Jun 4, 2024 Written by Tamar Barlev

How to Choose: Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom Website Development

You know how sometimes you just need a quick dinner and opt for a frozen pizza? Other times, you’re feeling ambitious and whip up a homemade meal from scratch. Well, picking between off-the-shelf templates and custom website development is a bit like that. Both have their time and place, and each option caters to different needs and circumstances. So, let’s dive in to see if we can figure out which one is right for you.

What Are Off-the-Shelf Templates and Custom Website Development?

First things first: what are we actually talking about here?

Think of off-the-shelf templates as those frozen pizzas. They’re pre-designed website frameworks that you can buy, download, and tweak to fit your needs. Platforms like WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix offer tons of templates to choose from, and you can usually get something that looks pretty slick with minimal effort.

On the other hand, custom website development is like a meal you cook from scratch. It involves hiring a web developer (or team) to build your site from the ground up, tailored specifically to your needs—which gives you full and total control over the web design, functionality, scalability, and user experience of your site.

The Website Development Process: Off-the-Shelf Templates vs. Custom Website Development?

Now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s look at how you’d actually create a website using each method.

Using Off-the-Shelf Templates

  1. Choose a Platform: First, pick a website builder like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. Each platform has its own set of features and ease of use, so consider what’s most important for your site.
  2. Select a Template: Browse templates and select one that closely matches your vision. Look for templates that are designed for your industry, necessary functionality, or type of site you want to create.
  3. Customize the Design: Use the platform’s built-in tools to tweak the design. This typically involves changing colors, fonts, and images to match your brand. Many platforms offer drag-and-drop editors, making it easy to move elements around without needing to know any code.
  4. Add Content: Populate your site with your own text, images, and other media. This includes creating pages like Home, About, Services, and Contact. Make sure your content is engaging and SEO-optimized to attract and retain visitors.
  5. Install Plugins and Add-Ons: Enhance your site’s functionality by adding plugins or add-ons. These can range from SEO tools and contact forms to e-commerce functions, social media integrations, and so on.
  6. Preview and Test: Before going live, preview and meticulously review your site to make sure everything looks good and functions properly. Test on different devices and browsers to make sure it’s responsive and user-friendly.
  7. Launch: Once you’re happy with your site, hit publish. Your site is now live and accessible to the world!

Using Custom Website Development

  1. Planning and Discovery: Begin by outlining your needs, goals, and vision for the website. This process is made up of detailed discussions with stakeholders to understand the site’s purpose, target audience, and required features. A thorough planning phase ensures everyone is on the same page.
  2. Hire a Developer: Find a reputable web developer or agency with experience in custom website development. Check their portfolio, read reviews, and ensure they have expertise in the technologies and platforms you prefer.
  3. Initial Consultation and Proposal: Meet with your chosen developer to discuss your project in detail. They will provide a proposal outlining the scope, timeline, and cost of the project. This proposal should include design concepts, functionality requirements, and a project plan.
  4. Design Phase: Work with the developer to create design mockups. This involves creating wireframes and prototypes that show the site’s layout and user interface. You’ll review these designs and provide feedback until the design aligns perfectly with your vision.
  5. Development Phase: Once the design is approved, the developer starts building the site. This includes coding the front-end (what users see) and back-end (server-side functionality) components. They’ll integrate any necessary databases, APIs, and third-party services.
  6. Content Creation: As the development progresses, work on creating and gathering the content for your site. This includes text, images, videos, and any other media. Your developer will integrate this content into the site.
  7. Testing and Quality Assurance: Thoroughly test the site to ensure it functions correctly and is free of bugs. This involves usability testing, performance testing, and security testing. Make sure the site works seamlessly across different devices and browsers.
  8. Final Review and Approval: Review the completed site with your developer. Ensure all your requirements have been met and that you’re satisfied with the result. Provide any final feedback for tweaks or adjustments.
  9. Launch: Once everything is perfect, your developer will deploy the site to your live server. They’ll ensure the transition is smooth and that the site is fully operational.
  10. Ongoing Maintenance and Support: After the launch, you’ll need ongoing maintenance to keep the site secure and up-to-date. This can include software updates, security patches, and regular backups. Some developers offer maintenance packages, or you can handle this in-house.

Ideal Use Cases: Off-the-Shelf Templates vs. Custom Website Development

Off-the-Shelf Templates

Off-the-shelf templates are perfect for:

  1. Small Businesses: If you run a small business and need a professional online presence without breaking the bank, templates are a great choice. They provide a quick and cost-effective way to get your business online.
  2. Personal Blogs and Portfolios: Bloggers, photographers, writers, and other creatives can use templates to showcase their work. Templates designed for portfolios or blogs often come with the necessary features right out of the box.
  3. Startups: When you’re just starting out, you might not have the budget for custom development. Templates allow you to get a professional-looking site up and running quickly, which is crucial for building an online presence and attracting early customers.
  4. Non-Technical Users: If you’re not tech-savvy and don’t have the resources to hire a developer, templates offer an easy-to-use solution. Most platforms come with intuitive editors and comprehensive support to help you along the way.
  5. Event Websites: Planning a wedding, conference, or other event? Templates can provide a beautiful and functional site with minimal effort. Event-specific templates often include features like RSVP forms, schedules, and photo galleries.

Custom Website Development

Custom website development is ideal for:

  1. Established Businesses & Enterprises: If you have an established business with specific needs and a budget to match, custom development can provide a unique and highly functional site that stands out from the competition.
  2. E-Commerce Sites: Online stores often require custom functionality, like complex product catalogs, integration with various payment gateways, and personalized user experiences. Custom development ensures your e-commerce site can handle these requirements seamlessly.
  3. Organizations with Unique Requirements: If your website needs specialized features or integrations (like custom databases, membership systems, or proprietary software) or is more of a web app, custom development is the way to go. It allows for precise tailoring to your needs.
  4. Brand-Focused Companies: If brand identity is crucial for your business, a custom website allows for complete creative freedom. You can ensure your site reflects your brand’s personality and values in every detail.
  5. Scalable Solutions: Businesses expecting significant growth or needing to handle large amounts of data and traffic should consider custom development. A bespoke site can be built with scalability in mind, ensuring it grows with your business.
  6. Complex User Interactions: Sites that require advanced user interactions, like social networks, custom dashboards, or complex forms, benefit from custom development. Custom website development makes it possible to give your audience a seamless and intuitive user experience tailored to specifically to them.

Why Would Anyone Make The Investment in Custom Website Development If Templates Exist?

If it seems like this is a no-brainer decision—”why would I invest in the hassle of a custom website if I can just buy a template?”—then this part’s for you.

Listen, we totally get it. Custom website development is a lot, especially at the beginning of your business’ journey. But here’s why we really urge you to consider this decision carefully:

A custom-built website offers tailored solutions, meticulously crafted to meet unique needs. It forges a distinct brand identity, seamlessly integrating brand elements throughout the site.

Custom websites are also scalable, ensuring smooth growth and optimized performance for enhanced user experience.

And in a world in which 40% of cyberattacks are against small businesses (and 60% of those close within six months of the attack), you also get enhanced security measures protect against cyber threats which is literally vital for sensitive data handling.

And, you gain greater control over functionality and content management, which frees from template constraints—and future CMS licensing and maintenance fees.

So, despite higher initial costs, custom development can and does absolutely yield long-term savings and flexibility for growth—which is why so, so many people and business opt for custom rather than templates (and why the market for custom web development and design has ballooned to almost $60B in 2023)

Custom Website Development & Startups:

Investing in custom website development and web design for startups holds significant importance,, especially in establishing a robust online presence crucial for success.

Custom-built websites allow startups to stand out in competitive markets by creating a unique brand identity from the outset. Tailored solutions cater to specific startup needs, fostering innovation and creativity and laying the groundwork for future growth. Scalability is essential for rapidly growing startups, and custom websites excel in adapting to increased traffic, users, and features.

In what will seemingly always be an ever-competitive startup landscape, optimized performance is vital, with custom websites offering swift load times, seamless navigation, and an exceptional user experience, pivotal in attracting and retaining customers.

Moreover, custom websites prioritize security, safeguarding sensitive data and transactions against cyber threats.

The control and flexibility of custom website development enable startups to navigate entrepreneurship dynamically, responding agilely to market changes and feedback.

So, again—despite the initial investment challenges, the long-term cost savings and innovation potential really do make custom website development a strategic investment for future success. Ultimately, for startups aspiring to make a significant industry impact, custom website development is not just an option but a crucial step towards building great products and establishing a lasting market presence.

How to Decide Between Off-the-Shelf Templates and Custom Website Development

Making the choice between off-the-shelf templates and custom website development can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you decide which option is best for you:

Step 1: Assess Your Needs

  • Functionality: List out all the features you need. Do you require a simple blog, or do you need advanced e-commerce capabilities, custom user dashboards, or unique integrations?
  • Design Requirements: Consider how important a unique design is for your brand. Are you okay with a design that might look similar to others, or do you need a one-of-a-kind look?
  • Growth Plans: Think about your future needs. Will your site need to scale significantly in the next few years?

Step 2: Evaluate Your Budget

  • Initial Investment: Determine how much you can afford to spend upfront. Templates usually have lower initial costs, while custom development requires a larger investment.
  • Ongoing Costs: Consider ongoing expenses like hosting, maintenance, and potential future development. Custom sites might have higher ongoing costs due to maintenance and updates.

Step 3: Consider Your Timeline

  • Time to Launch: How quickly do you need your site to be live? Templates can get you online quickly, sometimes within a day. Custom development will take longer, often several weeks to months.
  • Project Deadlines: If you have a specific launch date or event, ensure your chosen method can meet that deadline.

Step 4: Determine Your Technical Expertise

  • DIY Capability: If you’re comfortable with technology and enjoy DIY projects, a template might be a fun challenge. If you’re not tech-savvy, custom development might save you a lot of headaches.
  • Support Needs: Consider the level of support you’ll need. Templates often come with user guides and customer support, while custom development typically includes more personalized support from the developer.

Step 5: Reflect on Your Long-Term Vision

  • Brand Consistency: How important is it for your website to perfectly reflect your brand? Custom development offers the highest level of brand consistency.
  • Flexibility: Do you need the flexibility to make significant changes or add complex features in the future? Custom sites provide greater flexibility.

Step 6: Weigh the Pros and Cons

  • Templates: Quick, cost-effective, and user-friendly but limited in customization, uniqueness, and scalability.
  • Custom Development: Fully customizable, unique, and scalable but more expensive and time-consuming.

Summing Up Web Templates vs. Custom Website Development

The choice between off-the-shelf templates and custom website development is not necessarily a simple one—that’s true.

Because while templates offer convenience and affordability, custom development provides unparalleled flexibility, control, and scalability. For startups and businesses aiming to establish a strong and enduring online presence, custom website development emerges as a strategic investment. It allows for the creation of a unique brand identity, tailored solutions to meet specific needs, and optimized performance crucial for attracting and retaining customers.

So, despite the initial challenges and higher costs associated with custom development, the long-term benefits in terms of brand success, innovation potential, and cost savings make it a compelling option.

Ultimately, the choice hinges on factors such as budget, time constraints, flexibility needs, and technical expertise. By carefully weighing these considerations against your website needs, you can figure out which is best for you.

That being said, we know we just went over a lot. If you need help with making that decision—or with custom website development—reach out to us. We’d love to talk 🙂