Custom Vs Template Web Design: Which is Best?

When it comes to creating a new website for your business there are two main approaches you can take: template or custom-built. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but which one should you choose? The answer largely depends on the size of your business, how much you are prepared to spend and your expectations about what you hope to achieve.


What is a Custom Website?

A custom website is built from scratch using a combination of web design and development. The design element focuses on the aesthetics and useability of the site and is produced in a programme such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign. The development stage turns the design into a fully functioning website using a combination of HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP and other coding languages.

Custom websites are usually the reserve of professionals. A good web designer/developer will spend time with their client getting to know their business and understanding what their specific needs and requirements are. The website will then be created accordingly.

What is a Web Template?

A web template, on the other hand, is essentially a pre-designed webpage, or set of web pages, in which you can add or ‘plug-in’ your own content. When you start with a template, rather than from scratch, all of the technical backend coding (development) and frontend structure (design) necessary for your website to function is already in place. Customisation is possible, but often limited or skill-set dependent.

There are two main template options:

1. Set up a content management system (CMS) platform, for example or Joomla, then apply a theme or template purchased from a site such as Themeforest. This option requires setting up your own web hosting as well as performing backups and maintenance but can be customised with code and plugins.

2. Use a service such as Wix, Squarespace or These generally come with free hosting, maintenance etc. but are bound by more terms and conditions which give you less control. This option lets you custom your design but not the site’s functionality which is restricted.

Weighing up the Differences

In order to decide whether custom web design or web templates are the way to go for your business, it pays to consider some of the main differences between the two.

Custom Template
Set cost – unless you have technical and design know-how you will need to hire in professional web services. They will charge an upfront one-off fee which covers everything including the initial coding and site creation Hidden costs – template providers sell basic website templates for a minimal fee. However, you will typically spend money on customising and adding content to your template which can add up
Agreed timeframe – you know how long it will take from the outset. Depending on the complexity of the site, how much planning has been done and what content has already been created, it can be done in as little as 4 weeks. Unknown timeframe – some of the basic template based services enable you to set up a site in a matter of days. However, not all are straightforward and it can take time to understand and implement the more complex features
Unique design – when a site is custom built specifically for your business your design will be a one-off. This will help you stand out online Choice of designs – most services offer a wide selection of templates ranging from 100s-1000s. However, every template will already be used by many other businesses
High flexibility – in terms of functionality, design and plugins. When you build from scratch you have complete control over how your site looks, what it does and how it performs Limited flexibility – with a template you are limited on your customisation options both in terms of design and functionality. Whilst customisation is possible, you will likely have to hire in a professional to write coding for significant changes. In addition, templates can break when incompatible content is inserted
Built-in SEO – your site can be constructed to be search engine friendly right down to the coding Build your SEO – many template sites offer built in optimization tools. In addition, you can use plugins and apps to improve your site’s ranking but you have to know how to do it
Scalability – not only can implementation happen in stages but as your business grows or changes it is easy to make adaptations when your developer knows your site inside out and has constructed it to make this possible Restricted scalability – if your business grows or changes many templates are bound by the limitations of their design in how far they can adapt to suit your needs
Brand friendly – because your design is completely bespoke, it can be created to better reflect your brand image and values Brand accommodating – you can choose a template that closely aligns with your brand and add your logo, colour scheme etc. However, many template sites also have their name and branding visible e.g. in the web address or at the bottom of the page

Deciding What is Best for Your Business
Although many people assume a low cost but professional looking template would be sufficient, as demonstrated, the initial expenditure is not the only thing you need to consider. What you might sacrifice on paying upfront to get a professional to custom build your website from scratch, you gain back in terms of uniqueness, functionality, adaptability and many other features.

Ultimately, which one is best for your business comes down to your needs, goals and budget. If you are just starting out and require a basic website to act simply as an online brochure without complex functionality, using a web template on a site such as WordPress should be more than satisfactory.

However, for the majority of small to medium-sized enterprises looking to make an impact, a custom-built website is definitely the way to go. Not only can you create it to your exact business and branding specifications, but you can also benefit from the ability to add or remove features at any time without hassle.