GUEST POST from Samantha Mabe
Have you ever been here? You decided to DIY your website (maybe for the first time or maybe you were just ready for a change), purchased a template, started adding your content, and then you stopped short. Your brand new template—the one you’ve already put hours into customizing—doesn’t have some of the features you need. Or maybe it has everything you need, but it just doesn’t feel like you.
You aren’t alone. When I purchased my first website template, I had no idea what I was doing, so I just picked the prettiest one I could find. And it wasn’t long before I had outgrown it.
When choosing a website template, how do you get it right the first time and jost just hope you’re guessing correctly?
What’s your goal?
The first thing you have to decide when choosing a website template is what the main goal of your website is. (I’ll give you a hint: If you sell a product or a service, your goal is to sell.)
I always start with the main goal of the website because the design for a photographer is going to look different than a website created for an actor.
Maybe you need an e-commerce website to host your online store. Or you might only need to share information about your services and how people can hire you. Your goal may also be to educate people and share content through your blog or to demonstrate your work through a portfolio.
What features do you need?
Do you need e-commerce? Will you be writing blog posts? Do you have images you want to share in a gallery? Knowing which features are must haves will help you narrow down your template options.
Once you’ve made a list of the features your website will need, start weeding out templates template that don’t include those features or that make it a hassle to incorporate them.
These are some common features you may want to include on your list:
- Banner images
- Footer and pre-footer
- Mobile-friendly (this is a must!)
- Search capability
- Navigation bar
- Scrolling or parallax capability
- Full-page images
What platform are you using?
The template options you have are going to be limited by the website platform you’re using. If you use Squarespace for your website, you’re limited to one of their pre-designed templates. For WordPress, anyone can design a template, so you have a wide variety to choose from, although WordPress doesn’t guarantee they’ll work correctly. For other website platforms (such as Wix or Weebly), you may have different template options, but they won’t be the same as those for WordPress or Squarespace.
I use Squarespace for my clients because there are a variety of template options and it’s easy for them to update their website on their own once it’s designed. But I also know many people prefer WordPress because the platform is free and you can use widgets to add functionality.
You may choose your platform based on the template you want to use, but it’s also important to consider the platform features and ease of use.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Do you want to offer courses? Create a wholesale login area? Build a digital store or resource library?
It may seem silly to choose a website platform based on where you want your business to be years down the road, but it’s much easier to grow if your website template has the capability to grow with you.
Consider your big goals and what you will need your website to do in order to get there. These functions don’t have to be must-haves, but they should be nice-to-haves that can help you make your final decision.
How do you choose a template?
Now that you’ve determined the goal of your website, made a list of features you need, and chosen a platform, it’s time to go about choosing a website template.
Always start by doing a broad search for templates that work with your platform and then narrow down this list based on your goals and must-have features. When you’ve found a few options you like, try their demos and visit other websites using the template to see how it works. Consider if it fits your brand style, the customization features available, and the user experience.
A word about customization—even if you can’t customize your website template yourself, don’t limit your future growth by choosing a template that has limited or no customizable features. Down the road you may choose to hire a designer or developer and if they can’t work with your current template, you may have to start fresh.
You’ll also want to consider how popular the templates you’re looking at are for other people in your industry. There will be some overlap, but if it seems like everyone is using the same template, consider going with something else so you can stand out.
What if you chose the wrong one?
So what happens if you’ve gone through the entire process, but you still ended up with a template that isn’t right? First, it’s okay—we’ve all been there. Depending on your platform, you may be able to switch templates without buying something new (Squarespace allows you to do this) or you may be able to find some workarounds by searching online.
If you’ve tried that and you still can’t make your template work, you may have to start the process over and find something else. But at least now you know you need to add certain features or functionality to your list that you didn’t before.
Don’t hesitate to ask experts for additional help (Facebook groups are a great way to get advice) or to hire someone to design and develop your website if your budget allows it.
Samantha Mabe is a brand and website designer who helps creative entrepreneurs share their vision through design. Her background is in design and architecture, but she’s been creating since she could hold a pencil. She focuses on working with creative entrepreneurs who are ready to dig into what makes them unique, share their vision, and build a brand that represents them. Samantha is a Pittsburgh native now living in Richmond, Virginia where she spends her days designing brands and websites and her evenings watching Netflix with her husband and their dog #gambittheweshi.
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