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Template vs. Custom Websites: The Great Debate

Question: How effective are templated sites versus custom designed sites?

I’ve heard it over and over again from photographers and illustrators: “I don’t want my website to look like everyone else’s.” And my art director, art buyer and photo editor friends repeatedly tell me: “I don’t care whether it is a template site as long as it loads fast and is easy to navigate.”

What Every Good Artist Website Needs

In today’s market, there are 3 key players in templated websites: A Photo Folio, liveBooks, and Neon Sky. Of course, there are others but they have some limitations for showing artwork. To find out which is best for you, be sure to do your homework. A Flash-only site can’t be seen on mobile devices, so you should avoid these. Your site should allow you to post video, so you can provide engaging content that might include a movie showing you at work. An element that buyers find useful – and that I love – is the ability to select a gallery using a dropdown menu. But above all this, the most important element is the capability for back-end editing!! You must be able to edit your website when you need to.

Tried and Tested Artist Marketing

One of the biggest reasons to not discount templated websites is that the companies have invested significant time and effort testing their templates with your potential clients, the very people you want to impress. So why not save yourself thousands of dollars? If you decide to go with a custom design, try to use some of the same design and usability items used by these tried and true template website companies.  

Some Good Examples of Website Design

To illustrate the impact a template site can make, here are four before-and-after samples. The samples I have are created with A Photo Folio.

Paul Edmondson used Brand Envy to create a refreshing look that makes a template site look like a custom site.  Big bold images with new branding.

The Marketing Lab Paul Edmondson 01 resized 600


The Marketing Lab Paul Edmondson 02 resized 600

Fig. 2 AFTER

Jonathan Fennell needed to separate his specialties into distinct galleries to make the work shine. Images went from a tiny visual to in-your-face, bold images.

The Marketing Lab Jonathan Fennell 01 resized 600


The Marketing Lab Jonathan Fennell 02 resized 600

Fig. 4 AFTER

Vincent DeVries needed to highlight his specialty, cut down on the image clutter and instead show large and powerful images

The Marketing Lab Vincent DeVries 01 resized 600


The Marketing Lab Vincent DeVries 02 resized 600

Fig. 6 AFTER

Ramblin Lamb used PhotoShelter and SmugMug to house all their images for stock sales but it wasn’t a proper vehicle for their commercial work.

The Marketing Lab Ramblin Lamb 01 resized 600


The Marketing Lab Ramblin Lamb 02 resized 600

Fig. 8 AFTER

Your Website is Your First Impression

So in closing, if you can’t afford a custom website, hopefully you can see the value and benefits of a template website. Remember - your website is the first place a potential client will see your work so you need to make your website a budget priority.


About Suzanne
Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators all over the world, and is also a partner in the Creative Collision video series featured on Agency Access' blog, The Lab. Suzanne has been heavily involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, giving her the opportunity to work with some of the most established artists in the business. She founded the art buying department at The Martin Agency in 1988 and left in 1999. She has also worked for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and smaller agencies and companies. Suzanne Sease Productions

1. Template vs. Custom Websites: The Great Debate (Part 2)

2. Dialogues Podcast: Template vs. Custom Websites: The Great Debate (Part 3)

3. Website Layouts and Templates That Attract Art Buyers

Consistency is Key with Design.