We’ve set up templates for clients in the past, mostly using WordPress. They are sometimes a quick and inexpensive solution for a client needing a CMS (content management system) with responsive design but don’t have the budget for a custom solution.

And, as I stated in the post, Anyone Can Make a Website, there are plenty of solutions out there… WordPress, Expression Engine, Wix, and so forth.

And you can, if you’re somewhat handy with code, do some really nice stuff with those tools.

journal-illustration-spidey

Remember though, with great power comes great responsibility. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

I am not going to dismiss the importance of DIY in our industry. These tool have enabled scores of bloggers, journalists, non-profits, small businesses, and more to have a presence on the internet without having to rent space at sites like Tumblr, Blogger or even Facebook.

But, keep in mind that there are designers and coders out there who do this for a living and do a very good job at it. Don’t underestimate the complexity of what they do. This thinking can get you in a lot of trouble.

WordPress Themes

For example, let’s say you’ve purchased a WordPress template (theme) for your company. Great! You’re on your way to having a home-base for your online marketing efforts. And because it is a CMS, you will be able to keep it up to date yourself.

Only, when you start setting it up you quickly realize that it is not as plug and play as you might have realized. Or, you’re locked into a certain look or functionality. You’re stuck.

Maybe you’ve been able to set it up without incident. You’re not out of the woods. With a fair amount of these template solutions, there is the potential for much harm to be done.

Important Public Service Announcement Regarding WordPress

In WordPress, as the admin, you will see at the top of your dashboard a link that calls to you…

“WordPress 3.8.2 is available! Please update now.”

You update (of course you want the latest and greatest, right?). But, um, wait, something isn’t right. Things are now missing!!! What happened?!?

These themes are built using plugins. Sometimes, these plugins (developed by someone other than the theme author) are not compatible with the newest version of WordPress. See a problem here?

The advice I would offer here is simple, do not click (anything) unless you are certain of the outcome. Or set yourself up as an Editor for regular content updates and keep a separate account for all admin duties.

This will save you from yourself, so to speak.

Template Shelf Life

Another problem has to do with the longevity of the website template you’re using. Will this system be around in 2 years? How often is it upgraded/updated? Is there a solid support and development team to back it?

Lots of website development firms and software developers offer their own CMS solution. You pay for a license, host the site on their server and boom, you’re all set!

But, what happens if that company gets bought out or goes out of business? Where does that leave you?

Or maybe you outgrow that system. Now, you are forced to start completely from scratch.

One of the biggest problems with commercial CMS options is that they’re in a closed system. We love WordPress and Drupal because there is a very large community of developers creating open source plugins for just about every type of functionality requirement you can think of.

If a plugin doesn’t exist, these open source CMS options like WordPress and Drupal are set up such that custom upgrades are almost always possible.

Try bringing a new developer into a closed system to make changes to their code. Not going to happen. If you want to change that system in any way, you’re going to pay the owner of that system to do this (usually a hefty sum)…

CMS Options from SaaS Providers

iMIS is a great example of this. One of the leading association management systems out there. We’ve integrated a bunch of sites with iMIS with light to moderate difficulty.

Of course, they also have their own content management system. Awesome! And it seamlessly ties into all of the other features you have with your version of iMIS, win win.

But, wait, it doesn’t include this functionality, and that functionality requires customization to work the way you want it to.

Guess what happens next… you pay the developers of iMIS to make the changes you want. Think this is cheap? Think again.

Your Options

Your options are open. Make the choice that works best for you organization and your audience. I’m not arguing that the solutions above are all bad because that is simply not true.

What I’m saying is that there is no easy button or silver bullet. Online marketing is an investment, not an expense. Your website is likely the centerpiece of all of your marketing efforts.

Take it seriously…

  • Have backups in place in case you make a costly error like the WordPress update mentioned above.
  • Know your audience and construct a website solution that works for them.
  • Don’t paint yourself into a corner. Make sure you are considering the next year, two years, five years for your website. Will the solution of today cause you problems for growth tomorrow?
  • Don’t base your website decision on one thing… like money, or ease, or personal preference. Make smart decisions that will help your business grow.

Know your strengths and weaknesses and prepare accordingly. Your website is something you simply can’t ignore or neglect. Your competition isn’t and if you are, they are taking you to school.

Am I being dramatic? Nope, just honest.

Whether you use Wood Street, do this yourself, or hire someone else, as long as you think about the long game and focus on the needs of your audience, you will be in good shape!

 

Jon-Mikel Bailey – Before co-founding Wood Street in 2002, Jon worked in sales, marketing and business development for technology and marketing firms. A popular speaker, he gives seminars on marketing, internet marketing, branding and web design to chambers of commerce, trade associations and colleges. He has a BFA in Photography from Frostburg State University and still shoots photos for Wood Street clients.

8 Responses to “Website Templates are Great… But
    • rob

    Jon, is there any information on whether using a popular WordPress theme will get you dinged my Google for being less than unique?

    I love the articles, thanks for writing them.

    • Thanks Rob! I don’t think your site gets dinged by Google if it uses a theme. All WordPress sites are themes, some are just reused. But those themes are all modified in some way and each site should have its own unique content. This is definitely more important to Google, that the site has good, unique and useful content.

  • Too true…. I had to learn the hard way about clicking the update….. thank goodness I wasn’t flying solo or we would have been in a big mess. Wood Street fixed quickly and I will be more cautious about what I click going forward.

  • Great stuff, mate. It’s scary how many people put so much thought into their social profiles and how they look, yet neglect the most important aspect – their own website. That’s the place that truly reflects you – so make it great!

    Cheers!

    • Excellent point! Thanks Danny! By the way, did you see my latest avatar? 😉

  • Hah! Just hours ago I got an email from someone who we built a simple WordPress site for a year ago…her slightly panicked message was that the site was not working and she didn’t know what to do.
    After we published her site she said that she’d have someone she knew take over maintenance but they must not have, because no software updates had been done and so the site was “broken”. Luckily it was a simple matter to apply all of the updates. I explained that she must have a knowledgeable developer in place to update her website on a regular basis. She doesn’t like to think about or pay for her technology but she wants a beautiful website…go figure!
    PS I love WordPress, but it isn’t perfect!

    • Thanks Leigh! Yes, it is important to have a resource to help because you can get yourself in some serious trouble!

Comments are closed.