Choosing a CMS for your business

Whether your company is building a website for the first time or overhauling an existing one, choosing a content management system (CMS) is an important step in making sure that your website is easy to modify and update. There are tons of CMS platforms out there, so how do you choose? Should you go with a proprietary CMS or open source? Continue reading, and we’ll help guide you in your decision with some pros and cons of picking a CMS.

choosing cms

Defining CMS

Let’s take a step back. What exactly is a CMS? As defined by TechTarget, a content management system (CMS) is a software application or set of related programs that are used to create and manage digital content. A CMS allows users to update their website without needing deep technical knowledge or the help of a developer. Among other features, users can modify the content on existing pages, create new pages, manage content hierarchy and influence SEO.

Defining Open Source vs. Proprietary CMS

An open source system means that the CMS is built and maintained by users across the world. The source code is available to anyone, so those with development skills are able to modify and create new functionality. The software itself in open source systems are typically free of cost. Examples include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Umbraco or DotNetNuke.

In contrast, a proprietary CMS is built, maintained and supported by a single company, and they own the code. This also means that since you don’t own the software, there may be a licensing fee to use it.

There are some others that fall between the two that require a license to use but the code can still be taken elsewhere. An example of this is Sitefinity.

Pros and Cons of Open Source

Pros

  • It’s very flexible and customizable. You can make the CMS fit your specific needs and integrate it with other technologies.  
  • If you ever want to move off of this platform, you’ll be able to export your data and transfer it with you to a new tool.
  • Unlike most proprietary CMS tools, the code is upgraded regularly, and there are always new plugins being created to fit your needs.
  • Even though there’s not one company backing the platform, there are thousands of developers in the community who serve as your support system.
  • Most open source CMS platforms have a simple interface, making it easy for non-technical people to use.
  • No monthly or annual licensing fees.

Cons

  • Since more people use an open source CMS, you are at higher risk for spam and security issues. The good news is, many systems, including WordPress have made security a high-priority, so it’s not as big of an issue as it once was.
  • Depending on your customization needs, it could cost a lot of money upfront to build the CMS system and front-end design that you require.  

Pros and Cons of Proprietary

Pros

  • Proprietary CMSes are typically very robust, but the developer can disable the features you don’t need. This may make it easier for the average person to use.
  • There may be a CMS customized for your industry. For instance, there may be one that has been customized for the real estate industry, so you’d have a solution that has a competitive advantage rather than starting from scratch.
  • The developer knows that platform inside and out, so there is no learning curve.
  • A proprietary solution may be more secure than open source CMS. Since fewer people are familiar with it and have access to the source code, there will naturally be fewer hack attempts, spam, and overall security issues.  
  • There is a unified team of developers rather than a disparate community of developers.

Cons

  • Many times, the company is not keeping it up to date with the latest technologies. You may be less current than some of your competitors.
  • You may not be able to take the website design, content, and data with you if you want to switch to a new platform or if the company goes out of business.
  • The administration system may be cumbersome and harder to use.
  • There is not a “community” of developers looking to add plugins and keep it up to date.
  • There’s a lack of customization. Even though there may be a CMS tailored toward your industry, it will be very difficult to have new features added. What you see is what you get.

So sum it up for me – what should I use?

In most cases, the team here at US Digital Partners would recommend an open source solution. In fact, we previously had a proprietary CMS for our clients but have since switched to using open-source. According to Kevin Saffer, our Director of Technology, “It was difficult to keep up with, and we were essentially rewriting the code any time because our clients all wanted something a bit different. It wasn’t possible to tailor the platform for each client. From an agency perspective, ever since open source CMS platforms such as Sitefinity and WordPress came around, we have been able to focus on doing what we do best – strategy, design and implementation – not core development of software.”

Of course, every situation is different. As you are choosing a CMS tool, consider these questions to ask your website development firm.

  • What is the history of your tool? When were the last upgrades or revisions?
  • Can I talk to a couple of your customers who use your CMS?
  • Can I host my website anywhere or must it be with you?
  • What happens if we want to part ways?
    • Do I own the website and all the underlying programming?
    • Do we have a usable website that is transferable to another partner?
    • Will another web development firm be able to pick up the website and be able to update and make changes?
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