Building a New Website? Know the Trade-Offs Between WordPress and a Custom Content Management System (CMS)

Small business owners and marketing directors: I hope this post saves you time and a headache. When you are tasked with building a new business website or updating your current one, your first decision should be whether to build it on a Content Management System (CMS), like WordPress, or on a Custom Content Management System. So many companies make the mistakes of not looking at long-term maintenance costs or thinking that WordPress can’t be customized enough for their business. Make a more informed decision by weighing the pros and cons of each choice below.

First, what is a content management system? TechTarget has a solid definition of a CMS. Essentially, it’s a set of tools that allows a company to manage digital information on a website through creating and maintaining content without prior knowledge of web programming or markup languages.

Onto the comparison:

WordPress Site

Powering over 28% of the web, WordPress is the most widely used Content Management System (CMS) in the world. The runner-up is Joomla at 3.2%. As a small or mid-size business, you should be able to achieve everything you need in a website using WordPress.

  • Pros:
    • Easily Update Site Content (images, text, pages) through a user-friendly, web-based interface; no coding experience required, so you or an employee can make edits to your website directly once it’s built, without involving a developer.
    • Thousands of Templates: because it’s so widely used, there are thousands of templates you can use to build your website. Templates range in price from $10 – $200 with the average coming in around $58. Before selecting a template, be sure to make a list of all of the desired functionalities and features you’d like your website to have immediately or down the line so that you choose a template that includes them.
    • Extensive Choice of Plug-Ins: plug-ins are pieces of software that allow you to add additional features to your website. Some business owners I’ve worked with are wary of WordPress because they believe a template can’t achieve all of the unique features they want on their website. This is a misconception. There are tens of thousands of WordPress plug-ins out there, so if you’re wondering if a certain feature can be incorporated into your website, the answer is likely “There’s a plug-in for that.”
    • Control and lower maintenance costs: Because of WordPress’ widespread use, many developers are familiar with it. This means your business will not be beholden to a select few developers who can charge higher prices for more complex edits to your website because it’s built on a less widely used or custom Content Management System. You also can have full control of your website once it’s launched.
  • Cons:
    • You or a hired website host will need to update to the latest version of WordPress and any plug-ins periodically or your business will be exposed to security risks or incompatibility issues that result in performance loss — this goes for any software.
    • Website will run fast, but not quite as fast as a well-developed site built using a custom CMS.

Custom CMS Site

Custom CMS websites are the right choice for larger businesses that have a very specific user experience they are trying to create that cannot be met without extensive development resources using a CMS like WordPress. There is a tipping point where the amount of redevelopment that a WordPress site would need to get the functionality a business needs is not worth the cost, and a custom solution makes more sense. The vast majority of small and mid-size businesses are not at this point.

  • Pros:
    • 100% customizable — WordPress templates are not.
    • No software updates needed.
    • May run faster than a WordPress site if it’s well-developed.
    • If there is a functionality very unique to your business that you need your website to achieve, a Custom CMS gives you the flexibility to create just what you need rather than being limited to functionalities that are compatible with a WordPress template.
  • Cons:
    • You’ll need to hire a developer for even the simplest updates like swapping out an image.
    • More complex updates like adding a photo gallery or a new form will require a developer and more spend; with thoughtful template selection with a WordPress website, these features can be added by enabling modules or functionalities that are already coded into your template.