1. The Template
Many people have a misunderstanding of exactly what a “template” is. You might think that it is a quick and easy solution to all your website needs. You can usually buy one for $25-$50 or less, but the old proverb, “You get what you pay for” is relevant here.
The structure of a website can be likened to a car. A template is a basic website design, as separated from its content. If the domain name and web host is the “chassis”, say, and the bandwidth is the “wheels”, the template of a site is the body. A brand new template is pretty and shiny, just like a brand new coat of paint on a car body. But what is under the hood? Oops, no engine! It's not going to go anywhere anytime soon.
Now that is not to say that templates are useless and impossible to use, but to an inexperienced “mechanic” you're looking at weeks of research and countless hours of manual editing. In the long run, manually editing the content without the training and expensive software that professional developers use is a bit like trying to build a new engine for your Chevy out of scrap metal in a junkyard. Some could do it, but most will probably be wishing they had a brand new Chevy V8 just out of the factory to work with.
2. Do It From Scratch
Some future website owners try to simply start from scratch and put a website together using Notepad or Word or whatever software they might have. This can be done for sure, but what is the result? Exactly what was done: a few pages put together in Word as a cheap alternative to a professional site. There are advantages in the “Do It From Scratch” method, namely freedom to do what you want without the limitations of a template, but unless you have the tools and experience, most sites will look cheap and unprofessional and give the impression to your viewers, “If this person can't even put the effort in to do a website right, why should I take him/her seriously?”
In short, the Do It From Scratch method suffers from the same cons as The Template method does: a long runway with tedious updates and lack of power “under the hood”.
If someone walked up to an automotive expert and said, “A Ferrari is exactly the same as a Beetle, just a sportier design”, he'd have a good chuckle. If you said to a web developer, “all websites are basically the same, some are just prettier”, you'd get the same response. There are “Jeeps” and “Ferraris” and “Vipers” on the web; in fact there are probably more variations of sites than there are cars, as most sites are custom-built for the owner's exact needs.
Anybody can put some text on a page and call it a website. But could he put up a fully automated e-commerce solution that would invite, interest and sell as well as receive payment for a product without having to hire a single employee for any of those functions? No, I think not. Websites have gone a long way from their roots in the 90s; now online stores, newsletters, interactive features and search bars have become the norm, and in the eyes of a modern viewer a site isn't complete until it has these features.
Now I know what you're thinking. I can buy a cheap template off of so-and-so-templates.com, and it looks great! And while that's true, let's do the math and put templates into perspective:
There are literally millions of websites online at the time of this writing, with hundreds more added each day. How many templates are there available out there that you are able to purchase? Thirty, forty...a few hundred? Basic division will tell you that it is quite likely that those templates have already been used dozens if not hundreds of times. Ever reach a site you could have sworn you've been to before? Well, you probably have, at least the template anyway.
Another point is that a template is usually pretty generic or extremely specific. Unless you are promoting Pet Funerals and only Pet Funerals, a Pet Funeral template with a huge gravestone and a puppy next to it isn't going to fly. Most people end up stuck with a template that is palatable, but doesn't quite talk to their viewers and say what they want their site to say.
5. The Inexpensive Freelancer
One popular alternative to working with a website development company is to hire a freelance designer to put a website together or to maintain their current site. Again, using cars as an analogy, this is like going to your brother's mechanically-inclined friend for a used car. Depending on the friend's honest expertise and standards, you will either get one of two results:
The friend is a master of the wrench, and he brings you a car that works and you saved some money. Or, you get an automobile back that drives when it feels like, doesn't like to start up, makes strange noises, and finally breaks down a few months later.
There are some very talented designers out there, but most don't know a lot about web development. Many will design a workable site for a low cost, but if for some reason he isn't reachable any longer or quits, you are stuck with a site you can do little with until you find someone else to pick up the pieces.
There is a definite difference between a “Designer” and “Developer”. A designer is usually more focused on the visual impact and layout of the site, and a developer is more focused on functionality like shopping carts, blogging functions, etc. More often than you think, a company hires a designer to do development work, which doesn't always work out to be the optimum solution. Off-site shopping carts, search functions that break, forms that aren't as efficient as one would like: these are all common issues stemming from hiring someone who doesn't have the technical know-how beyond their design expertise.
Hire an honest, proven web development company that will put a site together that you can use, update and drive business to.
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