December 29 2020

Comparing Open-Source to Proprietary Content Management Systems

compare CMS typesWhen it comes to redesigning a website, one of the first and most important questions to ask yourself is what you are looking for in a content management system. With a wealth of options available—from open-source to proprietary to homegrown—it can be challenging to make a decision. Let’s explore the differences so you can select the right CMS for your business.

What is a CMS?

A content management system (CMS) is a software application used to build and manage websites. All features, functionalities and content are contained here. Different types of content management systems require different levels of coding and development work, but once the site is built, the idea is to make it easy for businesses to manage most of their front-end website experiences.

There are three common types of content management systems, each with its own pros and cons. Here’s what you need to know before making your selection.

Pros and Cons of an Open-Source CMS

Open-source content management systems are unique in that they’re not owned or supported by a single company but instead built collaboratively by independent developers. The source code is available to anyone, meaning that developers can modify and adapt the code at any time. Many open-source CMSs offer a variety of third-party plug-ins, making it easy to integrate new, pre-built functionalities into your site at a low cost. Common examples of open-source content management systems include WordPress, Umbraco and Drupal. Many open-source licenses are free or lower-cost than their proprietary counterparts, although it’s important to note that development costs may still be incurred.

While there are many benefits to an open-source CMS, it can also be limiting for businesses with more unique requirements. The most cost-effective options leverage pre-built templates, which may not suit your specific needs. While most templates can be customized, this requires development work, which in turn comes with an investment. And because there’s no clear ownership of the source code, there is sometimes minimal or no centralized support for bug fixes, upgrades and security patches.

Pros and Cons of a Proprietary CMS

Proprietary content management systems are owned and developed by a company and licensed to businesses and organizations. License fees range in cost depending on the individual CMS and license level, and are often renewed on an annual basis. Examples of popular .NET licensed proprietary CMSs include Kentico, Sitefinity, Sitecore and many more.

Proprietary CMSs offer robust support and training, either directly through the CMS provider or a trained agency partner. These content management systems are also highly customizable and offer more sophisticated technologies, such as website personalization, built-in analytics, email marketing, marketing automation and A/B testing. Additional functionalities can be custom-developed to meet the individual needs of your business. Built-in tools make it easy to manage updates and workflows, and the interface is designed for content editors with little to no development experience.

The downside is that proprietary CMSs are fee-based, and as a result, will be more expensive initially and ongoing than open-source platforms. Fees depend on license level and the number of licenses required, so a higher-tier license with more advanced features will be more expensive than a base license. System upgrades and support are also dependent upon the vendor’s release schedule.

Pros and Cons of a Homegrown CMS

A homegrown CMS is built from the ground up by a dedicated team of developers. Because homegrown content management systems are developed from scratch, they can be very flexible and highly custom. Like proprietary CMS platforms, there is an initial investment in that developers must be paid to build the CMS. An ongoing fee is also required for developers to make further customizations based on business requirements. Additionally, with a homegrown CMS, it may not be as straightforward to make basic content updates unless all developers are working against a single set of defined standards.

A homegrown CMS can work well in the case of a long-term partnership between a business and its development team. Because the source code belongs exclusively to the original developers, this means you are committed to an ongoing partnership. Hosting options may also be more limited, as most homegrown content management systems are hosted by the developing agency or firm. Homegrown CMSs are often unable to be migrated away from their original developers, so this solution works best if you’re in it for the long haul with your development team.

Which Should You Choose?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. If your budget is very limited, an open-source CMS may be appealing. You’ll have a variety of available themes and plugins that you can customize by adding your unique branding elements. If you’re looking for more robust technologies with centralized support, a proprietary CMS may be the right choice. With a homegrown CMS, you can create a fully custom experience, although this limits you to a single team of developers and may not be quite as flexible long term.

ZAG offers a variety of CMS options and can help you select the right platform for your business. Get in touch to see how we can help.

  • Kentico
  • Sitefinity
  • Umbraco

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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