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The real reason Web Designers and Agencies want to sell you a custom CMS


Filed Under , on April 17th, 2012

Many years ago content management systems were rare. If you were a web designer or developer and could offer clients the ability to administer their own website, you were ahead of the game. Then again, things online were a lot different back then… Even the idea that the average person could update their website’s content easily and quickly was new. In response, many agencies developed their own bespoke (custom) content management systems as a way of providing an important additional service to clients. Great. What’s even more crazy is how many agencies and web design firms that are still trying to push these systems on their clients, because there’s simply no justification for doing so.

If an agency tries to tell you that you should use their in-house content management system today, they’re doing you a disservice. They’re taking advantage of you and your lack of web expertise by claiming that their system is a good deal for you.

In a world of widely available, top quality, open source and commercial content management systems, there’s no upside to using a bespoke system. All the advantages lie with the agency, not the client…which of course is why they try to sell them to you!

Open Source And Commercial Systems Offer Better Quality

I’ve experienced the pain of using proprietary content management systems developed by a single agency. They’re generally terrible. Difficult to use, they lack extensibility and flexibility, and can be clunky and primitive. A decade ago when there were few other options, they were a good deal. Many of them don’t appear to have moved on from that point. Clients are paying us to fix things in their bespoke CMS (created by someone else, of course) that should have been right in the first place.

In-house: a safe place to be?

Compare that to the widely available systems, both open source and commercial. These products are all fighting it out in a highly competitive market. That competition forces them to continually update and upgrade, improving functionality and usability. What’s more, they’re working with teams who are dedicated purely to the creation and improvement of a content management system, not a design or development agency that’s throwing something together as an additional “service”. These content management systems are stable, flexible and of sufficient quality that major corporate and government clients like Ford, Mattel, the US Army are happy to base their websites off these systems.

Still Not Convinced That A Bespoke System Is A Bad Deal?

The most important reason that a bespoke content management system is a bad deal is because it ties the client to the agency that provided the original service. It locks the client in, and reduces their options…

How do you fix a problem?

You’re probably going to have to talk to the original agency, even if you no longer have a working relationship. They developed the content management system, they’re probably the only people who are going to be able to fix it quickly. Your alternative is going to be paying developers who have no prior knowledge of the code, to try and identify and fix a system they haven’t seen before. We do this all the time…

Difficult to escape, and how do you implement new functionality?

You’ve realized the importance of social networking to your business, so you want to add a Twitter feed to your site. Perhaps you’d like to add some video functionality, or a blog. Widely available content management systems, whether open source or commercial, respond to demand. That means there’s probably a “plugin” that adds that functionality to your site quickly and easily. Not the case with a bespoke content management system; you’re stuck until the agency that owns it decides to take the time to implement the functionality (…if they ever do!).

You’re Locked In

You’re trapped by a bespoke content management system in a number of ways. You’re trapped with your original agency for your future web design and development needs. That’s probably why they provided you with the system in the first place, it forces long term repeat business that’s good for them.

It’s not just the agency you’re stuck with though. What happens when you need to replace your own webmaster? There’s not likely to be many people out there who are familiar with your content management system. If you were using a widely acknowledged system, however, there’d be a huge pool of talent. People experienced and skilled with administering, designing and developing for both open source and commercial alternatives. A bespoke system doesn’t just tie you to an agency, it massively limits your own talent pool.

Bespoke Systems Should Simply Be Avoided

Any PROFESSIONAL design agency you work with should be able to offer you a widely available content management system, whether open source or commercial. A good designer or developer should be comfortable working with several different systems, so they can offer a solution that’s best suited to your particular needs.

But…I have custom needs!

Even if you have very specialized requirements, commonly available content management systems are the best option. You’re far better having a developer create a custom component for a well known content management system. That’s assuming that there isn’t already a component out there that you can simply plug into your content management system; with such a large community of developers, open source software has hundreds of such plugins.

Whenever a design agency insists that their own in-house content management system is the best option for you, query that claim. With such a scope of available options that are widely supported, there’s no justification for offering a bespoke option that’s agency specific.

Want some professional help from passionate Web Nerds? We want to help you out of your custom CMS! Ready for a great content management system? We’ll demo one for free, integrate and implement it, and support you in the future. Check out Nerdwerx or call (877) 505-6373.


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One Response to “The real reason Web Designers and Agencies want to sell you a custom CMS”

  1. Alan H. says:

    This is fantastic! A business I work for signed a 5 year contract with a local web dev agency (years before I got there) and they have their own CMS. It’s not terrible as far as the UX goes, but it certainly is limiting. I’m a college student getting my toes wet with freelance developing work and I decided to learn PHP and implement custom child themes utilizing the WordPress CMS because I’m thinking long term usability, ease of use, security, and customization options. I’ll definitely bring up all these issues with proprietary CMS with potential future clients.

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