Because we get hired to speed up existing websites we have seen a variety of ways that WordPress websites are built. What we see most often is “custom websites” that are what we call “fill in the blank” websites from a theme that comes with pre-designed page layouts and templates.

On the surface, there is nothing technically wrong with using a pre-designed layout. Where I take issue with it is when it is sold to the customer as a “custom website”. This happens with WordPress, Squarespace and even the low-end subscription based websites like Wix and Weebly. Yes, even the low end subscription based websites are offered as “Custom Web Design” or even “Professional Web Design”.

Illustration of Website being put together

There Are Many Levels of Custom Website Design

Customized Websites

Customized websites start with a theme that typically has a few pre-built layouts and allow you to customize the fonts, colors and so on. This is common, and there is generally nothing wrong with them. Especially for do-it-yourself blogs etc.

Pre-Built Websites

Believe it or not, now there are entire websites pre-built for various industries! Zero original content, zero images unique to your business, zero work! Sure, you can save money, but, many web designers are selling these websites at a high cost as “custom” simply because they can get away with it.

Template Websites Using Pre-Built “Demo” Websites

Many of the multi-purpose themes include “Demo” websites you can import and use as your own (or your client) website. This is what I see a lot when I take over a website for a new client. The unfortunate thing is, every client I’ve seen in this situation got overcharged for a pre-built design.

Unfortunately these websites are bloated and more often than not, use a low-end page builder known by various names such as WP Bakery Composer, JS Composer etc. While I realize that the client already paid full price for a template website I usually recommend re-building it because if mobile page speed is your priority, a well built website will be much, much faster. NOTE: Mobile page speed should be every business owner’s priority.

Websites Using Pre-Built Modular Sections (Design Elements)

Many websites built today are an assembly project. Pre-built sections are added to rows and columns to create a layout that works and possibly choosing a built in color scheme because customizing every detail of a website can be very time consuming.

Websites Built From Scratch with Page Builders

Even simple WordPress websites are built with Page Builders today. That is because WordPress decided to create the Gutenberg page builder to compete with the other page builders on the market today. After years of avoiding page builders, even we use them today. In fact, this website is a custom website built with the Gutenberg page builder.

The main reason we use page builder’s today is because for more complex layouts it saves time. In particular ensuring that the layouts are responsive is easier with a page builder.

Websites Built From Scratch with HTML5 and Many Other Programming Languages

While most websites are built with “content management systems” and page builders, there are still many coders who prefer to do everything from pure code. There is nothing wrong with this either. Still, it is important to be aware that the fact that something is hand coded doesn’t mean it is well designed.

Benefits of a Website Built from Scratch

The best thing about building a website conscientiously, from scratch, is that the Search Engine Optimization will be much better. This can be done with a Page Builder too – but step by step vs. using pre-built modular rows of content which don’t consider the overall page hierarchy. Hierarchy problems are ubiquitous in anything pre-built whether it is an entire website, or pre-built sections. Hierarchy is important because it makes a website easier to understand for all people and search engines.

Another benefit is that it will likely be leaner (especially if the web developer is considering page weight). This is because the website will include ONLY what needs to be loaded to make everything work.

A third benefit is that it can truly be custom design.

Finally, the developer has an intimate knowledge of the website. As time goes on and changes are needed they are easier to make by someone who is very familiar with the design.

This brings up the question. Is a custom design important? It depends. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Most websites today are not using unique layouts which is fine because some layouts are really great for users. Some layouts make so much sense for your content that you have to use them. AND often a custom layout, a custom interaction, or feature can really make a difference to make your website stand out.

If you want a custom website, make sure you are actually getting what you pay for.