It’s fair to say that in the year 2021, much of a business’ perceived credibility is defined by its digital presence and online activity.
Be it through Google Reviews, a well-maintained social media page or, perhaps most crucially, the company website, a potential customer can be won and lost long before you’ve had a chance to personally interact.
Chief among these is the company website – your business’ digital shop window and the main driver of your SEO placement.
This is where the battle can be won, and indeed lost.
It’s imperative that your business has a website which you can be proud of, one which accurately conveys your company’s character whilst also fulfilling marketing needs and providing an optimal user-experience.
This can be a difficult balance to strike, particularly for business owners (and employees) whose experience lies away from website development and marketing.
Typically, a website development (or re-development) project will take businesses down one of two roads: using a Content Management System (CMS) or having a custom developed website.
Content Management System (CMS)
A CMS can be broadly defined as pre-designed software that can be used to manage the generation and modification of digital content.
This will typically include an established user-interface, with a varying number of in-built functions, which can be personalised and developed using both the existing software, and a range of plug-ins.
WordPress is comfortably the marker leader in this area, with 41% of the world wide web having been built using its service (according to WordPress’ own website), but myriad competitors such as Joomla and Drupal also populate the space.
Though WordPress does present many opportunities for customisation in itself. For instance, employing page builders or alternately custom templates with the use of custom fields and vanilla frameworks. It does adhere to a fairly universally strict set of system features at its core that have been developed and leveraged over a period of time. This is commonly the case with all the evolving CMSs – they have a recognisable ‘construct’ of their own design and the model of development support around them fall in line with that.
Bespoke Web Build
In contrast, a custom developed website is simply a website built from inception, as opposed to leveraging pre-existing software. These are often created using compiled code, be it original or sourced from a code library.
Outside the simplicity of a stand-alone custom HTML website, a custom build will often though employ other core features and integrations (3rd party or ‘ground-up’) to develop a ‘system’; including admin areas or integrated functions, centralised databases or custom frontend frameworks, the various technologies available now vying for developer buy-in are bountiful.
The benefits of ‘doing your own thing’ can be equal parts liberating and inventive, but we see that within the modern context of marketing performance demands, a ‘systematic’ requirement often begins to emerge.
That said, each of the two options are viable and come with their own pros and cons for their prospective users.
Come on then, which one?
Clearly, one of the big selling points of the CMS is the lack of ‘ground-up’ coding required and in the case of the more established ones, an ever-present and evolving community of support and resources.
For novices and small businesses, a very basic CMS driven website can be set up with relative ease and maintained to a reasonable standard by even a novice content manager, without the need for extensive coding experience or IT literacy.
CMS templates come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with their own sets of bells and whistles, which can be used to personalise your website and bring your desired functionality closer to fruition.
Thousands of templates and plug-in stores are available online and range from completely free to eye-wateringly expensive.
Depending on your perspective, this can either be a fun and time efficient process, or a boggling, life-sapping labyrinth, as the sheer scale of choice may inspire or discourage.
However, despite the variety available, a CMS is still something of a walled garden.
By virtue of its pre-defined nature, any theme template selected will have its limitations, be they in design, functionality or unexpected required knowhow.
Utilising the experience of a professional website designer/developer, a custom-built website solution can be adapted from outset to suit a business’ needs and characteristic aesthetic as well as based on specific or unique objectives where they occur.
The use of unique compiled code for made-to-order digital products, as opposed to employing any pre-existing core software, may allow for increased flexibility, albeit at the expense of the immediate sense of control that a CMS might offer.
There can be something of a trade-off here: imparting your vision onto someone else and hoping they hit the mark or taking it on yourself but with less tools at your disposal.
The imperative for some brands to build an entirely bespoke and unique digital ecosystem is entirely aligned with their ethos, marketing activity and the demands of their business.
Of course, costs, timings and other practical attributes are important as well.
A custom site, though likely to be more expensive at outset, may prove a wiser investment if it can more accurately meet your business needs and ultimately drive more custom longer term.
There is, of course, no silver bullet here and the decision must be led by strategic objectives and a solutions-based focus; both for the benefit of your brand and its digital lifecycle.
One thing to consider, however, is that word we used earlier: credibility.
This should be chief among your considerations when contemplating whether to go it alone via a CMS or to hand their reigns over to a custom developer.
Your website and associated channels are products, your products. As well as important tools, they are your core assets and the means by which your brand, business and organisation will be judged and engaged through.
But whereas previously, a business might have competed with those providing similar services in its locale, now they are competing on a global scale, across hundreds of search engine pages.
For consumers that visit your website, you will want to stand out from the pack by presenting a digital personality that accurately reflects your service offering and values.
A website that works harder, and is in turn, an authentic representation of your non-digital endeavours as well.
Be it a CMS or a custom developed website, finding which option to place you closest to that ideal is, ultimately, a key strategic decision you will make, as you continue your web development journey.