A custom Web site or a template?

By Chad Brubaker, CEO, www.emochila.com

When it comes time to establish a Web presence for your firm, one of the first decisions you will have to make is whether your site will be a template - one that has already been designed for use by multiple firms, or a custom design - something graphically unique to your practice. In this article we will examine the various factors to take into consideration when choosing which path to take.

Template Web site: Most Web developers that are specific to the accounting and tax industry provide new clients with several different "canned" site design options. These site designs are the most economical; many providers and tax software include them at no additional cost to their Web services. Because they are pre-rendered, templates are typically the fastest and easiest sites to launch as well, as you merely have to choose one of the off-the-shelf options. Frequently, template sites do not include the ability to modify much, if any, of the header, button layout, detailed coloring, or width of the page. If the templates do allow changes, they are usually something relatively sophomoric like swapping out a general industry-specific photo. Therein lies the main disadvantage of a template in general: In order to appease the hundreds of firms which may be choosing the same template as you, there must be a somewhat vanilla standard.

Custom Web site: Unlike the template, a custom designed Web site gives you the option to graphically represent the unique professionalism of your firm. Among other things, a design specific to your practice allows you to include any existing logos, fonts, or color scheme that you may already include in your letterhead or business cards. Utilizing photos that are geographically specific (such as your hometown), imagery of your firm's offices, or photos of you and staff, can immediately allow those visiting your page to recognize the pages as individual to you. Your Web site's appearance is clearly the first thing that any visitor will see (for better or for worse) and therefore it may justify the custom design's main disadvantage: Price. Because you are not choosing a "canned" design, it is more labor intensive. The key in this situation is to choose a Web designer who has shown prowess in working independently and formulating ideas for your firm's custom look, in order to invoke "hand holding" on your end. Like so many other things in life, however, the more you put into the thought and layout of your design, the better you will find the final result.

The diminishing cost of custom Web work over the last five years has brought prices to levels acceptable to small businesses. Hence in the accounting profession, the percentage of firms opting to have a custom-built Web site has increased steadily over the years. Many CPAs and accountants have expressed that the one-time cost of a custom site which they intend on keeping for several years has resulted in more than enough business to justify the work. On the other side of the coin, the caliber of template designs has also improved to keep abreast of graphic innovations, making them less "canned" than they have been in the past. Whatever route you go, simply be sure to carefully judge your public internet presence versus the depth of your change purse, and you will come out happy every time.

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