Buying a New Website | Things You Need to Know #2

In the first post we considered the questions ‘What is a Content Management System and do I need one?’ This time the question for consideration is:

#2 Which Content Management System is the right one for me?

We are venturing into more technical territory, and already I can see some eyes glazing over, so I’ll try to keep the jargon to a minimum. There are hundreds of content management systems available, but they can probably be divided into the following three groups.

An open and closed safety pin1. Open Source

An open source CMS is one that is open and freely available to the whole developing community with no restrictions on its use.


There are no set-up fees or licence fees associated with using it and no restrictions on where sites built on it can be hosted.

Because the CMS is open to all, any web developer can ‘get under the hood’ and make changes to the back-end of these sites. This means web owners are not permanently tied to a particular web developer or agency, and are thus able to relatively easily ‘port’ their site from one supplier to another if required.

A fully open CMS will allow developers to custom code their own building blocks or borrow / buy building blocks created by other members of the developing community. This allows huge creative and functional freedom.


Open source systems have a reputation for being less user-friendly for the web administrator (probably you!). Although increasingly there are some very good open source systems on the market.

It is easier for agency developers to ‘break’ the code making it harder and more expensive to upgrade the site in the future.


2. Closed / Proprietary Systems

A closed CMS is not open to the whole developing community. There are different levels of ‘shut down’ depending on the individual system. Most are open to all agency developers to be able to build sites upon. However the ability to add new functionality is restricted to the CMS company’s in-house development team.


Often more user friendly from the administrator’s point of view.

May have a particular focus on certain aspects of functionality not available with an open-source platform. Some websites with particularly advanced requirements may require the specialist services that only a closed CMS can supply.

Is fairly unbreakable, as the delicate parts are hidden away from the sticky fingers of agency developers.


Agency developers do not have as much freedom.

Closed systems are often associated with either an original set-up fee, ongoing licence fees or both.

Hosting location may be restricted.


3. Custom / Small Scale 

These are a subset of Closed / Proprietary systems which are often built and maintained by small, local web development agencies. We advise proceeding with caution. Often they are only available to developers employed by the agency itself or a small selection of partner agencies.


Original web design and build quotes may be cheaper (though watch out for inflated hosting and CMS licence fees).

May have some excellent features aimed at a particular niche market, for instance Tourism.


These systems are nearly always associated with either an original set-up fee, ongoing licence fees or both.

Hosting location is nearly always restricted to the company’s own servers, allowing hosting charges to be set artificially high.

Sites built on a custom CMS may not be easily portable making changing suppliers an expensive and complicated procedure.

If the circumstances of these small custom CMS providers change (often), for instance they go out of business, site owners are left with a degrading CMS and no way of upgrading it.


So, come on then, which is the right CMS for me?

There isn’t an easy answer I’m afraid – the important thing is to make sure you know exactly what you are buying.

Make sure you have answers to these important questions BEFORE your new website is built.

1. Why are you recommending this particular CMS over others? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

2. Are there any ongoing monthly or yearly licence fees associated with this CMS? If so, what are they?

3. If in the future I wished to move my website to another web agency, would I be able to? Please explain the process and costs associated with this.

4. How much will you charge me for hosting? Can I change hosting provider in the future if I choose to?


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