Are Website Builders and Ready-made Templates a Competitor to Designers

We all admire technology advancements that make our life easier. After all, this is what drives progress. However, when these technology advancements hurt our business, we tend to hate and condemn them, as is the case with website builders and ready-made templates.

Website builders and ready-made templates are a way for everybody to create a site even if he or she has absolutely no knowledge of HTML, coding, or design. They are a relatively simple and a relatively cheap (and very often completely free) solution to get a decent website fast. In a sense, they are a quick and dirty solution when a client wants a not so complex but good-looking site and when he or she doesn’t have the money, the time, or both to have a site created especially for him or her.

However, these aspects of website builders and ready-made templates have raised quite a lot of negativism in the Web community. Yes, you can see some not so good-looking sites created by a website builder or by using a ready-made template, but unfortunately you can see many more of these created by designers who deem themselves professional.

Actually, these concerns over the quality of sites cover a bigger concern – that website builders and ready-made templates compete with designers and as a result many designers have to either lower prices, or lose clients. In some cases, even if you lower your prices, you can’t beat a free service, so you just see how you are losing another client.

You can hear quite a lot of concerns that website builders and ready-made templates are killing the business of designers but are these concerns grounded? Can website builders and ready-made templates really be a problem for a designer, not to mention kill his or her business?

Yes, You Do Have a Problem, If You Are Competing with Website Builders and Ready-made Templates

And this problem is called positioning – you are not properly positioned on the market. You are in the same segment as them and this is why you are competing with website builders and ready-made templates. They are cheap and quick and so are you. Is this where you want to be?

Yes, website builders and ready-made templates do eat market share but they are in the lowest price segment. In a sense, you have $5 T-shirts vs $500 suits. Both of them have their place in life and manufacturers of $500 suits aren’t angry that $5 T-shirts are eating their market.

Image Source: Very Angry Woman via Shutterstock

If you need a $5 T-shirt you won’t buy a $500 suit even if you can afford it, so you are not a client in the expensive segment. The same applies to website builders and ready-made templates on one hand and your professional services on the other.

Well, if you are trying to sell $5 T-shirts for $500 then you will have a problem. There isn’t shortage of stupid clients but (fortunately) it will be very hard to find victims to scam them to this amount.

The opposite scenario – when you have a professionally-made site for $500 but the client won’t pay more than $5 because this is what he or she sees as a fair price based on his or her experience with website builders/ready-made templates might be more problematic. In this case, you either try to explain to the client why this suit/site can’t cost as low as a T-shirt, or simply turn the client the down.

In either case, website builders and ready-made templates shouldn’t be a competitor to you. In a nutshell, if they are a problem for you, then you have a problem with your design/sales skills and this is what you must improve rather than complain how automation is throwing you out of business.

The Solution? Turn Your Enemy Into an Ally

You might feel very much like exterminating website builders and ready-made templates but this is not possible (and not necessary, I would say). Of course, the best is to be in the $500 suit segment – i.e. to play high where website builders are not present at all but since this is not always possible simply because there are many more clients in lower segments than in this one, you need to adapt.

Image Source: Girl in the Field via Shutterstock

All you need to do is adjust your business to their existence – not exactly if you can’t beat them, join them but a variation of the tune. Here are three ways in which you can make use of website builders and ready-made templates:

  1. Use them as a basis for your designs. I know that many of you frown at the very idea to do this (“What?! Do I have to go that low?!”) but actually this isn’t something to be ashamed of. Do you start every single site you design from scratch? No, you re-use much of what you have. It really makes no difference if you use website generators, your own templates from previous projects, or website builders/ready-made templates (provided they are not an unusable mess) as a time-saving basis for your designs. Many top designers do it, so why reinvent the wheel?
  2. Offer customizations. There are really a lot free and paid templates but this doesn’t mean you can find absolutely everything you want. A client might like 90 or 99 percent of a template but want minor modifications to make it exactly what he or she likes. Here you come to the play. You can offer customizations. Small jobs, such as adding/removing a column, or changing the color of items are not difficult and even if the template is made in a way you don’t agree with, usually these changes are safe to make – i.e. you won’t break the whole template. I know it’s not the most pleasant thing to deal with changes to design/code unknown geniuses made and there are many mines to watch for but if the template is done according to the rules, minor changes are usually fast and safe to make.
  3. Create free templates with your contact info and use them as a promotion tool. Finally, one more way in which you can use website builders and ready-made templates is as a promotion tool. Create a bunch of free templates, put your contact info in the footer, and offer them as a free download. These might not bring you crowds of clients but they help spread the word about you and your services. You can also offer customizations for a moderate fee – these customizations should be much easier when you yourself have created the template and know its intricacies.

Website builders and ready-made templates are here to stay – you can’t change this. If you want to stay in business, you need to change your routines. Move to a higher segment where these tools aren’t a competitor, or offer additional services they don’t offer (content writing, SEO, etc.) and you won’t have to cross ways. You just need to adapt to the realities!


  • Website Builders and Ready-made Templates is not a designer.Designers have different view and skills than web site builder.

  • karks88

    Very nice post!  Frankly, I wouldn’t want a client who likes ready-made sites.  They often involve a lot of work for very little money. You’re right – they’re not in the same segment.

  • andykillen

    I find the big problem with these pop-out theme makers is that they are very poor at creating a website that is fast.  Take artisteer for example, it automatically adds between 40% and 60% un-needed CSS and so many nested DIV’s and tables, it can take a good looking design and turn it into a steaming pile of ****!

    In my mind there is no real space for these things as you will spend more time debugging or removing stuff to make the time saved worth it 

  • It’s fine saying that designers are not in competition with these free web builders and template services, but at the lower end of the market we are. Simple as that. I’d like to be further up the foodchain and be the $500 suit, but you have to start somewhere and that is generally at the bottom as a freelancer. Whilst you are trying to make a name for yourself you are forced to take on all kinds of jobs you would rather not do if you had the option, and half the time you will lose out to someone who can do it for £99 on 1and1.

    You also can’t compete with the likes of Themeforest. Client says ‘I’ve seen a website on Themeforest for $49, can you build one just like that but in blue?’. The answer of course is yes, but it costs (say) £500. No matter how you explain it, that client will never believe that there is £500 worth of work to do the same job as a $49 theme because they don’t know the difference. I have turned this to my advantage a couple of times and done a basic WordPress install and put a premium theme on there, added content and generally build a website, but as a designer that has zero satisfaction to it. I myself have produced nothing new, just screwed bits together like an Ikea wardrobe.

    You cannot climb the ladder out of this mire until you have a portfolio, and a portfolio is really hard to create when everyone wants it for free. And none of us can design food from thin air.

  • True.

    My rub with the website auto-builders (specifically) is that they set an unreasonable an unrealistic expectation as to what it *really* takes to build an optimal and profitable iproperty.

    If (for example) Home Depot said, “Buy a hammer and build your own house this weekend. Pound. Pound. Pound an you’re livin’ large…” there would be blood in the streets.

    But the website auto-builders prey on ignorance. No one watches TV  for years and believes they can produce a TV show or a film. But give someone a mouse and let them click a couple of times and suddenly they believe they understand all the ins & outs of web design an web dev. Kinda funny really that some people are that naive.

  • Jvandemerwe

    This article shows more frustration than common sense. It suggests that the seller has to protect to customer and let him buy only expensive design websites. To compare 5$ t-shirts with 500$ t-shirts is in this perspective very unrealistic. And it is not the seller that decides for the customer, how stupid he is to buy a “cheap” and “low” website. Our customers want visits and many pageviews. It is not always the design that give them that. Nowadays businesses have to act on many stages to attract visitors (customers). Facebook f.e. does not give you to much space in making a custom made company page, but still everybody accepts this, and it is a huge attractor to a website. I believe that content is more important to a website than design. If customers want to pay for a unique design, it is just fine. If not, than I think you should be a little modest in your arrogance. If I see that themes on themeforest are sold multi1000 times, then I say that is where you have a great business opportunity as a designer. Economy is not made by moralists. I have quite some programming to low-wages economies like India and Eastern Europe, who offer their skills for sometimes as low 6$ an hour. So I understand the frustration, but still I have to pay my bills too. I wish I could decide what my customers has to pay me for my work, but unfortunately he is also more and more in heavy economical weather. I like a good design, but I love a paying customer. And in despite of what is stated here, many of the ready made themes are not bad at all. Only never sell them to your customer as your own work.

    After reading this article I would like to know, how much time does it cost to make a custom theme for your customer. I am just interested in the number of hours. Then I will tell you how often I have a “no” from a customer after presenting him my offer.

  • adaivanoff

    @twitter-56073049:disqus In the beginning you might be forced to offer customizations but once you build your own set of templates to use as a basis, you can use these instead of starting from scratch and this way keep your prices low. Try more networking to find clients because even if you are already a name but don’t have a clients pool, you will still might have to either work for peanuts, or stay hungry. :(
    If you can’t convince a client that these minor modifications he or she
    wants are much more expensive than the ready-made template, just let him
    or her create the site on their own and see how easy it is to make
    minor modifications. In some cases if the modifications are really
    minor, like changing colors, the client might be successful but for more
    complex matters they will fail for sure. Maybe this will convince him
    or her that ‘minor’ is actually ‘seemingly minor’. On the other hand,
    when clients are frequently a victim of ripoffs – i.e. they pay $200-300
    for something that costs $10-20 to make, they become rightfully
    suspicious that somebody is trying to milk them. In some cases it is just a matter of trust – if they believe you it is that expensive, they will agree to your prices but if they feel you are trying to squeeze money, they can’t be convinced the difference is worth. Also, don’t forget that many clients, even if they do value quality simply can’t afford to pay a lot (even $500 could be too high) for a site.

    @andykillen:disqus The speed and cleanness of code you get with these tools is beyond compare. :)) But honestly I’ve seen such code from real human designers that I just can’t say which is worse because both are real disasters.

  • adaivanoff

     I suppose we are discussing the same article, though some of your thoughts suggest otherwise. :) I definitely don’t say exterminate website builders and ready-made templates and everybody must wear $500 suits at all times. My idea is that designers simply need to accept their existence and try to play on a higher level where they can’t be a competitor.
    You are right that design is just one factor for success. Content and promotion are equally, if not even more important – the Web is so crowded with good and not so good designs you can’t get traffic with cool layouts only. Poor content can kill a good design and vice versa.

    I see that you are in the lower priced segment and maybe you know it better than me. I am not arrogant – I simply value quality more. And quality comes at a price. Unfortunately, the opposite isn’t always true. I do not hate website builders or ready-made templates – probably because for me they are not a competitor and I do appreciate their advantages. I am just trying to be impartial and realistic.

    For truth’s sake, I did have clients, whom I kindly redirected to a website builder (I can’t remember now which one exactly but it was one of the big names, like Weebly or Webs) because what they needed was a simple but easy to maintain site (or sitelet as I call these miniatures) and for the $100-150 I would have billed them because this site was maybe 5 to 6 hours of work at most, they could get something they could easily maintain themselves instead of be dependent on me for any subsequent minor changes. The website builder was point-and-click, so they managed to chunk a site. I had a look at it, it was more or less decent, and that was it.

    The client was pleased, I was happy because I didn’t have to waste my time with this sitelet, no drama for neither of us. I did get paid something for the consultancy so to say but since the clients were sent via a good friend of mine, even I helped them for free, it was OK for me. The client could afford the site, so I didn’t get turned down because of not so low prices. Well, maybe if I wanted $300-400, I would have been turned down because it is an unrealistic price for something that simple.

  • Amazing article and nice thoughts and really if a designer has good designing skills and capabilities, then he should not be afraid of the website builders or template builders. There are always these kind of customers who will come up with free sites or cheap sites and it entirely depends on your convincing skills, to what extent you convince them.
    As being a designer also it’s not that all the templates are bad looking. There are many good designs  offered by free site builders also like Webstarttoday or Jimdo and many more.

  • Trixit

    don’t forget that the $49 template is that price because one assumes a minimum of 50 people will download it once in its lifetime. expensive looks cheap when paying installments.

    $500 is a bargain

  • Thank you so much for great post, Ada! Lots of useful info here.