I've seen articles (and websites) that suggest you can buy a website template and skip the expense of hiring a professional website designer. Recently, I read several testimonials from the very satisfied customers of a website template vendor that mentioned how quickly they were able to get their sites done. The template vendor commented that he/she had known people to complete their websites in around two hours.
With experiences and statements like these, it not surprising that more and more people are attempting to build websites themselves. I think that's great in a way. For those of us who are concerned about the trends in the web industry and community, it's great to see more people becoming web oriented and involved.
However, I think there is a misunderstanding by many of these people about what a website template really is - and is not. At this point, I think it only fair that I should mention that I am a professional website designer (the person you supposedly don't need anymore). I should also mention that this is not my sole motivation for questioning this idea of templates replacing web designers. As a matter of fact, I think website templates are extremely useful. I recommend using them to my clients as a way of getting a great graphical look for their site. What I hope to convey is that template consumers need to know what they are and what they aren't getting with a template.
Consider an analogy for templates: pretty boxes for very important gifts. If you buy a pretty box, and put all the right stuff inside it - won't everybody want to open the box and use the contents? Doing it yourself will save time and money - so why not? Sounds good, and the people who wrote those testimonials would certainly think it was a good idea - right?
But let's consider the contents of the box. Aren't you the best possible source for information about your company, organization, product or service? Of course you are! So the content of your box is bound to be great - right? Well - yes and no. Good web designers know that their clients are the best sources for the information that needs to be presented on their websites. However, they recognize that not everyone can organize that information in the optimal way for inclusion in a web page. If the contents in the box are wonderful, but jumbled, or hard to get out of the box, people may not like the box (or worse yet - the owner of the box). Just as a badly considered gift (even a beautifully wrapped one) may offend someone, a poorly organized site can actually harm your efforts.
Take the analogy a bit further. Assume that all concerns about the content are dealt with: it's perfectly organized and you've got a knack for writing copy that would make most professional journalists green with envy! Voila: great looking presentation, content and organization! Now you've got it made - or do you? Where is the box? Your audience needs to find this incredible box before they can open it.
A website template, no matter how beautifully designed or filled, is a box in the middle of a desert. Without adding content and description meta tags, titles, alternate content, proper use of text links and alternate navigation and registering the site with search engines, directories and obtaining useful links (to name but a few of the technical considerations), your pretty box may remain in the middle of that desert. It does no good for anyone if it isn't findable on the web.
A website template is a pretty box. Pretty boxes make a difference or we wouldn't all spend so much time wrapping all the gifts we give. Some people make their own boxes and wrapping paper - and that's really great. But most of us buy mass-produced boxes and wrapping paper. It saves time and money. So do templates. But none of us would assume that boxes or wrapping paper would make up for a poor gift. Website templates make sense if they are kept in perspective as a specialization of labor in the production of websites. They are not however, a substitute for the experience, knowledge and judgment of professionals who have a vested interest in your success.