Website Templates - Good or Bad?

What is a website template?

when we build a website there are several layers to its construction - rather like building a house with foundations, first-fix, second-fix, décor etc. These include:

  • The structural code - in most cases now this will be a responsive framework such as Bootstrap - it shapes the whole website and allows us to use shorthand to rapidly build a structure. It also controls how the website appears on mobile phones, tablets and computers.
  • CSS - this works with the structural code to define the colours / fonts / spacing / etc.
  • Layout - the actual pages with areas for the content, a photo banner here, text here, some icons and bullet points here etc.
  • Content - photos, video and text, this is the personalisation, the content which makes it your website.
  • Code - sitting in the background, this makes the website interactive - it might build the content if you are using a CMS, or make it interactive. It can provide client areas, and replicate business processes, it brings the website alive. Some comes as code libraries with a template, some is bespoke written.
A template will usually consist of all of this other than your content and any bespoke code, it will come with sample content to show you what it might look like, but you then replace that with your content.

image showing different layers of a website template
So, why use a template?

The key to a successful website is that it looks like your company’s website / the brand and colours are right / the photos work for you / the flow of the website encourages your customers to find what they need - i.e. that it performs commercially for you. A template’s layout can usually be tweaked easily (it is very often modular) to fit your needs, so a template, some tweaks and your content can give you a website suitable for your business very rapidly and more cheaply. There is no need to spend a lot of time re-inventing the very detailed structural code and CSS. Even the layout can usually be tweaked to save time.

Can I change everything?

Yes, everything can be changed, however if a template providing a good match is chosen, less will need to be changed and therefore costs will be kept lower. Sometimes it is better to choose a different template, rather than trying to tweak everything, the key to remember is that it is a compromise to keep costs lower, and to manage that compromise so that it doesn’t negatively impact your business. Back to our analogy of a house - think of a template as a set of rooms, you can usually move them around to how you want the layout, you can change the interior décor very easily with new photos and content.

Would a bespoke template be better?

Not necessarily - ultimately every website needs certain parts in common with others, the underlying structural code is one of those - a website needs to adapt across mobiles / tablets / laptops / desktops, so that underlying code has to meet that need regardless of whatever else is happening. Equally there are generally similar needs in terms of putting up images and text, it might be that most websites need an FAQ section, or a gallery - so the underlying code to drive that can be the same, whereas tweaks to colours and images can make them look very different. So, a bespoke template might well be re-inventing for the sake of it and wasting money.

Are all templates the same?

No, there are a number of ways to build a website from a flat website (static text and photos) to bespoke CMS systems (such as our Flarebox CMS), to options such as WordPress, or eCommerce solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce. Each may have its own way of constructing a template, so a template for one won’t work with another.

Why do some companies criticise templates?

There are some who believe that you only get an original look if you start from scratch - conceptually they are right, but that is perhaps showing a lack of understanding about how to use a template. A good template has enough flexibility in it for you to mix and match and move areas around, so that it looks unique every time, helped by custom photos, colours, fonts and content for each website. Ultimately, a business needs to spend wisely and save money where it is not important, to allow them to spend it where it has most impact on growing the business.

How do I find a template?

This is usually something you will do alongside your web developer (e.g. us!) Templates continually evolve and move on as underlying systems are updated (e.g. the responsive framework Bootstrap is now on version 5) So an old template may well cause issues. Equally you need the right template to work with the system you are using and your plans for the future. There are libraries of templates available, some free and others will cost usually between £50 - £100

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