Template vs. Custom Website Design

Prior to starting a new website development project, one of the most important considerations is determining whether you will be using a custom designed and developed website or a template website that can be customized.  

How do you know which one is right for you?

Template Designed Website

The best way to think about a template-based design is to think about pre-defined boxes in which you place your content.  You would need to try to find a template that closely matches what you need and then make small tweaks with colors and images.  Template websites are analogous to choosing from among a preset group of house plans provided by a home builder. The options are limited to what has already been built and customization is possible within the restrictions set by the builder. The analogy falls short when you consider that there are significantly more website template options available via the web than the typical number of specs houses provided by a builder. Websites such as http://themeforest.net provide nearly 20,000 template options to choose from.  There are some well thought out and well designed templates available in low end price ranges. There is also an increasing volume of responsive website templates, which is beneficial given the proliferation of mobile device web viewing.

Pros:
Can be more quickly built/implemented
Relatively inexpensive

Cons:
Difficulty finding a template that matches your exact needs
Other websites can use the same template
Limited functionality, graphics, and navigation capabilities
Not all templates are responsive

Custom Designed Website
In a custom designed website, each element of the website is custom designed to fit your needs.  The design is built around the content and strategy for your website.  Custom designed websites are analogous to working with both an architect and custom builder in designing and building a house from scratch. In this case, the options are essentially only limited to the web technology currently available. The architecture of the website is determined first and foremost, followed by the creation of a design that follows that architecture while driven by the aesthetic qualities the project owner envisions. All the while, the function and user experience of the website is taken into careful consideration as a complement to the design intentions. 

Pros:
Website is designed around your marketing strategy
Fully customizable and can grow with you
Custom-built sites are responsive
Search engine optimization is better

Cons:
Takes more time to implement
More expensive than a template design

When done well, a website is a very powerful tool.  However, a poorly-executed website is one that will work against you.  Your branding will be much stronger when a website is designed to fit you versus trying to find a template to fit your brand needs.  In the long run, a custom-built website is a better investment because it can grow with the changing needs of your brand.