How Custom is Too Custom? Making the Smart Choice

3 min read
in Blog, Web Development
image of a laptop with coding

For as long as content management systems have existed, there has been this ongoing question of what kind to use. As soon as there was more than one CMS, there was debate about which one was better. These days, there are dozens of choices at your disposal, most of which can be broken down into two categories: open source and custom. Open source content management systems would include Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress, but a number of developers have taken to creating their own custom systems.

Isn’t “custom” king?

The word “custom” always sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s a solution designed especially for you. Proponents of a custom CMS point to flexibility as a main selling point. Websites with highly-specialized needs can benefit from the time and attention that a web developer gives to creating a unique system. Components that require special attention have the potential of integrating more cleanly since your developer is creating all of the “moving pieces” that make your website work.

A web developer using an open source CMS, on the other hand, is able to tap into the experience of hundreds of developers—often at no cost. If there are issues with an open source CMS like WordPress, they are handled quickly. This is because these same developers are working around the world and around the clock helping to fix them. And since the root software of an open source CMS is available to anybody, the vast majority of integrations (or plugins) work perfectly out of the box. A good developer can actually create a custom-designed, custom-built website on an open source CMS.

What about security?

Occasionally you’ll find stories in the news about hackers exposing vulnerabilities in well-established systems. The great thing about WordPress in particular is that it benefits from a large, vibrant developers’ community—not a small group of employees. This robust community serves as line of first defense against these hackers. A properly maintained WordPress site is extremely secure. This is why WordPress is the most-used content management system in the world.

To contrast, what happens when a vulnerability is discovered in a custom CMS? While a custom CMS may appear more secure, there is always the risk that a vulnerability will make a site unusable while a small team (or just one person) scrambles to patch the hole. The internet is in a constant state of flux, and just like any open source CMS, a custom solution will need to be kept up to date.


In most cases, developers of a custom CMS want to maintain control of your site. Since it is their intellectual property, a custom CMS developer may not be willing to allow you to have your site if you stop paying ongoing licensing fees. More often than not these fees are affordable, but what happens if your relationship with your developer dissolves or if they go out of business? Will you still be able to find support for your site?

Issues like this arise frequently. At ThirdSide, we’ve had a number of clients approach us for help specifically because their prior developer was no longer available. At some point after the launch, the developer/client relationship had ended; in the meantime something had broken on the website due to outdated software. While a custom setup may sound like a fantastic idea during the early stages of a new project, it can be risky for the long term. There’s definitely an increased level of trust placed between developer and client.

So which choice works the best for you?

While a fully-customized solution for your website sounds appealing, I believe it’s overkill for the majority of small- and medium-sized businesses or organizations. A developer who has experience with established systems like WordPress can expand and customize a WordPress package to suit a wide variety of needs, while still making it easy for the end user to control their content.

WordPress also makes sense financially, because you’re not licensing highly-specialized software that you don’t need. Your new website can easily be hosted anywhere, and maintained by any competent developer—not just the people who built your site. You get the benefit of expertise, without having to sacrifice ownership of this valuable asset.

WordPress is one of the most trusted content management systems in the world, utilized by some of the biggest names in the world, including: The New York Times, Bloomberg Professional, BBC America, Variety, Sony, Disney, and many more. When you develop your website with WordPress, you can be assured that you have a quality product. And when you team up with an experienced developer, you have the support you need to ensure that your investment benefits your business for years.

When we first started ThirdSide, we gave a lot of thought to this very question: established CMS or custom? For our needs, as well as the need of our clients, WordPress just works better.

Meet the Author

Lisa is one of the co-founders of ThirdSide. She is also a published author with a passion for the written word. Telling other people’s stories well is her main goal.

Her idea of relaxing is trying to make sense out of the mysteries of The X Files and LOST. Maybe someday.

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