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Pros and Cons of a Custom Content Management System

A Content Management System (CMS) is an application (typically a web-browser based application) for the purpose of developing, curating, and organizing content for a website. WordPress is perhaps the most well-known, running an estimated 35% of the world’s websites. Its competitors are many and varied, targeting different audiences, but let’s discuss one specific type of […]

by | Oct 07, 2020

A Content Management System (CMS) is an application (typically a web-browser based application) for the purpose of developing, curating, and organizing content for a website. WordPress is perhaps the most well-known, running an estimated 35% of the world’s websites. Its competitors are many and varied, targeting different audiences, but let’s discuss one specific type of alternative: a custom CMS.

What is a custom CMS?

There are several framework platforms (think scaffolding and equipment) that exist purely to enable developers to rapidly build content management systems for end users (the house). With these tools, software engineers can create a system that is uniquely tailored to the needs of a specific business. WordPress, and many of its competitors, prioritize flexibility to fill many different roles (blogging, marketing, event advertising, e-commerce, etc.). While customizations to those most common roles can work well, they are ultimately limited to activities that hold a broad appeal in the market. A custom CMS can be tailored directly to hyper-specific needs and engage business logic that is not available in more broadly deployed tools.

Pros of having a custom CMS

Business logic can drive dynamic content.

Even if your business has unique, arcane, or complex rules, a custom solution can help your audience navigate those complexities by leveraging your specific business’s processes, rules, and workflow into dynamic content. This might be things like complex filtering for display data, dynamic pricing data based on factors more complex or varied that classic ecommerce platforms can handle, or even things like voting rights and membership.

Absolute stylistic control.

While WordPress and friends are very adaptable and flexible generally, they still all fall into common patterns. A custom CMS can be designed to present your site’s content in nearly any way you can imagine and frees your designers from potentially awkward constraints.

Custom administrative workflows.

With a classic CMS, your content team must learn to work within the framework of the platform. By using a custom CMS, the platform can be designed to facilitate your team and exactly what they need, such as better tools for cross-referencing content and making content discoverable through categorization. Or perhaps workflows that let content and style be separated appropriately so that your content editors need not also be responsible for maintaining a style and can focus on what they do best.

Ad-hoc integration with other systems

Classic platforms may provide plug and play integration with other major vendors, but this restricts your choices greatly. Custom systems can be tailored to interact or integrate with any other available system, meaning you are free to choose the most appropriate partner for your business, instead of delegating that choice to the market ecosystem.

Cons of a Custom CMS

Increased development cost and time

A custom CMS requires a software team to build, and then, likely, to maintain the system. Software updates, new features, bug fixes, and improvements are all part of the package. This means that it might only make sense if a small development team can be leveraged to improve the workflow of a larger group of CMS users on the whole. Tradeoffs are everywhere, and custom CMS systems probably make the most sense for medium or larger businesses who have a lot of value vested in content management generally.

Custom workflows may limit knowledge transfer

A custom workflow might be invaluable to an internal staff member, but relatively inscrutable to an outsider, so these need to be approached carefully. They can be risky if there is high employee churn for the position that uses the CMS heavily because training could take time. Ideally, the workflow will map well to the domain of the business itself, making it mostly self-explanatory or intuitive for users who understand the core business values.

Unlikely to be compatible with off-the-shelf solutions

There’s a large industry of software designed to work around common platforms like WordPress and Salesforce. Since a custom CMS is outside these ecosystems, integrations are unlikely to be “push-button” easy as with those systems. This is the tradeoff for being able to integrate without limitation: each integration must be developed specifically against the custom CMS. This is not to say it’s insurmountable. Tools exist at the developer level to enable this kind of work, but integrations are measured in days instead of minutes or hours.

Custom content management solutions have the ability to provide a lot of value for businesses or organizations that are large enough to reap the benefits of the outlay to empower a team of content managers or editors to work more smoothly. The potential return on investment primarily hinges on the ability of a custom system to streamline complex workflows, and how many users those improvements affect.

At Exelaration, we’ve built several such systems and bring a broad base of experience to help clients decide if a custom CMS (or any other kind of software) could improve their business prospects. Contact info@exelaration.com to get started.

Andrew.Lindberg@exelaration.com

Andrew has ten years of experience in software development and loves every opportunity to teach people new things. He has spent the last 3 years working as a software development mentor and has relished learning new technology together with his apprentices as well as helping them navigate the transition from student to professional. He is a Python, Linux and Open Source enthusiast.

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