Proprietary CMS vs Open Source CMS

You’ve decided you need a fancy new website, great! But before you dive headfirst into the world of web design, you need to first make a big web development decision – should you build your site on a proprietary CMS or an open source CMS?

You’ve decided you need a fancy new website and now there seem to be a million and one questions that need answering! What should it look like? What colours should you use? Who will keep it up to date? Do you want a team page? Or should it be called an “About” page? So many questions and that is only the very tip top of the iceberg. But before you dive headfirst into the world of web design, you need to first make a big web development decision – should you build your site on a proprietary CMS or an open source CMS? Let’s break down some definitions to get you started…


What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

CMS stands for Content Management System. As the term would suggest, the purpose of a CMS is to allow you to control what content appears on your website and how it appears. A typical CMS is a software application with a user interface that allows you to control your digital assets. A major benefit of a CMS is that it allows people with little to no coding or markup language skills to make changes to website content with relative ease.

What is open source CMS?

Open source CMS is when the code of the CMS software is available for anyone to see and change. WordPress is the most popular open source CMS in the world; other well-known examples are Drupal and Joomla. Anyone can set up a WordPress website and make alterations to the code as they see fit. The main advantage of the open source approach is that it engenders a global community of developers who can learn from each other and extend the capabilities of their own websites as a result.

What is proprietary CMS?

Propriety CMS, also known as custom CMS or closed source CMS, is software designed, supported and licensed by one company. While open source software supports a wide range of uses, custom CMS does only what you specifically require it to do. The client can discuss with the CMS provider precisely what they want from the website, devoid of the extra nuts and bolts that come with open source CMS, and the result is a streamlined, lean website created with you in mind.

Questions to ask before deciding which CMS to use

Before we get to the pros and cons of both proprietary and open source CMS, it is beneficial to have a clear understanding of your situation. Although on the surface there is no right or wrong choice, one of these options will be better suited to your particular requirements. Here are some helpful questions to ask:

• What do you want your website to do? What features will it need?
• Are your requirements pretty standard or are there a few elements that will need customising?
• How hands-on do you plan to be with the updating of your website?
• Do you have a developer on site to make changes and updates to your website when you need to or will you require outsourced services?
• Does your website need to be unique? Perhaps differentiating yourself from the competition is important?
• How much traffic do you intend to drive to your website?


The pros and cons of proprietary CMS and open source CMS


Anyone can see the code of an open source CMS, and while that is the beauty of it, it is also its weakness. Security breaches are far more likely – not only are they easier to hack, but the weaknesses are usually publicised which can lead to more opportunity for exploitation. On the flip side, the large communities around these CMSs usually come together quickly to find solutions to such breaches and get them implemented. Open source CMS solutions will require regular updates to the core code, as will any plugins used. With a custom CMS, only the developers know the code. A proprietary CMS won’t need updating unless the client requests a new feature from the developer or the developer suggests a change.

Scalability and flexibility

If you decide to use an open source CMS, it is important to take scalability into account. For a personal blog this won’t be an issue, but for a company website that wants to attract a lot of traffic, it is vital that the CMS can handle the pressure. Ideally, you will choose a high-performance platform that can be relied upon. With a proprietary CMS, you get unlimited flexibility, unlimited scalability, and new integrations are easier and faster.


Plugins used in open source software are fantastic for people who do not code and only plan to use a couple of them for relatively uncomplicated tasks. However, once you want your website to do anything fancy, the plugin list will start to grow, and you will notice your website speed dramatically slows down. This is because plugins tend to be built for functionality, not speed, and can contain lots of unnecessary code. Websites can become bloated if there isn’t a developer working in the background to streamline the infrastructure and ensure that only the essential code is included.


This ties into speed as well because search engines such as Google prefer websites that load quickly. If you want to rank well on Google, you need to play by their rules. To effectively apply SEO techniques to your open source website, you will use plugins. With a custom website, you are provided with tidy, structured code from the get-go, designed to appeal to Google’s preferences.

Developer network

An open source CMS such as WordPress has a massive, international developer network. You can tap into this wealth of knowledge at any time; hiring developers to create or modify your site, or, if you have the skills, making changes yourself. With a proprietary CMS, you won’t have an international network, but you will have a dedicated team to support you throughout the lifetime of your website. Because they built the entire CMS, your development agency is solely responsible for your website – if something goes wrong, they will have to resolve the issue. Many owners of open source CMS sites have run into difficulties when the various plugins they use run into conflict with each other, and no one person is directly responsible for finding a solution.

Cost and time

Generally speaking, a standard website built on an open source CMS will have a lower development cost. However, it can take time to develop custom functionality with open source CMS, and you may have to pay for plugins and subscriptions. On the other hand, a proprietary CMS website is like a tailored suit. There might be a higher upfront cost, but it’s going to fit you perfectly. You can create a user-focused, highly customised site and it won’t require frequent updates.

Still not sure whether open source CMS or closed source CMS is right for you? Well, you’re in luck, we have experience in both! So why not give us a call and have a chat with one of our expert developers about your particular situation.