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Should you use a pre-made theme or invest in a custom marketing website?

Three common approaches to redesigning your marketing website and the pros and cons of each

Pre-made website themes and templates are more popular than ever. At the same time, custom marketing websites are more expensive than ever. With so many options available, it can be difficult to understand which one is right for your business.

In this article we’ll look at three common approaches to redesigning marketing websites and the pros and cons of each:

1. Using a pre-made theme or template (out of the box)
2. Customizing a pre-made theme or template (beyond it’s default functionality)
3. Designing and coding a custom website from scratch

As a prospective client exploring these options (perhaps for the first time), we know you have some questions:

  • Which option is the most cost-effective?
  • Which option is the most reliable?
  • Which option is the quickest to implement?
  • Which option is the least risky?
  • Which option requires the least support and maintenance?

We’ll help shed light on this complex subject and help you make the best decision for your business.

1. Using a Pre-Made Theme or Template

Pre-made themes are available through hosted platforms such as Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress. These platforms allow anyone to quickly and easily create a website and launch it without knowing how to design or code. You simply pick a theme, enter your content, and launch the website at your chosen domain name.

As you might expect, this is the cheapest and fastest way to create a website. It’s quite impressive how much variety and functionality are available in modern themes compared to just a few years ago.

You can explore thousands of customized pre-made themes on stock marketplaces such as ThemeForest. Themes typically cost $60 or less when they aren’t already included in your hosted platform. But you may need to hire someone to set up and configure it for you, which could cost approximately $500 – $1,500.

Sounds perfect, right? So why wouldn’t every business do this?

Generic themes have limitations and aren’t ideal for reaching specific business goals

Pros — benefits of using pre-made themes and hosted platforms

  • Extremely cost-effective
  • Quick and easy to set up yourself
  • Ongoing support and maintenance if something goes wrong
  • Lots of theme stylistic options available
  • Plugins frequently available to extend functionality
  • Easy to change styles, add pages, and modify content
  • Doesn’t require you to hire and pay designers or developers
  • Mobile-friendly by default

Cons — downsides of using pre-made themes and hosted platforms

  • They may not have a theme you like
  • Themes may not have all the functionality you need
  • Themes limit your control of the design and content
  • Generic themes aren’t ideal for reaching specific business goals
  • You’ll pay monthly to use the platform (and there are often hidden fees)
  • Themes can become unsupported over time
  • Typically rely on external plugins for functionality, which can be risky
  • Rarely sustainable for larger and more complex marketing websites
  • Rely on the existence of the hosted platform. If they go out of business, so do you.

👉 Conclusion: If you have a simple website and need something quick, cheap, and easy, this is probably the best option for your business.

Disclaimer: most pre-made themes look fantastic, but that’s because they use real text and images. When you buy a theme, it doesn’t come pre-populated with content (though most provide demo content you can import). It’s often difficult to get them looking like the example you were shown by using your own text and image content.

Pre-made themes available on ThemeForest

2. Customizing a Pre-Made Theme or Template

You might be thinking, “What if I use a pre-made theme as a starting point and hire someone who could adapt it to fit my needs? Then I’d get exactly what I want without paying for a totally custom website!”

In theory, it’s a great idea. In practice, it’s quite problematic.

Pre-made themes are not intended to be modified beyond their out-of-the-box capabilities. They’re actually built to help prevent this from happening. Attempting to do so means heavily modifying someone else’s code. As you might imagine, that can get messy very quickly.

Customizing a theme beyond it’s limitations can get messy very quickly

When you try to update the theme or required plugins, it’s likely to break. When you try to leverage the themes built-in customization options, they won’t be applied everywhere. When you try to contact help & support, you’re now out of warranty.

To do this correctly requires so much time and effort that you’d be better off designing and coding a custom website from scratch. Expect to pay anywhere from $2,500 – $10,000 to customize a theme depending on how much customization you need and who you hire for the job.

Pros — benefits of customizing pre-made themes and templates

  • Cheaper than a custom website
  • Less time-consuming than a custom website
  • It’s relatively simple to make minor visual changes using CSS

Cons — downsides of customizing pre-made themes and templates

  • Extremely risky
  • Unstable code base and broken functionality
  • Incomplete use of built-in theme options
  • Voided warranty for theme support
  • Difficult to scale and maintain over time
  • Themes can become unsupported over time
  • Problematic for future developers
  • Not many qualified people willing to do this

👉 Conclusion: Avoid this solution. Choose a different theme or invest in a custom marketing website and use a theme you like as a visual reference.

A custom marketing website we designed and built for SoldNest

3. Creating a Custom Website From Scratch

When you create a custom website from scratch, you’re essentially designing and coding your own “theme”. Not surprisingly, this is the most expensive and time-consuming option. It’s also the most complex and therefore the most risky.

But there are many benefits if you hire the right web design company and if your business needs justify the investment. With the right partner, you’ll end up with a far superior website that is completely tailored to your business.

Custom websites have many benefits when designed and built by experienced professionals

You’ll also have full control over the design and functionality during the process. The website should last as long as the technology that supports it and with minimal maintenance and support.

As you might have guessed, our website is designed and built from scratch and powered by the WordPress CMS for easy editing — and it’s awesome.

⚠️  Would you trust a company to build a custom website for you if they haven’t even built one for themselves?

Pros — benefits of creating your website from scratch

  • Full control of design and content for every page
  • Full control over CMS (content management system)
  • Completely customized to your business
  • Optimized for results (leads, conversions, sales, signups, etc)
  • Easy-to-use content management system (CMS)
  • Stable code base (if built professionally)
  • Doesn’t rely on a hosted platform like Squarespace or Wix
  • Can be maintained internally by an experienced developer

Cons — downsides of creating your website from scratch

  • The most expensive and time-consuming option
  • Risky if you hire the wrong freelancer or company
  • More complexity requires better planning communication
  • Requires you to trust an outside partner
  • Requires a professional to make larger design or code changes
  • Requires a professional to handle support and maintenance

👉 Conclusion: This is the best option for your business if you’re trying to reach specific business goals and need complete control over the design and functionality.

Overall Suggestions

While designing and building custom websites is our specialty at Matthew’s Design Co., not every website needs to be hand-crafted from scratch.

You should use a pre-made theme if you need to build a simple website on a small budget. If you’re willing to work around the limitations, this can be a great option. Freelancers are ideal candidates for such jobs and you should expect to pay $1,000 – $5,000 depending on how much configuration and content entry is required.

Trying to customizing a pre-made theme beyond its limitations is risky. But if you hire the right person for the job, it may meet your needs while costing less than a totally custom website. It can also save time in the near-term, but likely won’t be sustainable in the long-term. Expect to pay $5,000 – $15,000 depending on who you hire and how much customization is required.

You should build your website from scratch if you need full control of the design and functionality to help you meet specific business goals. It’s imperative that you carefully choose the right web design company to minimize risks. While there are many variables, you can generally expect to pay $15,000 – $35,000 for a professional web design company to create your website from scratch.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

A custom marketing website we designed and built for FitLegit

Other Considerations

Many web design agencies sell “custom” websites at high prices when in reality, all they’re doing is setting up a pre-made theme on your behalf and making a huge profit.

We think this is dishonest and unethical.

Our custom marketing websites aren’t cheap, but they’re built from scratch and built to last. You won’t need to redesign or code it in a few years (unless your business changes dramatically). Managing content will be a breeze. Most importantly, we’ll help you deliver your message to your audience in the most effective way possible to maximize leads and sales.

If you get an expensive quote for a custom website, ask if they’re designing and coding it from scratch or secretly using a pre-made theme. The latter can cause major headaches for your business following the project if you aren’t aware of how the website is being built.

High-end web design companies specialize in custom website design and development. The process is elaborate. It’s a significant investment, but it also yields significant results.

Ready to get started?

At Matthew’s Design Co. custom websites are our specialty. If you think this might be the right solution for your business, we’d love to hear about your project. I hope this article helped shed light on this complex topic and point you in the right direction!

About Matt Olpinski
Matt is the President of Matthew’s Design Co. and teachers thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog and newsletter.