The one question every website launch or overhaul is guaranteed to struggle with is which to choose—a custom-made solution or a CMS. If you find yourself at just this stage, then this article is here to help you out.
We have launched hundreds of websites, both custom and CMS-based. Each time we consult our clients about an optimal technology stack, we take into account dozens of factors. Among the aspects to consider are your business’s type and goals, appropriate platforms, system requirements, marketing, and more. Today, we'll share with you some of our tips and tricks that will help you select the best option for your project.
Custom website vs. Standard CMS
A standard CMS is pre-configured software that already includes most of the standard functionalities for website operation. A user can combine them, as well as personalize the UI, to adapt the final solution to suit their specific needs. A CMS helps people without a strong tech background build web solutions more easily and quickly, but the capabilities of such software are quite limited. It would be very hard to build a complex solution using a CMS.
A custom website is a system built from scratch. It's a time- and cost-consuming process, but it allows you to create truly unique and flexible solutions fully adapted to your needs. Such websites can include complex logic and additional levels of security to process tasks that common CMS software simply can't handle.
Custom website or a CMS: That's the question...
... many customers ask us during the planning period. In most cases, we suggest opting for custom web development, since it offers higher quality and flexibility. However, in some cases, a CMS may be an optimal solution.
What’s your case? Let's find out based on the factors below.
Price and ROI
Building a website from scratch is more expensive than using a CMS. Even if we use open source solutions and libraries to streamline the process, custom development still requires more time and effort. In the long run, however, it may turn to be more cost-effective. Custom projects are built around specific business requirements and tend to have a higher ROI.
Also, such solutions are more flexible. If you need to expand your business, you can painlessly add new functionalities to your platform. In the case of a CMS, it may become technically impossible, forcing you to create a custom solution from the scratch and essentially doubling your expenses.
So, if you are planning to scale functionalities in the future, it may be better to start with a custom system. However, if your business is a blog, an online-shop, or any other common online business, CMS is an optimal solution. You probably won't have any trouble, even when your traffic grows, as most modern CMSs can withstand a high load.
Time to market
Developing with a CMS saves you a lot of time. With all of the available plugins and templates, you can build and launch your project within a few days. CMS is your bro when the time to market is critical. Custom projects require a lot of work to plan the architecture and design. This process increases the time to market but also makes your system more future-proof.
Visual attractiveness as well as an intuitive and comfortable navigation process both play a huge role in online business success. Custom websites give you more possibilities to create a unique, branded look and feel and a friendly UX. For example, we can explore user behavior and adapt the purchasing process to fully satisfy their needs. If they get joy from using your website, they'll keep coming back for new deals.
CMS solutions often offer design templates to help you create beautiful interfaces without much effort. This can be a life-saving solution when you don't have a designer on your team. However, prepare yourself for the fact that your website will look similar to thousands of others built with the same template.
Luckily, many popular CMSs allow you to upload custom designs so that you can compromise a bit: you can hire an experienced UI/UX designer to create individual designs for your website and then adapt them to work with your CMS.
Web development is an integral part of SEO. Unfortunately, too many founders overlook that fact. Clear code that works quickly and smoothly, as well as eye-catchy, mobile-friendly design, help you rank higher.
A custom web solution that suits all modern search engine requirements will become your competitive benefit. However, before plunging into it, make sure you have a professional marketing or SEO expert on your team, since you can’t satisfy user requirements if you don't know what they are/
If you cannot engage an SEO specialist, it might be better to choose a CMS. CMS platforms are not that flexible in meeting all demands, but they offer features and plugins that can help you meet the most basic ones, like sitemaps or headings optimization.
Check out a related article:
Native vs. Cross-platform – What App Will Work Best for Your Business?
Do you have plans for what your business will look like in the future? In 1… 3... 5 years? If so, then you need to plan your website accordingly. Custom solutions are highly scalable, and upgrade opportunities are often only limited by your team’s skills. So, if you plan on adding new features, functionalities, apps, AI, etc., then choosing a custom website may be the only right solution in the future.
If your plans are something like "a larger blog" or "a new product category," then a CMS can handle the task. CMS is ok if you won't be adding anything too specific, but if you suddenly decide to do so, you may be forced to rewrite the site from the scratch…and that brings us back to the cost issue.
Quality of code
This is something people don't usually include in the list, but we do. Having a bad codebase is like getting a high dose of radiation: you don't feel it now, but you may meet severe consequences in the future.
Easy-to-read code makes things easier in a long run. New teammates can proceed to work without spending hours trying to understand what their colleagues were doing with each specific line. Custom development is associated with clean code more than a CMS, but only when you do it the right way. For example, our team develops code style standards before proceeding to the development stage. This makes further work smooth and easy.
CMS development has two major issues. First, it requires minimal programming skills to make changes, so code created for such solutions is often ineffective and unoptimized. But, even if you find a super-duper programmer who specializes in CMS—we've got some on our team as well—their perfect code will still be wrapped in the code of the platform, thus worsening its performance (and website ranking).
Plugins and third-party extensions
This is where CMS shines like a diamond. For popular platforms, you can find thousands of plugins that extend website functionality. They are easy to use and integrate, but there's still one painful drawback: the quality and security of these plugins depend on the companies that produce them, and, in most cases, you can't affect them.
Custom web development solutions can use third-party libraries and frameworks that facilitate the process. You can also connect third-party services, like Google Maps, via API. As in the case of a CMS, the quality of these integrations depends on other companies, but you still have some control over the way your platforms communicate.
In terms of security, custom websites are way ahead of CMS. Custom code is less accessible to hackers. You can also include multiple security levels to safeguard sensitive data. With a good cybersecurity expert by your side, you can make a truly bulletproof app.
CMS, on the other hand, can be breached automatically. Since the login to the admin panel is realized the same way in thousands of websites, a hacker can use one piece of software to attack them all. Some breaches will result in success. Another way to compromise a CMS is to break a plugin. As we wrote before, you can't truly affect its security.
A website’s performance is fundamental for quality UX and website usability. With the latest Google updates, it also becomes very important for SEO. Custom websites perform better since they use only necessary code to complete the task. As we said before, CMS code is very excessive. This impacts performance in a negative way.
What should you choose?
When clients come to us for web development services, we always carry out a deep analysis of their business’s specifics and needs. However, if we had to select blindly, we would choose custom development, since it offers more benefits even for small projects.
Ultimately, custom solutions are much more beneficial than CMS platforms. They empower your project with better performance, scalability, and UI. If your solution has unique functionalities, this may be the only way to bring them to life.
Choose custom web development if the following are true:
- Your business offers unique features or innovative digital products.
- You collect and store sensitive data.
- Usability and performance are important to you.
- You plan to expand your offer in the future.
- You have time and resources to devote to the project.
In summary, custom development will let you build exactly what you need to perfectly fit your business needs. This solution will be helpful to digital businesses of any size, especially those who offer new, innovative solutions.
Nevertheless, even being so excited about custom solutions, we still admit that CMS works the best for some cases. If all you need is a simple blog or a website to showcase your offline business, CMS is more than enough.
Choose CMS if the following are true:
- You’re building a common online business without any special features.
- You don't have significant technical and quality requirements.
- You only need minor UI customization.
- You don't plan to add functionalities in the future.
- You don't collect any sensitive data.
- You are short on resources.
In summary, a CMS may be a good solution for bloggers, artists, or companies that mostly act offline. If all you need is a simple, nice, and inexpensive website, CMS is your bro.
Still have any questions? Feel free to ask us. With over 16 years of experience and hundreds of specialists by our side, we can help you select the best solutions for your needs and carry out all necessary web development services. Contact our experts with your request any time!