Articles by Nina Litovsky

Stock themes vs. custom-designed websites

Stock themes are pre-made, off-the-shelf design themes sold for WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and other platforms. There are web professionals who can help you modify a purchased stock theme to meet your specifications. Such modifications would include things like changing the color scheme, modifying the fonts, resizing a content area, and styling a widget to match the theme. It’s important to remember that theme customization includes tweaks to a theme thousands of people are also using. Theme customization doesn’t equate to a custom design because the majority of the design is not unique to your practice or business.

Custom-designed themes are created by a trained graphic designer. A truly professional designer will likely start from a clean slate and not an off-the-shelf theme. He or she will work with you to understand your practice or business, your target audience, marketing goals and objectives. The graphic designer will then create a completely unique website design that matches your needs and requirements.

When are stock themes appropriate to use?

In cases when a custom website costs significantly higher than a customized theme, you may opt for theme customization. However, theme customization is not always cheaper than custom design, as we will see below. Also, you need to factor in hidden and long-term costs of theme customization. For example, a web company may offer you a customized template website for free or at a low cost, but will charge high monthly subscription fees which add up to a significant amount over a period of time.

The pitfalls of using stock themes

Generic stock templates may seem like a quick fix, but in the long term they just don’t cut it, for the following reasons:

Bloated code

Of-the-shelf stock themes usually have a complex, bloated code base. This is because stock themes are designed to fit a wide range of purposes and customers, while a custom website is designed just for your needs, doesn’t include generic features that are unnecessary to you, and is therefore more lightweight and optimized for a better speed. Stock themes may have many extra features which make content management confusing, and their convoluted code and slow-loading scripts will negatively affect SEO factors such as page speed and code-to-text ratio. In other words, if your website has too much code, it will load slowly and will be bad for SEO. Besides, your visitors will absolutely hate a slow-loading website.

Inefficiency

Customizing a stock theme with more than a few very simple modifications is inefficient. Spending the time to find the right theme among thousands of themes available – and then modifying the theme to get it exactly right – can be a time consuming process. In our experience, it always requires so much work to get the theme look and work exactly the way our clients want, that it’s a lot easier and more efficient to just build a custom design from scratch.

Misleading appearance

Stock themes look good on the demo because the seller showcases the theme with beautiful pictures and placeholder content that fits perfectly. However, when you download the theme, you are likely to be disappointed with the way it looks after you insert your own content and your own photos.

Support and maintenance issues

Many templates are poorly coded and may have inherent problems with the code and functionality. Sometimes there’s little technical support available, or the theme developers may be based out of country and may not be trustworthy, so you should be careful about giving them access to your website to correct problems. In our experience of previously working with clients who used off-the-shelf themes, things were always breaking or not displaying right, so we had to fix things a lot more frequently than we did when we worked with a custom-designed website.

Marketing strategy issues

Your website design and layout should be dictated by your marketing strategy, but with a generic template it works the opposite way: you have to adapt your marketing strategy to the options and limitations of your template. For example, you may want to have four promotional blocks on your homepage with an option to add more modules and to rearrange them, but your stock theme only allows for three blocks and no additional options. So, you have to either spend time modifying the theme – which may be time-consuming – or you will have to spend time looking for another theme, which may lack other options you need. So your stock theme dictates your content structure and your marketing direction, which is not how it should be.

In other words, using a stock template comes down to fitting your content into the limitations of the template. Rather, with a truly professional website it should be the other way around: the website should be designed around your content. The best way it can be done is by creating a custom design.

Appearance and Customization Issues

With stock templates, it’s essentially what you see is what you get. Options for customization may not be available or may come at a premium cost. Besides, other competitors in your field can be or could be utilizing the same template, which makes it difficult for your practice or business to stand out. With a templated website, it’s much harder to create and add unique attributes to your website that will differentiate you from the competition.

Scalability Problems

Templates do not allow for scalability of your website. As your business grows, your site should be adaptable to changing/adding pages and features as needed. Because of customization and code issues mentioned above, it may be difficult or impossible to scale your templated website or customize it to a satisfactory level.

What do we recommend?

If the price difference between a customized theme with one company and a fully custom design with another company is inconsequential, I strongly recommend going with a custom website. In my objective opinion, if you are serious about your marketing strategy and if you envision growing your business or your medical practice, you should have a custom website. ​Consider this: your website is your primary marketing tool, and as such, it has to appeal to your visitors, tell your story, highlight your marketable attributes, and help visitors decide to choose to do business with you. Your website that can guide visitors through the right flow and into the action you need them to take. This is a targeted design that is specific to your marketing goals and call to actions, and this is very difficult to achieve with an off-the-shelf theme.

A custom website is a lot more lightweight, easier to manage, and better organized because the layout and design will just make sense. A custom website will be faster because it will only have the functionality you need, without any unnecessary code. And, in many cases, it will be more cost-effective, too.

Isn’t Custom Design Expensive?

Custom design doesn’t have to be expensive. There are smaller firms that offer high quality custom design within the same – or even lower – price range as what other agencies charge for a customized template. We are one of these firms. Our custom designs come at an affordable one-time fee, with no hidden costs. Therefore, template vs. custom is no longer a matter of price.

Read more: The pitfalls of using DIY website builders