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How to Choose the Right CMS for Your New Website

Published: August 11, 2014

A content management system (CMS) is a website-building platform that enables people with little or no coding skills to update and manage their own website content. This frees the website owner from having to depend on an expensive programmer for recurring routine tasks.

There are two basic types of CMS platforms in common use: open source and custom

  • With an open source CMS platform, the source code is readily available for anyone to use and modify as they see fit. Developers and designers can customize the software and distribute it for use by others who are using the same platform. Popular open source CMS platforms include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
  • Custom or closed source CMS platforms have been developed by individuals who retain full ownership and rights to their software, which cannot be modified or customized like open source CMS software can. Rights to use custom CMS software are usually licensed, but may be available for outright purchase depending on the individual developer/owner.

Open Source CMS Platforms

The advantages of an open source CMS include

  • No monthly recurring fees to pay for using the software. If you go with WordPress, you’ll have hundreds of free WordPress themes to choose from as well as paid theme options that you can buy for a one-time fee. Beyond that, expect to pay a designer a one-time fee to build out your theme. As with any website, you’ll have recurring domain and hosting expenses.
  • The freedom to do whatever you wish to with your website. If you ever part ways with your designer, anyone with experience in your particular open source platform will be able to easily handle your future needs.
  • The ability to easily customize your website. WordPress alone has hundreds of plugins to choose from that will give you the look and functionality that you need.
  • A worldwide community of developers and designers that you can call on for advice and suggestions if you ever get stuck.

On the downside, open source CMS platforms

  • May present certain security risks. Open source means that more people are familiar with the coding used on your site, which may leave you vulnerable to security breaches. Fortunately, there are a number of plugins and code modifications that can be employed to secure your site.
  • Are only as good as the designer. You need to check your developer’s references carefully to ensure that your site will function as it’s supposed to.
  • Are subject to possible support issues whenever you employ third-party plugins.

Custom CMS Platforms

A custom CMS platform might make sense if you

  • Have highly specialized requirements that require a customized solution.
  • Are concerned about the possible security issues inherent with open source platforms.
  • Need to have your CMS integrated with back office systems such as inventory control and accounting.

The disadvantages of custom CMS platforms include

  • The high cost of developing and supporting a customized solution.
  • The recurring licensing fees for accessing software that you don’t own.
  • Being locked in to your developer. You can’t just stop doing business together – your developer has the right and the ability to shut down your site the minute you stop paying. Finding a replacement developer to work on your website might be a long and costly process; in some extreme cases you may have to start over with a brand new site.