Are template based websites a good idea?

You’ve probably seen the ads: Websites for $59! Sometimes more, sometimes less. Often, these sites are pretty slick – I really love a lot of the designs myself.

There’s only one problem.

Have you ever tried on shoes that were just one size off? You love them, you want to buy them, but you just can’t get them to work. That’s kind of how templates can be – especially ecommerce templates (we’ll get back to that).

Templates are usually created by graphic artists in something like Photoshop, then ported to HTML (the code that web pages consist of). Unfortunately, the coding is often poor, and results in a product that is difficult if not impossible for a novice user to edit. Even if the code is good, the templates are so designed that to customize even the smallest detail causes everything to get thrown off.

eCommerce templates are especially notorious for not working with the software they’re designed for. Functions are often “hard-coded” and don’t work with the administrative backend. Other functions aren’t supported at all. There are plenty of horror stories and refund requests.

The other downside of a template design is that there will be other sites – often in the same field as you – who may be using it. You don’t want your site to look like your competitor’s. And if you want to own exclusive rights to that design? Let’s use this nice architectural themed template as an example:

Example of a template based site.

Quite a bargain at $64 – unless you want to be the only site on the Internet with this design, which will set you back $2,450, plus the fees you’ll have to pay to have the site customized for you.

Plus, anyone who has already downloaded this template can continue to use it, and will be likely be available in the gigantic packs of pirated and stolen templates that are easily available for download.

The other reason I don’t like templates is that they’re often Flash-based. We certainly aren’t afraid to design in Flash, but I advise anyone looking for strong search engine rankings and/or the ability to easily update their site to avoid it like the plague.

In a nutshell – templates can be a great starting point, but you will still need someone to help you incorporate your custom graphics and content. This is one of the times when it really is too good to be true. A high-quality, customized design is one thing worth paying for.

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