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Commentary: To Template Or Not To Template

Posted on 10.18.2006

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Aye…There’s The Design Rub

Mention using Web page templates to a professional Web designer and chances are excellent they will look at you as if you were a few meta tags short of being optimized. Downloading or purchasing a ready-to-go template is perfect for anyone who needs to make a website available quickly or does not have the desire or patience to learn how to use Web design software. But there are a few significant downsides that you should be aware of before walking the free template path. If you don’t have the patience to learn the intricacies of design, then chances are good that you probably don’t have the patience to run a Web-based business either.

With free Web page templates, all you do is open a template file using your favorite Web editing software, enter your information, graphics, then FTP the files to your domain. This is the reason why free webpage templates are so popular — it’s obviously the fastest and easiest way to setup an entire website.

The downside is that Web page template files are often distributed freely around the Internet and end up being used by thousands of websites. The result is that thousands of websites will look very similar — indistinguishable in some instances. If you really want your pages to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to make significant modifications or bite the bullet and pay for a qualified designer.

If your website is your business, then using free templates is considered by many to be a poor choice because many offerings are hastily produced and often contain significant design flaws. Since everyone wants to put their best foot forward, it’s important to understand that free templates can end up causing significant damage to your Web business image. But, you can avoid many of the problems associated with templates by modifying any CSS files that are included and renaming or replacing image files.

Also, be aware that most free templates were designed or optimized to look good for just one or two Web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer. Ideally, you should test the template across a number of popular browsers to make certain everything appears as it should be. Cross-browser testing is important and fairly easy to do — either test the page design yourself or use a service such as browsershots.org.

If you are having trouble deciding whether to use free website templates, a better option may be to use the templates as inspiration rather than an actual solution. There are many sites available which feature free templates to glean ideas from — www.openwebdesign.org or www.oswd.org, for example.

Whether or not to use free Web page templates is a decision only you can make. If you want your website up and running quick and don’t mind if it looks similar to other sites, then a free template could be for you. However, unless you make changes to the template file and test it in various Web browsers, forget about using them altogether. The best option, especially if your website is vital to your business, is to hire a professional Web designer to create a unique set of templates — it will pay off in the long run.


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