Content Management System (CMS) Vs Custom HTML: Which Is Best for a Website Rebuild?
0.05 seconds… about the time it takes for you to realise the words and intention are very different when you see Scomo smirk. That’s also roughly how long you’ve got to make an impression on a new website visitor.
It can be pretty daunting considering a website rebuild. You need to align a mix of design, copywriting and technology. It’s not easy and you won’t nail it the first time, that’s why you’re rebuilding right? To build upon your business’s evolution and learnings.
The intention of this article is to shed a little light on the technology aspect. Given we maintain our own website in-house as a Software Development agency and have built a few sites for our customers, we want to share our learnings.
If you’re after an assist on copywriting or branding check out some of our other helpful articles:
- 5 Strategies You Must Know To Build A Website That Converts
- How To Discover Your Company’s Voice With Brand Archetypes
To address the technology side of things, there are two main pathways you can choose. Each has their own pros and cons which we’ll cover below.
Apple vs PC, left vs right-wing, folder vs scruncher, top sheet vs no top sheet (madness, I know) …the main camps you’re likely to find staked out for website building at the moment are ‘Custom HTML’ vs ‘CMS’.
Awareness is always the first step to understanding, so, let’s define:
CMS: Stands for Content Management System. This is usually a third-party system like Wix, WordPress, Oncord or Webflow that allow you to design your website directly on that system. This enables you to edit and publish straight away. It’s quick and it’s easy but there are draw backs in that traditionally CMSs use a database that includes the content and styling in a database to be displayed in the presentation layer of the website This lowers the barrier to create and control but slows the website down significantly.
Custom HTML: A static website that is built the old school way by hand-coding the site together with static site generators like Jekyll & Gatsby. A renaissance in this space has recently taken place with the invention of Headless CMSs. Think of these as a back-end only content management system. You can publish content if it is linked to the HTML when developed such as updating and publishing blogs or specific site content
Pros and Cons
So, what are the trade-offs? Here at WorkingMouse, we previously used a CMS and switched over to customer HTML for our recent website rebuild. In my experience as the Product Owner of the website, the pros and cons are as follows:
- Time - Once you’re up and running with a CMS the time is takes to create new pages and iterate existing ones is minimal.
- Skillset - Easy to get setup and running, sometimes possible in minutes to hours.
- Integrations - Often these sites will have a multitude of extensibility as add-ons like eCommerce functionality or integration to your other software, such as your CRM.
- Hosting - Usually the CMS provider will include hosting in their costs.
- Performance - As the CMS adds a presentation layer it can often slow website performance down. If the CMS is not well maintained or too slow users will bounce before the page loads. This also effects indexing on search engines.
- Control - You have to work within the boundaries of the CMS’s presentation abilities. If your brand is about exceptional experiences, this is going to be tricky to deliver in a templated format.
- Licence Cost - Having to pay (yet another) SaaS subscription for your CMS.
Custom HTML Pros
- Performance - In moving to a static site our google performance score went from 19 to 98 as the website no longer needed to connect to a database to display content. All the information was only client-side.
- SEO - If the site delivers a better and more expedient user experience your SEO will improve. We have a lot of blog content so upon migrating it all started ranking better.
- Control - You can do as you wish! No integration, functionality or experience is out of your grasp (the only limit is your imagination or something like that).
Custom HTML Cons
- Time - The time it takes to design and convey intention from the Product Owner to the developers is time-consuming.
- Skillset - If you don’t have a developer and designer readily available it may be expensive to source them for a custom HTML build.
- Responsiveness — while designing, we found that it would be tricky to get our mobile responsiveness right. This cost us a lot of hours.
- Errors - You may run into errors that will impede the site’s score. These can be difficult to debug. We once had such an error that took a number of days to discover and resolve.
As you can see from the lists above, she’s a close one. It all comes down to the make-up of your business, your websites goals and your appetite for flexibility, control and that sweet, sweet #1 Google rank over your competitors.
In hindsight post-re-building our site as custom HTML, I am quite frustrated by the lack of control. If I want a change, our internal process is to log a ticket and wait for it to be done. Sometimes this can take weeks and always requires further iterations.
If you have designers and developers in a cross-functional marketing team a custom HTML site would be a good fit.
If you’re not interested in changing the content regularly a CMS like Wix or Oncord would be good for most small to medium-sized businesses for speed and control, but you’ll likely pay a little more in your pay per click campaigns.
If I could do it all over again, I would have taken the CMS route but chosen something a little more expensive but with added flexibility, like Webflow.
Whichever camp you choose, don’t worry. The worst action is inaction. Think of your website or technology in dog years. Whichever path you choose you will always need to step off at some point and there will always be another new fancy path to take.