To use a WordPress template or not?

Joomla

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Should you use a WordPress template or not?

These days, small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have a lot of extra cash for custom design.

There are spectacular templates available that let web designers and developers save a lot of time (and money for the customer). You can pick the look you want, and voila!

Here’s the thing. Working with templates is not as easy as it first appears.

Not all templates are alike. And not all template vendors are alike. I used to buy templates (Joomla, WordPress, and others) from a company known as Template Monster, and I’ve tried a few others as well (such as Theme Forest — please avoid both of these!). I no longer buy from them. Nor do I want you to.

Why?

Template designers for the “factory” web sites such as Template Monster are very uneven in their knowledge of CSS, their own development code (such as WordPress, Joomla, and others)  and of design and WordPress implementation principles in general. If you buy a template from a template factory, you’ve fallen in love with the look. The look may not be something you can work with.

Each template (just like its designer) is different. You may or may not be able to change colors, backgrounds, pictures, links, and other basic criteria with ease. You may not be able to change them at all. These are items I, as a web designer, am normally able to change myself, and that’s fine, but my customer never will be able to. Plus, there’s no refund after purchase. None.

Case in point.

I bought a template for a “quick” web site for a local real estate developer. They didn’t want to “pay a lot for that muffler,” so I went with a template.

As it turns out, the very sexy part of this template is unchangeable. I can’t change the timing of the multimedia slides I insert, nor can I change the slides themselves without getting into PHP code. A good template lets users change things from within the WordPress admin area. The vendor offered to fix the timing issue (which he called a “major customization”) for a price.

I recently purchased a template that claimed to be compatible with WordPress version 2.9. As with software (such as MS Word), I assumed this to mean version 2.9 AND UP. But no.

I also recently purchased a template that I later discovered was not “widget-ready.” Fine print again. I made the template widget ready only to discover that the stock code provided by the designer would not allow the widgets to perform correctly. In fact, the designer’s code was horribly wrong. I had to fix the code. All of this took hours.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been extremely happy with some of the templates, and found that they deliver what they appear to. I consider this luck.

So not only do you need to read the fine print, you need to know your needs EXACTLY if you’re buying a template from a “farm.” And most of us can’t predict ahead of time whether a client will suddenly require a sign-up form, or a slider, or another feature that is incompatible with, or difficult to program, in the purchased template.

There are some very reliable vendors of templates. I’ll mention a few here, and then keep increasing the list as I find more:

These folks stand behind their products and work hard to keep them up to date. But always check a vendor’s return policy and make sure it’s something you can live with. Some will make you prove that the template you purchased is defective (not merely inadequate), and will only offer you a new template, not a refund.

So please don’t fall prey to the “Wild West” of templates. If you insist on building your own website with a template, please contact someone who can help you through the process.

I will say this: If you contact me to help you buy a WordPress theme, I’ll charge you a mere $100 to make the right choice for you. And your theme will probably cost $50-$100. 410.404.5559. Or susan@basecamppro.com. And I can follow through and deliver you a final product for $2,000 and up, depending on your needs.

Happy WordPressing!

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How to get a great web site design and price

Apple.

Image via Wikipedia

OK, I’ve written about this topic extensively for film and video. And you know what? The principles are the same for web design.

If you ask three web designers for a price, you get what? Well, three different ideas, three different prices.

How to get a great web site design and price?

How can you get your web designers to bid on apples and apples, not apples and oranges?

  1. You start with three web designers whose work you like.
  2. You send each the same specifications (specs).
  3. You choose the bid you prefer, whether it’s based solely on price or not.

So, how to come up with the right specs?

Follow this checklist:

  1. # of pages
  2. # of forms needed (e.g., sign-up)
  3. would you like to be able to make your own changes to the web site? (This will tell your designer whether to use a content management system, or CMS)
  4. ecommerce? (e.g., are you doing to be selling items on your web site? How many?)
  5. do you need a blog?
  6. do you need photography?
  7. do you need a logo design?
  8. what’s your style? clean and spare? elegant? simple or wordy?
  9. are you including video? Does the video exist yet, or is that part of the package?
  10. do you need writing? (This is highly recommended! and not all web designers provide writing.)
  11. Do you need search engine optimization? Search engine marketing? They’re two different things, and if you’re not sure what each means, then you need an expert to help you.

Of course, this list isn’t foolproof. You may have a logo made by your son-in-law that you think is spectacular, but doesn’t work on the web. Or in print. A good logo designer will make you a set of logos good for every reason and season.

Also, your designer may recommend a different number of pages or photos. No matter. You’ve asked each of three companies to bid on the same specs, which will tell you a lot.

However, please don’t judge your bidders solely on price. Take a look at what they can do. Meet with each one. Determine whether there’s “getalongability” … you’re going to be working with this person or company for at least a few months (maybe more), so make sure you’re comfortable. Some folks select web design companies on price alone … and I can’t tell you how many really bad web sites come of that.

How to save money on web design in Virginia

The City of Williamsburg‘s Economic Development group used to offer small businesses an economic incentive to creating websites. However, this program and one like it in James City County seem to have given way to other programs, probably with the emergence of DIY and other cost-saving technology.

I’ve left this link up just to let you know, in the event you’re coming from one of our external links.

If you do hear anymore about this, please use our Contact page to tell us about it.

Keep in mind, however, that DIY opportunities such as Wix and WordPress templates don’t help with your need for content development and search engine optimization. Give us a call if you want to know more.

Thanks!

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