You’re looking for a template for your site. You might not be a designer, but you know what you like. Using sites like ThemeForest, you start your research in an effort to find something amazing. Once you find the one you like, you purchase it.

Now you’re starting the process of implementation, and suddenly, you realize that your site looks nothing like the demo that you saw.

This is what I call template delusion. You were sold on the look/feel of the demo, but didn’t ask yourself the key question:

How will this template work for me?

Think about some of these scenarios.

Your site looks much more empty than the template demo.

Many theme demos rely heavily on stock photography and filler text. When those stylistic elements are gone, the template will seem empty.

When looking for a template, make sure you look at some examples that don’t rely heavily on imagery or large, stylistic typography. Blog posts for WordPress are a good example; this will allow you to see some of the color/typography in use. You will want to make sure that the default typography settings are legible and clear. Even if the template is based on a framework such as Bootstrap, template designers will modify fonts – they might not look great as body text.

Your images don’t look great in the template.

The demos sometimes use very specific media to show off the strengths of the template’s design. Your media might need to meet similar dimensions and focus points in order to work well with the template.

Look closely at the images in the demo. Is it wide? Where are the focus points? Is it out of focus? Is there text on top of the image that will make selecting an image difficult? Will it work with some of the images that you have? These are some of the questions to ask. When looking at a template, try to think about some of the media that you already have that could work – also consider restrictions you may have in the future. If the possibilities for images, particularly in large hero elements, are heavily restricted, you might find it challenging to find photos that work.

You’re struggling to fill the template with content.

After seeing the demo for something like a landing page, you’re struggling to “fill out” the various sections of the template.

This happens when you are trying to wire your content to the template. You won’t be able to do this, so before even looking at templates, start thinking about your user’s goals and your business goals. Write them down and evaluate how a template will help you meet those goals, not how you’ll fill out a template to try to meet those goals. Often, there will be templates for very specific products or apps that just won’t work for eCommerce or sites more focused on information.

Your website is not performing well, even after launching a new template.

You have not seen an improvement in metrics or conversions after re-launching on a new template.

There are a variety of reasons why a website won’t perform. Ultimately, the template needs to support your user needs and business goals, and sometimes the template can actually detract from the user experience. For example, templates that use parallax scrolling sometimes modify the mouse’s scrolling behavior or the template tries to preload all of the content using Javascript so it can have fancy stuff like animations. These “enhancements” are actually detracting from the user’s experience.

Start simple with a theme that doesn’t have any animations, preloading, or any other goofy stuff – focus on having a page that loads quickly and has clearly presented information and user paths. Don’t get in the user’s way with modal windows, carousel animations, or other gimmicky stuff. Take the time to learn about behavioral data such as Google Analytics to see where you’re losing people along the way.

You can’t create any of the content that the template promised.

The template requires technical knowledge beyond your skill level to create the content shown in the demo.

Many of the top-selling templates boast about the number of features they have, but sometimes this can be negative. The themes attempt to accomplish this by modifying the core system to make publishing in their design template easier, but this adds a layer of complexity that might hinder your ability to publish content. Before looking at a template, start simple by creating a simple sketch of what you would like your site to look like. This is called wireframing. Here are some examples. A User Experience professional uses a wireframe to create a very early paper prototype of what their pages will consist of. They take user goals (“As a customer, I’d like to contact technical support”) and business goals (building an opt-in mailing list) to create a visual of what the page might look like. You can do the same, and doing so will help you determine if a theme is right for you.

With a wireframe in tow, you can determine whether or not you need the extensive features that a theme might add. Keep in mind, though, that with more features added by the template, the more overhead and risk there is. A good test for this is to ask yourself “Could I create this wireframe on a plain page with no customization?” If so, all you will need from your template is look/feel customizations such as colors and typography.

Have you fallen out of love with a template you purchased? Tell me about it in the comments, and I’ll explain how to avoid template delusion in the future.