What’s a Custom Website?

What’s the difference between having a custom website designed for your company and using a pre-made theme? When you have a WordPress site built, you can install a theme yourself or have it done for you and then customize it or have it customized.

How does that differ from a custom site built just for you?

Rosie, Tom, and I were talking about this today.

“Custom code,” said Tom. “And look at those drop shadows!”

I thought that probably most of our clients wouldn’t see the value of custom code, and perhaps not even of drop shadows.

“We work with them,” I said, “to determine the path they want their visitors to follow, and figure out how to sort all their information into the right pages to reach those goals.”

“Is that what you mean by ‘custom site architecture’?” Rosie asked. “I’ve always wondered. ”

We realized that most of our clients also had no idea what custom site architecture might be.

“We do everything they ask for,” she pointed out, “and they have people with advanced degrees and decades of experience working on their sites.”

To us, the difference between a custom site and a standard themed site is so obvious that we hadn’t thought much about how our clients might perceive it. A custom site will cost you more than having someone install a theme, though — and it should. So how can you determine whether a custom site is worth the extra cost for you?

Here are some specific examples.

This website for Vertz and Company has standard navigation with the typical five pages, which you can see in red just above the slider. It also has a special navigation at the very top which takes visitors right to the case studies for various industries Vertz serves. And it also has two special links below the slider, one for manufacturers and one for buyers.

industrial website

The result is a range of possible paths for visitors to take from arriving at the website to conversion.

This is an example of custom site architecture and navigation.

The screenshot below shows an interior page for a sporting goods supply shop. Right now the bars filled with logos link to the manufacturers’ websites so that visitors can check out the brands that this store carries. We built it so that we can add ecommerce functionality in the future — but it still looks good now.

This is an example of a custom gallery.

The screenshot below shows an interior page from a resort website. There are special links to weather reports, reviews, the company’s YouTube channel, and social media, plus an embedded video.

While you can find plugins for all of these things, custom design puts everything in the exact place where you want it and makes it look just right.

In many cases, that’s what “custom” comes down to: instead of making do with a theme that has been designed to appeal to many people and work fairly well for most of them, you get something that has been designed exactly for you, which will work exactly the way you need it to.

For us, this also means custom content optimized for search and conversion.

Optimizing your website has the highest ROI, according to marketing studies, of any action you can take. It doesn’t make sense to skimp on the cost to the point where your website doesn’t perform well. If your budget can handle a custom website (and it may cost less than you expect), then you should have a custom website. If not, it’s nice to know that a good theme can be the basis of a good-looking site at a bargain price.

Just don’t expect custom solutions from a pre-made theme. There’s a difference.



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2 responses to “What’s a Custom Website?”

  1. ed mick Avatar
    ed mick

    hi rebecca and rosie,

    i’d like to set up a consultation with you focused on these two issues:

    1. in my accounting work with people i get all sorts of questions relating to ‘am i spending too much for insurance, legal work, shipping, interest etc’. and always advertising. i’ve had people spend a few hundred dollars up to $15,000 to get a website and nothing ever happens with it.
    so i’d like to get a primer on website options for small business from your service perspective. and also how to have a smart phone option

    2. i’d like to take a look at a website with you and get your opinion on what it would take to create one with similar functionality. i’m thinking about a trucking business to focus on local small farm marketing. here’s the site that i find appealing: http://www.farmfresh.org/hub/.

    i’m pretty flexible for scheduling including evenings.


    ed mick

    1. Rebecca Haden Avatar

      Hey, Ed, great to hear from you!

      If I understand you correctly, you’re wanting abstract information so you get an idea of how pricing varies and what might be reasonable for a company. I’ll contact you directly to set up a meeting, but I bet there are others with the same kind of question, so I’ll also give a quick answer here.

      1. The cost of a website can vary, as you’ve discovered, to an amazing degree. Both a few hundred dollars and $15,000 are completely reasonable prices for a website. I’d be happy to show you some of our websites and share the differences that have led to different pricing — certainly, some of them are in this blog post, but we can get more specific. You also have to consider the kind of designer you’re working with: a student or an IT guy freelancing on the side has a completely different level of overheard (and completely different resources for clients) from a professional web firm. And of course you have to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples. Our websites, for example, include optimized content, whereas most web designers leave the content entirely up to you. Some companies charge you a monthly fee and if you stop paying it, your website is gone — essentially, it belongs to them and you’re renting it. There are dozens of factors like that which affect website prices.
      2. A good website performs better than a poor one, but no website nowadays can be built and ignored. There are too many other sites competing now. In order to see things happen, a website now has to have regular fresh content, social media support, etc. We offer those things as services, but a company that doesn’t pay for those services should be prepared to put in the time on their own. It’s still less costly than traditional advertising, but there is a big difference between a well maintained website and one that doesn’t get that attention.
      3.The example you gave is an old site, or home made, and wouldn’t be worth much if you were to have someone build it for you today (though it might have been perfect for the company when it was built). Look at something a little more modern like http://www.healthychefcreations.com/, http://www.bostonorganics.com/, or https://kc.doortodoororganics.com/. I think they have similar functionality and focus.

      Talk with you soon!

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