Custom Design vs. Pre-made: What’s Right for You?

Designing your blog site? Whether you’re a new blogger or have been at it for years, it’s no surprise that when the design possibilities are endless, there’s a ton of excitement—and an inclination to add on alllllll the bells and whistles.

But this brings up a conundrum we hear often:

should you invest in a
custom website design for your blog?

The answer if you’re a brand new blogger? No.

If you’ve been blogging for a long time? It depends.

Today, I’ll dive into why pre-made themes are usually the better bet when you’re just starting out, along with a few solutions for newbie bloggers. Plus, I’ll also share when it does make sense to invest in a custom site! Here goes:

Four reasons why you don’t need to invest in a custom site if you’re a new blogger:

1: It’s expensive.

A huge factor is cost. Custom sites can run in the thousands of dollars — even tens of thousands if you work with an established agency or request a ton of unique features for your website. If blogging is a new venture for you—whether hobby or business—that’s a crazy amount of money to put in up front. An investment in a custom design is a serious commitment to your site. Conversely, for a couple hundred bucks (or a lot less; all our themes are under $70!), you can install a pre-made theme and be off to the races in no time. If you decide blogging’s not for you, we’re pretty sure you’d rather be out $100 than $1000+, right?

2: You’re going in blind.

You don’t know what you don’t know. One thing I often tell clients is that great design should solve problems, and looking pretty is just a by-product. When you are brand new to blogging, you don’t know what problems you’re trying to solve.

For example, we could build a custom site completely tailored around your outfit content, with lots of features, galleries, and interactive effects meant to prod users into engaging with that vertical. But say you launch your blog and you discover you hate taking outfit photos. Or, you find that your posts on wellness and recipes are the things that really take off in your community. You’ve just spent a ton of money on a custom site, only to discover you have a new problem that needs to be addressed through custom fixes (and more investment).

When you are new to blogging, there is SO much to learn about your audience, how you create content, and most importantly, what feels good for YOU as the publisher. Limiting investment in a site up front will give you time and space to learn about your content and readership, and then bring what you’ve learned to a design team in the future, when a custom site makes sense for your business. Trust me when I say: it’s a million times easier to design for someone who’s been creating content for a while and knows their audience and workflows, versus someone who has never published a post before. The finished product is usually more effective and will last longer, too!

3: You can stay nimble.

This relates to the above! As you are learning about your audience and what you want your blog to be, pre-made themes offer you the flexibility to try new layouts and features as often as you want. We regularly see our customers switch themes or change features around to experiment with what works best for their audience. When your investment is so minimal, you’ll feel less worried about “messing up” the custom work a designer created if you’re trying out new plugins or adding new features to test. Trust us on this! If you want to try adding a customizable Shop page, you can! And if it doesn’t work, take it off your site! Simple as that, without spending a ton of money.

4: Blogging is a lot of work.

You’ve probably heard this, and it’s true. If you have never maintained a blog before, a warning: it’s a lot of work. Scratch that, a ton of work! If you plan on posting 3-5 days a week, well, that is a LOT of content to produce. One of the biggest reasons we don’t advise brand new bloggers to invest in a custom site is that for better or worse, many, many new bloggers will eventually abandon their sites. This isn’t meant to discourage anyone, because blogging is also incredibly rewarding! But here’s what you DON’T want to happen: you spend thousands on a site, and three months in to your beautiful new blog, you realize it’s way too much for you to maintain all those features. You get bogged down. You grow resentful. You give up. Disaster! If you have no idea if longterm blogging is for you, go the pre-made route. Seriously.

Ok, so those are the major reasons why pre-mades are the better routes for brand new bloggers. But when IS a custom site the right decision?

Signs that you’re ready to invest in a custom design:

  • You’ve been blogging for an extended period of time, and have felt limited by what pre-made themes can do — even though you’ve tried out several of them.
  • You have a multi-year plan in place for how you plan to grow your blog business, which allows you to articulate what you need the brand and site to do longterm.
  • You’re not looking to just replicate cool features you saw on someone else’s site — you have a clear set of needs for your own site and content, and need a design team to help you bring them to life.
  • With your content creation workflows down pat, you have a vision as to how custom layouts could better showcase your work — and you know what you need isn’t available through pre-mades. For example, a travel photographer might recognize they need custom-built galleries that allow them to show off the images and talk about them seamlessly, all in one design.
  • You’ve grown your brand for a few years, and are ready to completely refresh it. New name, new logo, new fonts, new colors, new site. And, the new identity you have in mind is one you plan to use for a very long time.

There is one increasingly common instance in which a brand new blogger/site owner should invest in a custom design up front, and ditch the pre-mades:

If you’re building a major content site related to another established business, OR you are launching a new content site with a team of writers and serious investment in the business already, a custom site is probably a better route for you. For example, if you run a successful beauty brand, and are looking to build a new online hub for lifestyle content/marketing ventures, then sure, hiring a studio or agency to think through that platform and design something custom is essential.

What about logos?

One other common question is what to do about a logo if you’re buying a pre-made theme. Should you hire a designer just to create a logo? While you can do this, again, it will drive up your initial investment. We also find that 50% of the time, bloggers want to change their blog name down the line, so if you do invest in a custom identity suite the first time around, think through your site name and be sure it’s something you’ll want to use 1, 3, even 5 years from now!

We often recommend going the pre-made route with a logo too, just until you can get your feet wet and figure this whole blogging thing out. Creative Market is an awesome resource for pre-made logos; there are thousands of designs that are easily customizable in Photoshop or Illustrator. Check out their entire library of pre-made logo templates here.

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I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve invested in a custom design, what did you learn? How did you know when it was the right time? And if you’re a pre-made for life type of person, what do you love about them? Share your comments below!



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