Do You Need a Custom CMS? No! | LunaMetrics Blog

Do you need a Custom CMS?

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broken keyboardNO.

As tempted as I am to end the blog post after that first word/sentence, I owe it to you to explain. It seems recently (in the past year) I’ve run across a number of sites that use custom built content management systems (CMS). Two in particular are client sites. Although they each have varying degrees of awfulness, it got me thinking about why web designers and developers feel the need to create custom CMSs for sites that would be better off using an opensource CMS, like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla.

Although I could speculate about why I think developers create custom CMSs, it would be just that – speculation (and it would most likely just anger the designer/developer community). Instead, I asked a web designer I know to help me understand why custom CMSs are even considered anymore, given the easy access to numerous free alternatives. He helped me come up with the following list of reasons for a custom CMS:

  • Security through obscurity – hackers are writing scripts for popular CMSs, not custom CMSs.
  • Custom functionality – sometimes the purpose or function of a site is specialized enough that a custom CMS doesn’t address the site requirements in the most efficient manner.
  • Cleaner code – sometimes a site may be so simple and focused that you don’t need all the bells and whistles of WordPress or Drupal, and the code can be cleaner and less bloated.
  • Any other reasons? Let me know in the comments.

Those are all valid reasons, but to how many sites across the web would they apply? Not many, I think. The kinds of sites that I do see getting custom CMS treatment tend to be of the garden variety business web sites. You know the kind, less than 100 pages, typical online brochures with a home page, about us, products/services, contact, TOS/privacy policy page and not much more.

These are the sites that clearly do NOT need a custom CMS. Yet time and time again, I see business owners that don’t know any better, and they end up with a poorly performing site (especially from an SEO perspective). To give an example, one custom CMS I worked with didn’t even provide the ability to change title tags, meta descriptions, or URLs (all things that are easily done in WordPress, for example).

So, if you’re redesigning your site, here are some things to keep in mind if your design company is pushing a custom CMS:

  • They lock you in – anytime you need an update to the system, you have to go to them. Those updates can get pretty expensive (good for your design company, bad for you).
  • Bugs – if they’re building the CMS from scratch, there will be bugs. Are they willing to fix those? For free? For how long?
  • Fit and Finish – your brand new custom CMS will not be as polished in terms of look and feel or usability, because it hasn’t undergone multiple updates that pass through hundreds of developers with feedback from thousands.
  • Functionality – they may not include critical functionality (like the ability to write custom title tags and meta descriptions for each page, custom URLs, etc.). Even worse, they may charge you extra for this functionality and call it an “SEO package.” Don’t get me started on that one.
  • Documentation – there may not be any well written documentation on how to use it, make changes, etc.
  • Migration – once you realize how much better you would be with an opensource CMS, it can be a nightmare to migrate your site from a custom CMS. (see reason #1)

Here’s some more food for thought. WordPress has five lead developers, three designers, nine contributing developers, two documentation and support specialists, eight developer emeriti and countless testers. It was first released on May 27, 2003 and has since been updated 59 times, averaging a major release every six months or so. That’s nearly 7 ½ years of development (for free). Can your web developer offer that?

Additionally, if you need custom functionality for your web site, or you don’t want it to look like a cookie-cutter site, there are endless possibilities for customization. Instead of creating a custom CMS, your designer could create a custom theme, or your developer could write a custom plugin. But even that is often unnecessary when you consider the number of plugins already created for popular opensource CMSs:

  • WordPress: 11,704 plugins
  • Drupal: 6,739 modules
  • Joomla: 6,002 extensions

So, do you need a custom CMS? I think I answered that in the first sentence.

Am I wrong or missing a side of the story? Please tell me so in the comments.

Jim Gianoglio is a Senior Analytics Consultant. He works with implementation, analysis and training of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. Before focusing on analytics, he led the SEO campaigns of Fortune 500 companies in the insurance, retail and CPG industries. Things you didn’t know about Jim: he’s biked from Pittsburgh to Washington DC in 41 hours, roasts coffee beans and has done voiceovers for TV commercials.

  • http://www.joelpinkham.com Joel

    What’s even worse than a custom CMS is a sub-par CMS created by a web dev agency for their 40 clients or so…and then they charge you a licensing fee. Are they having a laugh?

  • http://www.gapup.com Benjamin Rosenthal

    I agree 100% Jim.

    There’s one more big reason I see why developers implement their own custom content management systems.

    Sheer laziness.

    They’ve cobbled together a system that kind of works over the years since before WordPress and Drupal were as good or as popular as they are today. The system works for *them*, not the clients, and they don’t want to change. They see learning how to develop on a new system as lots of work and don’t want to give up something *they’ve* grown used to, see as easy to use, and are now proud of.

  • http://twitter.com/jgianoglio Jim

    @Joel – Absolutely! It’s amazing that people pay for a CMS that’s clearly less functional than many opensource CMSs.

    @Benjamin – thank you for the insightful comment. I hadn’t considered that angle before, but it definitely makes sense.

  • C. Bagdon

    Bravo Jim, bravo.

    My company fell into this trap years ago and is still paying for it today. It takes weeks for their “design” company to edit something that I could do in 10 minutes.

    The lack of ability to edit URLS, page titles, etc. makes optimizing the site comparable to swimming with my arms tied behind my back.

    WordPress and Magento is all a company needs to have a high-quality, functioning web presences and they’re free.

  • http://www.internetperformancegroup.com Chuck Topinka

    Jim, you probably could have ended the post after the big NO! Great article!

    Personally I don’t buy the reasons your web designer person gave:
    * Security through obscurity
    – While this is true, it only takes 1 hacker to compromise your site and it doesn’t have to be through something CMS specific. All they need is the underlying technology (PHP, .NET, whatever) and then deploy generic attacks at that level. I’d prefer to have tens or hundreds of developers with thousands of installations motivated to combat the hackers rather than relying on some one-off developer to find out what happened and get my site back up.

    * Custom functionality
    – This is nearly hogwash these days with the plug-in nature of the CMS products you outlined. You can customize just about anything and only have to build the piece(s) that require customization. I haven’t seen a set of requirements yet that wasn’t at least 50% met by off the shelf components and building half of something is going to be quicker than building all of something. Besides, once you build that custom module for a popular CMS it can be monetized by either the client or the developer (depending on the agreement) if appropriate.

    * Cleaner code
    – Designer/developers tend to think everyone else’s code is crap. I don’t see any business clients buying based on code cleanliness. Once installed, use the admin facility to lock down or hide any of the unneeded bells and whistles. At least if the site grows and those are needed at some point they can be turned back on. It takes about 2 hours for us to install Joomla including provisioning the server, setting up the database, transferring files, and running through the initial configuration–most of that time is transferring files and we can do something else while that happens in the background. The needs would have to be VERY simple to be able to code, test, and debug a custom CMS in that amount of time. Use WordPress and you’ll probably be fully up in even less time.

    Maybe I angered some of the designer/developer community, but the good ones I know are platform agnostic and look for something to get them started rather than building from scratch.

    Sorry for the rant.

  • http://twitter.com/jgianoglio Jim

    @Chuck – you’re rant is very much appreciated! Thanks for offering your views on this issue.

  • http://www.hunterheitzman.com Hunter

    we reluctantly have had to build custom-CMS based sites for 1 unfortunate reason: our largest client self-hosts and their woefully outdated server won’t support any of the well developed, modern setups like WP, Drupal, Joomla or MODx. we try to do what we can (built-in SEO features), but when ever given the choice we implement a proven system.

  • Robbin

    @hunter, good point. We are always finding out new reasons why designers and developers do this….

  • Mike G

    No offense to the author, but Point 1 is bad advice, in the worst case. Time and time again the security community has warned that Obscurity is not Security and conflating the two is dangerous.

    The “cleaner code” (Not Invented Here?) argument reminds me: The development time already sunk into the preexisting solutions includes debug and security responses – any customer using a custom would have to foot that bill *entirely* themselves.

  • http://shalamov.ru/ Custom CMS Guy

    Your article is plain wrong. You just don’t realize how powerful and convenient are the modern frameworks to build custom content management systems, such as Django or Ruby on Rails.

    Quality of the work depends solely on the qualities of the master. Be it custom or conventional CMS. Find a professional and let him decide whether you need a custom CMS or not.

    WordPress has cleaner code? – Bullshit. You’ve probably never had a chance to compare it’s code to any of a modern web frameworks. Have you ever used Django templates? Try and compare them with WordPress templates. They are far cleaner and superior.

    1. If you can’t afford to hire a professional which you can trust, use opensource CMS.
    2. If you can – let the professional decide.
    “NO” is the wrong answer.

    • Robbin

      But Custom CMS Guy, wouldn’t you go out of business if no one did a custom CMS? Just a little curious….

  • http://shalamov.ru/ Custom CMS Guy

    Robbin, I do both, write custom ones and support opensource ones. I can hardly imagine that at some point people will stop building custom CMS. Just because when task is getting complicated, at some point it gets easier to write new CMS from scratch than to keep hacking opensource one.

    My point is that different tasks require different tools to fulfill. If your task is simple there is a big chance that opensource CMS will be a good solution. But don’t be too shortsighted to blindly disregard an entire idea of using custom CMS. I’ve seen projects that failed because of this.

    People don’t build skyscrapers or cathedrals with the same technology as they use to build trailers or shopping malls.

    Tools of choice don’t solely depend on complexity of a task, but also on it’s uniqueness.

  • http://www.internetperformancegroup.com/ Chuck Topinka

    @Custom CMS Guy, we just had a project where our client had a custom CMS because their developers felt the requirements warranted it. There were a lot of custom requirements. However, now the company was hand-cuffed to the developers because they were the only ones who “knew where all the bodies were buried” and their admin person was the only one who knew how to use the system. This is a terrible position for a company to be in.

    We took a look at their custom requirements, suggested ways they could make slight modifications to their requirements to work within a known framework, and turned around a solution using commercial off the shelf products in about 1/10th the time it took for the original product to be built and at less than 1/4th the cost.

    When considering whether to build or buy it’s important for the company to consider whether this is their core product or not. If the company is developing the next Facebook, that’s a build. If selling or manufacturing widgets, look hard for a buy and only build if an absolutely last resort (but call me first so I can talk you out of it). LOL!

    @hunter has another reason to build I hadn’t thought of-screwy technology. I once had to use a product that created a website out of an IBM mainframe. That was a build in alien territory for sure–CICS. Only 3 companies on the planet had done it at the time.

  • http://shalamov.ru/ Custom CMS Guy

    @Chuck Topinka: “When considering whether to build or buy it’s important for the company to consider whether this is their core product or not.”

    Yep, I totally agree with it. Or, in broader sense, whether IT is your liability or a core asset. If former, it is reasonable to invest some effort in examining different means to build your web application.

    Chuck, you need to keep in mind that todays modern web frameworks such as Django and Rails are really revolutionary if compared to previous ones. This is not yet understood by many non-IT people.

    Rails and Django distinguish data models and templates to construct UI, thus making a lot easier to update an application, read it’s code etc. And they make you less dependent on your current developers.

    Look at the WordPress, it was a great application when it came out. It is great now. But when you look at the technology, you see that lots of things could be done better with todays tools. WordPress templates vs. Django templates is a perfect example. I used to write big applications in PHP, but today when I need to add some new feature or edit WordPress template, I constantly get disgusted at unnecessary complexity. PHP complexity is a hidden cost. Python is so easier to understand.

    I think there certainly is a future for some opensource Django-based WordPress analog.

  • http://shalamov.ru/ Custom CMS Guy

    “Or, in broader sense, whether IT is your liability or a core asset. If former, it is reasonable to ”
    Ops. Of cource, “if latter”.

  • http://phawk.co.uk Pete Hawkins

    I agree, but only in part. Packages like wordpress, expression engine and drupal can be very good, free options which are usually very easy to code plugins / custom design templates for. For the majority of basic websites these solutions can be perfect.

    The problem with this arises when a client who is not technically minded goes to use it, wordpress is the best of the 3 I have mentioned above and is still quite hard to use for a non techi client. If a client who is not very experienced in the art of the internet, he may prefer to have an ultra simple custom cms solution to do an ultra simple job.

    Joomla (don’t get me started) is a horrendous user experience. Even for myself, a designer with over 8 years experience, I struggle to see how it is used. I would NEVER pass any client onto this system, no matter how savvy they are.

    Then we come to the advanced systems, almost web applications need their own cms to do a bespoke purpose. This may not be primarily where this argument is aimed, and I also seek to see the companies who design the cms’s in question, as I assume you have never seem one designed well.

    When (even a basic) cms is designed by professional designers and developers, it is a much more lightweight solution on the server and on users response times to the website they are viewing. WordPress and drupal are clunky, running a lot of code to get what the user needs.

    In short, web companies who tie you in with poorly designed, coded and hard to update cms’s do a very bad thing for the industry.
    Cms’s that are build and designed properly should be easy for another web development firm to manage and update and if another firm fails to do so, they are probably worse than the firm you where with before.

  • http://twitter.com/jgianoglio Jim Gianoglio

    I’m honored at the amount and level of discussion that’s been brought to this post in the comments!

    @Pete, @Chuck and @Custom CMS Guy — these are definitely good points of view to consider, which I hadn’t thought of as deeply until now.

    Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discourse – let’s keep this dialogue going!

  • http://blog.mc-ws.com Russell Dunkin

    Jim,

    Great post. I don’t have any experience from the design end. However, we are literally in this position today – “custom” cms that restricts what we can edit on the site, and is mind numbing compared to my experience with WordPress. I am actively encouraging management to move web hosts and use WordPress or another CMS for the backend. I’ve received some push back on using WP over security hacks. Is that something that is a past problem, or are there more secure options that work as easily as WP?

  • Robbin

    Russell — the big problem (IMO) with WordPress and security is when you don’t constantly update to their new versions. But maybe others want to weigh in here?

  • Jafar

    The future is in Framework CMS’s

    That way when you need to add on, you’ll have the knowledge and ability of framework, such as Rails, Django, Yii already available.

    Things are becoming more customized, which require flexible pieces. Customization is the heart of innovation.

    I just made a CMS that used the API’s of Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, Flickr, and YouTube. So I offloaded all these services to third party vendors making my CMS very lightweight.

    Typically my Drupal 6 websites would load around 3-8 secs, optimized.

    My custom CMS loads all pages under .5 seconds. I like that, Google likes that, and clients like that.

    Another benefit of a custom CMS….custom admin areas. WordPress admin is decent…but not for everyone…Drupal admin sucks, a little better in 7.

    Another benefit of custom CMS? Creating mobile websites and Flash websites that sit on top of it or to the side of it. Ultra flexibility.

    The market saturation of WordPress developers means only one thing…people will get sick of it soon enough.

    I’m very appreciative of the open source tools and I think they created a nice marketplace for developers… but those developers didn’t just appear out of thin air. They worked on custom stuff and brought that knowledge into opensource communities.

    So what have you done for your open source cms lately?

  • http://www.indieswebs.com/sendfriend/product/send/id/9/ Magento Extensions Store

    Thanks , I have just been looking for info about this topic for a long time and yours is the best I have found out till now. However, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the source?

  • Guiro

    I believe Jafar and custom CMS have great points of view about the options and the future. If we are developers it is important to see clear all the posibilities and in some cases give some light to the client that “some friend told open source is THE way”.

  • my2cents

    the answer can’t be no for everybody because say your building a custom social network, i would think you should also get a custom CMS solution as its ultra flexible since its tailored to your website needs and can be improved on as you go along. as far as bugs go, even with ready made options you can still experience bugs as they are not flawless either!

  • Matt

    There are very good in between solutions. OpenCMS and Pyro for example. These give tremendous flexibility not found in WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. If you’re an enterprise level client, sometimes those three just won’t cut it, and hacking them into shape will lead to even more headaches down the road than having something built from scratch.

  • http://nlwcgladewater.com timbocf

    I’m a firm believer in hand coding all my sites. I’ve delved into customizing zen cart, Drupal and WordPress before and consider them a horrible experience… I’ve hand coded our church’s website and added to it over the last two years and it has evolved nearly into a basic custom cms. We are considering adding live streaming video and online giving to the site soon and ive wondered if I should just bite the bullet and convert to a full fledged open source system like WordPress or Drupal. Is it worth the hassle?

  • JugularKill

    There are various reasons for choosing OS and reason for custom built, not a simple as “go for Opensource”

    I’m no expert but let me correct:

    “They lock you in”:
    No they don’t, any developer should be able to pick up from the previous work, if it’s a mess the new dev should clean it.

    Bugs:
    There’s a thing called “TESTING” & “Debugging”. Also you are likely to have more bugs on an Opensource CMS because it’s more complex.

    “Fit and Finish”:
    WordPress was designed for general purpose, a custom CMS is designed specifically for the objectives of the stakeholder. So it doesn’t require thousands of devs input.

    “Functionality”:
    There are various reasons for excluding meta descriptions, sometimes it’s left out because they forgot, sometimes because they are advanced & know what they are doing.

    “Documentation”:
    Every time I make a website for a client I provide full documentation. (Expect it)

    “Migration”:
    If your website is made of just text and images it’s not a nightmare to migrate. It’s usually common sense.

    So why have a custom CMS?

    – Faster: A custom CMS is very likely to be faster than any Opensource CMS.

    – Smaller: The actual engine of the site will take up less space.

    – Cleaner: Much cleaner, less clutter in the code. As a client you only have the options you need not a million to decipher.

    – Plugins: Misunderstanding…There are more general plugins than WordPress, Drupal & Joomla plugins. You can’t always just drop a general plugin no designed for that Opensource cms, for wordpress it’s a nightmare and it’s better to stick to only wordpress plugins.

    The reality is, a custom CMS has way more plugins than any opensource CMS, the terminology “plugin” and “script” is theoretically equal in this context.

    Concept Design: Opensource CMS are tacky with html. And you can’t just do what you want, you have to build “custom themes”, configure the content structure, code all your custom parts etc. The effort can !sometimes! be comparable to a building a custom CMS. Look at Drupal Developers salaries, they don’t get all that money for putting their feet up, they have to put in hard work to customizing the opensource CMS.

    Just my 2Cents!

  • http://tarential.com Preston St. Pierre

    I see I’m digging up an old topic here, but it is near to my heart right now so I must comment. I have created a custom CMS (saintcms.com) for use with my clients’ websites and reading your article has helped convince me that I made the right decision.

    You suggested a few reasons for creating a custom CMS. They are correct, but I have further comments.

    1) “Security through obscurity” is a boon, but it is nothing to rely on, and my CMS doesn’t. Saint has strict security protocols in effect to counter attack vectors such as SQL injection, cross site scripting, cross site request forgery, brute force password guessing and session hijacking. Users of my CMS have top notch security combined with relative obscurity to lower the probability of attack.
    2) “Custom functionality” is exactly what my CMS is built around. Think of it as a framework with an inline interface for all generated content. In addition, I’ve already built in functionality comparable to many of the major players.
    3) “Cleaner code” I believe I have, as a result of using a PHPDoc-style commented Model-View-Controller architecture, but regardless of whether my code is *actually* cleaner I am far more productive using it. After all, I designed it for rapid development and I know it extremely well. My clients benefit from the lower cost of website creation.

    So you see, I like your reasons to make a custom CMS. Now let me look at your reasons not to.

    1) “They lock you in” – I don’t. I released my CMS as open source and none of my clients will ever have to worry about lock-in.
    2) “Bugs” – There are bugs, of course. I fix them immediately when clients inform me via e-mail or instant message. I intend to continue doing so indefinitely, but even if I didn’t my previous point applies. It is open source and anyone can take up the gauntlet.
    3) “Fit and Finish” – Here I disagree. It is the very number of developers which can cause these open projects to become a hodgepodge of unfriendly interfaces which change from plugin to plugin or even section to section. Since my CMS has an inline interface it is already fairly minimalistic and I customize the administrative theme to match each client site.
    4) “Functionality” – Mine offers the features you list and far more, all for free.
    5) “Documentation” – I produce full API documentation, a user guide and a developer guide for each major release version. They are available on the product website for free.
    6) “Migration” – Not only is my system fully documented, but exporting the data in any format you wish is as easy as writing a new view for the model.

    There’s another reason to create one’s own CMS as well. It’s the same reason a web development company should host their clients’ sites (in as open a fashion as I’ve created the CMS): To a client, you are responsible for the website. They don’t want excuses. “It’s not my fault the server went down” or “It’s not my fault the latest software update broke your website” just doesn’t cut it. Can you honestly tell your clients “No matter what happens, we’ll solve it” when all you’re really doing is waiting (and hoping) for someone else to apply the fix?

    Your reasons are certainly valid for some custom content management systems. I’m happy to say that Saint CMS offers users the freedom, security, and reliability that other custom systems lack. In addition, the performance of Saint CMS matches and exceeds most of the popular open source systems such as WordPress.

    A good article, and very true when applied to the closed, proprietary systems offered by many other small web development companies.

    Preston St. Pierre
    Senior Programmer
    Aparadine Software

  • hello

    I’m currently creating an eCommerce store using wordpress – a personal project. So far it’s good but I’m not satisfied. I don’t like the bloat files and I know can run the site with fewer files and codes (I’m a minimalist). As I did create a custom store using php and mysql before, I’m missing how I control everything and make it work exactly what I want without the excess codes. The only thing that I needed to work on is the security, which I now prioritize hardening.

    So, for personal projects – I prefer custom coding (except blog). While for clients, I use CMS like wordpress for fast development.

    And the reason why I like custom coding is for me to learn.

  • http://scodal.com ScoDal

    People that don’t understand WordPress don’t trust WordPress and it makes me want to slap them in their silly little heads. “But my site isn’t a blog” they say

  • Marcus Miller

    i would say and no to a custom Cms, it depends of any case.

    And each reasons written above are right, some webmasters might be more strict about the security of their site, and maybe want a clean code.

    After all if you imagine that a hacker finds a weak point in a popular cms like wordpress, joomla, drupal, he would be able to hack thousands websites.

    From my experiences, i used (still use) both types, open sources and custom built cms. I like wordpress because it’s prolly the most complete open source cms in the world, but i also used the skills of some developpers who made a great light cms with cleaner code than wordpress and without bugs, they even give me update and support for free.

    So, in my case, i join the both sides of the people that say yes to open source CMS and Yes to Built ones, all depends of the requirements of the webmaster.

  • Tim B

    In my experience, people who only use open source CMSs do so because they can’t really program. I can see the appeal to designers with no or little development expertise as they don’t need to pay someone to build the site.

    I am a pragmatist. I look at each job and decide based on the requirements. If it’s just a blog WordPress is fine. If they want a forum, I’m definitely not going to code that from scratch. eCommerce? Depends on the requirements. I might go bespoke, I might use Lemonstand.

    I think it’s great there are so many option available but, in general, I find these platforms can only please most people, most of the time. It makes me cringe when people try to make WordPress do anything other than blogging and simple publishing.

    The reasons for not going bespoke listed in the article above are really an attack on second-rate developers rather than those that go bespoke. I am an ethical businessman and let my clients know they can leave me any time they like and that they won’t have a massive problem in getting a new developer to use my code. In six years though, I’ve never lost a client so I must be doing something right.

  • Richard Peck

    Reading all the above comments, there is one company which has proved that customs cms is the “future of the web” I’ve recently took a demo of blackmonk.com built in Django and Proves its meetle…

  • jawshyouwah

    This has been a great read, though maybe a bit discouraging for me personally. I’m about 3/4 of the way through launching a custom CMS for a client. I chose to go the custom route because they are in a very, very locally competitive industry and I wanted to take as little risk with their SEO rankings as possible. I actually put off moving them from the static site I’ve been maintaining for them for years because of this. Their page rank is business critical. So, because of this, I decided that the only way for me to move them to a CMS that could maintain almost the exact same content structure was to build the CMS from the structure inward. We just started with a new SEO company and I just sent the e-mail informing them that the new site will be a custom CMS and I’m sitting here waiting for the “are you nuts” e-mail to come back.

    I qualified with “I know this is going to sound nuts”, but I also let them know that since it was built to be pro-SEO first, that anything they want to do, add, or customize in the interest of SEO can absolutely be done.

    I’ve worked with Drupal and Joomla. I’m not a major developer for the platform, but I’ve tried it out. To me, these platforms are great if you are starting a brand new site and can basically organized based on how these systems are organized from the beginning. But if you’ve got an existing, well-established site with solid page rank, reorganizing your site or having to move around and change the labels of your content etc. in order to fit the platform is a very, very scary prospect. And customizing a huge, broad, one-size-fits-all CMS platform to fit your existing site exactly can be more daunting than reinventing the wheel…more like trying to make a square roll.

    These comments have really got me torn though. I really want the very best for my client. This company has become more of a friendship and I’m not even charging them for the CMS development…I make my money elsewhere and I don’t want to lock them into my services at all. I want them to be able to make basic content edits on their own, post some blog items, update their pictures, and then have a developer (me or someone else) help them with anything else, which is a step up from now which is having to have a developer handle even basic edits on their static site. I’ve kept the code very simple and I’m working on tightening up security. I’ve even got the system set up to do a redundant static page write to a hidden directory which will be backed up periodically so that we will have a static mirror of the site with the exact same structure and content that we can revert to if anything goes wrong. My rationale regarding the future beyond me is that I know and have met tons and tons of skilled PHP/MYSQL developers who will be able to extend or work on this site with ease. I can’t throw a rock in this town without hitting a PHP/MySQL developer. But I don’t know that many people who are so well-versed in Drupal and Joomla AND PHP/MySQL development that they can just pop in and build/alter quickly and efficiently.

    I’ve also tried to imagine this client’s staff trying to work with and figure out the back-end managers of these existing systems. They aren’t going to want to touch it. Trust me, I’ve helped them set up their e-mail, they aren’t going to want to mess with the CMS editor themselves as they are. In the custom CMS, I’ve got the sections labeled for the SEO guys and sections labeled for the staff. The SEO guys can edit all of the head content and even add their own if they want it. The staff section allows them to update the basic content, upload some pictures, and be done with it. I’m scared of the client staff being exposed to everything available.

    But after reading all of this I’m having second thoughts. Am I nuts? Has anyone had any experience where preserving page rank of a well-established site was absolutely critical and you implemented one of these well-known platforms? And how did it work out and how difficult were the modifications? Were you successful?

  • An Idea for Custom CMS

    How about custom CMS for banks, The Marketing Manager needs a especial module for promotions only, Credit Cards department needs to upload new card images and promotions and have all the information updated and online, foreign exchange rate needs to be updated every day, you need to keep historic information online of these rates, online calculator for loans, FAQ routing questions to different departments(loans, or credit cards, or marketing, or customer service, etc), online security modules for people to avoid phishing, contact information….but info for every ATM…and placed on a map….with search tools….. I can continue….. is there a WordPress like this? can the wordpress admin console adapt for every type of person using this?(I am not talking about roles, I am talking about the fact that the usability needs will vary from one module to the other) Also the bank has to be compliant with ISO, PCI….internal security policies, and most of those rule out open source…. I am pretty sure there are lots of interesting case scenarios where custom CMS is the best option. Posting in a 2 year old topic just for fun 🙂

    • http://www.lunametrics.com Dan Wilkerson

      I would think that qualifies for each of Jim’s prerequisites when considering a custom CMS!

      Dan

  • http://diamondstarmedia.com John Diamantakos

    Risks of using WordPress: Of course, there are disadvantages to using WordPress too. For example, using WordPress presents a data security risk due to the common source code. Furthermore, because WordPress was originally intended for blogging, features and functionality often become problematic when utilized for entire websites. And lastly, because the skill sets of WordPress developers varies, quality support can be inconsistent and not always professional. These reasons alone should make people pause and consider what they expect from a WordPress website. Check out this article that also gives a great comparison.. http://www.diamondstarmedia.com/blog/wordpress-vs-custom-css-whats-best-for-your-business/

  • http://tinyurl.com/exclhouse54765 http://tinyurl.com/exclhouse54765

    “Do You Need a Custom CMS? No! | LunaMetrics Blog” was a
    terrific posting. However, if it owned even more pictures it would be even even better.
    Take care ,Latrice

  • http://www.adster.ca Andrew Forster

    Great post, and nice perspective from both sides.

    For me, I think it depends on the client. If you’re building a simple 5 page lead gen website, a CMS like WordPress or Joomla is overly cumbersome I find. Custom CMS’s (depending on there purpose) can be a useful tool for an internet marketing / small web design firm. I do agree however, WordPress kicks some serious butt and is by far the best.

  • RG

    Here’s a reason… because IT department said NO to open source! I was the lead web developer overseeing a team of designers to revamp a college website. (I don’t work for the college anymore). The reason IT did not want open source was because they didn’t know PHP… they only knew Java and ASP and didn’t want to learn. When I was part of the bidding process to find an outside company to assist us (for political reasons) building a new website and CMS, all 7 companies that bid suggested Drupal and all but one company were experts in Drupal. While I never used Drupal at the time, I was a PHP developer so it seemed perfect!! But no! IT didn’t like open-source. They wanted “proprietary” software so they could call a help desk for support! CRAZY!!…. So… we bought a very expensive enterprise solution that used… wait for it… open source Apache Velocity and XLST! Nuts right? IT didn’t know Velocity (simplified JAVA) or XSLT, so… wait for it… I had to learn the script myself and train my developers! Wow! OK that’s my rant. Thanks for coming! : )

  • Tom

    Every CMS is a custom CMS. Every company is unique and every company site web is unique. Open source is free but it is not cheap. Custom website there are only a few people who know how to develop in it, but you only pay for what you need.

    For a developer the real question is what is a CMS. Is is pre-set functionality you can plug in to a site or is it a toolbox so you don’t have to develop the same code over and over again regardless of functionality.
    It should be a toolbox.

  • http://www.sifagroup.com.au Jaylon

    Still very relevant! Great post.

    We generally use WordPress for most websites, but use drupal and Joomla depending on the project and the functionality needed from the site.
    We have recently been pondering setting up our own CMS using Bootstrap, as what Tom said, to use as a “Toolbox”. But you just can’t beat the thousands of plugins that are available for WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

  • http://www.reflectdigital.co.uk/build Paul Simms

    A discussion started a long time ago but still going strong! I have to say I do agree with some of the comments in this article, especially when referring to sub-standard bespoke cms that don’t “even provide the ability to change title tags, meta descriptions, or URLs” But I do find the opinions a bit short sighted, a well built custom cms can offer a much better user experience for a client.
    For someone to say:
    “There’s one more big reason I see why developers implement their own custom content management systems.

    Sheer laziness.” What a load of rubbish, using a open source platform is often the lazy option! There are of course exceptions however it is much easier to build a simple website with an open source platform than invest the time in producing a quality, much more user friendly CMS.

  • Moksaphoto

    I think everything has its function. If you say no for custom CMS, I have to say you are very narrow sighted. You probablky had very bad experience with custom developers, but it does not mean every custom CMS developer is bad. Throwing a bunch of numbers of plugins to proof your point sounds funny for me. Guess what, many plugins can be as well built into custom CMS systems as into any other open source CMS. Furthermore since CMS programmers know how their system works they can do even a better job + fixing issues with plugins.

    You think customs CMSes in general have bugs. I think it depends on how careful the developer is…. plus you are very wrong if you think open source plugins are free from bugs. Many years ago I first started using Drupal but got frustrated so much about the lack of functionality and support, the high number of bugs that after 2 weeks of struggling, I decided to write my own CMS system. That was about 12 years ago.

    My system went thorough many upgrades since then, but I still use it and running 80 websites on this system even today. My clients love it and it is much easier to use than those over complicated open source sisters. Even people who come from WordPress told me they like my system much better. And I never ever got hacked even though every once in a while my sites are under heavy attacks.

    I “love” when someone says programmers make custom CMS to tie their clients. This is nonsense. People hire IT professionals to build websites because they do not know how to do it nor have the time to learn web programming properly. Do you think that if they have no idea how to build a website, then they will be able to migrate a website to another provider or under a new system alone without a support of another IT professional? And trust me, that IT professional will not do this for free… In addition, excluding those typical “aboutme/gallery/contact” websites, clients often need custom functionality that can not be resolved by built in open source modules so then you have to write a program. And from that point your site will become custom website and you will need a programmer again for any modification or upgrade. You have to trust your IT guy just like your car mechanic or your doctor. So you’d better pick a good one… 🙂

    If you want to build a simple, but beautiful website with a ready, finished admin accessibility very fast, open source can be a good option. When it goes to customization, I do not think so… I agree that it can be time consuming to develop something alone or with a small group, but in many cases, reliability and fast response for user requests are more important than beautiful templates and hundreds of plugins you will never ever use…

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