welcome to techville

Learn Stuff

Template-generated websites – are they for you?

If you need a website, you might feel overwhelmed by the array of choices out there. There's a wide range of costs and services related to the creation of a website, from database-driven template services that create your website on-the-fly (based on information you've previously provided) and cost very little upfront, to full-service web design firms that cost more upfront but take care of everything for you.

How do you decide which website creation option is right for you? The following information should help you make the best choice.

Database-driven template sites

Most template-based web-creation services use a database to create your site. This means that you don't have to learn anything about HTML code, how to use a web design program, or how to copy files (called FTP'ing) to and from the web server.

Here's how it works: You simply browse to the template company's website and purchase a template (and, most likely, an associated monthly hosting charge) from their portfolio. Then you fill in forms on their website, providing the titles (e.g. "Home," "About Us," "Our Services," etc.), headings, text, and graphics for each page. The information for each page is then stored in a database.

The template company associates this web page information with your website address (e.g. www.example.com). Then, every time somebody browses your website, each of its pages are built on-the-fly (by extracting the page-description information from the database).

The good

The benefits of a template-based website are obvious. They're cheap (at least, they SHOULD be). They're easy to create and update. And they usually look attractive and professional.

The bad

The first downside can be long-term cost. Although they're usually cheap to create, some template-based sites charge high monthly fees. Worse yet, these high fees can be tied to a long-term contract. This is where web companies can really make their money. They may lose money upfront when creating the site, but it doesn't take long for those monthly charges to more than make up for it. Think of how often cell phone companies "give away" expensive, $300 cell phones. They're more than willing to give the phone to you for free, because it won't take many months' worth of cell phone charges to make up for it. The same thing goes for monthly web fees.

The overall cost of this type of website should be less than $200 for the first year (some services are even less than $100!).

Another downside can be the ease of customization. These sites are indeed easy to create, as long as you "color within the lines." As soon as you want to do something with a web page that the template doesn't support, however, things can get very tricky. To start fine-tuning the features of the page, somebody will need to dig into the nitty gritty of the HTML code, which might not be allowed.

Other concerns include poor usability, pages that are slow to display (even if the visitor has a high-speed Internet connection), and unintuitive URLs (web addresses). For example, the FAQ page's URL might be something like www.example.com/page_content.php?pageid=123555 or www.example.com/page3.htm, instead of something simple like www.example.com/faq.htm.

Another problem with these database-generated URLs is that they can degrade your site's search engine placement.

Finally, if you ever become unhappy with that company, you can't easily move your website elsewhere. The database connections that feed the website are tightly configured with the web and database servers run by the template company.

The "in-between" template service

There's another type of website template service, where you purchase a template, download the web files for that template to your computer, add your content and graphics to those files by using a web design program, and then "FTP" them back up to the web server.

These web pages are NOT tied to a database, and you have more control over what they look like (because you actually get your hands "dirty" in the HTML code), but they also require you to learn MUCH more about web building. Before you know it, you'll start down the slippery slope of babysitting your website instead of concentrating on your core business.

The "full-service" web design firm

A full-service web design firm will build a customized website specific to your needs. They may also provide copywriting, search engine optimization, usability studies, graphic design, etc. Because of the level of service provided, these firms will cost more upfront than either of the previous options. (However, ongoing costs are typically much lower).

What to do

If you're truly on a tight budget, a template-based website may well make sense for you, especially in the short term. Of course, this assumes that you pay a low price for the creation of the website AND the recurring hosting fees are economical.

To get you started, here are some well-known, template-based (and usually database-generated), website services:

Note: Because a major aspect of Dotster and GoDaddy's businesses are domain registration, they may require that you register your domain with them (or transfer it to them if you already have one). So be sure to include the annual domain registration fee when you're calculating the website's cost. These fees range from as little as little as $9, up to around $40, depending on the company.

To learn more about domain names, see some of our TechVille articles from previous months, at www.ZolMedia.com/TechVille.

In conclusion

If the expense of a professional, custom-built website just doesn't make sense for you at this time, you can still create a very usable site by using a template service. Just be sure that the monthly costs are inexpensive (including the web hosting fees), and that you retain full control and ownership of your website.

Then, if you decide later on that you've outgrown your template-based website and need a full-service web design partner, you'll be more familiar with the ins and outs of owning a website and which high-end web services you truly need.

Register  |  Login