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The Pros and Cons of Custom Website Development

by Lyndsay Peters - Mar 24, 2016
graph paper with red pencil

Whether you’ve been through the website design process before, or you’re looking to launch your first website project, many of the companies and developers you talk to will ask, “Are you planning for custom design, or building from a theme”?
You may not know how to answer, or the differences between the two. That’s okay – we’ve had this conversation hundreds of times by now. But, if you can go into these calls aware of what your needs are, and what will work best for your company, the process will be easier for everyone. Today, we’re going to look at the difference between building a custom website, and building one with a theme.

What is a Website Theme?

When you’re designing a website, a theme (or template) provides a basic structure, look and functionality for your website. Typically, a theme is shown to you with a demo page, like this one. The demo page highlights the theme’s special features and abilities so you can understand how and why you’ll want to use it.
Demo sites are frequently filled with dummy text like lorem ipsum to give you an idea of how content will look once it’s on the page.
Themes will offer you some home page design options, some interesting content blocks, and special features like contact forms, transition animated sliders, and parallax scrolling. All of these give your site a more customized feel, without the cost of true custom development.

Theme Benefits

A theme allows you to get a polished look and feel “off the shelf”, and add your company’s logo, colors, photography and information with minimal design and coding time. A theme also means that your maintenance costs and time are reduced, as long as its developer is still providing support for the theme that you choose.
Themes are generally very affordably priced, and can be had for a few hundred dollars at most. The theme keeps your development costs low, and allows you to launch your website relatively quickly once all of your content is in place.

Theme Drawbacks

If you choose a popular theme, you may inadvertently end up with a website that looks like many, many others. This happens with many of the default WordPress themes available to bloggers. When selecting a theme, be mindful that something very prominently featured on a site like Theme Forest and Elegant Themes will be seen and used by many other people and companies. Some theme sites will tell you how many sales a theme has had on their platform, to ease your mind about repetition.
There is also potential risk involved with the savings in reducing design and coding time with a theme. Developers may have very little incentive to continue maintaining a theme, especially if they are not making money from it. It is possible that, a few months down the line, all of your theme’s fancy bells and whistles could end up breaking without a fix in sight if your CMS updates but the developer doesn’t make any changes.

What is Custom Website Development?

Custom Website Development is when you work with a designer and developer to come up with a website designed just for your company. Almost everything can go right where you want it to go, and do what you want it to do. There is a lot of possibility and freedom with custom development! With the right time, planning, and design knowledge, you can have a very unique, functional website that showcases your company.

Custom Website Development Benefits

With custom site development, you’re in almost total control. Why only almost? Your website will still have to behave in a way that displays best on the most web browsers and mobile devices, so there are some standard limitations that your designer and developer will tell you about.
Custom development means you can decide how the back-end of your website is going to work, track visitor information, and be used by you. As well, every part of the website’s look and feel can be manipulated until it’s just right.
With custom development you can be very confident that your website won’t look the same as hundreds of others, which can sometimes happen with themes. You’ll be able to put your company’s signature on it.

Custom Development Drawbacks

When developing a custom website, whether in WordPress or on any other CMS, there is always the potential for project challenges. There may be code problems, requests that take much longer than anticipated, or hold-ups in the design process. Often, approvals and revisions can go on much longer than was originally expected, resulting in a delayed launch date, as well as confusion and frustration.
Custom development can require significant approval and revision time on the client side (that’s you!), and if you are unable to invest that time into meeting with your development team, you may end up with results that aren’t up to your standards.
If you go into a custom website development project without a strong idea of your brand’s identity, you can run into communication and messaging issues – your website may be unclear, inconsistent, and confusing to visitors if your designer isn’t working with a strong brand style guide.

How Do You Choose?

Whether theme or custom development are right for you depends on your business goals for your website project.
If you want to get your website launched and operating quickly, a theme is often the right choice for you. Themes are also popular if your budget is very low, or your industry and customers don’t value unique design.
A custom site design is the right choice if you have the time and drive to develop a strong brand look and feel with your website, and you’re willing and able to be part of the design process.

If you’ve read this whole article and you’re still not sure which one is right for you, give us a call about your project and we’ll be happy to steer you in the right direction.

Lyndsay Peters

Lyndsay Peters is Director of Search Marketing at ATAK Interactive. She's also the one who brings a dog to work to keep everything around the office just a little more human.

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