How to Customize a Website Template – Video

I’m a strong supporter of using web site templates to create web sites. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually designed my own sites. It just takes way too much time. With so many website template repositories on the net today, there are more than enough choices to pick from.

Although I’m not a professional web designer, I do have above average web design skills. So, buying a template and customizing it for my needs is quite an easy task. But what if you’re a complete beginner? With no technical experience whatsoever. Is it as easy?

Well, it depends.

On what? On what type of template you have.

Types of Website Templates

In the olden days, there were only HTML templates at our disposal. Templates that we can customize with software such as Frontpage, Dreamweaver, Golive etc. Today, however, you can find all kinds of templates for many popular CMS (content management systems).

Don’t let the term CMS frighten you. If you’ve been online for awhile, you’ve probably heard of WordPress, Joomla, vBulletin or OsCommerce. These are all a form of CMS. What they do, is allow you to manage your content without having to worry about the design of your site. To learn more on CMS, check out my post Ditch your HTML Editor for a CMS.

If you want to create a site with more than 5 webpages and plan to update your content regularly, then you should seriously consider using a CMS. With a CMS all you need to do to change the design of your site is to purchase a template for that CMS, install it and presto you’ve got a new look. And yes, it IS that easy.

If, however, you are thinking of creating a 5 page brochure type web site with static content then by all means, use the conventional web design software. This tutorial will teach you how to customize a web site template using such a software.

Choosing a Website Template

It all begins with the template. Sounds simple enough? Unfortunately, choosing a template is not as straightforward as it seems. Choosing the wrong template can prove to be a disaster.

Earlier on, I headed over to Template Monster to download their free sample template to use for this tutorial. When I opened up the template, I was appalled at what was staring me in the face.

Here’s a great looking template that was an absolute pain to work with. The navigation consisted of images, the heading text were images. In fact, there were more images then anything else. So, in order to customize this template, I would have to make extended use of a web graphics software. Deleting the wrong image from the template could even break the whole design. There is just no way I can teach newbies how to customize this template without scaring them off.

I realize that one can go crazy looking through all the “to die for” templates out there but choosing the right template can make a lot difference.

What to Look For in A Template

Having said that, what is it that you should look for in a template?

Firstly, find templates that are simple. Forget about Flash animations and drop down menus, especially if this is the first time you’re you’re doing this. Simplicity is THE way to go. And find one that doesn’t make extensive use of images.

Secondly, a template which relies on CSS for its presentation is much better than a template that uses HTML for presentation. You don’t need to know what CSS is for now. All you need to know is that a template that uses CSS (properly) means that there is a separation between content and presentation.

What does this mean?

Put simply, you can add and manage your content easily without the risk of mucking up the design (presentation). This is as close to using a CMS as you can get.

When choosing a CSS based template, it is best that you look for a template that uses simple CSS coding. Nothing advanced, nothing fancy.

How do you tell if a template uses CSS or not. Well, most website template providers will group all their CSS templates together. So, look for a CSS category. If there’s none, go to another template provider. And how do you tell if they use simple CSS? Well, hopefully, they will have a description of the template that tells you so.

After watching the video tutorial, you will quickly appreciate why it is important to get the right template. I decided to use one of Andreas Viklund’s free website templates for this tutorial. I love the simplicity of his designs.

What to Change in A Template

To customize a template for your site, all you really need to change are:

  • The header
    The header would usually contain branding elements for your web site. This could be a logo, a header image or even just your sitename in simple text.
  • The menu items
    Different sites would obviously need different webpages. You will want to add, edit or delete items on the menu list to reflect the webpages you have on your site.
  • The footer
    Normally, all you need to do with the footer is just change the copyright notice.
  • The content
    And of course, the unique content that goes on each page.

Now, let’s take a look at the following video tutorial to see how it’s done. I’ll be using My Free Website Builder for this tutorial because it’s free and it’s the only other web design software I have on my computer other than Dreamweaver.

Just one more thing before you watch the video screencast tutorial. To make this process as easy as possible, it is important that you pick a template that is closest to what you’re after, this includes the layout, the images and the color schemes. Keep this in mind.

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