Monday Mornings with Madison

When Small and Midsized Businesses Update Websites in 2020, Part 2

Word Count: 1,325
Estimated Read Time: 5 ½ min.

Templated Site vs. Custom Site

Twenty years ago, most websites were nothing more than glorified brochures.  They delivered information online.  Today, a company website is used not only to deliver information but it also is able to capture a great deal of data, track user behavior and provide a wide array of tools, functionality and service.

However, while websites have gotten ever more complex, business leaders have not necessarily increased their understanding of what their company website tech stack includes or how it functions.   When it comes to their company website, most business owners, leaders and managers have a good idea of how they want their website to look, feel and function, and they know what they like and don’t like.  But few know how to communicate that in jargon that is clear to the creative and technical people charged with creating or updating a website.  They don’t know how to explain how it should read and sound, how it should look and function and what customers should be able to do and get from the site.  They don’t understand where the site should be housed, or how to balance load for sites that have a lot of traffic.

Moreover, few companies have the resources to be able to update their website in-house.  There is so much expertise required.  Content quantity.  Topics.  Tone.  Voice.  Design style.  Look and feel.  Functionality.  User experience.  User interface.  Tracking.  SEO.  Speed.  Load.  Servers.  Connections.   Security.  The amount of expertise required is deep.  It is a process that typically requires a team of professionals including a marketing strategist, website writer, web designer, UI/UX professional, HTML coder and programmers with knowledge of various languages depending on what can be done using the company’s website, and IT specialists who understand the hardware requirements.  Most small and mid-sized businesses can’t afford to hire such a team.

For that reason, most small and mid-sized companies outsource their website creation or updating to a digital agency.  It makes sense.  After all, it is a process involving a multitude of variables and elements.  And if the website is part of the company’s sales, service or fulfillment process, the site’s complexity increases.  Because there is such a wide disparity in the complexity of the website a company might need, two different kinds of websites have emerged.

  1. Simple templated themed websites. On the one hand, a simple business can have a templated theme site created, like something hosted on Wix or WordPress.  This type of website is created by a freelancer or small digital firm that specializes in templated theme sites.  They install a pre-designed and developed theme into a content management system (like WordPress) and then modify it according to company’s needs.  In this type of website, the company’s inputs aren’t design-driven. They are primarily functionality and content-driven. Also, the outputs are not renditions; they are frequently functionally working deliverables.  This type of website maker is not really a web designer or developer.  They just download, install, and configure already-designed/coded sites and make minor modifications, often without knowing much about the way code works. This approach is easier, faster and less expensive for small businesses and startups.  However, it is very basic and does not deliver any sophistication or complexity.  There is virtually nothing customized about a templated website other than the brand colors, fonts, text and photos. It almost always contains off-the-shelf materials such as themes, plug-ins, and how those items are configured together. This is a significant component of pricing divergence.
  2. Custom design and development websites. On the other hand, because an ever-increasing number of businesses deliver essential tools, products and services online, websites for those companies serve as 24/7 global storefronts.  Those websites require some degree of customization.  Custom web design can best be described as a thorough process that produces a custom user interface and experience for that company’s customers based on the company’s specific services and needs.

What Type of Website Update Does Your Company Need?

It is relatively easy to determine which approach is right for a particular business based on some simple questions.

  1. What is the timeframe and budget requirements for the project?  Is what the company wants the website to do and offer in line with what it is willing to invest from both manpower and money to build a website?  If the company can’t afford the kind of customized website it wants to have, it is best not to undertake the process unless there is a way to prove ROI as a direct result of the effort.
  2. How valuable is a custom-crafted design to the customer / end-user?  For a company that manufactures and sells pavers and bricks, it’s unlikely their customers will care all that much about the aesthetics and functionality of the company’s website.  However, for a company selling jewelry or clothing, the aesthetics of the website’s design will probably matter a lot.
  3. How complex is the project?  If a business has requirements that call for custom functionality, it may be out of the realm of what a thematic digital agency can provide.  For an interior design firm that is showcasing not only its brand’s cache but also providing tools to do some online furniture placement and room design using augmented realty, both aesthetics and functionality matters a lot.  In that case, it is not just about custom design, but also custom development project as well.
  4. How important is it to the company to have a website with all the specific design and functionality elements it desires?  Some businesses prefer a concierge-driven website design and development process.  If the company’s leadership is accustomed to a lot of hand-holding and personal attention, and they want what they want and are not flexible to settle for a canned design or limited function, then a templated theme site may not meet their standards.
  5. How much functionality is needed and is the digital agency able to handle all that programming in-house?  Not all digital firms have staff that can handle all types of programming language.  The debate of custom-built versus off-the-shelf templated could arise not only for the design and development of the front end of a website, but also with the use of canned software use for user applications vs. custom-made software applications.  Companies with more sophisticated websites might need to integrate certain canned software applications and then customize those to the website, such as applications for shopping carts, credit card processing, calculations, etc.  This is a separate conversation that a digital agency can explain, but that may be above the capabilities of some digital agencies.  In those cases, those agencies may try to outsource that programming, which can get complicated both during the creation process and also later during maintenance and when changes arise.

The truth is that while fledgling businesses and solopreneurs can make do with a simple templated site, most robust, successful businesses today need websites that are much more sophisticated and functional than that.  And a custom-designed website will likely last longer for most companies for two reasons. First, custom designs are usually so tightly connected to the corporate brand that it is less likely to need a wholesale redesign.  A complete corporate rebranding doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does, it’s usually part of a bigger corporate initiative.  Second, custom designs are typically connected to a Content Management System (CMS) in a clean, lightweight way, without excess code.  The templated themed sites tend to be bloated with tons of code, including software libraries to aid in functionality. Because of this, they break with updates, and sometimes even before being deployed.  So it’s not unheard of for a themed website to need redesign every year.  That often makes it a penny wise but pound foolish investment.

Stay tuned til next week, when we will review the steps involved in creating or updating a custom-designed and custom developed website.  It’s a must read for anyone heading into a website project in 2020.

Quote of the Week

“Getting a quality website is not an expense but rather an investment.”
Dr. Christopher Dayagdag



© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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