A template is a pre-built design for a website and is an excellent way for you to build a web presence on a tight budget. While templates lack the finesse of a custom design, they work well for most small businesses. You can download it on your website, and almost instantly make it great looking. (Of course, you might have some things to set up and configure, but the style comes instantly!)
Unfortunately, scammers can use templates and pass them off as a custom built design. They buy a template for around $10 to $200, install it on your website, then charge you thousands for work they didn’t do.
The Best Way to Catch the Template Scammers
This scam can be a bit hard for people to catch. The problem is that the people designing the templates are professionals, and there are plenty of great looking templates out there. If you don’t know what to look for, it can be hard to tell a template from custom work.
If You Plan On Using a Template from the Start
If you’re looking to hire a designer to modify a template, then make sure that you find and buy the template yourself. That way you know where your money went, and how much the designer will charge for the modifications. You’ll also have the benefit of owning the files if you choose to go with someone else.
Catch a Scammer Who's Trying to Pass a Template as Custom Work
When hiring a designer to build a custom website, it can get a bit tricky to spot a scammer. Templates are extremely popular and for good reason. They can be modified for your needs, are significantly cheaper than a custom design, and look pretty darn good!
If you feel your custom design isn’t really custom, look around at template providers to see if you can catch any blatant similarities. This can be a bit time consuming though.
Another way to catch the scammer is by looking through the code itself. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything about code!) Most template companies will copyright their work and will leave trademark info in the code. Scammers will remove the copyright info on the site itself, but might not remove it in the code.
For example, I used a template as a starting point to build this website! Within what’s called a CSS file, you can see Joomla XTC’s copyright info. Pictured below is what you’ll find in the file named template.css on this site -
If there's copyright info and it doesn't match the web design company that you’re using, then you know something may be wrong.
Finding your CSS files may differ depending on what tech your websites using. You can look through your website hosts documentation on how to find them, or contact them if you need some help. Also, if you're using a CMS, you can find them in your admin panel.
However, just because there's copyright info that doesn't match the company you’re using, doesn't instantly mean it's a scam. It’s common practice for designers to publish free, open source code for other designers to use and modify. This is a legitimate way to reduce development time and save your company money. (Think of it as a ”Don’t reinvent the wheel” situation.)
For example, Bootstrap is a popular design framework provided by Twitter, and it’s used on this site. In the picture below, you’ll see Twitters trademark info -
If you find trademark info in the code, be sure to look into it and follow the links to see what the company is.
Going back to my example, if you visit Bootstrap's website, you’ll see it's a place to download the framework. If you follow the link to Joomla XTC, you’ll see it’s clearly a template design company.
Final Thoughts About the Template Scam
I wish I could say there’s a good way to spot a template scammer before you get scammed, but I haven’t found anything. Just keep in mind it’s always best practice to sign a formal contract that outlines the details and cost of the job.
With a formal contract in hand, you will be better off if you need to file a dispute with your credit card company or PayPal.
If you’re looking to purchase a template, I would check out the links listed below.
You might notice that I didn’t list Joomla XTC, the place where I got this site's template from. While I won’t say that you shouldn't buy from them, I wasn't happy with the way the template is built, which made it difficult to modify. (This is a bit ironic considering I simplified the original design from being flashy to business professional.)
Template Monster - These guys are one of the biggest and most well known template companies. They sell templates, plugins and extensions for just about everything!
Theme Forest - Another large company that sells templates, plugins and extensions for just about everything!
Elegant Themes - A company that sells WordPress themes only. I haven’t personally used any of themes, but they have a custom drag and drop website builder that may interest any do-it-yourselfers out there!