To bespoke or not to bespoke

Ten years ago content management systems were rare. If you were a web design agency and could offer clients the ability to update their own website, you were ahead of the game. In 2001 Aquarius were way ahead of the game and offered clients our own bespoke content management system.

That was 10 years ago and times change. What was once cutting edge technology is now old hat, so we changed with the times and moved on to using Open Source Systems.

Today, if a web design agency tries to tell you that you should use their in-house content management system, they’re doing you a disservice. They’re taking advantage of your lack of knowledge of web technology by claiming that their bespoke service is a good deal for you.

In a world of widely available, top quality, open source content management systems, there’s no upside to using a bespoke system. All the advantages lie with the web design agency and not the client.

Open source systems offer better quality

Open source and commercial products are all fighting it out in a highly competitive market. That competition forces them to continually update and upgrade, improving functionality and usability. What’s more, they’re working with teams who are dedicated purely to the creation and improvement of a content management system.

Open Source Content Management Systems like WordPress (The system we use) have a huge community of coders continually working to improve the system. These content management systems are stable, flexible and of such high quality that major corporates like Ford http://www.thefordstory.com/and government clients like our own Number 10 http://www.number10.gov.uk/ are happy to build their websites using this system.

Safety in numbers

They often say that there is safety in numbers. Apply this to using a system like WordPress and you can see how you can achieve peace of mind based on this alone. At the beginning of 2010, there were over 202 Million websites using WordPress. Which would you put your faith in and ultimately your online business? A system used by over 202 Million or a bespoke system used by a few hundred clients of a small web design company. Many Fortune 500 Companies chose WordPress: http://wordpress.org/showcase/tag/fortune-500/

Bespoke systems are no longer the way forward

The most important reason that a bespoke content management system is a not the way forward is because it ties you to the agency that provided the original service. It locks you in, and reduces your options. That raises a number of issues;

How do you fix a problem?

You’re probably going to have to talk to the original agency, even if you no longer have a working relationship. They developed the content management system; they’re probably the only people who are going to be able to fix it quickly. Your alternative is going to be paying developers who have no prior knowledge of the code, to try and identify and fix a system they haven’t seen before.

How do you add new functionality?

You’ve realised the importance of social networking to your business, so you want to add some new functionality. Widely available content management systems respond to demand. That means there’s probably a “plug-in” that adds that functionality to your site quickly and easily. Not the case with a bespoke content management system; you’re stuck until the agency that owns it decides to take the time to implement the functionality.

What happens if the web-site design company goes bust?

It can happen. We’ve seen it before on a number of occasions when we have been approached by companies using bespoke systems and their original website developer has gone bust. In most of the cases so far, the websites were linked to the original company and had to be replaced. The majority of them we have been able to help and build them a new static website or one with a content management system, in which case we used WordPress. A few companies could not afford a new website or the result of not having a live website for even a short while resulted in them closing down as well. With WordPress, your site can be backed up as often as you want so you can have a copy yourself, and if the website developer does go bust, you simply move or buy a new domain name and reinstall your website the same day.

More questions

What about search engines?

WordPress is the best for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is a fact, WordPress driven sites get indexed by Search Engines much faster and better than custom system driven sites do, due to the cleanliness of the code and the features it has.

What about updates?

WordPress will never outdate. In fact, as WordPress is a system used by hundreds of millions around the globe, allowing for the best and largest “bug-checking” team in the world, and once glitches in the system are revealed WordPress comes up with an immediate upgrade. And even if it is not about fixing bugs, even if it is about making the system better there will always be new updates therefore the system will never outdate. You then need to ask yourself, can a small company afford to spend the same amount of time updating their bespoke system?

What about usability?

Have a look at Amazon and search for WordPress. You will find over 2,000 books alone, including many ‘How to get up and running in 10 minutes’ guides. WordPress is not just so easy to use; it also has a comprehensive online help system which is constantly being updated.

It’s good to be free

Even if you have very specialised requirements, commonly available content management systems are the best option. You’re far better having a web design agency create a custom component for a well known content management system than accepting that a bespoke option is best.

Whenever a web design agency insists that their content management system is the best option for you, query that claim. With such a scope of available options that are widely supported, there’s no justification for offering a bespoke option that’s agency specific.

Any design or development agency you work with should be able to offer you a widely available content management system and be comfortable working with several different systems.

Aquarius do just that. One of the first questions we ask, is do you even need a content management system? If you do, who will use the system to update your web site? What will they need to update and how often? Simple questions, but questions that may reduce your costs and help us deliver a web site best suited to meet your particular needs.