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Custom Web Design vs
Content Management Systems
Date: March 16, 2017

There are two different camps in the world of web design. The first is having a web designer/developer build a custom website from scratch. The second is to use a Content Management Systems (CMS) with their included templates. Each has benefits and short comings.

Before we start looking at the pros and cons of each design methodology, I think you must honestly assess what your goals and hopes for your website will be by answering some simple business and marketing questions.

Who are you and why do you want a website?

Why do you want a website? Do you want just a couple of pages to show the world who you are, what you do and where you’re located (like a placeholder on the worldwide web)?  Or do you want a website that is expandable and adaptable as your business grows adding new products, services and/or new information?

Are you looking to build a website that is an online application? In other words, do you want your website to perform specific functions?  These functions might include processing event registrations, selling and shipping products, managing different types of events or activities (i.e. tracking scores from competitions), managing a photo or literature library, publishing quarterly reports - you get the picture.

Will interaction with your customers online be important aspect of your website? Do you plan on providing quotes for your services, having feedback or reviews of your services or products, providing a comments section for customers, etc.?

Do you have difficult, complex or extensive data to manage online? Is your website going to be a hub of information such as reports, minutes, action items or service letters that are constantly being added, updated or edited frequently?

Does your company have a fully integrated branding program for your image?  Do you have a logo design, typography/font requirements, spacing requirements, a specific color scheme, etc.?

Do you do everything yourself or do you have a staff will specific responsibilities? Do you do everything yourself or do have a staff that does procurement, filing, development, etc.?

From a marketing standpoint are image and design important to you or just a thing? Do you want to follow the trends or are you more interested in having your own unique image different from those you have seen online?

Is your website going to be my primary means of getting your message out to the public? Is your website going to be just a small piece of your marketing program? Do you have a have a limited budget?

Based on your answers to these questions, you should begin to understand what kind of website your business needs and if you should hire a web designer/developer

To sum it up, if you plan on designing a website yourself with a CMS, the following bullet points should apply. 

  • Your website is just a placeholder.
  • Not looking to build an online application.
  • Customer interaction is not important.
  • You have minimal data to manage online.
  • You manage everything yourself.
  • Marketing image is not important.
  • Your website is not your primary means of getting your message out to the public.

If you answered no to all or most of the above bullet questions, a CMS design is not the solution and you should consider hiring a web designer/developer.

There are big differences between designing a website with a CMS and having a web designer create one for you. Let’s look at the differences.

Custom-built Websites.

Custom design websites are built and coded by a web designer and developer. The design of the website is more artistic than what you will get with a CMS. A website designer is a professional that will be able to visualize the layout and ergonomics of a site. A developer is a programmer who focuses on the way a website performs – the functionality of the site on different desktop computers and mobile devices, the interaction of your visitors with the site and the mechanics behind the databases and administrative functions of the site. You will want to find someone who does BOTH design and development competently but also offers reasonable fees. With a custom website, these are the things that you can expect:

  • Expense: Web designers vary in price according to geographic region and level of education/experience. Depending on these factors, you may pay anywhere from $50 to $120 an hour.
  • Design: A basic, custom designed website will cost you between $800 and $1500, and upwards of a few thousand depending on your needs. The designer can give you a fairly accurate time/cost quote.
  • User Interface: Since you are working with a design/developer you can customize the user interface (user experience) of the website to meet your specific needs and wants.
  • Access: Because you are working directly with designer/developer, you will be able to call them whenever you need changes or have technical problems with the website. Having direct access to the designer/developer is especially important when there are technical problems. They know the code and its uses intimately so if there is a problem they can usually isolated and fixed.
  • Extendability and Scalability: Having your website built by a designer/ developer, depending on the development platform they use, results in a website that is much more extendable and scalable than a CMS site.  A good web designer/developer will consider your future plans for the website as they select the technologies they use to build it.
  • Looking down the road: The future of your website needs to be secure.  Some CMSs have gone “bad” and simply stopped working.
  • Adaptability: If you have specific list of features you eventually want on your website, the designer will be able to prioritize these features to accommodate your current budget with your future one.

It is important to note that none of these points involve online applications, large databases of information or interaction with visitors.  All of these scenarios require a custom built website by a designer/developer who knows both HTML code and programming.  No CMS can handle these issues in a manageable way.

CMS/Template Built Websites.

There is a misconception of how beneficial and economical CMSs can be.  So, let’s take a closer look at them.

Advantages:

  • Lack of funds/low budget. If a budget is what is keeping you from having any online presence at all,  then a CMS might be your solution.
  • You need to have a website immediately – not in a few weeks or more.  Using a CMS should require less development time but don’t be fooled, this is not always the case.  These days, CMSs are just as complex as InDesign or any other high level design program.
  • Looking at CMS templates is a great way to find inspiration on colors schemes, layouts and features.  A web designer can’t copy these for you, but they do give them an idea of the visual design you would like.

Downfalls:

  • Your design is not going to be original unless you pay the “exclusive” price for a custom template. Though, even if you pay the “exclusive” price, there are others who have bought the same template and still have the right to use it.
  • As CMS systems try to become a “one-size fits all” application, they actually become more complicated to use.  Often, the CMS comes with a steep learning curve. CMS systems are software-based just like Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign and update on a regular basis.  And, every time there is an update, the program you are used to using is going to change.
  • You will be limited on the customization of the website template. Without web page coding skills, you are still going to have to either spend the time and money to learn how to code a web page or hire someone to help you. Some templates are laid out in a very specific way. So, if you incorporate your own graphics or have extensive content, the template could “break.”  As well, massive site-wide changes are going to be difficult and you will have to make the changes manually to every page.  An experienced web developer will have designed your site with components for common items that are on each page making site-wide changes a lot more manageable.
  • Some website templates are not designed to be search engine friendly. As explained above, it is important how the background coding of your website is done. If not done correctly, it could hurt your marketing efforts on the internet.
  • If the website template uses antiquated coding, it might not work with all browsers.  Some templates incorporate browser specific features that might work in one browser but not the other.
  • Customizing JavaScript is often difficult or next to impossible.

Custom Web Design or CMS Website?

When deciding if a custom web design is the way to go or if a CMS is a better match, always keep in mind that you want your business to stand out from the crowd and be memorable to the visitor for the right reasons.

In either case, you are still going to have to do some homework to increase your standing with search engine results. Having a website that is really appealing is only one small part of the internet marketing package. You will have to research the phrases that your target audience will use to find your website and then incorporate those phrases into the content of each of your website pages.

To maintain or build a website yourself you are going to have to invest some time (and possibly some money) into learning as much as you can about website design and development. It is a changing technology that has new rules and requirements all the time.  You will have to keep up with these changes in order to keep your website active and current.

Much of the decision comes down to cost and time. You might want to compare the two forms of web design by considering not only the costs but also the amount of time you will invest in designing a website yourself, the skills you have as a designer, how large and complicated your site is going to be and the impact you want your business to make on the world stage.

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