Edinburgh Web Development

Templated web sites - the case against

by Iain Wilson

11 February 2006

Web design can have different approaches. At Blot Design our approach is to provide a professional, customised approach to design and development. We take time to understand our client's requirements and preferences and use design skillls to create something unique that reflects their values.

An alternative approach is to use pre-designed web site templates or more precisely, web site generators that use a choice of templates. In the past we have¬ tried this type of approach, and while there may be some scenarios where they will give an acceptable solution, our experience is that you should never use them unless you understand exactly what the limitations are. The thing is, most people just don't. And when they do, they wish they hadn't used them.

So what is a templated web site? A template web site comes with a pre-defined layout of the pages. A block of text will go here, an image must go there, the navigation options go there. Certain things may be able to be changed, for instance you might be able to choose a colour scheme and upload your own images/photos (watch out - if you don't know how to re-size your photos you can end up with something that looks crazy). But normally, the layout is pretty much fixed.

Because of this, the argument goes, development costs are less and implementation times are shorter. While this can be true, you should consider a few more factors :

  • templated sites are notoriously full of Javascript and images which can make them unfriendly to search engines
  • your site is not unique; there could be lots of other sites like yours out there
  • it may not quite have the professional look you were looking for
  • the navigation is set; you may not even be able to order the options the way you want
  • the graphics may not be able to be changed
  • you may not be able to update the content yourself
  • it may tie you into a hosting/email package that is more expensive than others available, and you probably can't move it to another hosting supplier

None of the above are good, but the absolute kicker is this: as soon as you want to do something a little different on the site, there is a good chance you won't be able to.

Let's say you've seen an animated graphic on someone's site and want to do similar, maybe a dynamic map that will let your visitors see different things when they click on parts of the map, or maybe something simple like just changing the graphic at the top of the page. Absolutely guarenteed, there will be something you want to do, but just can't.

The worst thing is that most of the time, your designer won't tell you it is designed from a template, so you won't know until it's too late.¬ ¬ So make sure you ask before you sign up, and make sure you know what you're getting into longer term.

In our experience, apart from small basic sites that are never going to change much, a templated site is a journey to disappointment.¬ And if your site will never change, what's the point in the first place?

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