Every day, in offices across the country, business owners and marketing executives are tearing their hair out trying to decide how much or how little to invest in redesigning their embarrassingly outdated websites. We see it all the time. But the choice between a custom website and a template-based website doesn’t have to come with an ulcer.

The fact is website templates are great solutions for certain companies just as custom websites are necessary for others. The right decision boils down to 5 important factors you should take into consideration:

1. Budget


The first thing to keep in mind is that your website is not the place to scrimp on budget. It’s the most comprehensive representation of your brand. It’s the central hub for all your branding and marketing initiatives. Your website is the one place your customers know they will always find you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A high-quality website will always be a sound investment.

That said, quality custom websites do not come cheap. Not every company is in a position to afford one. If your budget is less than $20,000, for example, a template-based website is probably your best choice. Template websites give you pre-packaged design, saving you the cost of having someone do these things for you. The tradeoff is the limitations that come with them. Template sites can be clean and functional on the surface, but their quality usually ends there.

If your company can afford one, a custom website is a no-brainer. And the cost should always be evaluated in context. For a small- to medium-sized company, the initial investment required for a custom website is quite minimal. If your annual revenue is $3 million, then spending $30,000 on a custom website is only 1 percent of your annual revenue. If your annual revenue is $10 million, then spending $50,000 on a custom website is only 0.5 percent of your annual revenue. The point is, if your company does more than $3 million dollars in annual revenue, there’s really no reason not to invest in a custom website, especially considering how valuable it is to your brand’s performance.

Summary: If your budget is limited, a website template might be your only choice. But the return of a custom website is well worth the investment.

2. Time


The other unavoidable reality about custom websites is that they take time to design and build. A quality custom website requires at least 2 to 4 months to launch, depending on its size and the complexity of its features. There’s no way to fast-track this process because there are simply too many moving parts involved. Planning, wireframes, design, development, copywriting, photography, testing, optimization—custom websites require many different people working through complex tasks on interdependent timelines.

So if you’re in a hurry to get a website live—whether for a product launch, event, or good old-fashioned impatience—you’ll probably have to settle for a website template.

In nearly every case where timeline is an issue, we recommend standing up a temporary landing page, or even a multifaceted single-page website. It’s never advisable to try and build out a comprehensive site on an expedited timeline. The corners you cut will only end up costing you more money further down the line.

Summary: If you have less than 2 months to launch a website, a website template, temporary landing page, or single-page site are your best options.

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3. Brand


The third factor to take into consideration when deciding between a custom website and website template is your brand. Call us biased, but we happen to think this one is a biggie. The plain truth is that if brand positioning is among the objectives you have for your new website (and it should be), then only a custom site will do.

Template-based websites simply do not afford you the level of personalization necessary to design a site that is a reflection of your brand’s unique personality, identity, and positioning. As we mentioned earlier, your website is the most comprehensive representation of your brand. It’s the central point from which your brand story emerges. A website template imposes too many restrictions on your ability to differentiate your brand and powerfully convey your value propositions.

A custom website gives you a blank slate on which to create a truly unique experience and build an emotional connection with your customers. It’s these types of connective experiences that build trust and brand loyalty, the benefits of which are difficult to put a price on.

Summary: If you’re looking to build a website that is a powerful expression of your brand, you should opt for a custom website.

4. Functionality


The limitations of website templates extend to functionality as well. For starters, not all templates are designed to be fully responsive (i.e. to work as well on mobile devices as they do on a desktop.) Considering that mobile traffic accounts for more than half of all internet use these days, responsiveness is no longer an optional feature.

If you’re looking to do any sort of serious e-commerce with your website, a custom site is a must as well. Template-based sites don’t afford the flexibility to accommodate the backend necessary for an e-commerce model. Security can also be an issue with website templates. Hackers love template-based sites because a single piece of malicious code can be used to hack thousands of sites at once. The unique development of custom sites makes them less vulnerable to attacks.

Another critical limitation that comes with website templates is a lack of control over user experience. User experience is central to ensuring that your customers get what they need out of your website, and that you get what you need out of your customers. Only with a custom website can you strategically drive users towards conversion, optimizing your site’s ability to capture leads or sell products.

Summary: When it comes to functionality, a custom website has far fewer limitations than a website template.

5. Flexibility & Scalability


Website templates are really a “one size fits all” solution. They have lots of extra features you may or may not need—features that create coding conflicts when you try to extend the functionality of your site down the road.

A template-based site might seem like an acceptable solution for your current needs, but what happens when your company begins to grow? The extra features you don’t need can significantly slow your site’s loading time as traffic to your site grows. Functional limitations only become exacerbated with increased visitors as well.

A custom website, on the other hand, gives you flexibility to work with your budget and add features as you need them. Your developer will build the site to cater specifically to your current objectives, while ensuring that the site is easily scalable as you grow. Custom sites have no inherent limitations on the amount of user traffic they can handle without sacrificing functionality.

Summary: For a website that offers a flexible number of features and can be easily scaled as your company grows, a custom website is your best bet.

The Bottom Line

It can seem like a stressful decision at first, but the choice between a custom website and website template is a no-brainer if you know which questions to ask. For those companies that aren’t limited by budget and timeline, a custom website is nearly always the way to go. Website templates come with too many limitations on brand expression, functionality, and scalability. Any up-front savings they offer will usually end up costing you more down the line. A custom website is built specifically for your needs, tailored to your brand’s unique identity and positioning, and configured to grow with you into the future.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.