Choosing a Content Management System: Custom vs. Pre-Built

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a content management system (CMS). The first and most important is if you are going to use a pre-built CMS (WordPress, Drupal, Expression Engine, etc)  or have a custom CMS built for your project. There are many benefits to both, and only by knowing your needs can you really establish which one will work best for you. In this article we will explore three considerations, and how they factor in your CMS decision.

Both Custom and Pre-Built Content Management Systems (CMS) offer similar programmatic benefits with no real limitations, so for most businesses, budget is the key factor in deciding between the two. As we explore the two approaches, what we are really establishing is which one will most likely get the job done with a smaller budget based on your needs.

Content Management Systems – Details

Application or Not

The first consideration is whether you are going to have a custom application on your Website. If your Website does need some custom functionality, using a custom CMS might be a better choice. With a packaged CMS, your developer will have to follow the existing protocols and architecture when building your custom application which takes more time than building something without architectural limitations. The custom CMS would not be limited by the rules of the packaged CMS, allowing the developer to build around the content of your Website. Pre-built CMS solutions have lots of plug-ins that can extend functionality, but if what you are looking for is new to the internet, a custom solution may be a better direction in the long term.


Users refers to those who will manage the CMS, and the two main factors to consider are the number of users and their skill levels. Each CMS will handle users and roles differently. If you have a multi-tiered organization with a very descriptive work flow process, a custom CMS might be a better solution. A pre-built CMS already has in place roles for its users, and some vary on how much customization you can do. This could very well force your workflow to wrap around the software, rather than the other way around. A custom CMS is going to allow the users and roles to be built around your existing workflow and approval process, which will provide clarity and understanding to those users already in the workflow. This would speed adoption and acceptance of the new Website.

The second part of this factor is the “savvy” of your users. If users are not Web “savvy”, each system will have its advantages. Training will be needed in either case once the CMS is ready for live production data. The benefit of a custom CMS, would be a customization of the taxonomy or labels that would help those users identify actions and data using the language they are already familiar with. For example, if you’ve been publishing “press releases”, you’d want the button to say “press release” inside the CMS, instead of “Posts”. A pre-built CMS by default has pre-determined names for all the buttons and functions. A packaged CMS would also use words such as “themes”, “modules”, or “plug-ins” that may seem strange or disorienting to your user base. Keeping the interface labels familiar to your users could be a major factor in the success of the site.


The updating of the code base is a significant difference between the two choices. Having a custom CMS means that the CMS is built once, and built for your specific solution. Rarely, and surely not for free, will the code base of the CMS be updated. You will have to pay your developer to update the CMS if you want new functions or abilities. Pre-built CMS are continually updated through community development, providing new features, options, plug-ins, and themes. This allows the CMS to become a more refined piece of work and most updates are completely free.

Hopefully this brief article has helped you understand some of the major considerations for choosing a CMS. There are many other options to consider for each project, but keep these three in mind as you make your decisions.


Tired of marketing that does not get the results you need? Stop trying and  start doing. See How ››

min read
Share on