Custom Versus Template Websites: Everything You Need To Know


In today’s digital age, 97% of consumers go online to find a local business. Even more staggering, 30% of consumers won’t even consider a business without a website, making a law firm’s website its primary and most important piece of marketing “real estate.” A website, more than any other digital property, is fully customizable to convey the law firm’s brand identity, voice, and areas of differentiation and distinction. Unlike other digital assets – such as social media channels or directory listings – a law firm has complete control over how its website looks, feels, and operates. With this complete control, however, come a million decisions to make.

Building a new website or redesigning an existing one can vary widely in price depending on a variety of factors. Below are the most common types of new websites, along with their pros and cons.

Option #1: Custom Design and Development

A fully custom law firm website design allows the firm to really dictate exactly what they want included in their website. Does your firm have a lot of press or media exposure? Build in a dedicated “As Seen In” feature to showcase the firm’s public relations acumen. If your firm has a large number of attorneys in multiple offices, make the main attorneys page a database searchable by office location, industry, and/or practice area. By designing a fully custom website, your firm can really create the perfect vehicle to highlight its most noteworthy elements.

A custom design also captures a firm’s brand identity and voice. This means a website can be more traditional or more modern, sleek and clean or more design heavy, more imagery focused or heavy on iconography. All of these elements work together to convey the “feel” of your firm to the public, so having the ability to control every last detail can help you present the perfect message.

In addition to design, a custom website has a second component: development. This is essentially the coding that visually renders your website online. With a custom developed website, development coding won’t be weighed down with unnecessary components many theme or template sites often contain (see Option #2 below). Google likes websites that load quickly (as do users), so the less your website has weighing it down, the better. A custom developed website also generally has a more user-friendly backend, making it much easier for someone from your firm to post updates, add attorneys, or make changes in general.

Cost: Pricing in this category can vary extensively, ranging anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. When speaking with vendors, make sure you know the exact scope of work they are providing and what is included in the price. Also, check to see what content management system (CMS) the website will be developed on, and if it is open-source. An open-source CMS allows you to take your website with you to any other designer or developer, whereas a proprietary CMS is likely non-transferrable from that vendor. Also, be wary of any vendor offering a fully custom designed and developed website for a bargain basement price; more than likely, they are actually offering a theme or template site.

Option #2: Theme or Template Website

A lot of websites are built on a theme or a template as semi-custom websites, and come in all shapes and sizes. The most basic of these options are “build your own” sites like Wix or Squarespace, designed to be very user-friendly for the builder, but generally lacking a lot of the functionality necessary for search engine optimization. While these templates work well for artists, restaurants, bands, and the like, they generally aren’t geared for professional services providers like law firms.

Next in line are WordPress themes. WordPress is an open-source content management system (CMS) and arguably the most popular one, powering 25% of the world’s websites. Because of its overwhelming popularity, millions of themes (or templates) have been designed utilizing this option. (Important to note, custom designed and developed websites can also utilize WordPress; in fact, we work with this CMS for the majority of our law firm websites.)

Using a WordPress theme is generally less expensive than designing and developing a website from scratch, but you will have greater limitations on functionality, design parameters, and branding. If you’re using a theme designed for a variety of industries, it may also contain extraneous features – such as e-commerce functionality or product pages – that are not useful for a law firm and can saddle the website with a lot of extra unnecessary code. Additionally, you will still need a developer or someone well versed with WordPress to get the theme installed correctly, so this definitely isn’t a DIY solution, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Alternatively, many legal industry service providers offer website packages, which often utilize the template or theme model. These are usually built on a propriety CMS created by the company, drastically restricting your ability to cut ties with that vendor down the line.

Cost: Pricing can again vary quite a bit, and is incredibly dependent on how much work the vendor is providing – particularly if they are writing custom content for your website. Reasonably, a semi-custom or theme site for a law firm ranges between $4,000 and $6,000. Make sure you know exactly what is included in the scope of work, how many pages of content the vendor is providing, if the content is optimized for search engines, and if the site will be speed-optimized as well.

Is Your Firm Ready for a New Website?

At Stacey E. Burke, P.C., we specialize in marketing exclusively for law firms, and we’ve built hundreds of websites for law firms across the country. Because of our experience in the legal industry, we understand the design and development needs of professional services providers, and we can help make the process as painless as possible. We offer both fully custom websites as well as our own proprietary semi-custom theme websites specially developed with law firms in mind. Contact us today to find out how we can help give your firm a new digital face this year.

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