Choosing a CMS (Content Management System) is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make when developing a new website. As the backbone of your site, it’ll determine everything from what integrations you can make to which administrators can update what. While we’ve talked about existing platforms before, we’ve never touched on the subject of building out a custom CMS. The reason? It’s (most often) a terrible idea. A word of caution before we rant on – there are a small handful of cases that require a custom system, because there are simply no existing solutions that will work. In fact, we’re building out a custom CMS for a client as we write this. However, this article addresses the 98 percent of companies that are better off with existing options.

While we’re all for custom when it comes to almost every other element of the design and development process (we are creators, after all), we need to remember there’s a difference between innovation and reinventing the wheel.

Don’t believe us? Take the quiz:

1. Do You Like Living On The Edge?

Are you the wind-in-your-hair, adventurous type that gets a thrill from motorcycle rides and roller-coasters? Then you’ll love having a custom CMS. With its lack of security updates, and without a full-time development team, you’re leaving your website vulnerable to getting hacked at any time…which could take weeks to recover from. Existing solutions such as Drupal and WordPress are globally used platforms with dedicated teams of developers working around the clock to improve security measures and prevent breaches. That’s why you’re always getting notifications about the newest update! On the occasion that a platform-wide exploitation does occur, the online community will likely tell you before you find out the hard way. And if you do find out the hard way, well, at least there are thousands of developers already fluent with the platform who are only a phone call away. With a custom CMS, there are no written rules, no guidelines, and certainly no online communities to support it – which means that every issue that arises is yours and your alone to solve.

2. Do All Of Your Best Friends Reside In The IT Department?

“We have an IT department?!” you say.

If you’re implementing a custom CMS, be prepared to cozy up to the tech-savvy team, as you’ll likely be in very close contact with them for as long as your website is around. For example, are you looking to enable user commenting on blog posts? Need a live-chat app to talk to visitors? Need to change your payment gateway? Need an SEO plugin? No quick plugin installations – everything here would need to be custom-built.

Whereas existing platforms offer relatively intuitive methods for updating content, custom solutions can be difficult to master, weak in performance, and difficult to maintain. While we do caution against having too many third-party plugins on your website, there are a few trusted sources such as Yoast or Google Analytics that often need to be integrated in order to make the most of your site. Platforms like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla offer several thousand of these plugins, all one click away.

3. Are You Prepared For A Commitment You Can’t Get Out Of?

Once you’re down the dark path of creating a custom Content Management System, there’s basically no going back. You might think, “Hey, at least the site is mine and I own it forever,” but it’s also a head-first dive in to unchartered territories. This means once the entire system has been fleshed out, you may very well be stuck with the original version forever. On the other hand, established CMS’ will push out upgrades often enough to keep up with ongoing technological trend shifts. These upgrades will always be free of charge and available instantly. One analogy is buying a car – would you buy a Volvo or a custom-made sedan? The latter might be more unique, but the former is almost guaranteed to be a better build.

With a custom CMS you are also locked into a relationship with your web developers. If, for whatever reason, you should become unhappy with the services being rendered, having a custom CMS will make it extremely difficult to jump ship. New developers will have to first familiarize themselves with your source code before being able to make many changes, and not all developers are willing to do that.

Takeaway: not having a custom CMS doesn’t mean your website can’t be custom.

Quite the opposite! In fact, most existing platforms are far from rigid in terms of everything from features to design. The beauty of a system like WordPress is that you’re able to have 100 percent design freedom on the front, with a tried-and-true management tool in the back. After all, both TED and Vordik were built using WordPress, and the two websites could not be more different.

Convinced yet? We certainly hope so. It should comfort you to know that there are tons of options out there for existing systems that are worth evaluating when launching a new website. If that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, we’re always here to chat about CMS options with you.