Building a proprietary content management system is a terrible idea. Here’s why.

If there is any innovation that has cracked the Internet wide open to public use, it’s that of the Content Management System (CMS). Before these existed, running a website involved a much higher barrier to entry. At the very least you had to know how to code, or if you didn’t, you were utterly reliant on someone who did.

The CMS changed all that by creating a user interface that anyone with enough tech savvy to understand basic software could easily edit and update. Now, instead of having to update the raw code, you could publish content from a text box, upload images, and easily edit SEO metadata. It was a real game changer.

However, the world of CMSs is not created equal. These days, the CMSs you’re likely to encounter fall into three categories: hosted solutions, such as Shopify and Wix; self-hosted solutions, such as WordPress; and proprietary solutions, which are custom-built for individual companies.

We’ve written in the past why we believe hosted CMSs are a poor choice for businesses that hope to outgrow the garage. But we believe the other end of the spectrum—the fully proprietary CMS—is an even greater disaster. Fortunately, most businesses we encounter don’t have the resources to invest in it in the first place. But if you are in that situation and you believe custom is the way to go, spare us a moment to convince you otherwise.

Read our post: 7 Reasons Why You Need a WordPress CMS Website

1. It’s a huge investment with little payoff.

Let’s start with the obvious: building a proprietary CMS from scratch takes a lot of resources. You won’t have it tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. And that investment into your CMS is one that happens before you even have your site built. You’re doubling down on the cost of your website and lengthening your production schedule to build a product that already exists in a free, open-source format.

That’s a huge cost. And the likelihood of it being worthwhile is slim to none. Why? Well…

2. An open source CMS like WordPress is a high bar to clear.

The costs associated with developing a custom CMS might be worth it to you if the product were better than what you could get from WordPress CMS. But the real killer is: it won’t be. WordPress is a collective project built on the skill and innovation of some of the brightest and best minds around the world. You’re not going to beat that with the resources you have in-house—or the resources of whatever company is trying to sell you on the concept of custom-developing a proprietary CMS.

3. It takes a lot of time to build—and even more time to maintain.

We talked earlier about how it takes a long time to develop a proprietary CMS. But here’s another problem: once you have it, the work isn’t over. Your team will still need to maintain that beast—indefinitely. And that maintenance work will come with its own associated costs, not just in the labor you’ll sink into the project, but in lost opportunities. Every hour you put into maintaining your proprietary CMS is an hour you won’t put into another project.

But on an open-source CMS like WordPress, there are thousands of coders working to maintain that project themselves. It’s a labor of love—and one you can benefit from, while you devote your own maintenance costs to projects that can’t be crowd-sourced, like your actual website.

4. It will be slow to adapt to future innovation.

That slower maintenance schedule we talked about? It doesn’t just apply to the original CMS, but to all future edits and customizations you want to make. Websites are constantly changing as they adapt to keep pace with emerging technologies. By the time you’re ready to use your proprietary CMS, there’s a good chance it’ll already be behind the times. And that lag will only grow worse as you sink more resources into trying to keep pace.

5. Moving off your proprietary CMS in the future will be incredibly difficult.

Here’s another problem: once you make the move to a proprietary CMS, it’s very hard to make the transition. While many open source CMSs have content migration tools that allow you to move your data from one place to another, doing so from a proprietary system will be more complex. After all, you didn’t custom build that system intending to leave it. So by the time it sinks in that you’ve wasted thousands of dollars in resources and months—if not years—of time in your custom CMS project, you’ll also be so entangled that working your website free of it will be incredibly hard.

6. The number of people who will understand and be able to work with your CMS is limited.

Want one more ball and chain to consider? Think about this: once you build a proprietary CMS, the talent pool who can work with it will shrink drastically. There are currently thousands of people who understand WordPress and can help you with your site. But your custom system? The only people who know how to use it are the ones who built it, and while other people can train themselves on it, that will be an additional cost in time and resources.

WordPress has all the power, agility, and custom features you need without choking your ability to adapt to the future.

For our money, we’ve chosen WordPress as the best CMS on the market. It has a user interface that our clients can easily understand and manage on their own. We are able to take advantage of an entire community’s expertise and innovation, which allows us to focus on the specializations that can do the most for your business.

We’ve watched time and again as a proprietary CMS has failed to live up to expectations and left a business in a poor position to handle future website needs. Don’t put your eggs in one basket. Go with WordPress instead.

Published 10/22/19 by Laura Lynch