Custom designed websites can look great and function exactly like you want them to. However, they are also expensive, and time-consuming. If you're just getting started on the website world, there isn’t much experience you can leverage for a high-end conversion optimized, persuasive website. Your goal is to start promoting your business ASAP and not waste your limited budget on creating an expensive fully branded website; there are better ways to spend your resources in those early days. If this is your case, templates are a much better way to go for the design portion of your website, however your template selection must be carefully evaluated.
Websites like HubSpot or Wordpress offer relatively inexpensive templates that are flexible, easy to modify, and fully functional in a short period of time. But when choosing a template there's something you must remember: not all templates are created equal. Some were created to be visually appealing, while others were conceived with conversion-optimization in mind.
Because of the large amounts of templates available, you might find it hard to choose the right one. Fear not kind citizen, for we've put together a few pointers to help you out. Look out for these elements as you are evaluating professional web design templates and choose the one that has them all.
1. Ease of Navigation
This is definitely one of most important elements a template needs to have. How many times has this happened to you: you're browsing a website and one page takes you to another, takes you to another, to another and another, and some pages take you to the same page and you don't know how you even ended up there. By the time you finally get to where you want, you're so frustrated that you just turn it off and have some tea. Maybe not so much drama, but you get the idea.
I like to call this phenomenon the "maze". Unlike the maze, your site architecture must be very simple and easy to navigate through, otherwise your viewers would be repelled. If the template's architecture is difficult, it would be better to go with another one. It might be a good idea to check the website of the company offering the template. If they have easy navigation in their website, it might be reflected in the templates they offer, but this is not always the case.
Gnosis had the right attitude when they picked out this Wordpress template for their website. Navigation could not be any clearer. Whether it is with the quick-access courtesy links, the clear main navigation, or the helpful calls to action, viewers can never get lost while browsing for their mosaics.
2. Clear Elements of Conversion
As marketers, you've probably heard this time and time again: your website should be your best salesperson. But how can that happen if the template doesn't offer the right elements for conversion, i.e. the right elements for the sale to happen. Make sure that the template considers space for large sized call to action widgets in both the homepage and the inner pages, and in both the main and side content columns. Also make sure that it includes a layout for landing pages that the calls to action can link to (more on this point later).
Viroqua Food Coop chose a HubSpot template that offered a 70:30 ratio. Which means that 30% of the space was allocated just for calls to action and other secondary content.
3. Designed According to the Fold
Not everyone using the Internet has a large screen. In fact, a lot of viewers now browse using mobile devices like small laptops, tablets and smart phones. This is why you should be careful with oversized templates, or those that have a really big banner. Make sure that the template enables you to put your most essential information (value statement and relevant call to action) above the fold.
Alamo Ranch Eye have the right idea about choosing a fold-conscious template. Their website is almost entirely above the fold. The only thing you need to scroll down to see is the footer. That way, they can make sure all screen resolutions can display a good portion of their website and they are not overcrowding their viewers with information.
4. Test It on a Mobile Device or Tablet
So how do you know that the template is designed according to the fold? You test it of course. Open the template on a mobile device (or several mobile devices with different screen formats) and see if it works. A good template should still function no matter what the screen size or format is.
Champion Cleaners picked a good template right from the start. When opened on a smart phone, the important information appeared first. It clearly displays their value proposition (“The Best Dry Cleaning Ever... or it’s Free”) and about ¾ of their first call to action. This is all they need to display from it because we can read the entire informative copy and there’s a nice arrow pointing downwards to invite us to scroll and find the button with the action copy.
5. Includes Various Possible Configurations for Inner Pages
As I mentioned before, a huge advantage templates have over custom designed websites is flexibility. There are a lot of inner page configurations like 2 column left, 2 column right, 3 column, full width, etc. It is also imperative in terms of conversion to have a landing page configuration. It would not do to choose a template that only offers one or two configurations for inner pages as you can't do much and it would defeat the purpose of using a template.