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Free Template Vs. Professional Site Design

 
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  #1  
Old
Newbie
Join Date: January 13th, 2008
Posts: 27
Free Template Vs. Professional Site Design

A friend of mine asked me for an honest suggestion. He is on a tight budget so needs to prioritize his spending. Now, I’m a web designer and I have never liked website templates but could they possibly be appropriate for his particular needs? He's a small business owner that wants web exposure for his small brick and mortar business.

Now, he hasn’t discarded trying to monetize on the site’s internet potential later on, be it through Adsense, PPA programs, AzoogleAds, etc. We talked about that. But for now he just wants it to help drive traffic to his brick and mortar business.

He is thinking of using one of the free website templates found at clickfire.com (No, I definitely have no relationship with this site nor had I even heard of it ‘til just recently).

My question is?

Do any of you have experience with Free Website Templates?

How do you feel about them?

How do you feel they look?

Are they truly valid?

Are they a good option for the affiliate marketer (my personal inquiry)?

Are they truly SEO friendly?

I’m trying to be positive but critical here. He can outsource his web design needs to someone like me or anyone else for that matter but my point isn’t to gain business at the expense of a friend. He has the option of investing on a website or using a website template to save money which will be invested on other needs the business currently has.

I do however want to give him sound advice. Should his investment go towards a good custom built website or towards upgrading machinery, hiring employees, etc.?
  #2  
Old
The Seal of Aproval
Join Date: November 19th, 2006
Location: The Windy City
Posts: 4,135
I built my first site from a template as I learned HTML and then customized the heck out of it. I currently have a couple of sites where I use Joomla and Joomla sites are all based on templates. When you think about it, WordPress is also template based. So templates aren't inherently bad. It's what you do with it to make it unique. A good compromise may be using a template that's customized by a web designer. It will certainly be less expensive and can still be unique.

-rematt
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  #3  
Old
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Join Date: January 14th, 2008
Location: San Francisco
Posts: 61
I think they are not so bad and contrary to all believe, you can make a customized website even if using templates. Its simple, easy to understand, does not require too much time and technical knowledge - Id say for something as efficient as that, templates arent that bad
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  #4  
Old
ABW Ambassador
Join Date: January 7th, 2006
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 2,076
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Quote:
He has the option of investing on a website or using a website template to save money which will be invested on other needs the business currently has.
That, to me, is the crux of the matter. If it comes down to that choice, it needs to be business first, website second. You can have the most killer site around, but if your business can't keep up with demand (which will hopefully increase, or what would be the point of investing in a website), you're sunk. Lots of businesses survive without a big web presence... it's important to prioritize, I think. Grow the business, take care of its needs, branch out to the web when it's stable enough to take the risk.

Now, on the question of tempates? Personally, I think they're fine and dandy as long as you customize them just a bit to make them a little more unique. There are some themes for Wordpress that are just so common (like Cutline) that they seem to be everywhere - but you can get a good free theme that isn't all over the place and it'll seem quite unique.
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  #5  
Old
Visual Artist & ABW Ambassador
Join Date: September 7th, 2007
Location: Cuautitlán, Edo. de México
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I can't directly answer your question because I am not familiar with that website and its templates. As anyone who reads ABW knows, I use WordPress for most of my sites. I tried and didn't like Drupal. I tried Joomla and I think it is ok, but I like WP more. It uses templates (themes) to show content and there are hundreds if not thousands of free templates.

In my case I don't really think of it as a Pro. Template VS. Free Template (Theme in Wordpress). It really is an issue of usability. Do the free templates (and CMS) meet the current and future needs of my business or do I need a custom made template

If the currently available templates (that are free) don't meet my needs then I need to get one custom made and that's that.

If they do meet my needs then I can use one of those and spend my money elsewhere.

I don't use a paid template, but the free one I use the most has been heavily modified and it meets my needs :-)

style="margin:20px; margin-top:5px; ">
Quote:
Do any of you have experience with Free Website Templates?
I haven't yet paid for a template. I might later buy a pro template or have one custom made, stranger things have happened.

Quote:
How do you feel about them?
The templates shown on that website looked ok, but they didn't make me say "wow, I want one!" either.

Quote:
How do you feel they look?
I love the ones I use.

Quote:
Are they truly valid?
Who knows I don't use them.

Quote:
Are they a good option for the affiliate marketer (my personal inquiry)?
The ones I use for WP work great for what I do.

Quote:
Are they truly SEO friendly?
The Themes I use with WordPress work with SEO and there are plugins to improve it. I have no idea about the site you mentioned. :-)

Last edited by lostdeviant; January 15th, 2008 at 06:37 PM. Reason: typos
  #6  
Old
Newbie
Join Date: January 13th, 2008
Posts: 27
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Quote:
If it comes down to that choice, it needs to be business first, website second. You can have the most killer site around, but if your business can't keep up with demand (which will hopefully increase, or what would be the point of investing in a website), you're sunk. Lots of businesses survive without a big web presence... it's important to prioritize, I think. Grow the business, take care of its needs, branch out to the web when it's stable enough to take the risk.
That's sound advice. And that's going to be the advice I will give at this particular moment. Thank you.

My worries came from the fact that the web is becoming more and more competitive everyday and a good site with clean code may mean the difference between being on page 1 and page 2. To me being on page two is similar to being on page 2 million. I hardly ever click over to page two on the SERPs.

And ever since I started learning about table-less designs that use CSS instead of rows and tables to position <divs> I have been amazed at their potential. If you use them with absolute positioning you can create a site where the original content on each page is the first thing that gets read by crawlers. That means the content will get read BEFORE the menus, before the Ads, before anything. The content goes first even if it is the last thing you see on your page. That's powerful!

That's also something you probably won't see on a template.

If more and more sites begin using these designs then most of the website templates out there will lack competitiveness as far as SEO is concerned. I do however still see many top ranking sites that use table based designs (which every free template I've seen so far uses) so these templates will probably do for now since it will probably take the web a few years to reach that point.

Anyway, Thank you all for your advice!
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  #7  
Old
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Join Date: January 7th, 2006
Location: Houston, TX
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Quote:
Originally Posted by G-WebServices
My worries came from the fact that the web is becoming more and more competitive everyday and a good site with clean code may mean the difference between being on page 1 and page 2. To me being on page two is similar to being on page 2 million. I hardly ever click over to page two on the SERPs.
That's an understandable concern, but consider the logic behind it. Should everyone considering an online business - or bringing their offline business online - just forget about it? What about five years from now? Ten years? You see, I don't subscribe to that logic because taken to it's logical end, it means that unless you got in the game early, there's no point in getting in at all. The SERPs are always fluid.
Quote:
[Re: CSS-based design]
That's also something you probably won't see on a template.
Actually, the WP templates that I use on my sites are very well optimized and doesn't use tables. I use three templates for most of my stuff, and naturally I've customized them, but they were very SE-friendly right out of the box, so to speak. No tables to be found. Two of them were free, one I paid for because it went above and beyond in almost every way.
Quote:

If more and more sites begin using these designs then most of the website templates out there will lack competitiveness as far as SEO is concerned. I do however still see many top ranking sites that use table based designs (which every free template I've seen so far uses) so these templates will probably do for now since it will probably take the web a few years to reach that point.

Anyway, Thank you all for your advice!
Templates, at least for Wordpress (which is what I primarily use right now), are overwhelmingly CSS-based. I don't know about other platforms, but CSS-based templates aren't exactly rare for Wordpress. Even standard/non-blog site templates that ship with current versions of software like Dreamweaver are CSS-based. Remember that there's more to SEO than your layout choice. A template can be optimized to the hilt, but if there's no content, it's not going to rank. And like you pointed out, there are sites with table-based (read: old) layouts that rank very well, and that's because of their content and relevance.

The SE's aren't going to penalize anyone for using a table-based layout... and tables do have a place on the web, even in a table-less design. If I'm going to present tabular data, I'm going to put it into a table; that's what they're for. If I'm writing a letter (on paper), I'm going to use a pen because dipping my finger in ink and writing it that way would be silly. Sure, I could do it that way, but the pen exists to hold the ink for me. Same with tables. I'm not going to code a bunch of nested divs and whatnot for presenting tabular data, I'm going to use a table.
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  #8  
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Join Date: January 13th, 2008
Posts: 27
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Quote:
...standard/non-blog site templates that ship with current versions of software like Dreamweaver are CSS-based.
Yeah, I heard about that. I haven't been able to upgrade to Dreamweaver CS3 yet but yeah, I've been told that that version is very CSS friendly and layouts are all table-less. I will definitely need to upgrade soon.
Quote:
The SE's aren't going to penalize anyone for using a table-based layout... and tables do have a place on the web, even in a table-less design. If I'm going to present tabular data, I'm going to put it into a table;
You are absolutely right. I do in fact use tables for tabular data that I include within my content divs. I was really only referring to the website layout when I said tables are a thing of the past.

Quote:
Actually, the WP templates that I use on my sites are very well optimized and doesn't use tables. I use three templates for most of my stuff, and naturally I've customized them, but they were very SE-friendly right out of the box, so to speak. No tables to be found. Two of them were free, one I paid for because it went above and beyond in almost every way.
That's precisely the information I want to point out to my friend. Ok, as far as blogs are concerned you mention Wordpress but where could someone find good table-less website templates that are free? The info is much appreciated. The site I mentioned above, where my friend was downloading free website templates from is only tables and rows. That's why I started this thread really?

Thank you HecticDMC your posts are truly enlightening.
  #9  
Old
ABW Ambassador
Join Date: January 7th, 2006
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 2,076
Depends on your definition of "good"
Seriously though, I haven't gone looking for non-blog templates in quite a while so I don't really have any recommendations in that regard. One thing I can suggest though, is that any template site worth using will have a preview function (if they don't have a description of each template), so you can see the template applied to a live site. Use that, and check the source code. You'll be able to tell pretty quick after checking a few if the site has a good number of CSS-based templates.
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  #10  
Old
ABW Ambassador
Join Date: January 18th, 2005
Location: Canada
Posts: 665
Yes, it does depend on your definition of good.

Brian Gardner has some decent WP themes, some paid some free.

Copyblogger is good, but like cutline, it is being done to death.... unless you're good at modifying themes.
Not quite as high in quality, but decent nonetheless are some of the themes at freewpthemes and in addition, you can get a matching template at freecsstemplates.

There are sooo many places to look. lol
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  #11  
Old
Newbie
Join Date: January 13th, 2008
Posts: 27
Thank you very much steel! http://www.freecsstemplates.org/ is exactly the kind of site I was hoping someone would suggest.
  #12  
Old
Outsourced Program Manager
Join Date: October 3rd, 2005
Location: Safety Harbor, Florida
Posts: 548
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My comment is also a question. I have used some templates but usually changed them a lot using Photoshop and my HTML editing software.

I guess I think of a template as just the "look and feel" of a website. It brings little else to the table in terms of SEO friendliness, content that the SEs are going to like or the additional techniques that will need to be done to actually bring traffic. And without traffic he will never get what he really wants.

If the "look and feel" are all that is required and your friend is going to invest the time to do keyword research, SEO analysis, getting back links, promoting within articles and forums, developing the email list capture forms for newsletters... and all the other things that turns a "website shell" into a successful online business then perhaps a template (or Wordpress) is all he needs.

Does anyone else feel that it takes a whole lot more than a "template" to make a successful website/online business?
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  #13  
Old
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Join Date: January 18th, 2005
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Posts: 665
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick - SiteSell
Does anyone else feel that it takes a whole lot more than a "template" to make a successful website/online business?
I think that goes without saying, but the original question posed only pertained to the template aspect of an online business.

No offense intended here Rick, but the look of most of the sites I've seen that are made by SiteBuildIt'ers, is perhaps the weakest part of the program, IMO. Maybe it's just the ones I've seen though.
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  #14  
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Join Date: January 13th, 2008
Posts: 27
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Quote:
it takes a whole lot more than a "template" to make a successful website/online business?
You are absolutely right Rick. At present a template is all he needs. I've decided that already. So that's what I will recommend.

In this particular case it's not really about making the site an instant success. Success will come gradually with future efforts. I just believe everyone should start off with their right foot in the door.

A marketing / SEO budget may likely be allocated to this project in the not so distant future. Therefore, having a cleanly coded site will save him the task/cost of having to redesign at that particular moment.
  #15  
Old
mega crap
Join Date: January 18th, 2005
Location: Atlanta
Posts: 608
I use templates.
love 'em

AFter I am done tweaking them, its hard to recognize the original.
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  #16  
Old
Outsourced Program Manager
Join Date: January 23rd, 2005
Location: England
Posts: 1,476
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I mainly go to oswd.org and grab a free template then play about with the stylesheet until I'm happy, chuck some content or a feed on and done....take an hour or two per site for a 10 page mini site.
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  #17  
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Join Date: January 13th, 2008
Posts: 27
Thank you John Jupp for pointing out the oswd.org site.
  #18  
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Steele I agree with you about Site Build It! "look and feel" templates. Don't tell my boss.

They are really only to help folks get started. You can always uploaded your own HTML and use other people's templates if you want.
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