What do templates lose compared to handcrafted sites?
A template site refers to one of a number of primarily shareware systems, which are a popular way to produce an inexpensive website. The advantages are cost, speed and ease of maintenance. The disadvantages are inferior functional and design quality, loss of customisation, and the ubiquitous look and lack of distinction templates invariably bear.
It is perhaps a little too simplistic to reduce the argument to the maxim: those who can, do, those who can't template.
It is certainly true that those who take the time to learn to programme will be less inclined to use a template which requires no or little knowledge of the programming languages behind it. If only to show off their hard-won skills.
But just how good are templates these days? And crucially, is it possible to replicate the end result of a custom-made site via a template? We decided to investigate, and to report on the genuine limitations and problems templates present with respect to 'real sites'.
Our investigation also seeks to understand how templates perform with regards SEO, or whether its poor application is due to the lack of I.T. knowledge of the sites' owners rather than the way the templates are structured and managed.
According to Wikipedia.org, "WordPress was used by more than 23.2% of the top 10 million websites as of August 2013".
The homepage of WordPress starts with the announcement: With over 75 million sites, it's easy to see that people love WordPress.com.
Should this statement be viewed with enthusiasm or with horror by someone wanting their own distinctive site? It is certainly a confirmation that the system works, and must be one of the most thoroughly tested software packages in existence. But if there are not at least more than 75 million options for every element, whether background image or font and colour mix of styling, it means that for every choice the user makes there will be many, perhaps millions, of sites with the same choice.
The next item is the Premium offer for €80, which allows the user to avoid having WordPress.com ads splattered all over their site.
What is of greatest importance to a website designer is not the issue of price, but the fact that here there is a clear statement that the template comes with features the user has no means (or 'right') to control. This seems to us to infringe some basic principle. But perhaps the sheer ubiquitousness of ugly, distracting and irrelevant advertising across the internet has led us to believe it has to be so?
In terms of SEO, a site needs to be very carefully managed and structured, to fine-tune the control of keywords and contextual weighting. Link anchors and other features which are not 100% relevant and perceived to detract from the theme of the page, and which do not enhance the user experience, are negative to the aims of SEO. The imposition of anything that is uncontrollable and can only be alleviated at extra outlay is contrary to the ultimate success of the site as an organic traffic draw, and will ultimately result in permanent overheads for paid search results and other marketing compensations. That seems like a high price to pay for the relatively low initial savings on a custom site.
With regards SEO, the template offers users the 'All in One SEO Pack is a WordPress SEO plugin to automatically optimize your WordPress blog for Search Engines such as Google'.
The first thing an SEO practitioner learns is that there is no single solution which can be applied to all situations, with regards SEO. SEO is a highly specialised task which evolves and integrates with the changing Internet landscape. The idea that a single package which adds basic functional items in standard places on a standard page is somehow going to bring one site ahead of a thousands of other sites with the same package is of course self-defeating.
SEO is much more than adding a sitemap and title and meta tags. The package offered implies the misleading suggestion that SEO is a set of actions which apply to all websites. Although there are commonalities, there is no single solution. The process of SEO optimisation cannot be automated. If a user wishes to be ahead of competition, he or she need to be prepared to understand this process more in detail, and to do something different than the herds. As we suspected, template sellers are promoting misleading concepts with regards to SEO.
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