“80% of what we perceive is visual information.”
A Web Site is Mandatory
Today, if you have a business, you need a web site to be taken seriously. Everyone realizes it and everyone wants a web site. But paying for a web site is expensive. It costs a lot because a skilled professional spends a lot of hours collating materials, creating a design, and programming the code behind it all.
There are less expensive alternatives to hiring someone to build you a custom web site. You could write a blog, create a Facebook page, or use a template. This post investigates the pros and cons of using templates to create your web site.
What is a Template?
A web site template is a preprogrammed structure and design that lets you drop in your own content. Google has several free templates and there are a lot of companies selling templates. Typically a template is sold as part of a total package that includes paying for hosting services and domain name registration. Companies offer other services for extra fees such as analytics or an online store. Some companies also offer design services for customizing a template. (Customizing a template is not the shortcut you might expect. You’ll end up paying a lot for those design hours, depending on how much you want to deviate from the template. If it’s a lot, then why use the template in the first place?)
Musician Harry Chalmiers wanted a web site that included narrative, video and audio clips, a slide show, score excerpts, and links to his blog and music publisher.
Instead of hiring Smart Alice Web Design, Harry could purchase a template from Bandzoogle, a web template company that targets musicians who want a web site and assorted tools for promoting their music, concerts, etc.
Here was an opportunity to compare custom vs. template web design for a specific client type – musicians. Harry was willing to be my test subject. He sat at my computer and used Bandzoogle to create a web site while I took notes and screen shots.
The computer: Lenovo W520 with Intel Quad 2.4 GHz, Windows 7 64-bit, Firefox v.11.0
The subject: Harry is a typical intermediate computer user. He uses his computer for email, the internet, iTunes, writing (MS Word), and music programs such as Garage Band, Finale, and Sibelius. He has no design background and does not use any image or photography related software.
The product: Bandzoogle says on their home page:
“Build a band website that does more — sells music & merch, syncs with your social networks, and puts you in front of more fans. No web design skills needed!”
Sounds good to Harry.
Note: Here’s what it means to a web professional:
|Smart Alice comment|
|“Sells music & merch” (They provide an online store and related services as part of their platform.)||If you’re going to sell something online, you have to connect with a service and it’s never free. If you do it through Bandzoogle, this ensures they get the additional income.|
|“Syncs with your social networks”||Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube provide the code you need to embed their information in your web site. Anyone can pick up that code for free.|
|“Puts you in front of more fans”||Unsubstantiated assertion.|
|“No web design skills needed”||May be true, depending on what your needs are. This is what we are going to test with Harry.|
Bandzoogle provides a step by step process for building a web site, as follows:
Step 1 – Choose a title
Harry typed his name, Harry Chalmiers.
Step 2 – Choose a font
Harry doesn’t know anything about typography and how it relates to overall design so he simply chose something he liked.
Step 3 – Choose a design
Harry chose a design he liked. He thought there were a lot of cool choices.
Step 4 – Start adding content to your home page
Harry wanted a Welcome paragraph, a video, an audio clip, and links to his social networking pages. He used the Bandzoogle interface to choose the features he wanted.
He used the Bandzoogle text editor to type an introduction.
Here’s the result:
He added a link to his video on YouTube.
At this point let’s compare Harry’s home page with the advertised template. Notice the template below has a 2 column layout and Harry’s web site has a single column layout, even though Harry has diligently followed all the directions provided so far by Bandzoogle.
Harry added an audio clip (MP3 file). He didn’t want the audio clip to play automatically when someone opened the web page, so he chose NO from the Start automatically drop-down box. However, when Harry tested the web page, the music played automatically. He went back to the editor and re-checked NO. To make a long story short, no matter what he did the music always played automatically. “Autoplay is going to make me hate that song,” he said.
Harry added some more items to the Home page and here is the final result:
Note that Bandzoogle created a long scrolling list, not the two-column layout in the advertised template. “It’s stupid to have a long scrolling list. How do I get the two column layout they show?” Harry said.
The template provided four pages: Home| About Us | Photos| Contact Us. Harry didn’t want those page titles. Bandzoogle let him add or subtract pages as well as change the page titles. He changed the title of About Us to “From Baseball to Bach”. He changed the title of Photos to “Classical Guitarist” and he changed the title of Contact Us to “Singer Songwriter.” Then he added pages for “Composer” and “Institutional Leader” and “Gallery.”
This is the result:
Even though Harry used Bandzoogle as instructed, Bandzoogle didn’t accept the three new pages he added. There was no explanation or online help about why. When he tried a different template this is the result:
Bandzoogle let Harry experiment with font style, color, and size. But none of this affected the single column layout or the page title and menu problems. Bandzoogle also lets “advanced users” edit the CSS file. Harry had no clue what to do with that. Obviously a web designer would, but the point of using a template is to avoid a web designer, isn’t it?
Harry explored the Bandzoogle interface to see what else he could do with it. He checked out the Search Engine Optimization feature.
“I only vaguely have an idea what this is for,” he said, “I don’t know the difference between key words and description and I don’t know what meta tags are.”
He looked at the Community Forum page.
“I don’t know what this has to do with web site building,” he said. He clicked on Chris’ blog and read a bit of it. His response was, ”It’s not what I thought it was. It’s a back door way of him promoting band web sites, not about the music business.”
Harry clicked on My Account and discovered the rates for using Bandzoogle:
Harry Summarizes His Impressions
“Even though the designs look cool, when I add a photo or other features, Bandzoogle just makes a long scrolling list. I don’t get the promised two-column layout and there’s no help or information provided on how to do it. I see no indication anywhere that someone is going to make this look better.
It’s frustrating to add pages and they don’t show up. Tell me I I’m limited to four or five menu items, don’t frustrate me.
The audio clip auto played after I clicked NO. What’s up with that? The basic program is flawed. I can’t stand when stuff auto plays. That’s a deal breaker.
There are some positives. If all I want is the simplest presence on the internet with very little depth and the design appeal at the surface is attractive, then this might work. I would have to accept that the design is in the header and the rest is just a long list. A simple web site is similar to a business card. Do I want just a business card on the web, or do I want something more sophisticated?
Why would I want to make myself look unsophisticated and undifferentiated on the web? The visual impact of your web site speaks volumes about who you are. If the web site is limited, flawed, buggy, and poorly designed, people will assume the same about you.
It’s obvious you get what you pay for. For some people it may be adequate. For me this is a joke. I can’t even put up all the pages I want.
I can see using Bandzoogle as an entry level tool. For example, if I were in a high school rock band and Bandzoogle was giving me a presence on the web vs. zero presence, then I could see its value. For anything aspiring to be professional it quickly becomes inadequate. The single platform functionality (store, mailing list, and so forth) doesn’t offset its basic flaws.”
Do You Really Save Money?
Harry looked at the fee information, did the math and came up with a conclusion: for a simple web site he would end up paying a multitude of small fees that add up over two to three years to be equal to what a simple web site would cost when done by a professional. Harry also found himself very frustrated by the experience when he tried to achieve what he wanted with the Bandzoogle system. He wondered how many hours and hours he would get sucked into trying to make things work as he wanted them to. His time is valuable and therein lies a hidden cost.
Harry’s Web Site
Smart Alice Web Design built an original, unique web site for Harry. You can check it out by clicking on the following image of his home page.
Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for people who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.
Copyright 2012, Alice Gebura, All Rights Reserved.