What is a custom website? What do they cost and do you need one?

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what is custom website

You’ve probably seen the term “custom website” being thrown around.

Many web agencies and web designers say that they build custom websites, but what does that really mean? What is a custom website, exactly?

Here’s a short and condensed definition of what a custom website is:

Custom websites are tailored to fit a company’s needs and brand. Some or all parts of the website might be custom, such as the colors, layout, icons, images, and fonts. A custom website can be built by modifying a template or it can be built from scratch using code or a page builder.

In the end, almost any website can be considered custom, because most websites, even websites using templates are customized to fit a business.

That’s why there is no clear definition of what a custom website is. Instead, it makes sense to think of custom websites using a gradient.

The least custom website is one that is built with a pre-made website template without e.g. replacing the stock images or even the placeholder text.

On the other hand, the most custom website is hand-coded and uses custom photography, and has unique content.

The website might even be a web application. Technically, Facebook and Google Docs could be considered custom websites.

That’s why it’s important to understand the difference between a template website and a fully custom website, so let’s start there:

What is the difference between a custom website and a template website?

The general difference is that a template website uses a bought, ready-made template or theme while a custom website can be modified or built from scratch to better fit a company’s goal or brand.

But because each agency and developer does things differently, there is no clear difference.

Some agencies classify modified template websites as custom websites.

A custom website to another agency might mean coding every part of the website from scratch. This might even include building a custom content management system to let you modify the website yourself.

To make the difference clearer, here is a template website package from a big web agency in Toronto:

template website features and pricing
Example of template website package

Compare that to the same agency’s customized template website package and you can see that a lot more time is spent to make it, as it contains more customization:

customized template website features
Example of customized template website package

Now, compare that package to their most custom website package and you can understand why custom websites can be so expensive as this package is jam-packed full of features and customization:

fully custom website features
Example of fully custom website package

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the difference between template websites and custom websites:

Template websites are a fast and affordable solution

Template websites are usually affordable and they rarely include much customization.

They might include minor customization like swapping out images, text and logos. You also typically won’t get many revisions, because the idea is that the website can be built quickly to keep the costs low.

If you get a template website it will most likely be built with WordPress, using a premium WordPress template, or theme, as they’re also called.

Some web designers also use other platforms that have templates, like Webflow, Squarespace, or Weebly.

The biggest reason why people get template websites is that they are cheap.

You can get a professional WordPress theme for your business for around $50, or less on a theme marketplace like Themeforest.

themeforest website template marketplace
Professional WordPress themes can be purchased on Themeforest

If you want to set up your website yourself, you will have to do some technical stuff. You’ll have to get website hosting, install and configure the theme, get an SSL-certificate, among other things.

That’s why many web agencies sell template websites, where they take care of all of this for you.

The next step up in price and amount of customization is a customized template website.

Customized template websites fit your brand better

A customized template website usually means that the colors, the logos, the text, the images, and sometimes parts of the design are custom. More revisions might be included.

Anything is possible with a fully custom website

A fully custom website can be either built from scratch with code or using a website-builder, depending on your needs.

A fully custom website might include a consultation, an in-depth plan for the website, and wireframes and mockups of the design.

You might be able to get many or unlimited revisions. If needed, special features can also be coded.

Why get a custom website?

The most obvious benefit of getting a custom website is that the design can be unique. A custom website can better capture the look and feel of your business.

But, the most important benefits are not visual.

A custom website can also be built from the ground-up, to generate more leads and sales for your business, giving you a higher return on your investment.

When building a custom website the general goal is to make sure that:

  • The website’s design is great and up to the standards set by the competitors in your industry.
  • The website is easy to use for you customers, so that they can find what they are looking for without any problems.
  • The website has quality content that engages your customers
  • The website is optimized for search engines so that it shows up when potential customers search for your services. This leads to more organic traffic.

These are some of the most important factors that will determine how successful a website is, custom or not.

The web agency building your custom website will use a process they have honed over time, to ensure that your website nails each of these points.

To build a website that gets you results, the agency or freelancer needs to gather information about you, your business, your customers, and your competitors.

This might take one or more meetings. You might also have to fill out questionnaires.

business growth chart
A custom website can help a business grow quicker

Who needs a custom website?

Getting a custom website makes sense if:

  • Building a brand online is important to you
  • You need to get new customers through your website
  • Your website needs custom functionality that you can’t get with plugins

For many local and small businesses it might not make sense to pay thousands for a fully custom website.

It might be smarter to use a website template and make small changes to the template instead.

Here are some pros and cons of using a template or a custom website to help you decide what is right for your business:

Pros and cons of template and custom websites

Pros of template websites

  • The website can be built faster
  • Cheaper price

Cons of template websites

  • The design might exist on many other websites
  • A free template can make your website vulnerable to attacks
  • The template might not work well for your business or industry

Pros of custom websites

  • The website will better reflect the look and feel of your business
  • The design will be unique
  • The website can be designed to be more appealing to your customers, making them more likely to engage and stay on the website longer
  • Advanced, custom functionalities can be custom coded

Cons of custom websites

  • It’s more expensive, especially for a fully custom website
  • It takes longer to build

How much does a custom website cost?

A custom website, depending on how much work is put into making it custom, can cost anywhere from $800 – $100,000, or even more. It depends on how custom the website needs to be.

A website with a custom design that is built using a drag-and-drop website builder will usually cost less because it takes less time to build.

If an in-depth consultation isn’t included, it can cost between $800 – $3000, depending on the experience level of the agency or developer.

How much does a fully custom website cost?

This naturally depends on what is meant by fully custom.

A website that takes many months to build, because it’s completely coded from scratch and it needs to fulfill a lot of requirements could cost over 100K.

It’s not unusual for big companies to spend millions on the development of their websites.

But, usually a fully custom website that is built using a CMS like WordPress and that includes a consultation will cost between $3000 – $6000.

A website at this price will be fully customized according to your needs and it will usually be designed from scratch by an experienced designer.

How long does it take to build a custom website?

Building a custom website can take anything from a week to many months, depending on how custom it needs to be.

A website with a custom design that is built using a drag-and-drop website builder is technically a custom website. Such a website can be built in a couple of days if all the content is ready.

But usually, building a custom website requires multiple revisions, which means many messages back and forth.

Each revision can take between 1-3 days or more to implement. You might also have to book many meetings to get to the bottom of what you need.

Some other services that can extend the time it takes to build your custom website include:

  • Designing a custom logo for your business
  • On-site photography
  • Copywriting (writing text to sell your services or products)
  • Graphic design services like custom icons or illustrations for your website
  • Custom features that require coding

All of this will add to the time it takes to build the website by days, weeks, or months.

Looking for a custom website built using WordPress for hundreds and not thousands? Check out my affordable custom website design services.

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