Why Small Businesses Should Use Custom Web Designs and Not Templates

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Having a website, be it a custom web design or a web template, is non-negotiable in any business right now. 

In the current digital age where online research is increasingly the norm among consumers, and where brand image and transparency have become critical in a brand’s success, no business can afford to overlook having a digital presence. 

Yet, research has shown that 46% of small businesses did not have a web presence in 2018 (The Balance Small Business). Some of these small businesses claim that they are not big enough to justify having a website, while others cite reliance on social media, and the lack of knowledge in terms of how to begin building a web presence. 

Among the 64% of small businesses that do have a website, however, 29% of them said their website needed improvement in 2020 (PR News Wire). These numbers just go to show how every business, big or small, need to invest in a website. But not just any website. You need a website that is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also designed to meet your business goals and customers’ needs. 

Having no web presence i.e. a website is no longer an option.

Now you might be thinking, “how do I go about building my website? Do web templates suffice, or should I use a custom web design?”

Before we begin talking about web templates and custom designs, let’s first break down the process of web design.

The two aspects of web design: User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design

User Experience (UX) in this context, is the design of a website that your customers enjoy using, due to its quality, value, and ease of use. The focus of UX is the interaction (experience) between your users and the website.

User Interface (UI), on the other hand, is the design of a website that is visually appealing. The focus of UI is the visual elements on your website, such as typography, colors, graphics, images, etc. 

UX produces a website that is a solution for your goals and problems. UI comes in after UX, to reinforce your brand and make the solution even better. 

Your business goals and pain points are the “why.” UX is the “how.” And UI is the “what.” 

A web designer looking at a screen and creating good user experience (UX) and user interface (UI)

 *Even though UX and UI are distinctly different, a UX and UI designer can in fact be the same person. In other cases, a UX and UI designer work closely to create a website that is both aesthetically pleasing and practical for meeting your needs. 

*Note that all these are part of the design process. After designing, a web developer steps in to implement the designs and create an actual website. 

Why do we explain this? Let’s find out as we dive into…

The two ways to get your web design: Template vs. Custom

Even though all web design processes should include both UX and UI, how they are included can differ between templates and custom websites. 

Website Templates 

Website templates are pre-designed websites structures with the layout and visual elements ready for you to use. With website templates, you just need to purchase one that you like, set it up, and make minor adjustments to it (note that you will have to learn how to make these adjustments, which can be easy or difficult, depending on the platform you got your template from). 

Sounds easy, right? 

Here’s the catch. 

For website templates, both UX and UI designs are conducted in a very broad and nonspecific manner. Sometimes, UX might not even be taken into consideration as many people, especially template users, are more concerned with a website’s visual appeal rather than its actual functionality. 

Think of it this way: every small business is different and unique. I imagine your small business is vastly different from the others in your industry, perhaps due to the products/services that you provide, your brand personality, your values, your goals, etc. If a same template is used for hundreds of different small businesses, how do you expect the template to meet your unique needs, and demonstrate the uniqueness of your business? The UX aspect of website templates is often overgeneralized or overlooked altogether. 

Chances are: custom website designs where the UX and UI are both tailored to your specific business and customers would be a much better investment, especially in the long run. 

A man looking at a laptop screen showing website design templates

Custom Websites

People see custom websites in many different ways. Some people have a more “lax” definition of it, while others have higher expectations and standards. To help you understand, I categorized custom websites into three groups on a scale of customization standards. 

A spectrum with the three types of custom websites, least customized on the left (from left to right: modified template, followed by design from scratch and develop using website builder, and lastly design from scratch and develop using code)

A. Modified Template 

Some designers and agencies do use web templates to save time and effort. They have their own set of pre-made templates, which they modify to reflect more of your business needs and brand. Similar to templates, while this method of design is both time- and cost-effective, they do not usually reflect specific customer experiences, and are not tailored to specific business needs. 

B. Design from scratch, develop using a website builder 

Next, there are designers who design everything from scratch based on real and specific research, and then build the website using a website builder with a variable amount of code.  Free Logic does this kind of custom website design. How it works: 

  1. The UX and UI designers take time to understand you, your business, and both long-term and short-term goals through a discovery call. 
  2. If we decide to move on with the custom website design, we then conduct thorough market research, competitive analysis, as well as conduct user research/interviews as needed. These help to build the foundation of UX design, where we understand your industry, competitors, product, and most importantly your users. 
  3. From all the research, we create a customer journey map that will guide the structure and flow of your website. 
  4. Based on the customer journey map, we help you visually see the structure and flow of your website by designing a website “skeleton” with tools such as Adobe XD

So far, steps 1-4 that you are seeing are all part of the UX design. In the process of all these, we also take into account your future business goals, designing the website such that it can scale in the future, and hence have a much longer shelf life. 

  1. After our clients approve of the website skeleton, we then move on to add in the visual elements such as brand colors, images, graphics, animations, etc. This is part of the UI design. 
  1. Once both the UX and UI are approved, we build the website on a website builder like WordPress, taking care of everything ranging from the back-end to front-end. Small businesses can expect everything to be set up and integrated, so that all they have to do is start seeing results. If needed, Free Logic also offers training for our clients so that they can smoothly make updates (add events, products, make announcements, blog posts, etc.) even after the website has been launched. 

C. Design from scratch, code the heck out of it

Then we come to the last type of custom web design. These tend to include the same process of UX and UI steps as mentioned above. The only difference comes in step (6), where web developers implement the design using full-on codes instead of a website builder. While the websites can often turn out to be more unique and visually appealing, the highest level of customization also means an unnecessarily high cost on the client’s end. They are often hard to update and require a lot more upkeep.

A computer screen displaying lines of code for a highly customized web design

Which one should you choose: Templates vs. Custom?

It all boils down to your specific needs and circumstances. Here are a few things to consider: 

Your business needs and goals 

If meeting your business needs and goals is important, then a custom design that is tailored to them would be the better bet. 

User experience 

Custom design is definitely a winner in this aspect, because web designers can customize not just what should go on your web pages, but also how they should go on those pages. This, as in User Experience, is arguably one of the most important aspects in web design. While most people do care about the looks and feel of a website, what keeps and converts a customer is the experience they have using it, which leads us to our next thing to consider…

Conversions/sales 

Custom design suits your business. In contrast, templates are not designed to suit your business, they don’t know your business and customers. While they might be able to make sales, these are not highly targeted sales. With a custom web design, you can make way more targeted sales. 

Time & Cost

That said, with all the details and planning that go into custom sites, custom sites tend to require more time and cost upfront.

A computer screen displaying lines of code for a highly customized web design
Our conclusion for your web design choice?

Even though custom sites may require more time and money upfront, their ROI tends to be higher due to the more targeted sales, better user experience, and alignment with your business needs and goals. They also tend to have a longer average shelf-life (the length of time before you redesign the site) as compared to templates, since they are built to scale in the first place. With Free Logic, you also have the option of receiving training from us, so that you know how to make necessary updates, further prolonging the shelf life of your site. Just think of it as buying a higher quality product – they last longer, work better, and have better customer service. 

This means that custom web designs almost always have the upper hand, whether it is for small or bigger businesses. That said, we do understand that some small businesses, especially those that just started out, may have a tight timeline or budget. In that case, website templates may be their option for now. As they advance their business and seek higher business goals, they should seriously consider having a custom web design that will have a better payoff. 

Free Logic is always happy to help. If you have any questions about how we can help you meet your business goals, or how we can build a custom solution package for you, do not hesitate to reach out for a discovery call! All discovery calls come at no cost – the goal is for us to get to know each other and see if we are a good fit. Good luck!

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