17 Jun 2019

Creating your shop window: Off-the-shelf vs Bespoke

Digital Growth Programme consultant Rob Gregory looks at the choices available when it comes to investing in a website, and what the right option might be for your business.

Consumers are looking for your business online, more than likely via a search or a referral of some kind.

90% of searchers haven’t made their mind up about a brand before starting their search. (Status Labs, 2018)

Clicking on a link to your website is an intent to engage with your business and you simply can’t afford to waste that opportunity. That’s why you need a quality website that works hard for your business.

Rob Gregory

I'm regularly asked what the best option is for developing a company website that nails customer engagement and increases conversions. That’s a big one to answer, here I’ll address the question of off-the-shelf vs bespoke websites and look at the pros and cons of each.

What’s the difference?

Off-the-shelf website products are available to anyone, they are generally not expensive to create and can be live and working hard for your business in a relatively short amount of time. In contrast, a bespoke website will often cost more and take longer to build, however as its built just for your business it has the potential to add considerable value to your offering.

To help you make an informed decision on which route for your business should take let’s look at the benefits of each.


Products like Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo and allow you to quickly set up a website by choosing a theme, creating pages and adding your content. A bit of domain name config and you are up and running for as little as £10 per month. Your time will be the biggest cost as you’ll be doing the legwork in terms of creating and publishing the content.

If you want to add more features there are loads of plugins, extensions and integrations to choose from. This is fantastic but be aware you can overload your site with plugins or worse still unwittingly introduce security risks – remember, you don’t always know and trust the developer that built the plugins on your site.

Depending on the platform or theme you choose you might have some performance or SEO work to do to increase your website's visibility in search results. That said these platforms are much better than they were just a couple of years ago. Considering the ease of set up it’s a compromise most can accept.


Usually built by a digital agency or freelancer, a bespoke website is designed and coded around a set of specific requirements you have as a business. Probably these requirements can’t be met by an off-the-shelf product. Either all code is bespoke or something like is used as a start point and then extended. Often a graphic designer will create a one-off look and feel then a dedicated user experience and development team will help turn that into a working website.

A bit like an architect-designed home a bespoke website is built from the foundations up with your customer's needs at its core. Done well a bespoke site should have no compromises and no constraints. Technical SEO will be built in from the start and any extra features will be developed for you.

With bespoke, you get the extra benefit of increased security, ownership and a website optimised for your business, not for the mass market. This all comes at a cost, however, so you really need to calculate whether its really the right choice for your business.

Return on investment

The investment you make might be your time if you choose off-the-shelf or money if you go bespoke. The key is to make sure you see a return on your investment quickly. Remember a website is never finished so you’ll have to keep investing to remain competitive.

If you’re a small or new business, off-the-shelf is probably best for you, if you’re established or have more demanding requirements then bespoke might be worth exploring.

One final thing to remember is to shop around and get quotes for bespoke work. If you choose the product route make sure you try before you buy.

*Find out more about developing great content for your website at one of our free workshops - you can see full event listings here.