MarketingTechnology

5 reasons template sites are killing custom design

Custom-designed websites are becoming a thing of the past

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There was a time in the early 2000s when the idea of creating and designing a website for your business was a scary proposition. The price was high, the creative had to be designed from the ground up, and finding the people to do it was a challenge.

Today, that script has been flipped. The price has been drastically lowered by competing vendors and the improvement of ready-to-use templates. The latter has also made finding people to design it for you from the ground up pretty unnecessary.

Here are five reasons why custom website design is dying and what that means for bringing your agency or brokerage online today in the template era.

1. Simple information is better than fancy design.

Anybody remember Flash websites? If you search long enough, you can still find a few of them used by restaurants and other small businesses. Most of these relics of the dot-com era were built on the idea that you needed a “flashy” design, music, vision statements and more to differentiate from the competition across the street. The problem is, that’s not what customers want.

A 2011 study by HubSpot found 76 percent of website visitors believe the most significant quality of a business website is ease of use — they want to find things quickly. If you don’t believe them, just remember what Steve Jobs said about design: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

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What that means for you: You don’t have to worry about finding that person with the design chops that you lack to build that interactive graphic on your brokerage or agency’s story. You probably also don’t have to worry about finding the next Noam Chomsky to pen your philosophical vision statement about today’s real estate market. You simply have to worry about getting the right information on your website.

Luckily for you, most useful templates today call out the pertinent information from your business that customers want. Your agency’s hours, location, phone number, email, your current listings and images are all good places to start.

2. Template designs have improved vastly.

Today’s templates don’t just call out the information that users want to see better than before — and that’s not all. First of all, a lot of themes that are predesigned today are as good or better than any custom design you could get. Part of that is the functionality that is built into the websites from the start.

Custom design always enabled designers to get “too cute” with the way the website flowed. Template designing has gotten away from that, ensuring that the user is getting what they want, rather than the designer. In addition, they’re already coded and built for today’s mobile user. Many templates are responsive, as well, which means they provide easy reading and navigation to users on just about any device, without the need to resize or reshape the visuals.

“I think of responsive design as an alternative to mobile sites,” Ethan Marcotte (@beep) said.

What that means for you: If you opt to buy your new website in the form of a template from a reputable vendor, you’re likely going to get a website that works well. You’re not going to have to worry about the code used to build the website now or in the future. Most templates are built on platforms that update in real time, so there will probably never be a reason to know the code.

Also, templates provide a lot of the latest technologies that are being used on the Web, unlike when businesses had to settle for dated approaches for custom design. Looking to target potential customers across mobile and desktop with the latest technology? Check — they have that for you.

3. Templates don’t mean lack of personalization.

Although templates give a certain style and shape, they aren’t strictly cookie-cutter today. All types of vendors provide options that let business owners find the best option for them. This take on customization and personalization is a major reason there isn’t a need for truly custom design.

There are broadly focused and free options including Wix, Weebly and Squarespace. WordPress options make content creation easier, and continue to be one of the most popular options today. There are others such as Jimdo and Shopify that are suitable for e-commerce, or those made for particular industries, such as HappyTables and SinglePlatform in the restaurant industry or WordPress sites that are uniquely designed for the real estate space.

After making a choice, many of these providers feature further personalization of templates. Business owners can add video or images, move graphics around website pages and utilize their own branding and logos.

“The key is to present the right content to the users at the time they need it in an engaging manner, across all channels they visit,” Jim Yu (@jimyu) said.

What that means for you: With so many templates and providers in the market today, you have a huge selection to choose from when finding a fit for you business. How will buyers and sellers utilize your website? Once you determine that and the assets you have to utilize, you can determine what option makes the most sense for you and how you will personalize after purchasing.

Are you active on social media? Plug your social media right into your website template. Want to feature hi-res pictures of your listings? Add slideshows to let users view full-screen. More importantly, personalize “your story.” Yes, someone out there on the Internet might be using the same delivery mechanism as you with your template, but your story, messaging and offers should be unique. Template personalization can let your business stand out without needing to opt for custom design.

4. Sales and marketing have become paramount.

If 10,000 hours make an expert, then a lot of the expertise going into template design is about 17 times that. The use of websites has become vastly more sophisticated over the last 20-plus years — or around 175,000 hours.

Rather than just giving yourself a digital footprint, websites are becoming the most efficient way to engage prospective buyers through the sales process. Although design and user experience is a major driver of this, it has also made sales and marketing paramount in the use of websites.

The great thing is that many templates have been optimized for sales and marketing and improved over the years based on performance. Many provide the simple ability to plug into the databases, analytics and platforms that most marketers and salespeople leverage, such as Google Analytics, HubSpot, Salesforce, etc.

“A website had to be more than the digital equivalent of a brochure holder. It had to be a digital salesperson,” Keith Hagen (@ematador) said.

What that means for you: Many of today’s content platforms and templates — and especially WordPress — are designed as a marketer’s tool. Not only does that make it easy to publish marketing- and sales-related content, but it also makes it possible to track potential customers step by step.

The use of free tools such as Google Analytics can tell you how your traffic and lead building is comparing weekly, monthly and yearly. Or, more precisely, it can tell you what types of listings and from what geographic areas are driving the most engagement and interest. It doesn’t end there, of course, as you can track page views, as well as video views, document views, downloads and social chatter.

All of these tools enable you to interact with prospective buyers the way you would in offline settings by gauging qualified buyers and following up online and offline to close sales.

5. Nearly guaranteed ROI.

As the cost of these template-based websites continue to go down and social media, blogging, SEO, mobile, responsiveness and video are built in, the return on the investment becomes almost guaranteed. In some cases, the investment can be free. Compare this with the old model where you invested more than a thousand dollars for custom website design without knowing what you were going to receive nor the end product being guaranteed.

“Since it’s your site, you set the design, which affords you the flexibility to optimize the user experience in ways that directly support your business model,” Mikal Belicove (@Belicove) said.

What that means for you: In many cases, if you convert just one sale from your website, you’ve already broken even. That doesn’t even take into account indirect leads that might have originated from your website and online marketing efforts.

For example, the new buyer who reached out to you after hearing from a friend who had stumbled across your site. Also, this is without any of the time allocation needed to work with a designer or consultant on a custom website.

With minimal time on your end, you can have your website up and generating new leads. The best part? It’s your website, and unlike social media, you’re in complete control of how you interact with potential customers. There is no reason not to figure out what type of template is right for your business and launch a website today.

Seth Price is VP of Marketing at Placester, a passionate content creator and host of the Craft of Marketing Podcast. You can connect with him on Twitter @sethstuff or LinkedIn.

Email Seth Price.