

You need advanced features or functions.

There are some things that a website template simply can’t do. For certain functionality it may be necessary to hire a professional web designer and/or web developer. This is usually the case for e-commerce sites, subscriptions and/or memberships. Custom design and development is also great for professional bloggers as you can create custom post types and fields and display content dynamically.

You don’t have the time or desire to DIY.

Hiring a web designer means they handle all the hard work for you. You don’t have to spend time figuring out a new platform or troubleshooting tech issues.

You value expert-level support.

Hiring a web designer means you have access to an expert when it comes to all things web design. It’s possible to make a pretty website from a template, but pretty might not do the trick. Successful websites are built with strategy in mind and a designer can help you launch an online presence that actually gets you results. They’ll also take care of all of the tech like integrating your CRM, linking your email newsletter and connecting your domain and hosting.

You simply want custom design.

At the end of the day, it’s your business and your website. If you want something totally custom and one of a kind (and have the budget and time), go for it!

An alternative option: Semi-Custom Web Design

After weighing the pros and cons of custom web design vs website templates, you may still have trouble deciding what’s best for you. Luckily there is a third option – the best of both worlds.

What is a Semi-Custom Website?

A semi-custom website combines the quickness and affordability of a website template with the professional-level support of a web designer. This style of service can look a little different depending on who you hire, but generally speaking it involves choosing a website template and having a designer customize it for you.

By starting with a template as the foundation of your website, you are able to launch much sooner and invest less up front. Your designer will take care of all the customizations like adding in your brand colors, fonts, images and copy. Some designers also offer modifications where they are actually changing the page layout and design – giving you a more custom look.

At Scout, I offer a Website Intensive where we create a semi-custom website in just 2 days. We still start with a strategy phase so your new website is structured with your goals in mind and designed to convert. We can combine sections from other templates and even add in some new sections for a unique design built around your business and needs.

The best of both worlds.

With a semi-custom design you can take advantage of the pros of a website template and some of the benefits of custom web design.

  • Less expensive – semi-custom design usually costs between $2k-$4k.
  • Quicker timeline – depending on who you work with, the timeline can be 1 day – 1 week.
  • More unique design – with your designer making small changes to the layout and design, you’ll have a site that doesn’t look exactly like every other business using your template.
  • Expert-level support – you still get a professional’s input on website strategy, design and tech.
  • No DIY – you can sit back and relax while your designer does the heavy lifting

Interested in a Semi-Custom Website?

Reach out to see if a Website Intensive is right for you.

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hi, I'm Caitlin
After 10+ years in the industry, I know the importance of your online presence. I know what it takes to build a website that sets you apart, scales with your growth and gets you results. I build websites for evolving brands – so you can continue growing your business doing what you love.
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