Custom Websites Are Like Custom Cars

Posted on: September 15, 2012

Recently, someone remarked to me that many of the websites Blue Corona builds look fairly similar. The same person then asked, “don’t you build any truly custom websites—websites that look totally unique?”

I thought about it for a second and said, “No, not really. The layouts of our sites are similar for the same reason all sports cars are almost always low to the ground and wide—performance. The only people that should be building totally custom, one-of-a-kind websites are those that are already filthy stinkin’ rich AND have nothing better on which to spend their money. Most of the websites we’ve built are for small-to-medium-size home service businesses. The guys that run these companies (and they are mostly guys) want websites that generate results, and there are plenty of other things they’d rather spend their money on than a website.”

Now, let me be clear—all of the sites Blue Corona builds are totally custom—depending on how you define custom. And I don’t think they look that similar, but aesthetics are subjective. What got me hung up, and prompted my “no” response, in the interaction above was the phrase “totally unique.”  Perhaps it’s just me, but when I think of totally unique, I think of a website that doesn’t resemble anything else you’ve seen (at least in a while). You want to see a unique, custom website, look at or (as opposed to or, which both look similar to plenty of other websites).

Blue Corona’s website is custom, but it started as a template. We took a “standard” website layout that we knew could be easily optimized for search engines and for conversions, and designed the rest of the site around it. I know you’ve probably seen several sites with the logo in the upper left-hand corner, a horizontal navigation bar with dropdowns, a large main banner, left content area, right sidebar, and a footer, right? pretty much only works in Google’s Chrome browser and it’s a pain in the ass to use. If you built a site like for your HVAC and plumbing business, you’d better have a robust off-line marketing plan ’cause your website isn’t going to produce squat.

If you’re in the market for a new website, don’t be too quick to dismiss a web design company that refers you to their selection of custom or semi-custom site layouts (or even customized industry-specific templates). The difference between a standard template site—like what you might find on GoDaddy or with Network Solution— and a customized template or a site built from a semi-custom layout is enormous. In fact, most of the websites you probably visit each day are just variations of another template or website (whether the owners of the sites know it or not!).

It’s incredibly rare to find a totally unique, one-of-a-kind website (either because so few exist or because many initially unique sites get copied and replicated pretty quickly). When you do find them, they frequently cause your browser to freeze—kind of like going to drive your Ferrari only to find that it doesn’t start.

Totally unique websites aren’t just expensive, they’re problematic for other reasons too. Trends in modern web design have trained people to look in the header or top-right corner for your phone number. If your phone number isn’t there, some people will look in the footer of your site. If your phone number isn’t there either, many people will give up the search and leave your site altogether. At Blue Corona, we have screen recording software. I can’t tell you how many times I watch visitors searching for information in common places only to leave when they can’t find it—I can almost feel their frustration through the screen!

Another example is a site’s login button.

Take a look at these three examples:

Example 1

Example 2:

Example 3

What is ProHosting thinking putting their login at the top of the left-hand navigation? HubSpot and Google are in the marketing analytics world, so I don’t think it’s a mistake to assume that they have tested the ideal place to put their login button. If you have your doubts, test it, but I’d start with their location first and make the other location the test.

Being unique for the sake of being unique is, for most businesses, stupid. Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, if you’re a designer or an artist, there might be some benefit to having a totally unique site. Everyone else should customize a template. If you’re a plumber and your website sticks out—bad or good—you’re missing the point. For home service businesses, your website should “disappear” so that people are focused on your business, NOT your website. Save your money for the marketing that’s going to be required to drive traffic to your new site.

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