Should I buy a web site template?

Not so Easy WebsitesFor some reason web designer seems to be one of those jobs that lots of people think they could do if they just get through the “Web Magic For Dummies” book. And maybe one of the reasons why web design seems so accessible are all those sites that offer “free” website templates and promise that you can be up and running in a couple of hours.

The “freelancer wanted” bulletin boards are littered with pleas from small business owners who need help making their web templates work. You will not be alone.

On occasion, I have been asked to design a website using a purchased template. It’s not my favorite way to do things, but there are some advantages.  Most templates are well designed and use clean, valid code. And they’re compliant with popular browsers. But editing them is not for amateurs.

If you don’t know at least a little something about html and css, a web template is probably not for you. Even a moderately experienced designer will have to come up with some ingenious work-arounds to adjust a canned template for a real customer.

However, if you’re a bit of techno geek, and you’d like to learn about building websites, and you don’t mind spending long hours at your computer making your template work, then go for it. It’s fun. And you will have a somewhat valuable skill when you’re done.

On the other hand, if you’re not a geek of any kind, here’s my advice: gird your loins, look at your budget, and hire a professional to do the work. Get estimates from a few designers, and be specific about the scope of work. Adjust what needs to be done to fit your budget.

But what if you really have no budget?  Look into a totally and utterly free blog. WordPress is my preferred blog provider at the moment, but there are other good providers out there, like blogger. If you want to brand your blog with logos, backgrounds and customized pages, you may need some assistance.  Don’t expect to be able to do much customizing right away, but a blog will give you a functioning online presence, and a way to engage in dialogue with users.

Perhaps your 12-year-old nephew spends too much time online already, and his skills could be put to use.

Facebook pages and twitter are two more ways to get online and start networking for free. But please don’t confuse the idea of “free” with “guaranteed popularity.” You have got to be in it to win it with social networking, and the constant provision of content and feedback that drive successful social networking can eat up a lot of time. There are professionals today who are becoming experts at marketing with these tools, and their services can be worth every penny.

While I wave most newbies off templates, there is one group to whom I freely recommend them: developers. If you are a developer — someone who makes websites function efficiently and securely using back- or front-end coding — but would be happy with green type on a black background, then you would be smart to invest in a template. You know how the code works, but you just don’t have a feel for design. For you, my brainiac friends, a template could be just the ticket.

Still wondering if a template is right for you? Try this simple test: the Should I Buy a Website Template Decision Tree

And stay tuned for the next article: How do I find a web designer?

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