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Custom CMS and Open source CMS. Which one should you choose?

A custom CMS or an open source one? Which is the best option for you? 

If you want to create a good website and you’re not super skilled in informatics, you need a CMS (Content Management System): a platform where building and managing your contents.

The convenience of adopting a CMS is that of having a workspace available to be shared with multiple collaborators and to manage your site independently (or almost). Even more importantly, the CMS allows you to update what you have created over time: from textual to graphic content.

There are many open source CMS that can be right for you, but there is also the possibility to own a customized platform. In this jungle of options, which is the best choice? Let’s see in more detail what the differences are between open source and custom CMS.

Open source CMS: the main ones

Maybe the acronym CMS doesn’t mean much to you, but you will surely have heard of WordPress, Wix or Joomla. These are some of the most used Content Management Systems to create showcase sites, blogs, e-commerce…

WordPress is certainly the most widespread (it seems to power more than 40% of all websites in the world!). Its success is partly due to the ease of use and integrations with other softwares: even those without IT experience can create a complete site. How?

The peculiarity of open source CMS is that they allow the installation of plugins (both free and paid) to add more features. For example, there are plugins to collect contacts through customizable forms, to collect data in compliance with the GDPR, to verify the SEO effectiveness of contents… In short, there is a plugin for almost everything. 

Why do we call it “open source”? 

You may be wondering what open source means. The code on which this type of CMS is based is contained in a shared repository and anyone can use, modify and spread it. This means that open source code can be improved/transformed through a community peer review network. 

Since they are projects that thousands of users have access to, open source softwares (OSS) have a longer life than privately generated ones. WordPress, for example, has been around since 2005.

Owning a CMS

An alternative to open source CMS are those created specifically for your business by a web agency or a webmaster. It is a custom platform with source code accessible only to a few selected people.

The peculiarity of this type of CMS is that both the management software and the final site are completely customizable according to your needs. Do you need the site pages to be listed in alphabetical order in the management software to find them better? Or are you looking for a specific kind of heading? The choice of the elements to highlight, the functionality and the appearance of the site is only yours.

Furthermore, being private, the source code of custom CMS is more secure than open source code: it will be more difficult, for example, to organize a hacker attack against it.

Open source or custom? This is the question

Is it impossible to build a website without a CMS? Of course it is! You have to be a skilled programmer, though. Basically you will have to create static HTML files and upload them to a server; you will then want to give a graphic style to your site and then you will have to juggle with a good dose of CSS; if you also need to insert some interactive elements, you will need to know Javascript… and then move on to everything related to backend programming to manage what is behind the site.

Using a CMS is not mandatory, but it is a good practice if you are not sufficiently familiar with programming or graphic design. The real question is what type of CMS to adopt.

Open source CMS are relatively cheap and offer good basic performance. Many plugins also have a free version. Costs related to the domain, the hosting platform and those related to legal aspects (privacy policy, cookie banner, terms and conditions…) are excluded. If you want a site with specific features and built according to SEO, user friendly and marketing oriented, however, the advice is still to turn to professionals in the digital sector. In this case, costs will increase further, but the results will not be long in coming.

Beyond costs, open source CMS have a great advantage: they do not have a real owner. If you need to change providers, you won’t also have to change the platform you built your site on and it will be easy to find someone who is already familiar with that tool.

A proprietary CMS, on the other hand, is tailor-made for you. This means that it has unique characteristics that are known in detail only by those who developed it. An aspect that could prove problematic when changing supplier. Why opting, then, for this type of platform? The answer lies in extreme customization: an open source CMS is like a suit bought in a store, a proprietary CMS is like a suit made to measure by an expert tailor.

As for clothes, the choice falls on the objectives to be achieved and the budget. The ownership option is undoubtedly the most expensive, although the development of a site with an open source CMS managed by professionals can prove to be an equally important investment. This is why it is essential to make a careful evaluation of KPIs and short and long-term objectives before making a decision on which CMS to adopt.

One thing is clear: standing out in the ocean of active online websites is like standing up to a 30 meter wave while balancing on a surfboard. And your website is that board.