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Wood Street Journal

Informed Marketing Insights & Inspiration

Our goal for the Wood Street Journal is simple: to educate and empower the reader by providing you with the tools to market your business, organization, or cause online. We do this by offering posts by experts on web design, tech trends, SEO, social, content marketing, and more. If there are any related topics you’d like us to cover, please let us know!

Custom Websites vs. Template Websites, Part Two

In part one I discussed the Perils of Cheap Websites. Again, my goal is not to be some sort of website elitist saying “the best or not at all!”

At Wood Street, we consider ourselves a marketing firm that specializes in the implementation of design and development solutions. This means that a big part of what we do is centered on consultation and advocacy.

We work closely with our clients, big and small, to understand who they are as an organization and what their goals are – today and 5 or 10 years from now.

In doing that there is seldom, if ever, a situation where we feel that quick and dirty is a viable solution. While many businesses need to bootstrap in the beginning, we want to make sure they are also thinking about the future.

That is the ultimate goal of this two-part series. And if you plan on success, a custom website will likely be a part of that plan.

Why? Let’s discuss…

The Case for Custom Websites

When I say “Custom Website” I am referring to a custom designed website built on a CMS platform like WordPress, Drupal, or some other open source CMS platform.

We are an open source shop so I am not going to get into paid CMS options or .net solutions like SharePoint or DotNetNuke. If Microsoft is a must at your organization, this post is probably not for you.

We preach open source not because it’s free but because the options are almost limitless. WordPress and Drupal are both free downloads. They are both well supported by a vast community of developers who are constantly devising new and better ways to use these systems.

How does that help you? Well, since there is no shortage of WordPress and Drupal developers, your options are vast. Sure, there are some terrible developers out there…

There are also bad mechanics, hair stylists, and CPAs, but no shortage from which to choose.

Do your research and check their references. It’s not hard to find a good team. And with this team, the open source platform, and top-notch designers, your only obstacles are budget and imagination.

Of course, building a quality web presence takes hard work and planning. For more on that, read this post about website planning.

Let’s look at the real advantages to going with a custom website, first from the branding and marketing advantages. Then I’ll discuss the backend development benefits of a custom website.

Branding and Marketing Advantages of Custom Websites

Your brand awareness is important. But so is reputation. How you present yourself online matters.

My dad sent me an article from the New York Times about how JPMorgan Chase’s CMO reduced their ad buys from 400,000 sites to about 5,000… and got the same results!

They are still in the early stages of testing. I would bet that the Times will see better, more qualified leads from this effort. Why? Because they took to time to decide where it was appropriate to advertise instead of leaving it up to a computer.

How does this relate to your website? I think the last line in the article makes my point…

“At some point, a human is going to take a look.” – Kristin Lemkau, CMO, JPMorgan Chase

Building a website for traffic alone is pointless. You want to attract humans, and more specifically, humans who are interested in working with you and you with them.

Design, User Experience and Context

Remember, your website is your first impression. Context is an important part of research and your prospects are doing research on you and your competitors.

The user experience associated with your online presence is certainly a part of that context. It’s also what can help (or hurt) your brand reputation, link building, conversion, and more.

In other words, can they relate? Are you on their wavelength, man?

A custom website is uniquely yours. The design, flow, and functionality can all be built to support your message and make a visit there more meaningful for your audience on many levels.

Design and Development Experts on the Benefits of Custom Websites

Above is my take on custom websites. I asked two of my partners at Wood Street, Jamie Stup, Media Director, and Derek Jubach, Development Director, why custom websites are worth the investment.

Both of them have 20+ years in this industry producing some of the highest quality websites out there. They know what they’re talking about.

Here are their insights starting with Jamie’s “design list”…

Design Benefits

Unique/Custom Web Design

A custom website is designed and branded to specifically suit your company’s goals. You can’t always do this with templates. Your website will stand on its own since no other company will have the same design.

Using a pre-built theme forces your company into making decisions based on the framework of the template as opposed to being custom built with your goals in mind up front.

The UI/UX of a template website is less adaptable to meet your needs. You need the design flexibility to support your brand, message, and to increase conversion.

Scalability and Flexibility

In the initial planning of a custom website, future expansion should always be taken into consideration.

A site that is designed properly should have no issues expanding to meet a client’s future goals as the website grows with your business.

Customer Experience

If streamlining your customer experience is important, then a custom web design is the approach you need to take. You’re starting with no restrictions. You can guide your customers down the path you want them to take.

You can do this in many ways but the easiest is to have custom designed calls to action that will help guide them to the information you want them to see and act upon.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Well thought out, custom designed websites will achieve better search engine visibility and ultimately better rankings.

The ease of use, pleasing interface, and scalability of a well designed website will score high with the engines based on SEO UX factors.

Development Benefits

And now for Derek’s “development list”…

CMS and Plugin Updates and Upgrades

Upgrades to the WordPress core after major updates can take place right away. With a custom website you don’t have to wait for the theme author to update the theme and any bundled plugins that might be tied to the theme functionality.

When a vulnerability is exploited in a certain release of WordPress or Drupal, it makes all sites running this version potential targets for hackers. The ability to perform software updates quickly makes your site safer by limiting the exposure to bugs and security vulnerabilities.


Themes come with all sorts of features. But extending their functionality beyond what is offered can be difficult and often leads to higher maintenance costs in the future.

If the theme doesn’t have everything you need out of the box, then you might be in trouble or need to start over with a different theme.

Admin Dashboard Usability

This applies mainly to the admin area. The multipurpose themes come packed with features and finding their settings is a nightmare.

It can take a few days just to get familiar with where everything is!


Load times with themes can be awful due to the theme loading in all of its assets whether you’re using them or not.


With a custom website, your company will have a dedicated team to provide you with support. This will come in many forms from providing advice on the design as well as providing support if something goes wrong with the site.

This provides your company with a sense of relief to know you have a dedicated team to take care of any unforeseen issues.

And since a custom website is designed and built specifically for your company’s needs, bringing in any new designers and/or coders is an easier process. Your site is stable and clean with a much quicker learning curve for the new designer/developer.

I hope we’ve made our case here. If nothing else, we’ll leave you with this…

Always consider the future, tomorrow and 5/10 years from now, when planning any website project. Do your research and plan for all possible enhancements or expansions. You’ll be glad you did!


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