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Custom Website Design vs Template Website - What's the difference?

So you’re embarking on a new website to boost your brand, delight your customers and take the business to a new level? It’s an exciting time – but are you going to go for a custom site design or create the site using a template? It’s the old custom vs template website argument, and both come with their own advantages and downsides. As a highly experienced B2B website design Oxford-based agency with extensive hosting expertise, we’re perfectly placed to provide answers to the most important questions. By the end of this article on custom website design vs templated website pros and cons, you’ll have everything you need to make the best decision for your business. Here goes.


Differences Between Custom Websites and Template Websites

The first thing to say about website templates vs custom design is that both custom website design and template-based website design come with the same end result: an attractive, on-brand, user-friendly website for a business, organisation or person. The differences lie in how the result is achieved.

You need to know what a website template is. It’s a pre-designed layout for web pages with all the features in place, pre-coded and ready to go. The payment gateways, headers and footers, position of images, links and so on are all pre-designed for you. They’re basically your shelves. The website designer stacks the shelves with information – with written content, images, video, payment details, brand colours, logos and more.

Some templates are pretty rigid, not allowing much customisation, while others are infinitely customisable. In a nutshell, a website template gives designers a relatively simple way to add content without having to start from scratch.

As you can imagine templates come with financial benefits, costing less because the code is pre-written and the framework is pre-set. Because the frameworks used are responsive you get a site that works perfectly well on any size of the screen and saves the time and effort needed to code and design from the bottom up.

Custom websites, on the other hand, are wholly unique, built from the ground upwards. There’s no pre-designed layout. This makes them more expensive and time-consuming than using a template. But bear in mind that custom web design is about so much more than how the site looks. It can easily involve a lot of complex coding, extra or enhanced functions, and marketing-led essentials like lead management, customer management, APIs, chat, apps and ecommerce.

It’s no surprise so many web designers and developers use a set of pre-designed website elements needed by every website. While the design and user experience side of the job deserves a unique approach and individual attention, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Having said that, the basics can also be customised by a talented developer so there’s always a good level of flexibility with a custom site. 


Pros and Cons of Using Custom Website Design

Next in our journey into custom website design vs templated website pros and cons, what are the pros of using a custom website design? Basically, everything is up for grabs, from the way things work to the way they look and how users experience the site. The design is one hundred per cent customisable to your exact needs in terms of its look, feel and function.

With custom website design you can laser-focus a site so it dovetails perfectly with the needs and desires of your target audience. And that, in marketing terms, is powerful stuff. When you please your audience in every way, great things happen.

It’s also an SEO thing. A custom website design gives you every opportunity to make the most of search engine optimisation, from carefully crafting the metadata to make the biggest impact to maximising the power of the internal link structure and the way the URLs display. This is just the tip of the on-page natural SEO iceberg. In a highly competitive world where so many sites are optimised, paying close attention can give you an important advantage in the search results.

When it’s a custom design, scaling up or down is relatively easy compared to a template site, which can be fixed and restricted. You can define a suitable development roadmap up front for your developers to work on as time passes, progressively introducing new and exciting features over the perfect time period to mirror change and growth.

Custom website design vs template also impacts the hosting side of things. Custom websites come with more control over site hosting. It’s good to make the most of hosting opportunities, achieving fast page and content loading, enough wriggle room to cope with surges in visitors and users, guarantees around up-time, and great support. They all make a difference in ongoing business success.

What are the cons of using a custom website? It’s mostly a money thing. More work means more budget, and the up-front costs can stack up. It’s also a time thing, simply because it takes longer to design from scratch than it does to use a template - where most of the behind-the-scenes work has already been done.

How do you make the magic happen? It’s quite a task to pin down the best website designers and developers but if they’re busy, it’s usually a good sign!

Next, let’s look into the up and downsides of template websites.


Pros and Cons of Template Websites

What are the pros of using a templated website? It’s fast, for a start. The bones are already there, leaving a designer to create the branding and add in the imagery, video and written content. This makes a template site relatively easy to set up.  Today’s website templates are feature-rich and because it’s such a competitive arena, the quality is generally high. Whatever you need, from a large ecommerce store to a stunning brochure site, you can find a template fitting the brief.

The lower development cost is down to fewer hours of developer time. The core code has been written and checked and is being used by anything from thousands to millions of businesses. It comes with the built-in functionality needed to design and go, plus an abundance of exciting turn-on-and-off capabilities.

Last but not least, there are so many web page template designs to choose from. The WordPress platform alone offers a huge variety of ‘themes’, pre-designed templates that are not just easy to use, they’re also beautiful. Many are updated regularly so the site stays up to date. Other platforms, including our favourite, Umbraco, also provide similarly amazing templates. 

What are the cons of using a templated website? Customisation can be difficult, sometimes impossible, making it a challenge to add special or unique features. Some templates come with browser compatibility problems. And as you can imagine, when thousands of businesses use the same popular template, the sites can start to look a bit ‘samey’.

The SEO capabilities can be limited as well, unlike custom sites. While it might take SEO into account and do a pretty good job, a template’s constrained SEO capabilities mean you might never quite hit the same mark of SEO excellence as a custom-built site. 


Which is Best for Your Website?

Let’s take a look at the decision-influencing factors involved in your choice. First, the cost and your budget. This is often the deciding factor, and that’s fair enough. We all have limits. Custom websites are more expensive by definition so if your budget is small or has a strict limit, your best bet will be a template site.

Design and development time are both hugely important, making a big difference to the timescale of a project. If you want the site up fast, a template-based website will be easier and faster to deploy. If you have a big, flexible budget and plenty of time to play with, treat yourself to a custom design. 

Great personalisation and branding matters. You want your site to reflect the brand and appeal strongly to your target audience. Will a template deliver the flexibility and creative potential you need to create something uniquely appealing and powerful? Perhaps. But a custom design gives you 100% control over every aspect of your site’s look, feel and functionality.

Excellent website functionality is crucial. Your audience expects a smooth, logical, pleasurable experience where everything works as it should and is where they expect it to be. While a custom site can be built to fulfil a tightly-defined specification, the functionality of a template-based website might not give you the same potential.

Great website security makes a difference. Some template-based sites are not as secure as they might be, which is a concern when you’re handling customers’ money and have a good brand reputation to maintain. An insecure site can be hacked, adding malware to the back end or even locking you out unless you pay a ransom. Cybercriminals can steal sensitive customer data like bank account details. There’s a good reason why hackers love template-based websites – simply because they can be vulnerable to attack when you don’t take security seriously enough.

Scalability is a biggie. A template-based site might be fine for a smaller business with low traffic. But if you grow the business or have a sudden surge in interest and want to extend the site, a template’s functional limitations could make scaling a challenge. With a custom site, where you’ve defined a need for scaling in the brief, you’ll be able to scale fast without any problems.


Website templates vs custom design... nailed! 

So now you know what’s what, why and how. The decision between website templates vs custom design is clear and the way ahead makes sense. Once you’ve made your custom vs template website decision, the next step is to find a web design and development partner you can trust to do a brilliant job. We’re always delighted to discuss web development, Oxford based and convenient for London as well as the rest of the UK.

Call us on 01844 888 777, email us at, or use our contact form and we’ll get right back to you.

Intuitiv Digital

2 Bridge Road
Ickford, nr Thame
HP18 9HX