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Posted by Amit Chail on September 24, 2015

Back in August of 2013 we wrote a blog post titled, Which Content Management System is Best for Your Business? That blog explored differences between the 3 biggest off-the-shelf CMS providers; Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress. In this article, we are going to weigh the pros and cons of off-the-shelf content management systems (CMS) vs. a custom content management system.

Before I dive into the differences, let’s do a quick lesson of what a CMS actually is. A CMS is a web application that has been designed to make life easy for someone who is non-technical. That user will be able to add, edit and completely manage their website without writing a single piece of code.

There are tons of content management systems that are available to web developers (paid and free). Many of these are starting points to build a website upon. One of the most popular and well known content management systems is Wordpress. Wordpress has been around since May of 2003. Another very popular CMS is Joomla which has been around since 2005. Both have a very strong following and user group.

Why is off-the-shelf so popular?

Designers or Front-end Coders that don't know PHP or MySQL, use off-the-shelf tools because they can install and configure them without editing any code. Even if it's not an ideal implementation, it's better than nothing, and certainly faster than trying to learn the underlying technologies. Developers or Backend Coders that don't have branding or marketing knowledge, a trained eye for design, or experience with tools like Photoshop, use off-the-shelf tools because they include basic templates or basic customizations that they can implement themselves. Again, these might not be ideal, but they know how to install them, and may not know what they are missing.

Do-it-Yourselfers that need something that they can implement with no design or coding and are willing to spend the time themselves learning and configuring it, use off-the-shelf CMS tools,  usually for personal or small projects with little or no budget.

Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress Logo

Overview and Comparisons

Customizability

Joomla and Wordpress have been created in a specific way, so when a client needs something to work differently than the way it was initially intended, development time goes up. Also, customizing a pre-built CMS system can leave some security holes in your website.

Security

Pre-built content management systems are usually well known for their security and patches. These systems have been in development for years, so most issues have been thought of. The problem is that these systems are open source, and can be downloaded by anyone. That's why Wordpress and Joomla websites are often hacked. With a custom CMS, no one will see the code except for the developer. Security holes are a lot more difficult to find.

Plugins

There are tons of plugins available for Wordpress and Joomla websites. If you want new functionality on your website, there is a good chance that the plugin is available on the Wordpress / Joomla plugin page and most of the time it will be free. The disadvantage will bring us back to customizability. If you want the plugin to work differently than the “out of the box” option, the plugin will need to be customized which brings cost up.

When you need a feature to be added to a custom CMS, usually the person who created the CMS will be building the extension or plugin. What that means is that the plugin will work the way it was intended and the exact same way the client / customer expects it to work.

  Pre-built CMS Custom CMS
Security
  • Installed on thousands of websites. When one website is exposed, all are exposed.
  • Code is available to the world. Hackers are constantly trying to find security holes in the current versions of these systems.
  • Security holes are usually quick to be patched but if the user does not update the system, the security hole is still exposed.
  • Not installed on thousands of websites so security holes are more difficult to find.
  • Usually a hacker will not be able to tell if the system is a static website or a database driven website.
Speed
  • Pre-built content management systems have tons of plugins and features that come pre-installed which slows down the system. On top of that, developers will add additional features and plugins. This leads to a sluggish system.
  • A custom CMS usually only has the features that you need which leads to a much faster website.
Ease of Use
  • Off-the-shelf tools try to have every feature anyone would ever want, 90% of which you don't need.
  • Training time is usually extensive.
  • Because you have only the features you need, the control panel on a custom CMS is usually pretty straight forward and the training time is drastically reduced.
Design
  • Off-the-shelf tools often have a specific way of doing things that they want your design to adapt to, rather than the tool adapting to your design.
Deliverability and turn around time
  • Because a lot of the features on a pre-built system are already complete, usually only development of a template and customizing needs to be done.
  • If the website has a lot of modifications, this time will be increased by a lot.
  • Functionality on a custom CMS are custom which usually will add more time to the development of a more extensive website.
Cost
  • For a basic site without a lot of modifications, this option would be cheaper.
  • Because the website is custom, usually the cost to build this system is more expensive than the pre-built option
Updates
  • Because there a lot of security holes discovered, there are tons of updates
  • If you do not have a developer updating your website on a regular basis you website is at risk
  • If you have added any plugins, especially plugins that have been customized, you run the risk of you plugin breaking when updates are run.
  • Security holes are rarely found on a custom CMS which means updates are rare.
  • When updates are requested, usually it is because a client has requested new functionality.
  • Because the developer is familiar with the system, the development time is reduced and you won’t run the risk of anything else breaking on your website.

So, what's the verdict?

Both off-the-shelf and custom content management systems have their positives and negatives, but in the long term, we personally believe the custom option is the best option. When you consider the aspects of longevity, updates, adding features and ease of use, custom makes the most sense.

Here at BTI we build both custom content management systems and develop off-the-shelf systems. Give us a shout for more insight and to discuss the best option for you.

Do you agree or disagree with some of the comments in my post? Use the comment field below.