Just what do we have against website templates, anyway? Whenever we talk to someone who has just found a great free template to use for their small business website, we worry. Sure, because we’re a professional web design firm we do tend to think that our work is better than an off-the-shelf template. But it goes beyond that, too. Templates can actually hurt you, and here’s why.
It looks like a template. In other words, it doesn’t fit your business. It’s either too generic, or it’s too trendy, or it’s too dark when it should be light. A great website is developed when the design team – including the business owner – looks at what the business does, who is most likely to contact or buy from the business and what they like, and how a user will get around the site. Choosing a template because it’s cool, without a lot of analysis and pre-planning, won’t deliver the results you need.
Many templates were designed for blogs. Your small business website is not a blog. It’s great if it incorporates a blog, but the blog is an additional tool to educate and inform potential customers. First, you’ve got to explain who you are, what you do and where you’re located.
Blogs serve a couple of purposes. They help establish your personality and your expertise in your business. They also can help add pages to your website and boost the chances of being found during a web search. But they should not be the first contact your customer has with you.
If I’m looking for a plumber, I may be pleased to find a local plumber’s website with blog posts that include tips on unclogging my drains and ideas about what products to avoid for my septic system. In fact, one of those blog posts may have been how I found your site in the first place. But odds are, I need to know the basics – who, what, where and how to get ahold of you – before I care about the other stuff.
Free may not be a very good price. Free templates can come from anywhere. They may be poorly designed to work in all browsers. Or they may have badly-written code that makes it hard for Google’s search engine to index your site.
More maliciously, some templates can have code that you don’t want on your site. A recent post on WPMU.org, a website dedicated to WordPress, Multisite and BuddyPress users, found that of the top 10 sites that came up when you search for “free WordPress templates” on Google, eight contained malicious code that could harm your site or compromise your security. Some contained hidden links for spammy-looking or downright offensive websites. Unless you are a fantastic coder (in which case you’d probably be creating your own site), you may not be able to find these bits of code that could cause problems. (See the full WPMU article here.)
If you’re considering using a free template for your small business website, or hiring someone to install a template site for you, you may want to confirm that using a template for your unique business will meet your current – and future – business goals. You may find that they are not worth it!