Building a Website: Buying a Theme and Other Tools

DIY website design

Your business needs an online space to call home, just as your physical business needs a location. With consumers and businesses spending more time online every year (current projections for 2021 suggest the average user spends 192 minutes/day online, with 80+% of that coming from a mobile device), a website is no longer an option but something you need. The global pandemic further increased the use of online tools, as you can see in the graphic below. And, just as you want your physical location to reflect well on your business, you want your online home to make you look good. Thus, building a website isn’t just necessary, you need a great website that supports your brand and other marketing efforts.

time spent on digital platforms
Time spent on social media. Image courtesy of Smart Insights

Do you need a website

First, let’s take a look at why you need a website. According to experts, a website helps you:

  • Look professional
  • Appear credible and trustworthy by sporting reviews and testimonials
  • Attract new customers and serve existing customers through search and by helping local customers find your physical location
  • Showcase your business, even if you don’t operate an e-commerce business
  • Generate revenue either totally online or by supporting online sales

Building a website

building a websiteIn the early days of the internet, building a website was challenging and required specialized skills like coding (websites are built using HTML/ CSS and use Javascript and other tools that took years to master. Luckily for you, building a website today isn’t nearly as challenging. I’ve even written an ebook that provides step-by-step guidance on building a website using tons of videos and images to make the process easy. You can do this yourself for around $150, with a small cost every year.

Building a website requires:

  1. A domain name – think of this like your own name except it’s unique. Domain registrars, like Domains.com, ensure everyone gets a unique name. Your domain name is also your address online.
  2. A host – this acts as a repository for all your files and ensures your website is available online and works correctly. Self-hosting is best, rather than using Wix or another plug-and-play builder as it supports SEO (search engine optimization to get you found) and offers a more unique user experience (UX). I recommend 2 hosting companies that do a great job for small websites; BlueHost and SiteGround.
  3. WordPress, which is a CMS (content management system) providing a ton of functionality. This is free. However, don’t be fooled by WordPress.com as this is hosting that falls into the same category as Wix. Instead, visit WordPress.org to download the software if your hosting company doesn’t provide a link to make this easier.
  4. A theme, which is our topic for today, so I’ll expand on this later.
  5. Plugins, which extend the functionality of your website. You’ll see a list of recommended plugins in my ebook.
  6. Content.

Now that you have an idea of everything you need when building a website, let’s move on to today’s topic of themes.

What is a theme?

In web design terms, a theme is basically a design already created by a developer with a certain layout, color scheme, and other elements to customize the functions provided by WordPress. All you have to do when using a theme is personalize it by adding in your business information, branded images, and other content. A theme does the rest by providing the aesthetic design of the website – such as the menu layout, colors, and so on.

It may sound like a simple process to modify a theme to make it your own. However, most developers, myself included, customize themes to match the brand, personal preferences, and to provide a great UX for visitors. If you can’t edit a theme yourself, a web design agency can help you choose a theme and develop a custom look and feel for your site by modifying the theme.

Advantages of building a website with a theme

Themes are inexpensive

If we were to compare the two options side-by-side, there’s no contest in terms of affordability. Website themes are a lot cheaper than hiring a developer and you can find many free themes out there (although I warn you that free themes often require extensive modifications and may not be stable or updated over time).

Buying a theme allows you to literally take something off-the-shelf, rather than employing a team of designers to build your website for you, although most developers and designers use themes rather than creating a website from scratch as we did in the early days of the internet. For this reason, many small businesses choose themes to reduce the cost of building a website. A good source for themes is ThemeForest by Envato, which sells themes for less than $100 and many themes require a single payment for lifetime use.

Themes are surprisingly diverse

You can select from a huge plethora of theme designs, many constructed with certain businesses in mind to make your search more efficient. A lot of business owners worry that their site will look similar to others when using a theme, given that a lot of companies might build a website using a particular theme. While many businesses might use the same theme, a good theme offers versatility to make each website look unique. Besides, you’ll find the commonalities among websites, such as the position of menus, use of hero images near the top (hero images are those large images), and product layout pages actually improve the UX of your website, making it easier for users to find what they want and need. Besides, unless you’re really sloppy when building your website, you check out the themes used by direct competitors to ensure your website looks different. Also, by using branded colors, fonts, and images, your can make your website your own despite using the same theme.

Drawbacks of using a theme

Themes aren’t unique

On the other hand, while you can find a large number of themes, they aren’t unique. Even if your site doesn’t look the same as your competition, the website might still feel like a very typical website. As mentioned earlier, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it helps visitors understand how to successfully navigate your website. After all, consider the ubiquitous shopping cart. It isn’t unique but its relationship to something nearly everyone knows how to use makes it a very useful tool.

The advantage of choosing a custom web design for building a website is that you can create a site that’s more unique, although I don’t know of any web developer that builds a website without using a theme, except in the case of an enterprise business.

Ensure you’re building a website to match your brand with unique images, fonts, and colors. Overusing stock images is the biggest factor in building a website that looks like everyone else’s. This level of customization is almost never provided with themes right out of the box, so to speak, and the reason you might need to hire a developer to build out customization. Hence, your theme may allow for blue colors throughout the content but there’s no guarantee the color provided matches the exact shade of blue demanded by your style guide.

Themes don’t come with support

Buying a theme when building a website is one thing, but do you know how to maintain it? What if you want to add or remove elements from your site layout or adjust the size of an element? When you opt for a custom web design, your designer customizes everything to ensure the website looks the way you envisioned. They also offer great advice based on best practices and design concepts to ensure your website performs at its best.

You’re not just paying someone to design your site, you’re often paying them to maintain it as well. Your web developer can handle updates and integrations with new plugins or adjust to new ranking factors that come about down the line, ensuring your site remains up-to-date with trends and stays up all the time.

In truth, having someone else maintain your website frees up an outrageous amount of your time as you aren’t worried about maintaining a website while running a business. However, don’t fall captive to your website developer in case you have a falling out later. Make sure the domain and hosting are registered in your name, not your developer’s, for instance, and ensure the developer provides administrative passwords to your website, hosting, theme, and any other protected assets that make up your website.

Themes become outdated

Over time, website design trends change along with SEO standards. For instance, the slider featured on many websites a few years ago is now gone, a casualty of Google’s interest in speeding up website load times. When you see a slider now, you know the website owner hasn’t bothered following trends and suffers an SEO penalty for his/her poor decisions.

WordPress also updates its CMS periodically to provide more features and plug security holes. For this reason, most good themes update the theme from time to time. You must ensure your CMS and theme are up-to-date or your risk damage and cyber threats to your website.

Should you use a theme for your business website?

After looking at the arguments for and against website themes, is it worth using them? Honestly, almost no one develops totally custom-built websites anymore due to the expense associated with crafting a website from scratch and maintaining that website as design standards and SEO factors change. The question is really one of using a developer to build your website using a theme or try to navigate the task yourself.  The answer to that question comes down to available resources and you trade off time and money, as well as the quality of the resulting website.

If you have a small budget, you might choose to build a website yourself. In addition to my ebook, there are lots of video tutorials and themes out there designed to make your task easier. Newer plugins even allow you to import a complete template to make your task even easier. A tool such as SiteOrigin and Elementor allow you to import a complete template, which you customize with your own text, images, and colors. While still challenging, these templates make your design task easier and help you adhere to design standards.

Conclusion

So, to answer the question, using a theme and building a website yourself versus hiring a professional developer is all about your current situation. Weigh the pros and cons, look at your budget, and then make your decision.

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