Best Reasons to Get (and Not Get!) a Custom Website
Table of contents
- What is a custom website?
- Custom websites in 2021
- When to go custom
- Different levels of custom website design
- How to make a custom design
- Best reasons to get a custom design
- Custom coded websites
- Business website VS website application
- Best reasons to get some level of custom development
- Best reasons to not get a fully custom coded website
What is a custom website?
To keep things simple, most websites are made using predefined templates and drag and drop software. This reduces the cost since there is far less design work and no coding.
Custom websites, on the other hand, have elements that are hand-crafted code. It could be a custom design or custom code or both.
Some websites are 100% custom, while others are only partially customized.
For example: A custom coded website may in some cases be based on a templated design. Custom design and custom development can be thought to solve two different problems
Custom websites in 2021
And as design layouts become standardized and people are less impressed with novelty, there is less and less reason to have a totally custom website.
On the other hand, there are many good reasons to have some level of customization.
In this article we’ll explain the degrees of customization that are now open to you from partially custom to fully custom both in terms of design and functionality.
When to go custom
Websites come from the very simple, to the incredibly complex. Simple websites are for small businesses.
Online software that help thousands of people at the same time is a whole different ball game.
Then there is everything in between.
As things get more complex and unique, the need for customization becomes greater.
Different levels of custom website design
There are different levels of design customization.
Level 1: Custom design but based on a flexible modern template
Here you are basing your design on the content provided but also looking at a template to do some of the lifting for you. So you are altering the content to somewhat fit the template.
In terms of look and feel can be a combination of your styles mixed in with the style of the template but equally, you can just keep the layout and entirely redefine the branding
Level 2: Custom design that stays within the limitation of a modern drag and drop builder
You’re not following any design template. The content or your design research is free but you are limiting your design to what is possible to build with a tool such as Elementor, Beaver Builder, Squarespace and Wix.
Level 3: Custom design but keep it simple and structured
Here you are venturing into a design system that is your own, that works for your content but isn’t entirely original. It will be somewhat sectional, although this won’t be too noticeable since the design system is blending in the design elements together.
You expect to build this design using reusable custom code components
Level 4: Completely custom design with an organic and fluid feel
For this type of custom website, you want to throw the rulebook out of the window and go for something totally unique, fluid, organic and you.
Branding is high, visual excitements overrides content clarity. It’s all about the feel, the flow and the experience.
Level 5: Custom User Interface design where everything is rethought
Here, you are using user experience design principles, user personas and wireframes to think out the content structure. This may be because your website is starting to have multi-step functionality (like a shopping cart).
You may decide to create wireframes for mobile and desktop to use your website which is starting to resemble a web application.
You’re most likely building something large and unique, designed to manipulate lots of data rather than show text and pictures.
How to make a custom design
A custom website design is one that is not based on a template at all but goes through a longer process of usually involving a creative brief, competitive analysis, content collection and wireframing.
There is usually a deeper planning phase and a formal design phase. (Design phases can be skipped if you’re working on a content-first principle.
Overall, the design process is two to three times longer in a custom design and so you may want to compromise and have a semi-custom design. Responsiveness cannot be taken for granted anymore and you will need to do design studies for several screen size.
Best reasons to get a custom design
A unique design for the sake of it isn’t a good reason, since people aren’t looking at websites for their originality (anymore). However, there are times when a brand needs to stand out from the crowd.
For templated sites, a unique design is more about choice of photography and written content.
More fluidity and organic feel
Custom designs look better because the sections flow into each other so much so that the concept of sections is forgotten, the page doesn’t look divided and the user get a better user experience.
Stronger brand definition
Brands need to stand out. And people can see that a brand is strong when it stands on its own – presenting itself differently to the other businesses that doing similar things.
In all seriousness, people outside of the web industry don’t look at a website and think – hmm this is a template copy of something else I’ve seen.
However, a lazily copied templated website doesn’t look professional because the design and the content don’t gel well together.
A well designed website is one where the content and design fit each other like a glove.
You’re building website application
Your website has unique functionality and a unique user flow.
Custom coded websites
There different levels of code customization
Level 1 : template HTML front end code and a standard CMS like WordPress
Here you are using downloadable HTML template that comes in the form of code, as opposed to a drag and drop interface or any form of WordPress template which can be bloated.
This is a great option if you want fast website but a standard design.
Level 2: Custom child theme on a WordPress
Here you are creating the HTML and CSS for yourself. This requires more skill since you need to know WordPress very well.
The advantage of doing it this way, is that you get clean code and fast website but editing the website may be difficult.
Level 3: Custom development plugins within WordPress
Here you are using WordPress development skills to create the custom functionality needed for certain parts of the website – this can either be on the management side or the user side.
Level 4: Hybrid setups
Hybrid setups with parts of the website coming from a standard system and other parts coming from an API or another custom coded platform.
Level 5: Completely custom website
You are coding the whole backend from scratch using a framework such as Laravel. The reason why you would do this is because your website is more like a web application and not a business website.
Business website VS website application
A business website is more or less a brochure site whereas web application whilst technically a website has custom functionality and serves a purpose in of itself rather than simply communicating information.
When we talk about pure custom development, this is what we are talking about: web applications.
Best reasons to get some level of custom development
Custom code is streamlined code. It will run up to five times faster than a templated site or code libraries that have to take into account every eventuality. A faster website has a higher ranking.
For template sites, speed issues can be gotten around through the use of CDN and page caching but there are costs inherent in that too.
Search Engine Optimization
Having a faster website than your competition will win you brownie points. Custom websites tend to have less bloat and so load a lot faster.
Also having access to the code will mean your code will be cleaner and faster to parse – this is another thing on Google’s checklist.
Handwritten HTML and CSS allows for better control over mobile responsiveness – this is important for your ranking within search engine as well as for your users.
Custom websites won’t have the same vulnerabilities that WordPress has, so can’t be exploited for common holes, however custom websites do have their own security flaws.
While a lot of things can be done with out-of-the-box website modules and software, not everything can be done this way.
There will come a stage when you will be spending more time and money battling prewritten code and a system that doesn’t work the way you want it to and you would have been better off writing clean custom code.
This is a judgement call. There is no precise point where this happens
Clean readable code
A clean and custom code base, once written and documented to your specification can be easier to support rather than a bunch of disparate systems patched together.
Good simple design is all about pixel perfect layouts, spacing, and font sizing. This is quite difficult to achieve on all screen sizes when you’re directly manipulating the HTML and CSS.
So if your design relies on layout precision to work, then hand coding the front end makes sense.
Long term competitiveness
This really applies to web applications and entrepreneurial endeavours. If you’re going to build something special and you want to beat the competition out of the water one day, you need the flexibility to be able take your website development anywhere it needs to go.
This means getting low-level, understanding the code and trying to eke out competitiveness through innovation.
Best reasons to not get a fully custom coded website
The cost of a custom website can be 3 times the cost of something templated. There is simply 3 times as much work – a lot more trained talents are needed and there’s a lot more coordination.
Complexity of modern websites
Even simple modern websites are complicated behind the scenes. There are so many more behind-the-scene things that a modern platform.
Things that are needed because the online world has become so advanced.
There is no such thing as a simple website anymore – only one that looks simple.
There are a lot more decisions to be made on top of the extra design and development work to be done. Project naturally take a lot longer since there is more work for you to do.
Custom websites give you the freedom to make the right choice as well as the wrong ones.
While we advise our clients as best we can, we defer the final decision to them, since they are the experts in their business / industry.
Unless you’re experienced in the technical aspect, you may assume things are easier or harder than they are.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization requires lots of additional meta data and page analysis that can be best served using plugins and other tools.
A hand-coded website may not be able to use tools such as Rank Math and Yoast to analyse its SEO.
Hand coded websites may open themselves up to vulnerabilites that platforms have already discovered and closed. Having a custom coded website doesn’t automatically mean having a safer site.
Custom code and custom designs can soon become obsolete and will need more time than a simpler design to keep up to date.
Software platforms are always updating their code base and without the platform, you will have to do a lot of the updates yourself.
Having said that, you can forget to update your website for years and nothing will go wrong.
Reinventing the wheel
Website technology is pretty much a commodity, and you’ll end up doing the same thing that others have already done before you so why not build upon their hard work?
Getting a custom website makes sense for some use-case scenarios.
There are different levels of design customization and development customization
The more custom it is, the more it costs.
Don’t go custom unless you have to.