CMS vs Custom Websites

CMS vs Custom Websites

In an article about CMS Pros and Cons, a Canadian web developer by the name of Rob Gravelle, seems to be trying to convince you that you should hire him instead of ever using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla.

Rob’s got a good deal of name recognition and has been getting a lot of his articles out there recently, apparently he’s got plenty of time.

Gravelle’s article critical of Open CMS was published today on HTMLGOODIES.COM

According to Gravelle, the pros and cons of CMS comes down to: Open CMS allows any idiot to create a website but the downsides are so great that  you should instead hire a genius like him to build your website.  He begins his “Con” list against CMS by writing,

“Let”s call a spade a spade; Open Source CMSes also have their downside, making them look rather ugly and somewhat unreliable…” – Rob Gravelle

He elaborates on the security issues and adds that CMSes are not a good framework for app development.  So, let”s take a look at these issues, shall we?

1 – Security  I have yet to come across a custom built website that was more secure than a default, up to date install of a CMS like WordPress or Joomla.  And the reason is rather simple – developers who really spend the time to become competent with security, can make much more money in a position where they are in charge of web development security than working as a web developer.

Your average web developer who thinks he knows security is actually dangerous because he is likely  totally unaware of what he doesn’t know and the little that he did once know is probably outdated today.

CMSes are more secure than nearly any custom website because having a whole community oversee security is more effective than having one or two developers who are not trained in security.  Also, having thousands of “pen-testers” (hackers) constantly testing your security, is bound to make you sharper!

Recent research shows, as has all previous research in the past three years, that the vast majority of websites that are hacked either have out of date cores or outdated themes or plugins.  In other words, the website owners simply failed to do proper maintenance that is needed on any kind of website.

CMSes issue free security updates in a timely fashion for the life of the CMS.  (Who knows where your web developer will be next year, let alone in 5 or 10 years?)

CMSes are built on platforms where security is built-in.  A truly custom website, must prototype all security code.  CMSes are pre-tested by thousands of beta testers.  Custom web developers are lucky if they can get their wife or girlfriend to test!  (Ask me how I know!)  These same arguments work against Gravelle”s “unreliable” claim.

More CMS Pros and Cons

2 – Ugliness?  I don’t know what CMSes Gravelle has been looking at, but certainly not the two most popular ones – WordPress and Joomla.  Just take a look at design/template/theme shops like,, and others.

Heck, even the free themes you can 1-click install with WordPress ain’t half-bad.  And the default designs that WordPress and Joomla setup with, are clean and quite usable, especially for technical sites.

The fact is that CMSes like Joomla and WordPress do not limit your design choices.  Any design that has been done on any website can be duplicated in one of these CMSes if you have someone to tweak things for you.

I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, but to my eyes, you have to look rather hard to find an “ugly” ready-made design for these two CMSes.

3 – App Development

“If you are hoping to use a CMS to build hybrid apps from start to finish without writing any code…”

This is an actual quote from Gravelle”s article!   He must’ve been having a really hard time coming up with reasons not to use a CMS!

The definition of “hybrid” is “a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture.“, according to Google.

Now, I’m not sure what Gravelle is trying to say here.  Is he saying you can’t build a “custom” app without writing code?

Is there any sane, intelligent person out there who expects to write “hybrid apps” without writing any code???   Isn”t that a bit like saying, “Don”t buy a Ford, because they don”t have flying cars.”   Well, guess what?  Chevy doesn’t have flying cars yet either (darn it!) and nobody can write you a custom app without writing any code, either.

You have to wonder just what kind of website he thinks can “…build hybrid apps from start to finish without writing any code…”?

Or is he trying to say that you can’t build a web application with a CMS without writing code?  If so, well…I don’t know what planet Gravelle came from!  He’s Canadian, but I know Canadians are smarter than that.

No article on CMS Pros and Cons would be complete without discussing extensions and plugins.

You CAN probably find an app to do what you need, without writing a bit of code, by using WordPress or Joomla with one of their many, many extensions or plugins.  And if you truly need a custom app, CMSes like WordPress and Joomla make it fairly trivial for a developer to add one to their CMS, meaning you get the main website built quickly and cheaply (maybe free) with the CMS and then the developer can add your custom plugin, usually using much less code than a custom website would demand.

CONCLUSION  What I would say to Rob Gravelle is that, rather than mislead people away from open-source CMS and try to convince them to pay you money to write their non-ugly, non-insecure apps where you can offer hybrid code without writing code, just be honest and tell people that your rent is due and you need a little help.  Add a PayPal button that says, “Donate”.  You can get a non-ugly, secure app from a WordPress plugin to do this for you without writing any code!

If you own a small business, you may be better off if you hire a competent and honest web developer.   Even using a good CMS, there is just so much to know, that can help or hurt your chances of success online, that only a good, full-time developer could possibly keep up with it all.

Before deciding you can”t afford a developer, you really should talk with a few to see if they can change your mind.  You’re can be hurting yourself more than saving money, by going the DIY route.

However, maybe your wife or adult child is talented and has some web and marketing experience.  In that case, if you truly can’t yet afford a pro, by all means – go for it!  But do line up some pro consultations when you can, and quickly rule out anyone feeding you B.S. like the fellow who wrote that HTMLGoodies article.

And if you want that pro to write a truly custom web application without using a CMS, call me!  I’ll happily create a CMS site for $499, but I”d love to make you a custom site for $2,999!