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Łukasz Gajownik
Head of Front-end
Business
12.05.2023 | 8 min

How to Choose the Right CMS for Your Web Development Project

The choice of a CMS (content management system) for a web development project is one of those decisions that doesn’t seem that significant. It’s just a CMS, right? And after a while, it turns out that the one you’ve chosen doesn’t have a few key features you simply can’t do without. But it’s too late now, and it will take quite a lot of time and money to switch to a different one. This article’s purpose is to prevent such dreadful scenarios from happening. So, if you’re about to make that crucial decision, I’m sure you'll be much better prepared at the end of the article.

How to Choose the Right CMS for Your Web Development Project - 2024 10
Table of Contents
  • There is no perfect CMS, but we can narrow down the option pool
  • 1. How complex is your project, and what are the essential requirements?
  • 2. What’s your budget?
  • 3. Are you planning to scale it?
  • 4. How soon do you need your website?
  • 5. Security
  • How can you make sure you’re making the right choice?

There is no perfect CMS, but we can narrow down the option pool

First, it’s necessary to point out that there is no CMS that would work well in every type of project. Sure, you can build pretty much anything in WordPress, but for some types of projects, it’s much better and potentially more cost-effective to pick something else.

There are plenty of articles that simply list the most popular CMS options and provide little help in the actual process of choosing the right one. I’ll try to approach it differently. Instead of just giving you the potential options, I’ll guide you through the decision process.

But before we do that, let’s discuss the general types of content management systems.

Open source CMS

Examples: WordPress, Drupal, Wagtail

These are sometimes called “traditional”. They're the most widely utilized CMS platforms out there, with WordPress being a clear leader. According to W3Techs, over 43% of all websites run on WordPress, and the number is only growing year by year.

Due to the access to code, they give developers complete freedom. On top of that, there’s a massive amount of both free and premium plugins for marketing automation, e-commerce, analytics, and much more. At this point, there are also many drag-and-drop page builders that allow people to create websites from scratch, implement changes, and modify the design without knowing a thing about HTML.

However, if you want to create something more out-of-the-box, you still may require some coding skills. On top of that, they need regular attention in terms of security and updates due to their ever-changing nature. It’s worth mentioning that it plays a particularly big role in the case of WordPress. Due to its popularity, WordPress websites are quite often a target of cyber attacks, so fully updated security is an absolute must. On the other hand, Drupal is considered one of the most secure CMSs, so it’s not necessarily a given with those kinds of platforms.

Key features of open-source CMSs:

  • complete creative freedom (within the CMSs capabilities)
  • hands-on approach and maintenance required
  • perfect for large and complex projects

Drag-and-drop website builders (proprietary CMS)

Examples: Wix, Squarespace, Webflow

Platforms in this category provide ready-to-go layouts and drag-and-drop tools to create functional websites easily. They’re primarily aimed at small to medium businesses that don’t require any custom solutions. Most CMSs in this category work in the SaaS model.

They’re often the easiest and cheapest option because they don’t require any coding, and all the features are included in the subscription. In addition to tools and features, those platforms usually take care of all the domain, hosting, security, and infrastructure aspects to make the user experience as easy as possible.

However, in most cases, it’s impossible to implement anything that isn’t already there in the package. For example, if you wanted to integrate a specific payment option that your clients might want, it could be impossible. And if custom modifications are possible, they might be very costly.

Key features:

  • easy and cheap to develop and maintain
  • security, infrastructure, and hosting are all covered in the subscription
  • limited scalability
  • limited options in terms of design and integrations
  • limited options and high cost of tailored customizations

E-commerce CMS

Examples: Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce

Technically, no one stops you from using just any CMS to build e-commerce websites, but there are e-commerce-specific platforms that handle that part for you. Their main role is to provide all the necessary tools for managing online stores, but most of them also have all you may need regarding content. So, if you’re in the e-commerce business, those are your best options.

Key features:

  • perfect synergy with the online store
  • tools for sales analytics
  • other features may be vastly different between platforms

Custom CMS

The last option that’s still used quite often is a completely custom, tailor-made CMS. This path gives absolute freedom to designers and developers and allows them to create unique websites that answer every business need.

That, of course, comes with price and time. However, more and more often, it’s the only way to create complex and visually impressive websites with perfect UX. In the following article, we explain the exact circumstances that make custom CMS a viable option.

5 Reasons Why You Should Create a Custom CMS for Your Business

What else is there?

Besides the most common types of CMS mentioned above, there are many other solutions that are aimed at specific purposes, such as enterprise-scale or mobile development. However, it’s fair to say that they’re relatively marginal compared to all the other options.

So, moving on, what are the most important questions you need to ask yourself before you choose the right CMS?

1. How complex is your project, and what are the essential requirements?

This is perhaps the most crucial question you need to answer before choosing the CMS.

The best approach to this is creating a general vision of design and listing all the features and aspects required from your website. Those may include:

  • payment options
  • possible integrations
  • SEO-building potential
  • multi-platform responsiveness
  • scalability
  • and much more, depending on a specific project

After you’ve figured those things out, you can simply check if they’re possible on a given CMS. For example, let’s say that you own a clothing brand, and your project will heavily depend on its out-of-the-box design. Just by knowing that, you can immediately cross out most of the drag-and-drop website builders that don’t allow flexibility in that sense.

And sometimes, it may turn out that your project is so unique that there’s no efficient way to create and manage it using available CMS, whether it’s open source or not. That’s a sign that it may be better to go for the custom option. Of course, if that option works with your budget and timeframe.

2. What’s your budget?

Another question that makes a world of difference. With a tight budget, you can immediately cross out the custom CMS path. And if you consider your website project complex and you wish to create a number of custom features and integrations, it’s the right moment to make some decisions in terms of what is actually important.

3. Are you planning to scale it?

Your website might not start big, but if you’re aiming to grow your audience, further develop it and implement more features, you can immediately exclude simple page builders from your decision process.

While you expand your website, you’ll almost certainly come up with ideas that won’t be possible within the tight frames of those platforms. On top of that, at some point, you might start having performance issues if your traffic becomes big enough, let alone the problems with security that come with it.

So, if you have big plans, you need an open source or custom CMS that will allow you to make them come to fruition.

4. How soon do you need your website?

If your website isn’t too complex and you need it quickly, page builders will help you get it online in the most efficient fashion. They’ll give you all the tools you need, including layouts, key features, and the most popular integrations.

On top of that, you’ll immediately know how much it will cost because it will be all covered in the subscription. Of course, you still need to ensure that whatever you’re trying to do is possible in that page builder. If you have any doubts or you prefer to keep your options open for further changes, it’s probably better to choose something more scalable and customizable.

5. Security

Some website types should be especially concerned about CMS security due to the sensitivity of the information they handle or the potential impact of a security breach. Most notably, those include e-commerce, government, and healthcare websites.

If you have a project that belongs in one of those categories, you should think twice about choosing WordPress. As the world's most popular CMS, is a frequent target for security breaches. Its popularity makes it a lucrative target for cybercriminals, who are constantly looking for vulnerabilities to exploit.

Last example:

Critical Privilege Escalation in WordPress

So, what should you consider?

SaaS website builders are generally more secure than self-hosted solutions. This is primarily because the responsibility for security measures, updates, and infrastructure maintenance falls to the service provider, not the end user.

The other option is custom CMS that offers a unique security profile. On the one hand, it may be less likely to be targeted by automated attacks, as these attacks often exploit known vulnerabilities in popular CMS platforms. On the other hand, the security of a custom CMS largely depends on the skills and knowledge of the developers who built it. If built with security in mind, a custom CMS can be very secure.

How can you make sure you’re making the right choice?

If you ask ten developers about the right choice of CMS for your project, you might get fifteen different answers. And half of them could actually work well. For example, personally, I would choose Drupal over Joomla in most cases, but it doesn’t mean that Joomla can’t be utilized well. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular options. The difference is often on the margins, and there are so many great tools to choose from that the choice is never easy.

However, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to choose the right CMS. On the contrary, it’s pretty easy if you know all the details about the project.

And that’s what we do in Order Group. We help businesses find the best solution in terms of the entire tech stack for the project to make sure it will allow companies to fulfill current and future business needs.

So, if you’re looking for a partner that will help you make the right decision in that sense and follow that with a project that you’ll love, feel free to contact us.

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