The Trouble with Custom CMS & Proprietary Platforms
Out of the Blue Blog

The Trouble with Custom CMS & Proprietary Platforms

Deciding on a business platform is a lot like buying a car. You want to pick the one that is most reliable, has the least amount of stoppages or hiccups, and can safely accommodate others.

And similar to buying a car, choosing a business platform can also be quite overwhelming.

There are a number of considerations to weigh when choosing the right platform. You need one that doesn’t break the bank, a platform that fits comfortably within your budget while also providing the necessary features to facilitate your brand’s workflow. Then there are factors like ease of use, ability to customize, and storage capacity.

weighing website business decisions

Many new businesses think they need to create their own platform from scratch, just for the sake of autonomy. Yes, it’s true that a proprietary website can deliver certain freedoms, but it can also come with a higher cost and frustration level.

Going with a custom CMS solution over an established platform like WordPress might seem like the right choice at first, but it can lead to more work than meets the eye.

What is a Proprietary Platform?

A proprietary platform is a custom solution for one particular company to use. This custom CMS allows businesses to have total control over their website in every facet, including coding, file management, user interface, functionality, and ability to update.

It might seem nice at first, but having this level of responsibility can also lead to certain problems.

A proprietary platform takes longer to set up and lacks the support features of a longstanding open source CMS. Since you are effectively creating a product from scratch, proprietary platforms demand a lot of attention and finetuning. Reliability is a major uncertainty.

Compare this to open source platforms, like WordPress.

An open source platform is an established software that is available for anyone’s accessibility. People can freely edit the code, build and sell plugins to others, and get simple around the clock support when they need it most. This software is continually improved upon and modified by a wide-ranging and talented online community with the goal of gradually making the software better.

open source vs proprietary software

Open-Source vs. Proprietary Software

Open-source versus proprietary software comes down to established versus not established. With open-source software like WordPress, you’re getting a proven track record of customer support as well as extensive resource content to help as you go.

Proprietary software is, well, proprietary. It’s coming from in-house, so there’s no established support line or resource center to draw from. All the code you create is your own code, not to be shared with others. This may seem valuable from a confidentiality standpoint, but it can be pull-your-hair-out frustrating from a management point of view.

Proprietary software takes a long time to develop, usually comes in well above your intended budget (hiccups tend to happen along the way), and it requires constant maintenance and upkeep after implementation.

Open-source software is much easier to get off the ground. It’s usually available for free, or at little cost, and it has very open licensing. In most cases, users are welcome to modify or improve the software without obtaining a license, and there are no restrictions on redistributions.

What are the Similarities Between Open-Source and Proprietary Software?

When framing a comparison between open-source and proprietary software, it’s not necessarily about quality. Both can deliver in this regard.

Open-source and proprietary software both provide digital infrastructure possibilities for many businesses. They can help brands create and organize content for their website, manage files, and create a successful digital ecosystem.

In fact, proprietary software can function almost identically to open-source software if the required upfront and maintenance work is put forth. The problem lies in its feasibility. If you are a small to medium-sized business, you probably aren’t prepared for the time and financial commitment necessary to operate a proprietary platform.

This is where an open-source platform shines. It’s easy to set up, your development team is probably well-familiar with it (especially a renowned platform like WordPress) and if you have any questions you can ask a million past users for help. This convenience and ease of use are big reasons why we recommend open-source platforms over proprietary for most businesses.

Pros and Cons of Proprietary Platforms

Now that we’ve laid out the foundational concepts related to proprietary and open-source platforms, let’s get into some pros and cons.

Pros of Proprietary Platforms

In some instances, it could make sense to adopt a proprietary platform.

For example, large financial institutions that require extensive confidentiality across all platforms might benefit from adopting a proprietary platform. By not using open source code, these institutions can attain an extra layer of protection.

Cons of Proprietary Platforms

While a large financial institution would have the necessary budget and infrastructure in place to manage a proprietary platform, a small to medium sized business would not.

It’s much more efficient and cost-effective to design a website with an open-source platform like WordPress because there’s limited oversight needed. Proprietary software requires a team to provide constant monitorization, as well as needing to problem solve on their own without the extensive resource library available with an established platform.

frustrations from customer support

Customer support is another area where open-source platforms outshine the competition. With WordPress, you have access to an extensive resource library that’s getting constantly updated by WordPress users and developers. This is a huge advantage for a smaller sized business that has slimmer profit margins and can’t afford to waste time trying to sort out their proprietary code. Because proprietary software is geared towards usage among a small, select group of users, there are fewer outlets for help if your development team is struggling.

Most open-source projects have been worked on by hundreds if not thousands of developers across the planet, so there are very few problems that have yet to be solved.

And then there’s the issue of migration.

If you have a website on a proprietary platform and are looking to migrate to an open source solution, good luck. Proprietary platforms make it extremely difficult to move your content anywhere else without manually having to copy/paste everything. Then there is the issue of file transfers, which are essentially non-existent from most proprietary platforms to open source platforms.

WordPress vs Popular Proprietary Website Platforms

WordPress is the market leader in open-source CMS solutions, bar none. Their usage has risen each year, and in 2021, 64% of all CMS platforms were WordPress worldwide.

WordPress is the market leader in open-source CMS solutions

Source: ToolTester

The main advantage of WordPress over other platforms is its customizability. This open-source platform can easily align with any of your business’s needs. All you have to do to get started is buy a domain name, then install WordPress for free.

It fits with any type of business, from a simple blogging website to a larger eCommerce store. And thanks to thousands of plugins, you can tailor your WordPress experience to precisely fit your needs.

So how does WordPress compare to the most popular proprietary website platforms?

Squarespace vs. WordPress

Although Squarespace is fairly intuitive and can be a sufficient platform for less trafficked websites, it lacks the robust customization options found on WordPress.

Squarespace markets themselves as having many built-in features, thus taking out the guesswork on your end and lessening the “learning curve” over WordPress. But this is deceiving.

Yes, it’s true that WordPress may have a slightly steeper learning curve for total beginners, but it’s a very easy platform to receive assistance. Since there are so many experienced WordPress developers around the world, there are ample opportunities for guidance and answers to a variety of questions you may have.
Plus, there are many dedicated WordPress developers on hand to facilitate any new site build or answer any development questions you might have.

Is Squarespace good for SEO? Although Squarespace attempts to handle all SEO components you may need help with, they do this in a very one-size-fits-all kind of way. And the fact that there is no coding needed on your end (you can use a visual builder), it means that page speed will suffer. Visual builders are not conducive to fast page speed.

WordPress developers will know to give you the most efficient coding imaginable, aimed at reducing your site’s page speed and improving your SEO rankings.

Wix vs. WordPress

Another popular platform is Wix. Like Squarespace, they dub themselves as an “easy-to-use” and “beginner friendly” way to build a website.

It’s true that Wix is a lightning fast way to throw up a website, but fast doesn’t make it good.

With Wix, you can drag and drop nearly all elements onto your pages yourself, but this causes terrible speed issues. Plus, all Wix sites use their own proprietary Wix-generated code which is nearly impossible to customize or optimize.

There is also a very limited resource center that can’t help you with much, thanks to Wix’s limited coding capabilities.

Wix does not open it’s platform to outside developers, so if you hire an external web development team they won’t be able to do much for you. They control all aspects of their platform, including commandeering all site updates and maintenance work for you.

Many business owners get suckered into the price of Wix plans, which can range upwards from FREE to $23/month. The free plan includes banners ads across your site (you don’t receive any profits from these clicks), and the higher level plans allow some extra features like built-in ecommerce solutions. These solutions aren’t highly efficient as they still require Wix’s proprietary coding, which inhibits customization.

graphic showing website optimization

Wix has access to hundreds of template options, but templates aren’t the optimal choice for most websites. They tend to create bloat thanks to excess code. Most business owners should opt for a fresh, built from scratch design. Although this may come with a higher price tag at first, the end result will be a smoother and more efficient site.

Shopify vs. WordPress

Shopify is a popular platform among ecommerce businesses, especially those who don’t want to invest heavily in upfront web design. Startups and small businesses are Shopify’s biggest demographic, as they are able to get a storefront up and running quickly.

But once again, your website is not completely owned by you. It lives on Shopify’s ecommerce platform meaning that you are boxed into Shopify’s monthly payment structure.

That’s not the only Shopify problem you may be up against.

Shopify also charges you a transaction fee if you elect to use a different payment processor other than Shopify Payments. This cost can range from about 0.5% all the way up to 2%.

There are some apps with useful capabilities that you can find within the Shopify platform, but these are fairly limited. Their app store is nowhere as robust as WordPress.

Content management is another area where Shopify really struggles. All stores come with a basic blog but content formatting, call to action buttons, and other features that are easy to implement with WordPress are hard to do with Shopify.

WordPress also has many ecommerce plugins and features to help you customize and optimize your store, while considering important factors like page speed and usability. Some of the most popular plugins include WooCommerce and BigCommerce, both of which have powerful inventory management and allow users to easily sell external products.

Some of the things you can do when pairing WordPress with an ecommerce plugin include marketing events, local services, and physical items.

Weebly vs. WordPress

Then there’s Weebly, a similar solution to Wix in that they allow you to visually build your website without worrying about code.

Visual builders are great from an ease of use standpoint, but they are terrible for page speed, user experience, and SEO efficiency.

Like other proprietary platforms, Weebly is a completely hosted service. Your website is essentially owned by them, it’s living on their servers.

Although Weebly has a suite of design templates and plugins, these tend to be bulky and inefficient relative to WordPress.

Proprietary Platforms and SEO

Any website that is built using templatization runs the risk of having slower load times which can hamper its SEO rankings.

Although some of the above platforms have improved their SEO capabilities, they still struggle compared to most WordPress sites. A WordPress developer can easily minify JavaScript and other code, including large image files, while a Wix developer is severely limited in this respect.

You also have to consider the user experience (UX) perspective. Let’s say there’s an incompatibility problem for a certain device or browser to load a specific element on your site. It might take weeks or months for the proprietary platform to provide a fix, whereas WordPress support has likely already found a solution.

In the open-source world, patches and other fixes are quickly executed by the community of users. Problems don’t typically linger for WordPress users. There’s a palpable sense of community in the WordPress support world.

Migrating from Proprietary Platforms

Migration isn’t really a thing when it comes time to leave your proprietary platform. Most proprietary software has its own code that doesn’t blend at all with open-source solutions. You will end up having to recreate the majority of content and files to ensure they will live on the new platform.

From a cost perspective, this migration could cost you more than building a new website from scratch.

Open-source platforms make the migration process a breeze. You can easily send files from one site to another without breaking the website or causing long periods of downtime.

If you do have to migrate from a proprietary platform to an open-source solution, talk to a team who has experience facilitating this transition with ease.

Undergoing the migration process doesn’t have to be a total nightmare. Talk to the professionals at Blue Laser Digital to learn about your best options for the most seamless transition imaginable.

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