Choosing a CMS: Custom vs. Out of the Box

Choosing a CMS: Custom vs. Out of the Box
Choosing a CMS: Custom vs. Out of the Box

The vast majority of modern websites are built on a content management system. Many smaller websites run on “out-of-the-box” solutions, such as WordPress and Joomla, which are mostly free. For larger companies, though, these one-size-fits-all solutions may lead to numerous problems and headaches later on due to their intrinsic limitations. Instead, a custom CMS may make more sense.

Why This Choice Is Critical

Content management systems do allow content managers to upload, modify and otherwise manage content without having to code anything in HTML. However, there’s more to CMSs than “just” content management. Your CMS will determine your website functionality and capabilities, as well as its overall performance. Your CMS can also have a major impact on the workflows and business processes.

So which businesses should go for a custom CMS, and which for an out-of-the-box one?

For example, a small business setting up a simple website displaying open hours, location, and other basic details, won’t need a custom-developed CMS. An out-of-the-box solution, such as WordPress, will generally meet its needs.

However, a digital retailer looking to sell thousands of products would likely benefit from a custom-built CMS. It can also work well for a large news outlet with multiple publications per day. An organization, say a government agency, that needs to ensure strong security may likewise benefit from a custom CMS.

When designed, developed, and implemented properly, a custom CMS can offer many advantages. Let’s examine some of these benefits further so that you can better determine if such a CMS is right for your business.

Design Flexibility Many open-source platforms are designed as all-included solutions. WordPress started as a blogging platform but is now a popular CMS with many different applications. However, using such an all-included CMS often feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

At its heart, WordPress is still designed primarily for blogging and content presentation. For ecommerce and other advanced applications, WordPress may be less than ideal as they will find themselves constrained. The same is true for Joomla and other similar CMSs.

A custom CMS, on the other hand, can be tailored to essentially any specification. Many large enterprises may require specific integrations or specific workflows to be featured in the system. They may also need specific types of content or data to be supported on the website. When such specifics are extensive, a custom CMS is generally a better choice due to its flexibility.


Joomla, WordPress and the like are open-source platforms, which makes them a collection of code bits contributed by third parties. Open-source software can be great at the innovation stage, but the hodge-podge nature of its development can pose certain security risks because of the underlying weaknesses in the code itself.

Further, these CMSs often rely on plugins to provide extra functionality. If these plugins are poorly coded, not kept up-to-date, or maliciously designed, they can present security risks too. Countless websites have been hacked because of plugin-related issues.

Finally, most hackers focus on exploiting commonly used CMSs. The more websites use such CMSs, the more potential targets hackers have by compromising these platforms. There’s simply more to gain by trying to hack a popular WordPress plugin than by hacking a single company’s custom CMS.

As such, any business or organization with high-security needs should consider a custom CMS. Hackers will not be able to use easily exploitable loopholes or common tricks to break into such system otherwise they will need to find a vulnerability specific to this system’s code.


Another disadvantage of out-of-the-box CMSs is that they are often “heavy”. In other words, if you were to set up a large complex website like Amazon on WordPress or a similar platform, it would crash or run very slowly. This is because WordPress code has to fit a huge range of needs and applications, while its open-source nature can cause low performance as well.

A well-developed custom CMS, on the other hand, can be designed specifically to sustain heavy workload and any number of concurrent users without compromising the performance.

Conclusion: Mind Your Requirements

So do you need a custom CMS? The short answer is maybe.

If you’re a small business or a blogger, you can probably get by with WordPress or a similar out-of-the-box CMS. However, make sure you keep the website and all its plugins up-to-date with latest security patches.

On the other hand, a large enterprise may be better served by a custom CMS. It’s important for decision makers to first sit down to determine their requirements and expectations from such a solution, and then see if a custom CMS could live up to them better than an off-the-box one.