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Bespoke SEO vs Off-the-shelf

Bespoke SEO vs Off-the-shelf

We were asked recently by a journalist to discuss the pros and cons of bespoke web design vs off-the-shelf, with regards to SEO. Here are our thoughts...

The trouble with off-the-shelf from an SEO point of view is that they lead you to believe that you can simply buy a plugin and job done, you’ll be on page 1 of Google. Also it implies that SEO is all about a mystical technical widget that will magically get you top of Google.

Bespoke SEO considers all aspects including:

  • Getting the keyword research right. This is so often overlooked or not done thoroughly enough. Vast majority of websites actually optimise for the wrong set of keywords for their business.
  • Quality of the copywriting – off the shelf also implies DIY when it comes to copywriting. This often leads to poorly written copy which is stuffed full of keywords. This ultimately is negative for your SEO and chances of getting an enquiry.
  • Design of landing pages – let’s assume you achieve page 1 listings, you then need to convert the click into an enquiry or sale. Bespoke wins hands down in terms of quality of the landing page design and CRO (conversion rate optimisation).
  • SEO strategy – an off the shelf plugin cannot devise a SEO strategy. With a bespoke approach the SEO strategy is integral to the whole process from design through to programming and beyond. To formulate a strategy we need to really understand the business and objectives of their online marketing.
  • From a technical point of view we can build the SEO into the site from the ground up as opposed to doing SEO retrospectively.
  • Adaptability – If Google brings out an algorithm change we can adapt our approach very quickly.


Our head of SEO has added his comments below on the more technical side of SEO.

  • Building bespoke caters for Google’s page speed algorithm, ensuring your pages only load and use what is actually required, thus keeping load time to an absolute minimum.
  • Building bespoke gives greater control over design, ensuring that essential layout components and keywords are appropriately positioned on the page for both usability, and for Google’s above-the-fold algorithm
  • In comparison, off-the-shelf websites usually involve a reliance on 3rd party plugins, themes and content which will often contain a lot of unnecessary resources which slow down page speed. Any plugin and theme built for off-the-shelf websites should be carefully investigated as not all will be sufficiently built with SEO in mind
  • Often a reliance on 3rd party plugins and themes means that any SEO advisories made by the likes of Google Webmaster Tools and Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool could require a lot of work and re-configuration, and sometimes may involve a change in plugin/theme altogether
  • Off-the-shelf websites are commonly found to be more vulnerable to security and hack attempts due to the open-source nature of their setup, as well as 3rd party plugins which may not have up to date, and appropriate security measures in place. Google can pick up on any sites which it suspects may have been hacked or compromised by assigning a label of warning alongside the website in search results. If a website is ever hacked or compromised, it can lead to significant time and costs for recovery, particularly in terms of search ranking.
  • Regardless of whether you build bespoke or off-the-shelf, it is still essential to have an experienced SEO expert or agency advising and working to make your site SEO friendly both initially and ongoing. Off-the-shelf may provide quick and ready-to-use SEO tools at lower cost, but this isn’t a replacement for receiving tailored advice and support for maximising SEO.

As with many cases, bespoke is best for ultimately getting the best and most tailored end-result. The main incentive of using off-the-shelf both in the context of web design and SEO would be cost. The time and cost required to install a theme or plugin that includes ready-to-use SEO tools is much less vs bespoke. But given how imperative search visibility is to businesses nowadays, business owners need to consider whether the potential for lower cost outweighs all of the above.

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