I’ve used, and continue to use, many CMSs; I also have my own custom CMS framework. When a new client comes to me, I listen to what they want and then recommend a system accordingly. Having a custom CMS means you have another tool at your disposal.
Yet, it seems custom CMSs are looked down upon by some in the web industry. Most of the vitriol I’ve read seems to come from people who don’t understand what custom CMSs are and the reasons why people like me would use them. I think this comes from the fact that many so-called developers do not have experience outside of generic low-entry CMSs like WordPress.
So, here I debunk some custom CMS myths. Note that due to the nature of custom CMSs some of these points may be true of some developers but in general I regard them as myths that needs to be countered.
“They cost more”
Open source CMSs must be cheaper. After all, they’re free!
First of all, something costing more is not intrinsically bad so long as the additional cost is commensurate to the value it adds to the business.
Secondly, it may be you can download a copy of a CMS for free and install it in a few minutes but it almost never ends there. You need it to be customised. And they often come at a cost. Some open source CMSs are much slower than their custom counterparts. This results in a hidden cost in impact on SEO and user experience.
Thirdly, custom CMSs are not inherently more expensive. In some cases, it’s the opposite once you factor in customisation. The only difference in some cases is that one is free for anyone to download and the other isn’t.
“They tie you in”
Custom CMSs tend to be self-hosted by the client or they host if for you.
I personally do not want to force someone to work with me. I encourage clients to host sites themselves and even if they use my custom CMS framework, the license allows other developers to extend it so long as they adhere to the terms. Many other custom CMS developers take this approach too.
Hosted options aren’t necessarily bad either. For the really inexperienced, hosted options remove the headache of worrying about keeping the platform up-to-date and getting the server set up correctly.
Don’t rule out a custom CMS for this reason, just exercise caution when choosing.
“They’re overkill for brochure websites”
I find this objection odd. Custom CMSs usually bring speed to the table. A website can never be too fast!
The other point is there really is no such thing as “just a brochure site”. In my experience, there’s always something unique to the business that a custom CMS can help with.
Comparing CMSs by feature list doesn’t accurately determine the right tool for the right job. Instead, look at how closely out-of-the-box a CMS meets a client’s needs.
“They can’t compete with larger CMSs”
While it may be true that off-the-shelf generic CMSs come packed with features, those features are largely irrelevant if the client doesn’t need or use them. Comparing CMSs by feature list doesn’t accurately determine the right tool for the right job. Instead, look at how closely out-of-the-box a CMS meets a client’s needs — and how adaptable it is as a client’s business changes and grows. In some cases a generic CMS may suffice, in other cases, it won’t. Saying that open source CMSs are always better is ridiculous and the sign of a CMS shill.
“The support is inferior”
With support for custom CMSs it’s quality over quantity. Open source CMSs may have larger user bases but in the case of a custom CMS you are getting support directly from the architect of the system. You are highly unlikely to get this kind of support outside of a custom CMS environment.
“They’re made by greedy developers”
Let me tell you that making your own CMS takes time. A lot of it. Custom CMSs are often made because off-the-shelf ones are lacking and the developer wants to make a top-quality product as opposed to bending a generic CMS to meet the needs of a client.
I’ve come across people who make two, three, four times what I do even though they can’t actually code. They instead churn out a high volume of WordPress sites and install plugin after plugin on top of a purchased theme until it sort of does what the client asked for.
If you’re only in it for the money, as a developer, don’t go down the custom CMS route.
“You’re too dependent on the developer”
What about the fact a private company owns the code? Contrary to what some believe, with open source you don’t own the code either. The terms under which you can run open source software are more permissive. The developers can still stop supporting the product or take it in a direction that conflicts with your clients businesses though.
I think the “custom CMSs are evil” viewpoints come from people who don’t know better. Developers who have the skills to develop custom CMSs have almost certainly used a wide variety of other CMSs. Those that don’t like custom CMSs likely have only seen things from the open source side — and have a blinkered view of CMS platforms.
As I always say, choose the right CMS for your site. Weigh up the pros and cons and then decide.