When looking at building a new website, there are really basic 3 types of content management systems (CMS) that you can choose from.
1. Builder Based
2. Traditional CMS Based
3. Full Custom
Builder Based Sites
A builder-based website is built on a platform like Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc. These sites are built on platforms that do all of the coding side of things for you. These are content management systems in their purest form. You actually can’t even touch the backend code of these websites. These sites require the least amount of technical knowledge to build because they’re designed so that pretty much anyone can go in and put together a website.
There are a lot of good things about this type of CMS but there is one really major drawback and that’s performance. Because these platforms are designed so that anyone can go in and create a site there needs to be code that facilitates a website for Jenny’s beauty salon, Bob’s Tire Shop, and Sarah’s Bakery.
These sites need to have the potential to do so many different things that there is a LOT of additional code on the back end that is never going to be used. This creates code bloat and degrades performance. Beyond all of the extra features, the site is built using a “drag and drop” editor. These are designed to make it so you don’t need coding skills to put the site together but this creates a very bad and messy code structure on the back end which is difficult for search engines to read and also slows your site even further.
The real problem with these drawbacks is poor search engine rankings. There are so many websites out there now that check all of the basic boxes for ranking well on Google that the algorithms are looking for other differentiators.
The most important of these differentiators is user experience. If Google thinks you’re providing a good user experience you’re much more likely to get good rankings. A major measure of user experience is how long it takes a website to load. A website with poor performance will load more slowly and in Google’s eyes provide a poor user experience. So sites built on these types of builder based CMS are much less likely to rank well for target search terms than traditional CMS or full custom sites.
The main advantages of builder based CMS sites are:
They’re easy to set up
They’re easy to manage
They’re not likely to break
They’re not likely to be hacked.
Disadvantages of builder based CMS sites:
Poor Search Engine Rankings
Limited customization options because of limited access to code.
Traditional CMS Sites
Traditional CMS sites are in the middle ground between a fully custom-built site and a builder-based site.
Traditional CMS sites are built on platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla!.
When you build one of these sites you don’t just go in and start dragging things around to design the site. You need to set up your web server, then you need to install the CMS. Once the CMS is installed you need to choose a theme that dictates how your website is laid out and will look and then you start adding functionality with plugins.
The biggest advantage of these sites is that the CMS creates a platform that manages all of the core functions that every website needs to have. Things like routing traffic to the proper pages, having a user interface to access the back end of the site to make updates, and managing the website database are all handled by the CMS.
That being said, because you installed the CMS yourself you have full access to the codebase. You can go in and change anything you want, and when you build the site you can build it from the ground up to only have the code absolutely necessary to make the site function. You can build websites that have great performance and are completely customizable in any way that you desire.
There are, however, a few drawbacks. As I mentioned earlier traditional CMS’s use themes and plugins to manage the look and functionality of a website. Because setting up a CMS is relatively easy to learn, there are a LOT of developers out there who will set up a traditional CMS site only to install a poorly coded theme and start adding poorly coded plugins to a traditional CMS site. This results in a website that’s just as bad, if not worse, than a builder-based site. Beyond the performance issues, these poorly coded themes and plugins can potentially introduce security vulnerabilities into your website making you susceptible to being hacked.
In the hands of a good developer, a traditional CMS site can perform just as well as a full custom site with all of the benefits of a builder-based site, but in the hands of a bad developer, a traditional CMS site can be a very bad option.
Advantages of traditional CMS based sites:
Quick to set up
They’re easy to manage once set up (anyone at the company can easily make updates to the site)
They’re not likely to break (with a good developer)
They’re not likely to be hacked (with a good developer)
They have excellent performance and can have excellent search engine rankings (with a good developer)
Disadvantages of traditional CMS based sites:
Poor performance (with a bad developer)
Easily Hacked (with a bad developer)
Poor Search Engine Rankings (with a bad developer)
Prone to breaking (with a bad developer)
Full Custom Websites
A Full custom site is one that is coded entirely from the ground up. I won’t go into this in detail as it requires a full development team but honestly doesn’t provide much additional benefit over a well-built CMS based website unless you’re willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on building and maintaining the site.
There are different use cases that lend themselves to each of these types of sites which is most commonly dictated by budget.
For a budget of < $7,500
I would highly recommend a builder-based site. You’re never going to get the same performance as a CMS based site but you also don’t have to worry as much about it breaking, being hacked, or being an absolute mess because of an inexperienced developer. I would also recommend that you hire someone based on their design skills rather than website building (developemtn) skills for this type of site. A designer will at least make something that looks really nice for you even if it doesn’t perform the best.
$7,500 – $80,000
On the low end of this budget, it may be a struggle to find a really good developer but so long as you can find a good developer, a traditional CMS site is by far the best option for this budget range. You can get a site that performs really well, looks great, ranks well for target search terms, and do pretty much anything you want it to.
In this instance, you really want to find at least a 2 person team made up of a designer and a developer. Noone is both a great designer and a great developer. It just doesn’t happen, one skill is very logical and engineering-based, the other skill requires artistic talent. If someone tells you they’re great at both they’re either lying, mistaken, or you’ve found a unicorn.
This is the territory of a full custom site with a full team to put it together and write everything from scratch.