When you’re out shopping in the real world do you care about the quality of the products you’re buying, or what the physical shop looks like?
Your first answer might be to say you don’t care about the store you’re buying something from, it’s the thing you’re buying that matters.
That makes sense. After all, whether or not a product will do what it’s supposed to and is built to last doesn’t really have anything to do with where you’ve bought it from.
In reality though, store design has a big impact on our shopping habits, from affecting how long we stay in-store to how easy it is to find the products we want to buy.
The same is true for a website.
If you’re planning to launch your first online design portfolio it’s tempting to take the cheapest option, and usually these will be template websites from the likes of Wix and Squarespace.
However, like any successful retailer, you need to create a shopfront that’s going to sell your services, not save you the most money. Because in the long run, it will cost you.
Here are five reasons you should avoid using a template website for your design portfolio.
You’re renting it, you don’t own it
When you use a template builder for your website you never actually own it — you’re simply renting the space.
Sure, you get to customise the look of the site as much as the limitations of the builder allow (more on this in the next section), but if you’re unhappy with any element of the vendor’s service, for example customer support or load speed, you can’t just transfer it to a new provider. You’ll have to leave it all behind and start again.
This isn’t the case when you have a custom website built for you by an agency or developer. You have complete ownership of the website, and you’re free to move it to a different web host or web agency at any time.
There are strict design limitations
As the name suggests, website template builders significantly restrict your design options. You’ll be able to choose basic things like colours, fonts and add your own images, but that’s about it.
For some businesses this isn’t a huge issue, but you’re a designer. It’s not just your work examples that sell you, it’s the whole website, and a simple, identikit template site isn’t going to do that. It might even include ads, which isn’t going to just impact the look of the site, but the user experience too.
You’ll also be restricted in what features are available out-of-the-box. For example, you might have to pay additional monthly costs for certain plugins, like a meetings calendar, Mailchimp integration or online shop.
One of the benefits of a template website builder is how low cost they are to start with, but those costs soon mount up if you want more advanced features. And remember, these extra charges are just adding to your rental cost — you still don’t own anything.
By comparison, a custom WordPress site will often have free plugin solutions available, and you can then style it exactly how you like.
Limited search engine optimisation (SEO) features
There are lots of ways to promote your website once it’s built, but getting found on Google is still the number one driver of traffic for most businesses.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need to be a web developer once you understand the basic elements your content requires to rank higher in Google search. Unfortunately, template builders again limit you with what SEO features you can implement.
A web agency or developer will create your website with SEO best practice in mind and give you the best foundation to build from, maximising your organic search traffic.
Templates aren’t great for conversion optimisation
It’s all well and good someone finding your website — you then need them to take the actions you want them to. This might be booking a call, buying a piece of your work or submitting a contact form.
Custom websites can be designed with your specific target market’s user journey in mind. What content will they want to see first, and where should they be taken to from specific web pages, based on user intent?
Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is all about testing and learning, and when you own your website you can experiment with different calls-to-action, website navigation designs and contact form designs.
Again, a template website makes this next to impossible.
You won’t be able to place buttons or forms where you want them, you’ll be stuck with a basic navigation bar and you won’t be able to perfect your site’s user journey.
Not all templates are responsive
Last year, more than half of all website traffic was from a mobile device, and this will only continue to grow.
If your online portfolio isn’t mobile-friendly you could be missing out on over 50% of your target market.
A bespoke website can be built with mobile responsiveness in mind, while you can even have certain pages look completely different based on the device they’re accessed from. By comparison, free and cheap template sites often deliver poor mobile user experiences.
Template website builders can seem tempting when you’re first looking at building your website. They appear to be low cost and easy to get started with.
However, there are a whole range of issues you’ll run into down the line and, as we already mentioned, they can often end up becoming expensive if you want anything beyond basic functionality.
Want to find out more about creating a design portfolio that will actually work for you?