A peek at the interior of websites and how to choose the best one for you.

The question is no longer “Do I need a website?”, but rather “What kind of website do I need?”. We started to answer that in Websites: What are my options?, but there are an infinite number of responses to that loaded question. We’re going to dig deeper into the key characteristics that make custom and template websites different and how that affects your church or organization.

Generally speaking, you can choose either a custom or a template solution for your website needs. But, before you do, let’s sort out those differences.

Technology and design trends change quickly. Templates are trendy – they’re built for the here and now. While they are modern and in style today, that could change at any moment. Custom sites, on the other hand, are trend setters. These sites are often the pioneers that shape the website solutions of the future. Even though things are put together differently behind the curtain of these websites, what the user sees during their experience is very similar.

Not what you thought, huh?

It’s all about the online marketplace. Design trends in the custom website market generally drive the trends within the template market. Custom built websites are just that – an original solution to a unique marketing challenge. Templates exist because a custom solution worked well and is now being offered to a wider audience.

A user may not be able to tell if you used a template for your site or had it built from scratch by looking at it – but anyone who manages the site behind the scenes will. When you access your website to make updates and other changes, that’s when things start to look markedly different.

Take a look under the hood.

Since it’s the 21st century, you know that applications and programs are constantly being updated. New versions are always being released. A template site is very similar. There are plugins and features used inside of a templated site that have to be updated for security, as well as functionality purposes. A custom site does not require as much upkeep. You outlined how it would be built so you decide if your custom site needs an update. This usually just means swapping out copy or changing other content, depending on how fast your church or organization moves. Your custom site was built to address a specific need – if the need hasn’t changed, your site features don’t need to be updated. And because the code is specific to you (unlike template sites which share code to save time and money), it can be far more difficult to hack.

Out of [site] does not mean out of mind, right?

Not in this case. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is crucial to your operation. Being aware of SEO (and what it means for your content) is integral to the way search engines rank your site. Custom sites are coded with the precise structure that you outline for your organization. When the site is indexed by a search engine like Google, all of the information that it gathers is content that users have the ability to interact with. Templated sites have a much more generalized structure so that they can be implemented by a variety of business and organization categories. However, this also means that the content may not fill out every piece of the structure. For example, say that a template site is created for a local church which has very few staff members. The church may not need a blog since nobody has time to keep creating content for one, but that doesn’t mean the template loses that functionality – it’s part of the system and it WILL be indexed. When search engines inspect a template site they see empty or unused spaces in your content and site structure which could hurt your search rankings since nobody is interacting with these pages or features.

There are a few other factors that must be considered when deciding what type of website will work best for your organization.

First, you have to consider time. At AM, there is a four-step process that website building goes through: Strategy, Design, Development, and Content. Since a custom site is created from the ground up, these development phases last longer. Template sites, on the other hand, may require fewer hours in some of these categories since there are fewer options to work through. Your schedule and the time that you have allotted to get your church or organization’s new site up and running may determine your choice.

Something else to take into account is your operation. Is your ministry different than others in your space? Does your nonprofit meet a different need than others in your sector? Does your church have a culture that’s unique in your community? If that’s the case then you may need a solution that’s just as different as you are. A fairly standard approach to business does not necessarily require a unique online solution. A business that functions significantly differently, however, may require some critical thinking around those unique operations. Original ideas require original solutions. Look at your church model or your organization’s structure and  evaluate your process. What does your church or organization require, a custom solution or a standard template?

The last thing to examine is, of course, your budget. Yes, custom websites are more expensive. There are no short cuts and no plugins. They are one-of-a-kind solutions built with a unique concept in mind. On the other hand, template websites can have great visual appeal and cost less, but they may not cater to the specific demands of your church or nonprofit.

All websites will eventually become outdated, but how a site is built can have a huge impact on how long it takes to become old news. Your job now is to weigh the options and decide what type of website will work best for your organization or church Deciding what approach to take for your website can be really difficult, but if you have any questions that you would like to ask, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!