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Open source vs custom CMS. Advantages and disadvantages of both solutions

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Products and services have moved mainly online. An owner of a stationary store does everything to make customers feel comfortable. The same is true on the Internet – the challenge is to ensure that users who visit our website don't turn it off after just a few seconds. This is only possible if we take care of the foundation first – the CMS.

CMS stands for Content Management System. With its help, we publish information on a website and decide how to present (visualize) it.

CMS is important

Let's imagine that our CMS isn't very functional or doesn't allow us to present our product or services as it should because we don't possess the necessary knowledge. We're killing our own business this way.

We only have to look at the statistics. Companies with at least three members who, through experience, understand how digital technologies affect the success of the business are a treasure. They yield 17% higher profit margins and bring revenue growth of 38%. — reports the MIT Center for Information Systems Research.

No less important is the data regarding the traffic on a website. A few years ago, the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab showed that 75% of users judge a company's credibility by its website's appearance. Even a long-standing presence on the market combined with numerous successes is sometimes insufficient when our site looks like it meets the standards established a decade ago.

This problem also impacts companies that offer services or products to other firms. The Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab reported that 85% of businesses check a company's website before doing business with it. A more recent study would undoubtedly increase this result.

Looking at the data above, we can see that digital transformation requires us to ensure that we have the best possible website, with a solid CMS as its foundation. We're faced with the problem of choosing between two systems: open source and custom.

WordPress administration panel
The administration panel of WordPress is simple and intuitive

Open-source CMS

Open-source provides access to the source code – we download it and make whatever changes we want. Or rather, we will do it if we have programming knowledge. We create new modules through changes in the source code, each of which is responsible for different system functionalities. The CMS based on an open source license gathers a large community that shares new modules, although the differences between them are often barely visible.

A CMS based on the GNU General Public License (GPL) has the advantage of being free. However, enjoying its benefits is difficult when we aren't familiar with programming languages, such as the popular PHP. Let's remember that a company that makes a source code available for free also hopes to make a profit, for example, by offering to sell domains.

The most highly recommended CMS is WordPress. It's the most popular free CMS for a reason – frequent updates, stability, simplicity, and a vast community make it number one. This year's calculations show that 34% of all sites were written on WordPress. When we take into account only websites that use a CMS, about 60% of them are based on WordPress, and roughly 400 million Internet users visit them every month.

However, when we choose WordPress (or any other open-source CMS), we condemn ourselves to limited development, while a custom system gives much more room for maneuvering.

Custom CMS

Let's now focus on a custom CMS, which an external company will prepare for us. We have two licenses to select from, term and perpetual. The first usually involves a monthly subscription. The second, however, means a heftier one-time fee but gives you unlimited use of the system. After purchasing a CMS, the provider won't immediately leave a customer, as they often get access to free updates for a year and technical support.

But what happens after that time passes? Let's not be afraid that suddenly everything will fall on our shoulders. It's already a certain standard that software developers prepare newer versions of a system that are available for purchase. An additional plus is that we decide for ourselves whether to choose the whole package or only selected modules. Yet another option is to temporarily purchase access to an update, which can be found, for example, by logging on to the manufacturer's website.

The most significant advantage of a custom CMS is that it allows users to create a system that will meet their hopes, as it will be designed for individual needs from the beginning. But a less "spiced up" CMS (with standard options) won't win in a clash with the constantly updated WordPress, whose system and features are continually being improved.

custom cms wordpress
Although WordPress is a very good option, a custom CMS provides more freedom


It's hard to say which solution will be better: an open-source CMS or a custom one. It all depends on our expectations. Individual needs are best met by the latter. On the other hand, an open-source CMS, such as WordPress, will provide continuous updates and be easy to use from the user's level, thanks to a user-friendly administration panel.

An open-source CMS:

  • is based on a free license;
  • offers open-source code but requires programming knowledge to implement;
  • usually involves hiring a person or company to handle the maintenance of a site;
  • provides access to numerous modules;
  • means that you will find support on websites and discussion forums thanks to a large community;
  • requires constant improvements and updates from us.

A custom CMS:

  • usually offers two types of licenses: perpetual and term; the cost depends on our needs – it is determined by the number of functionalities and additional work we will commission, such as making a graphic design;
  • provides numerous functional capabilities, modular solutions, and frameworks that make it possible to customize it;
  • provides technical support for the warranty period;
  • when it expires, it offers paid updates or a maintenance contract;
  • means fewer errors.

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Journal / JPG / Burakowski - avatar
Author: Piotr Burakowski
Business and technology journalist, publishing since 2006.
Reviewer: Dymitr Romanowski

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