Free theme vs. custom design

Here at eCatholic, our goal is to create beautiful websites that are easy to update. There are two ways you can create your own beautiful website:

  1. Build your site using one of our free themes.
  2. Invest in a custom website design (i.e., a design completely unique to your organization).

Whether you’re just considering an eCatholic website for the first time or have been a customer for years, we understand it can be a tough call. If you’re on the fence in the free theme vs. custom design debate, here’s a guide to making the right decision to fit your needs.

8 ways to know you’re ready for a custom design

#1: Those ‘grrrrr…’ moments

You often experiment by tweaking CSS on your own…and it doesn’t quite turn out the way you wanted.

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#2: Copycats?!

You just noticed the parish in the next town is using the same free theme as you (gasp!).

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#3:Feedback, please?

You wish you could talk to someone who can honestly tell you what looks good (and what doesn’t).

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#4: What’s the number for 911?

You’ve contacted eCatholic support (perhaps more than once) to rescue one of your CSS “experiments” (see: Reason 1).

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#5: It’s time for a makeover

You’re ready to refresh your image and unify your brand presence (website, social media, and print marketing materials).

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#6: Lost in the crowd

You value uniqueness and want to stand out (see: Reason 2).

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#7: Let’s do this

You’ve done website redesigns in the past (without success) and feel like it’s time to finally get it done right.

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#8: If only…

You have a (long) web design wish list, but don’t know how to make the magic happen yourself.

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How I chose the right website design option

Still not sure which route is best for you? Thankfully, you’re not alone in your website design decision. Here’s some feedback from those who have been in your shoes.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a custom design with eCatholic (as opposed to a free theme)?

Julie Craven, lourdesmpls.com: Although the free themes offered variety and were visually appealing, our parish has specific objectives and focus areas that required the options and design talent offered by the custom design. Our objectives include 1) enhancing our urban evangelization efforts, 2) capitalizing on our identity as the oldest church in Minneapolis and 3) leveraging connections (by way of our pastor’s joint appointment) with the University of St. Thomas Law School.

Michelle Fontanast-ignatius.org: We chose a custom design with eCatholic to increase the awareness of our Holy Cross identity and bring our parish and school together with the same website format for the best user experience.

Q: What was it like working with a free theme?

Michelle: We used a free theme prior to a custom design. The free theme met our basic needs, however we came to realize we needed to up our game to be able to share the good news from our school and parish. When families are looking for a Catholic school for their children they will often start their search online, and we needed to do better with our first impression. After we launched our new custom websites, we are proud to share them with prospective school families and parishioners.

Q: What advice would you offer someone who is trying to decide whether to use a free theme or a custom design?

Julie: Think both short-term and long-term. Make sure you’re designing the site for today and for future anticipated needs. Since your website is the foundation for so many of your digital efforts, make it as robust and engaging as possible.

Let’s look at some examples

Check out other eCatholic custom website designs. Start imagining the possibilities!