The difference between open source CMS and custom-built websites
30 July 2015

A lot of websites nowadays are being developed using open source Content Management Systems (CMS). As the term declares, a CMS is a tool, which helps the user manage their content. There are several open source CMS, with WordPress, Drupal and Joomla being the most famous ones.

A custom-built website is a website that is developed from scratch by the developers, using their programming skills. This requires knowledge of the field, the available tools that can be used and the ability to incorporate those into the production of the perfect website for the client.

Let’s compare these two now, so as you will understand what the best option for you is.

For each and every client, the most important factors to consider when deciding between an open source CMS and a custom made website are: cost, security, maintenance and development of the desired features. These are described in more detail below:


An open source CMS is free of charge. This means that your developer will not charge you for the development of the CMS, but only for the changes of the look and feel of the website. This can be a very good option if you require a simple website, e.g. a blogging website.

However, developing an online rent a car booking system requires developing custom made and complex functionalities, which an open source CMS can not provide. The charges of a custom-built website though would be definitely higher than an open source CMS’, but a much better solution for your business.


An issue with the open source Content Management Systems is the tendency of people who have hacking as a hobby, to add malicious code to such systems, as they are very vulnerable. Their security vulnerability allows hackers to hack multiple websites with a few lines of malicious code. Custom-built websites - if built properly - provide a high level of security with minimal risk of being hacked.


A template CMS will hardly have errors and since the client’s content can be maintained by the client with no programming skills required, it is a very suitable option by someone with simple content.

Moreover, an open source CMS can be trustworthy on one hand, because of the amount of developers that have worked behind the scenes for years towards its development, but on the other hand it can also be considered not to be. The reasoning behind this statement is the continuous CMS plugins and widgets updates that may sometimes have errors, which can not be controlled or fixed by your developer as they have been developed by someone else. Plugins and widgets errors imply that your website will have errors until the developer of the plugins fixes them - no immediate error support is provided.

As for a custom-built website, companies provide several maintenance packages that the client can choose from depending on the post-development needs. Maintaining the system will require a programmer for any possible bug fixes and can not be fixed by the client himself but the error support will be provided immediately ensuring the users a smooth visit to your website at all times.

Features and capabilities

An open source CMS limits your capabilities of adding advanced functionality that can not be implemented by any downloadable plugin or widget that can be installed in your CMS - plugins and widgets provide some functionality but maybe not the desired functionality for your website.

Additionally having an open source CMS website will make your website non-unique. Given that open source Content Management Systems provide you with free to download themes, a CMS makes your website non unique, as the most famous themes have been downloaded and used by thousands of websites.

Furthermore, some available templates are not responsive, which means that they are not optimised for all kinds of devices and screen sizes. This fact would limit the visitors of your website, especially nowadays with all these different screen size devices in the market, thus you should make sure to ask for a responsive one.

Let’s think about your users now. An open source CMS will provide you with pre-built user roles that can be assigned to your users depending on the access level that you want to give them. If your proposed website requires the incorporation of different kinds of roles into it, with each user following a different process e.g. approval process, a custom-built website would be the best option as it would provide your users with understanding as they are probably already following this process.

To conclude, both a open source CMS and a custom-built website can be good options. Your decision between the two though will be driven by the functionality that you require to have on your website, your budget and the time that you can afford spending on the development of the website.

Should you wish to have a simple website that does not require a more advanced functionality that a CMS does not provide you with, you should go ahead with the creation of a CMS based website. Should you require a more sophisticated solution, the best you can do to ensure that your money and time goes to the perfect developer is to get offers from several companies before deciding on the developer that will provide you with the perfect product.

Now this is a question that you probably have: How will I know that my possible website developer is charging me for an open source CMS with the same amount of money that I would have been charged for a custom-built website? You can simply ask them what technologies they are using before you accept their offer. Having a portfolio is not enough - now you know!

And if you already have a website and you are wondering if you have been cheated by paying as if your website would be a custom-built one when it is an open source CMS one, you can simply insert your website’s URL into the search bar of this website: It can tell the difference between several Content Management Systems. This will also be helpful when deciding on your custom-built website company. Ask for a few samples of previously built websites and use the above website to detect whether they are using an open source CMS for it or not. This will ensure that you get the best possible product with possibly the same amount of money!

Happy website building!


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