How to Choose Between a Custom vs. Semi-Custom Website

September 16, 2020

When it comes to building a new website for your business, there are A LOT of decisions to make! First you have to choose a website platform. Then you have to decide how many you’ll need and what features will you use to make it more engaging for your audience. 

But one of the big decisions that you’ll have to make when working with a designer is whether you need a semi-custom or fully custom website. So in this post, I’m going to walk you through the difference between these 2 options and how to figure out which one is best for you!

First, what is a custom website?

A custom website means that the site is designed completely from scratch. Rather than starting with a pre-made theme or template, you start with a blank canvas and design every section of site to meet your unique needs.

Who are they for?

Custom websites are best for established businesses that have a deep understanding of who their audience is and very specific goals for their website. The more complicated your website is, the more likely you’ll need a custom design.

If you plan on having lots of pages on your site, each with unique information that needs to be presented in a way that’s really engaging to your audience, a custom design is probably going to be your best option. This way, you’ll have the freedom to design every section of every page exactly how you want.

  • Totally unique to your business
  • Flexibility to design things more strategically
  • No limitations to what you can add to your site
  • Takes a lot of time (2-3 months)
  • Big investment ($10k+)
What is a semi-custom website?

A semi-custom website means that your designer uses a pre-made theme or template as a starting point for your website. Then they add customizations to the theme so that it feels more unique to your branding and business. The level of customization depends on the designer, but most will use CSS to alter the theme’s colors, fonts, and even layouts so that the final website doesn’t feel like a pre-made template anymore.

Who are they for?

Semi-custom websites are best for newer businesses or brands that want a great website, but don’t necessarily need all the custom bells and whistles yet.

If the content of your website is more simple and doesn’t need any fancy features, then a semi-custom site is most likely the best option for you. Semi-custom sites don’t have to be boring, but it’s important that you hire a really good designer who can make enough customizations so the site still feels unique. (My website is actually a semi-custom design, believe it or not!)

  • Takes less time (1-2 months)
  • Lower price point (~ $5k)
  • Design limitations
  • May not feel as unique as a custom site

My Expert Opinion

As a designer who has worked on lots of webites, I believe that most businesses don’t really need a custom website. Are custom websites amazing and super fun to create? Absolutely! But the truth is that semi-custom sites can often get the job done and are much more affordable for small businesses. You just have to make sure that you choose a a high quality designer who does good work and can get you the most out of that investment.

If you’re still unsure about which type of website you need, I have a fun little quiz for you to take below! Just answer a couple of questions and I’ll tell you what I think is the right move for you. Click here to jump straight to the quiz!

When in doubt, always ask your designer!

No matter what results you got from the quiz or what you think is the best option for you – always ask your designer what they recommend! Every designer is different and I think it’s important to get their opinion on whether custom or semi-custom is the way to go. 

When reaching out to a designer about your website project, you should be prepared to give them as much info as possible about what your website will need – like number of pages, special features, etc. After sharing that information with them, ask what they think will be the best approach to accomplish all of your website goals. If they agree with what you assumed was the right direction – great! If not, ask them to explain why and talk about the different benefits of going in the direction that they think is best. A good designer will always want to find the solution that will get you the best results, so listen to them 😉

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