Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
These days, it is easier than ever to get your website up and running with a website builder. What was once an expensive and technically prohibitive process is now easy and simple for small businesses.
Site builders accomplish this through the use of template websites that allow you to plug your information into a ready-made design. Far from being generic, a site builder like Wix offers over 500 professionally designed templates. But no matter how well designed, there are various reasons why you’ll need to customize that template—whether to accommodate your specific content, to bring it in line with your brand or simply to make your site stand out from others using the same template. The good news is that templates give you a solid place to start, and modern website builders include intuitive tools to customize your website.
We’re going to break down the basic steps for customizing a website. But before we dive in, if you don’t have a website yet, we make it easy to get yours off the ground with Wix’s free website builder.
Your essential guide to website customization
- Website customization basics
- What you need to customize your website
- How to customize your website
Website customization basics
Website customization is an open-ended pursuit. There are infinite ways to approach customization—because every person has different goals. For some, customization might look like changing the font and color scheme of a template site. For others, it might be an exhaustive overhaul, making the resulting site unrecognizable from its starting point. Before we dive in, let’s define some basics of website customization.
Source: customizable website via Wix.
- What are customizable websites? A customizable website is a website you can change. Any website can be customizable—it comes down to a question of degree. A fully customized website is one that you create from scratch. A partially customized website is created from a template and altered according to your specifications. We’ll be focused on partially customizable sites in this article.
- How do you customize a website? There are two broad aspects of a website that you can customize: the design and the code. The website design refers to the front-end aesthetics (the color scheme, fonts, images, etc). The back-end code is the machine language that gives functionality to the site. A web designer and a web developer will be able to customize the design and the code, respectively. Website builders, like Wix, allow non-designers/developers to customize without writing a single line of code, using intuitive features like drag-and-drop tools, menu options, direct editing and more.
- What’s the difference between personalization and customization of a website? Personalization falls under the umbrella of customization—both describe making changes to the site. Personalization specifically refers to changing a template to make it more reflective of who you are, but this can be as simple as uploading your logo. Customization can include substantive changes to a website’s layout and functionality.
- How much does it cost to design a website? The cost of website customization will depend on the extent of your goals. Even with a free website builder, you will still have to pay a fee for domain and hosting. Website builders may also charge subscription fees for advanced features and tools. If you’re not customizing your website alone, you will have to factor in the cost of web designers, developers, copywriters and any other contractors you might need.
What you need to customize your website
When it comes to customizing your website, the sheer number of options available can be both liberating and daunting. Making a list of everything you need is the best way to avoid getting overwhelmed. Let’s go over some of the most common considerations.
Source: customizable website via Wix.
- Make goals for customizing your website: Articulate why you want to customize your website. What are your site’s overall goals? Whether you need better brand consistency or higher clickthrough rates on a specific page, you should be able to justify every customization choice.
- Develop your brand identity: If you haven’t done so already, developing a brand identity will guide many of your creative decisions. Decide on your brand’s personality and communication style. Create a visual identity that establishes your brand’s logo, fonts and color schemes.
- Research the market: Research your target audience and competitors to understand your audience and other brands’ strategies. Additionally, find inspiration from the sites you admire.
- Make a list of content you need: What features are missing from your template? Which existing features do you need to alter? This is another opportunity to ensure you have a reason for every addition or change that you’re making. Towards this end, it can be a good idea to make rough wireframe sketches of your intended layout ahead of time.
- Decide on the degree of customization: Are you looking to customize the surface design or include some missing functionality? In the latter case, you may need third-party plugins (ready-made applications that you can plug into your site). Research this beforehand to choose a website builder that supports the necessary integrations.
- Understand the basics of design: Whether you’re customizing the fonts or the entire layout of the page, it’s good to brush up on design basics. Design elements are the individual aspects of a design, each of which you can customize. Design principles describe how to style those elements effectively. Visual hierarchy, typography and color theory are other important fundamentals to be familiar with.
- Get familiar with the website builder interface: Although website builders are designed to be intuitive for non-professionals, many website builders work in layers, sections and grids, which can take some effort to wrap your head around. Watch tutorials about the site builder interface and learn how the tools work.
- Plan a budget: Don’t get caught off-guard with unexpected costs! Start early and note down website builder subscription fees, quotes from freelancers or contractors, license rights for fonts and stock imagery and any other assets or personnel you might need.
Source: customizable website via Wix.
How to customize your website
With your plan in place and your template selected, we can start customizing your website. While not an exhaustive list, we’ll go through some of the most common approaches to website customization. We’ll continue to use Wix as our main website builder, but remember that these tips are applicable on other platforms (depending on the available tools).
Customizing the header
The header is the first thing visitors will see. Not only is it essential for practical reasons, establishing the purpose of the site and housing the main hub, the header is responsible for the visitor’s first impression. The header typically contains the logo, main navigation bar, search bar, shopping cart and contact links. The home or landing page will also include important above-the-fold features, like a hero image (a large graphic that represents your brand or product), a succinct pitch for your business and a call-to-action (CTA).
Source: animated logo header tutorial via Wix.
Here are some ideas for customizing your header:
- Add a scroll effect – The header doesn’t have to be static! Because it’s so important, you can customize the header to make sure it sticks around as the visitor scrolls the page. For extra points, you can make the header disappear as the visitor scrolls but reappear when they scroll up or hover over it.
- Animate your logo – Adding a hover animation to your logo is a slight visual touch that goes a long way with visitors because giving feedback on their actions heightens their engagement with the page. This requires an animated version of your logo already made, so consider the DIY route using logo animation software, like VistaPrint’s Logomaker or hiring an animation designer.
- Replace navigation with images – Navigation images (hyperlinked graphics the visitor can cycle through like an image carousel) are a stylish way to change the tired menu bar. Consider adding text on top of these images to get the best of both worlds.
- Make your hero image a video or animation – The hero image engages the visitor visually. Moving imagery does so with a cinematic flair. Videos and animated GIFs can typically be uploaded in the same way that you upload an image.
While scrolling is an aspect of web design you can’t physically see, it is the most consistent interactive movement a visitor makes. You can customize your website with scroll effects that enhance visitors’ experience. Not only does this help your page stand out creatively, but it also makes the visitor feel like an active participant in the magic of your site, keeping them engaged until the bottom of the page.
Source: sticky video tutorial via Wix.
Here are some ideas for customizing website scrolling:
- Create a site frame. A site frame is a background border that remains fixed in place while the other page elements move with scrolling. When objects move at different speeds (or one remains entirely static), this creates a parallax effect, fostering the impression of 3D space.
- Introduce horizontal scrolling. Through the popularity of mobile swiping interactions, users have become increasingly familiar with horizontal navigation (as opposed to the standard vertical). Changing the scrolling direction to horizontal is an easy way to make your site feel dynamic and unpredictable.
- Create a scrolling animation with a sticky video. A sticky video is a video that remains fixed in place as you scroll. You can also customize this video to pause when the visitor stops scrolling. By using a looping animation with a transparent background as your video, you create the sense that the visitor’s scrolling is causing the animation to occur, giving impressive visual feedback to their interaction.
- Gradually reveal images. An image reveal customization gradually animates images to appear as you scroll. This subtle touch makes the viewer feel as though the page is being constructed before their very eyes as they scroll.
- Create navigation anchors. An anchor is a functional tool that assists with long bouts of scroll, allowing visitors to snap quickly to specific parts of the page. One of the most common applications for this feature is to create a button that returns the visitor to the top of the page when they’ve already scrolled a long way down.
Customizing the website layout
The layout of your site will dictate how most of your content is displayed. For this reason, it’s the most complex and weighty aspect of web design. With the layout taken care of by the website builder, customizing the individual aspects of the layout is much more manageable, but you should still be wary of throwing off the flow of the page. Because usability is the first concern when working with layout, read up on best practices for layout design before getting started.
Source: many website builders organize layouts into layered and grouped sections via Wix.
Here are some ideas for customizing the website layout:
- Customize section by section. You can customize the layout by moving, deleting or adding new sections—doing so is often inescapable since a general-purpose template won’t include all the sections you need. Customizing individual sections requires understanding how the website builder organizes content—Wix, for example, works in sections and strips.
- Adjust gridlines and column proportions. Adjusting the layout grid size is one of the most common customizations you will make since your specific content will not always neatly fit into a template. Although some editors allow you to make freehand changes to these proportions, entering specific measurements will keep your site from looking unorganized.
Customizing website text
The text on your website conveys so much beyond the meaning of its words. The design and styling of your written content—through fonts, alignment, spacing and much more—will craft an impression of your brand along with a stellar reading experience. For that reason, a brand guide is a must-have because it establishes rules for representing your brand fonts across different media, including your customized website.
Source: lightbox tutorial via Wix.
Here are some ideas for customizing website text:
- Customize the font-end style of the text. One of the basic features of website builders is the ability to change the font and arrangement of your text. The tools here are similar to those you’ll find in a word processor. Important considerations to keep in mind are justification and alignment, page placement and line spacing.
- Make a text theme. Websites differ from traditional documents in that textual hierarchy is paramount for readability and search engines. For that reason, it’s important to ensure all of the text on your page is sorted by importance into headings, subheadings, paragraph text and more. A template does this automatically, but when customizing the text yourself, use text themes to identify each section of text with the appropriate category. This allows you to style all text of a specific category at once.
- Animate the text. Animated text can be useful when used strategically (be sure to avoid the incessant blinking of 90s website text). For example, you might use a wave animation instead of using bold to emphasize words. You might also animate underlines or doodles to appear when you hover over important headlines.
- Set up lightbox. Lightboxes are content windows that appear on top of the page, usually graying out all the content behind it. A common use case for a text-based lightbox is a pop-up window asking visitors to subscribe to a newsletter.
Customizing website imagery
Because most of us would rather look at a pretty picture than read a brand’s advertising copy, website imagery is an invaluable asset for communication. Website imagery can demonstrate the look of products and how they work, capture the experience of using a product, showcase customers and/or contribute to the overall atmosphere of your site.
Source: interactive image gallery tutorial via Wix.
Here are some ideas for customizing website imagery:
- Enhance, sharpen, crop or add a filter to your imagery. Image editing is best conducted through professional design software like Photoshop, ensuring that the image looks its best before uploading it. But if you don’t have the budget for expensive software (that you probably won’t use regularly), some website builders come with their own image editing tools, like Wix’s Photo Studio.
- Change the image shape. Unless you’re going for a scrapbook or brutalist aesthetic, displaying images in their basic square or rectangular form is not always ideal. Instead, most websites will customize image frames, cropping images into rounded rectangles, circles or more creative shapes.
- Customize image galleries. Image galleries are an important feature for displaying many images at once. Instead of a stale square grid, consider customizing your gallery with unexpected arrangements, like a diamond grid or 3D carousel. Beyond the shape, you can even make the gallery interactive, adding hover animations or drag/drop functionality for visitors.
- Animate your images. While most website builders will allow you to upload animated images the same way you upload standard images, you can also animate how images load onto the screen. This can include images that fade up, expand/contract or drift into the frame.
Customizing website colors
Colors bring web pages to life, establishing the mood of the site as well as highlighting points of interest. As with visual identity elements like fonts, you will want your website colors to match your overall brand color scheme.
Source: website color can come in the form of a solid background or abstract shapes. Customizable website via Wix.
Here are some ideas for customizing website colors:
- Customize background colors. Changing the background colors is one of the more common customizations you will make. This includes the general background and the background for individual sections, where color can be more helpful in differentiating content than hard border lines. Remember that keeping the background white is always perfectly acceptable (and sometimes preferable).
- Start with themes. Website builders come with ready-made color schemes (and usually font variations) that you can swap out with any given template, usually referred to as “themes.” Changing the theme is one of the easier and faster ways to customize your template’s color scheme. Since these are pre-determined colors that won’t be tailored exactly to your brand, you can save time by finding the theme closest to your brand colors and swapping in more precise color information.
- Craft abstract colors. Many websites use colors in the form of abstract shapes throughout the page. These can assist with reading, subtly guiding the eye, or simply provide a fun alternative to standard images. In this case, you would add any abstract colors you’ve created like you would upload an image.
Customize your website today
Website customization can be a huge undertaking, given how open-ended it is. But with clear goals, a solid plan, some design understanding and a robust website builder, you’ll be in the best position to create the website of your dreams.
Website builders give you access to a deep and versatile array of customization tools housed within an intuitive interface and safeguards to ensure your edits are nondestructive. While it may take some trial and error to get your website the way you want it, with enough planning and practice, you’ll have a customized site that looks as professional as anything made from scratch.
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