How Important is Custom Web Design?

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I’ve been working through the process of moving a couple of websites from free hosted services and generic themes to their own URLs with custom themes. Doing so has made me look at every website I visit from a new perspective. Did I really have to spend all that money for custom web design?

Remember when PowerPoint first came out and everyone went nuts creating animated slide presentations and slick looking reports with nothing more than the built-in templates? It was pretty easy to impress because the technology made you look good. All you had to do to outshine your competition was figure out the software. But eventually it got to the point where some of us sorry souls could identify the backgrounds and the fonts in every presentation we saw. It wasn’t impressive anymore to use the tired old options. If you wanted to stand out, you needed the services of talented designers once again.

That’s exactly how I think websites have come along. At first it was a big deal to have a static website. Now it’s mandatory to have some kind of online presence if you want customers to find you. Then blogs and social media exploded and boy wasn’t it something to have a blog – any blog – for your business! It didn’t matter that it was hosted on a free Blogger or WordPress account. You were already ahead of the pack. And now that every Martha and her dog has a blog, you’ve got to go to the extra expense and effort of having a custom site designed.

Or do you? I’m having mine overhauled in the hopes that it’ll differentiate me from the competition as more talented and professional. But in the end is it really about how good your site looks? Or the quality of product you deliver?

Image Credit: Xurble, Flickr

  • Janz

    Though I’m not a huge fan of custom design (hey, I’m sure one of thousands of wordpress templates will suffice) I believe in both content and presentation.
    Good and relevent content is important in any website or publication. But unless it looks good and it’s easy on the eyes, don’t expect your audience to stay or take your good content seriously.
    Just my 0.02, and I think I better sort out mine :)

  • Yes design is important but I think content should be the main priority.

    Power point presentations…no “point”, no “power”.

    “Any decent monarchy has a pecking order. If content is king, then design is queen, code is the shield-bearer, and promotion is the jester. One of the classic mistakes that webmasters make is to place the role of jester before king. Promoting an unfinished website makes a webmaster look foolish before his peers”

  • I believe that a lot has to do with what the goal of the site is. Some sites are just for fun and information, in which case, one doesn’t have to create custom styles and designs. The content will be what helps differentiate that. I site I use to help people find out about low cost tools to develop elearning content uses a nicely built free template for WordPress.

    On the other hand, if you are trying to be proactive with your business needs and convert visitors into buyers, or subscribers, then you need to be effective. This often means being able to make small changes to the site to test it. A perfect example is a site I did for my wife – to help promote her photography business. By changing a couple of elements on a page, she increased her conversion rate (people who called inquiring about services / number of visitors to the site) by over 400%.

    Many free templates don’t easily allow you to make those simple changes, so either you, or someone else, has to know how to properly work on a site to make it be more effective.

  • Design in effect is branding and therefore needs to be given a certain amount of respect, time and money.

    This being said, content is king but it’s a shame it not always that simple when you are in business.

  • Lela Davidson

    Janz – I totally agree with you. I’ve been lurking around some competition websites and some of them look incredibly slick, but their content’s not any better than mine.

    Deuce – Brilliant quote. Is it yours?

    Walter – Another great point. If you’re publishing straight-up content, a turnkey site could be fine, but what if you want to put out an eBook? Or as you said, tinker slightly with placement, etc.

    Scopy – It’s true that first impressions go a long way. And we all have too short of an attention span these days to lose customers because they’re turned off by a stodgy looking site.