Ever visit a restaurant that got the dining experience just right? I don’t mean only great food. I’m talking about a place that really understood what they were about. From the impression when you walked in the door, to the look of the menu, to taste of the meals themselves—this place showed that they were something special. You probably recommended the restaurant to friends, and maybe even became a regular customer. You went for the grub, sure, but it was the experience that kept you going back.

The way we interact with websites isn’t so different. While it might be a little easier (for us non-programmers, at least) to pick out the details that set restaurants apart, it doesn’t take a trained eye to tell the Bob’s Diners from the hip eateries of the web world.

As Atomic’s business developer, I get asked all the time what the big difference is between template-based and custom websites. Why shell out for a custom site when you can get an off-the-shelf template for a fraction of the cost? It’s a valid point—but one you may end up paying for later. Here’s why:

Credibility. Your website reflects your business. A custom-made site says, “I know what I’m doing. This look takes work. Let’s get to know each other. Sit down and stay a while.” And a template looks like, well, a template, no matter which “unique” design you pick. As a veritable fast-food chain of websites, it says…not much.

User experience. Good luck incorporating your company’s branding elements into a template site. All templates have virtually the same navigation and site map, leaving little room for customization. Have extra service lines, a unique business model, or want additional functionality? Too bad. Visitors may never find out about them, because if they don’t fit within the template’s preset formula, you’re out of luck.

Custom design, on the other hand, shakes things up. It gets users excited about all the cool things the Web can do. Plus, it allows for all the business-specific gadgetry your enterprising heart desires (like order tracking, purchase histories, and clear calls to action).

Back-end ease of use. Web code has high standards. These standards help developers organize data so that it’s logical for upgrades. They’re also important for sharing information with search engines, like Google. If standards aren’t obeyed, search engines won’t index your site correctly, making any SEO work you’re doing for naught.

But website templates aren’t always built with standards-compliant code. The worst part? You won’t know if a template is compliant or not until after you’ve purchased it. Reputable web companies build custom websites with clean, well-organized code.

The bottom line is, you just can’t accomplish a memorable user experience using a template (did I mention they’re also prone to hacking?). By the time you spend the time and money to deal with the headaches templates cause, you’ll wish you’d invested in a custom website from the start.

Be the place people are talking about. Don’t be the greasy spoon.

Fortunately for you, custom web design is kind of our thing. Contact Atomic for ideas on how to help your site chuck the cookie cutter.

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