What is a Custom Website?
A custom site is one built for your company's exact needs. This is usually built by a seasoned developer who spends a lot of time with you and your company to define the big picture goals of the build, budget and timeline restraints, and any idiosyncrasies of the brand that they need to be made aware of. This is usually the discovery module of the process.
From there, a custom shop will usually go into site mapping to take the conversation and start to outline it so the build can stay on budget and on time for delivery. Be prepared to pay for the discovery and site-map process, as it takes a lot of time and energy and ultimately, is the skeleton for your website.
Expect to pay more for a custom site. Why? Because you're building something exactly to your design and functionality needs.
I want to be 100% clear. There are a lot of bad developers on both sides of this fence, so make sure to vet your web agency thoroughly before committing since it is a huge and often long-term relationship. I hear all the time, "I would never build a custom site because then I'm at the mercy of my developer." This definitely used to be true, but again, the right shop will usually have a custom CMS that they have perfected over time that should be extremely user-friendly and NOT require their assistance (and an invoice) every time you need anything fixed on the site.
I think custom shops have gotten a bad rap for a long time because of this misnomer. The truth is that a lot of so-called "custom" shops were not really custom, or they were still outsourcing their work overseas which can make communication extremely challenging.
I also want to be 100% clear that just because someone can code a website from the ground up doesn't mean that they're the right developer. In fact, I had a recent client who had an existing site built from 100% original code. Sounds amazing right? Wrong!
That meant that only the developer knew the "why" behind the code structure and functionality. This made it extremely challenging to make any structural changes. What was even worse, because the code had been built years ago, it did not have the proper security or updated "plugins" for lack of better word to ensure the site was current, could be crawled properly by google, and, most importantly, not be hacked. What do you think happened to the site? Let's just say I think I grew several new strands of grey hair putting lipstick on that pig.
How Do You Know If You Need a Custom Site?
- You have the budget (custom sites can range from $15k-$100k+)
- You have special nuances you want implemented
- You want an elevated design aesthetic that's not limited to "skinning" existing templates
What is a Customizeable Website?
This is the WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, etc. of the world. These are "plug and play" platforms where you pick the template you like, add the content and can make some basic changes, but not to the core structure of the site. Now, don't get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with one of these sites, and I would say probably 80% of the sites out there are NOT custom.
Think about all of the small businesses in the world. There's no way they could afford a budget like mentioned above. It's also not a smart business move to build something custom unless you are venture backed, have those very specific needs, or, were born with a silver spoon. Then, I say, go for it!
My agency has worked with hundreds of brands and built dozens of sites both custom and customized, and both have worked great for our clients. The beauty about a platform like WordPress is that because of its ubiquitous nature, developers are always building new plugins to make their platform more "plug and play."
This includes security measures, SEO plugins for search, e-commerce integrations, the list goes on and on. The platform is built on open source code, which means it can be easily tweaked to a company's needs. The back end is also fairly intuitive, which makes it easy for a business to make changes once the initial build is delivered.
How Do You Know If You Need a Customizeable Site?
- You have a limited budget
- You're a new company and don't want to spend money on a custom site until you hit certain revenue goals
- You just need a simple brochure-type site or, if you are e-commerce, you are willing to use the plugins available to keep expenses low for now
- Good enough is good enough
Think about the differences between a custom and a customized site like the difference between a Honda and a Ferrari. A Honda will get you from point A to point B and you can add a tint, some rims and change the color, but let's face it, it's not quite as stylish as a Ferrari, nor as custom when you order. The good news is that you also won't be paying Ferrari prices, so there's that. Let's face it, everyone wants a Ferrari, but most people end up with something in the Honda or Lexus range. It's up to you to determine your mode of transportation.