Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Content Management System (CMS): How to Choose

A content management system (CMS) is a crucial tool for any modern business. It provides a central hub for content creation, editing, storage, and distribution, allowing multiple users to collaborate and streamline these processes. A CMS helps companies and individuals to arrange their online presence and engage with the audience in a user-friendly and organized manner.

Building a CMS can seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right approach and a reliable software provider, anyone can create a system that meets their unique requirements. In this article, we will compare custom CMS development with using an existing CMS platform and help you choose between the two options.

Develop your custom software with SaM Solutions’ engineers, skilled in the latest tech and well-versed in multiple industries.

Benefits of Using a CMS 

Content management systems have become mainstream in the world of digital businesses due to a variety of benefits they provide. Let’s look at the key advantages of a CMS:

  • Simplified content creation. CMSs have intuitive user interfaces that allow non-technical users to create, publish, and edit content without the need for coding.
  • Efficient content management. Since all the digital content is stored in a single place, users can find and update it with no trouble, saving time and resources.
  • Consistent branding and design. A content management system is a brilliant tool for maintaining consistent branding and design across all digital channels. By using predefined templates, style guides, and branding guidelines, you can ensure that all content published through the system adheres to your brand’s standards.
  • Improved collaboration. Multiple users can work simultaneously in one content management system, which results in a more efficient content development process.
  • Scalability. When you first launch a website or start creating digital content, you only need a few basic features and functionalities from your CMS. However, as your organization grows, you may require more advanced features, such as personalized user experiences, ecommerce capabilities, or integration with third-party software. Content management systems are able to scale up, so they can be suitable for businesses of all sizes. 
  • SEO optimization. Many CMS platforms include built-in SEO features such as meta tags, keyword optimization, and site map generation. This functionality helps improve search engine rankings.

What Is a Custom CMS?

A custom content management system is built from the ground up specifically for a particular organization’s needs. Unlike off-the-shelf CMS solutions, custom systems are designed to offer unique features and functionalities that align with the client’s objectives, business model, and user preferences. 

To get a custom-built content management system, there should be an intense collaboration between you, a client, and a software provider. While you will be giving input on the features you require, the development team will offer technical expertise to design and implement those features. Such cooperation is likely to be very time-consuming.

Real-life applications

Many organizations, including educational institutions, media companies, and government agencies, develop custom CMSs to manage their digital content. As a rule, these are large global enterprises that demand a high degree of software customization, security, and design diversity and have enough resources for the development process.

Here are the two prominent examples of companies with bespoke content management systems:

  • The New York Times built a custom CMS called Scoop to handle the specific needs of a large news organization, including the ability to manage multiple users, workflows, and editorial calendars.
  • Tesla uses a custom Tesla CMS to manage its website and online store. The CMS is designed to provide a seamless user experience with easy navigation, product customization, and online ordering.

What Is a CMS Platform?

A CMS platform – or off-the-shelf CMS – is a pre-built software application that is designed to provide a variety of features to multiple users. Solutions of this type offer a wide range of templates, themes, and plugins that allow users to customize the appearance and functionality of different websites.

What is CMS customization?

CMS customization is a process of modifying or extending a content management platform to create unique digital experiences that reflect brands and meet the specific needs of the target audience. By customizing a CMS, businesses can improve the performance and security of their website, as well as streamline their workflow and content management processes.

Customizing a CMS can be done by utilizing pre-built plugins, themes, or modules, or by writing custom code from scratch. It usually involves:

  • Changing the layout
  • Creating a custom design
  • Adding new features
  • Developing new functionality

Real-life applications

CMS platforms are used for building websites, blogs, ecommerce stores, and company intranets.

  • For websites and blogs. Umbraco, Sitecore, WordPress, Drupal, Ghost, and Joomla are popular content management systems widely used to build and manage websites of all sizes and types, from personal blogs to enterprise-level corporate sites.
  • For ecommerce stores. Adobe Commerce (ex-Magento), SAP Commerce (ex-Hybris), Sitecore Commerce, and Shopify are proprietary CMS that help with building online stores, allowing businesses to easily manage product catalogs, inventory, and transactions.
  • For portals. Numerous healthcare, educational, and financial companies develop their portals with Umbraco, Liferay, and Plone.
  • For intranets. SharePoint and Confluence are well-liked platforms for creating intranets. They provide employees with a centralized location to access company data and collaborate on various projects.
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Custom CMS vs. Off-the-Shelf CMS: How to Decide

When choosing whether to build or customize a CMS platform, you should consider a number of factors. Below we share a comparison table: custom CMS vs. WordPress, Sitecore, Magento and other platforms. 

Custom CMSCMS Platform
Launch timelongerfaster
Customization levelhighmedium*
Team complexityhighlow
User experiencecan (and should be) adjustedis ingrained in the platform and already time-tested
Plugins and integrationsshould be developedare already available*
Maintenance and support costs and efforthighlow

*At SaM Solutions, we can customize platform-based content management systems, develop new plugins and components as well as perform necessary integrations.

Launch time

Creating a custom CMS implies building the entire system out of nothing. This is a time-consuming process that involves:

  • Requirement analysis and planning
  • CMS architecture design
  • UX and UI design
  • Front-end development
  • Back-end development
  • Testing
  • Deployment

Such a project can take months or even years, depending on the website architecture  complexity and number of supported content types.

In contrast, CMS platforms come with pre-built templates, themes, and plugins that can be set up, customized, and launched in a relatively short time. Most platforms offer a simple setup process that can be completed in a few hours or days. Additionally, CMS platforms provide hosting services, eliminating the need to search for a web host and setting up the server, which can also save time.

Ultimately, if you need to launch your website quickly, a CMS platform is a better option. If you have more time and specific requirements that are not met by existing content management system platforms, custom development is a more appropriate choice.

Customization level

Traditionally, custom content management systems offer the highest level of customization, as they are built with your unique requirements in mind. Such CMSs ensure exceptional flexibility and can satisfy all your business needs.

CMS platforms offer a wide range of features that you can customize, but the choice is still limited. It’s worth noting, however, that the customization of a CMS platform may take longer than anticipated: specific needs may require additional technical expertise and may result in more time and effort.

Hire SaM Solutions’ team – our experienced developers will help you achieve high customization even with a CMS platform. Relying on an existing platform will save you time and money, while we will ensure that the customized CMS is perfectly suited to your needs.

Team complexity

Building a custom CMS requires a team of web development specialists experienced with a range of technologies, including:

  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript frameworks  – for building a front end
  • .NET, Java, Node.js, Python, or PHP – for developing a backend
  • MySQL, PostgreSQL, or Oracle – for  database management. 

Using a CMS platform, on the other hand, typically implies less technical expertise. Most content management platforms are designed to be user-friendly and can be set up with little to no coding knowledge. That being said, depending on the level of customization required, technical expertise may still be needed to modify templates or plugins, or to integrate a CMS with other systems.

User experience

If you decide to develop a custom CMS, you must carefully consider the user experience (UX) aspect to ensure that the system is intuitive and easy to use. This can be a challenging task, as it requires an in-depth analysis of user needs and expectations, feedback collection, and many rounds of adjustments – both before and after the launch.

Meanwhile, off-the-shelf content management systems have already been receiving user feedback over the years. In a WordPress vs. custom CMS standoff, for instance, the former has already gone through hundreds of iterations and testing sessions, while the latter would still need to polish its user experience to cater to all possible target audiences. In other words, by relying on CMS platforms, you also rely on their time-tested experience. 

Plugins and integrations

To expand the functionality of your website, you need plugins and integrations with third-party systems. This means that plugin development and integration capabilities should become an integral part of your custom CMS creation. You will need additional development work and technical expertise to implement and maintain plugins and integrations, which won’t even be as well-tested or well-supported as those already available for off-the-shelf solutions.

Content management platforms, on the other hand, offer a wide range of pre-built plugins and integrations that can be easily added to the site. This can save time and development costs, as well as provide a more stable and supported solution. Popular CMS platforms also have large communities of developers who contribute to the creation of these plugins and integrations.

Maintenance and support costs and effort 

If you develop a custom CMS, you will have to provide ongoing maintenance and support, including version control, security patch development and update rollout. For this purpose, you’ll need a dedicated team of technical experts and regular investment in time and resources.

You will still need a tech team to manage your off-the-shelf system, but its support will require fewer resources compared to a custom CMS. This is because existing platforms deliver maintenance and support as part of their service. They provide regular updates, address issues that arise, and ensure the smooth functioning of the system. 

Note that some platforms charge fees for support or premium features, but maintenance and support costs of a custom CMS are generally higher than those of a CMS platform.

Should You Create Your Own CMS?

So, let’s sum up. Opt for a content management system from scratch only if you:

  • Have a lot of specialized tech talent on board.
  • Have highly specific content requirements that aren’t addressed by existing CMS.
  • Want to create your innovative CMS product, which you’ll distribute to the market. 

In other cases, you’re better off pursuing CMS customization of available platforms.

How to Choose a CMS Platform

Now that we’ve compared custom and off-the-shelf content management systems, you may struggle choosing a single CMS platform from many existing options. Our two next sections are dedicated to helping you with this choice.

First, here are some key considerations: 

  • Open source vs. proprietary CMS. While open-source CMS is cost-effective and has a large community of developers, it may require technical expertise to use and maintain. Proprietary CMS offers dedicated support but is more expensive and may have limited customization options. The choice between open source and proprietary CMS depends on your budget, team or vendor, and level of desired customization.
  • Think about the needs and goals of your website. Think about your target audience, what you want your website to achieve, and what features and functionality you require. This will help you narrow down the CMS options that are best suited to your needs.
  • Compare the features of each CMS. Look at the features and capabilities of each content management system you’ve chosen and compare them to your requirements. Consider factors such as ease of use, customization options, SEO capabilities, security features, and payment options.   
  • Check out user reviews and ratings. Explore what users say about the options you are considering. This will give you an idea of how well they work in practice. In addition, look for platforms that have active and supportive communities, regular updates, thorough documentation, and a wide range of extensions, modules, and plugins. These are the guaranteed resources you need to get the most out of your CMS.
  • Try out a demo or trial version. Before committing to a particular content management platform, try out its demo or trial version. This will give you a chance to test the system and see if it meets your requirements.

At SaM Solutions, we offer demos of our CMS platforms to help you make an informed decision. Contact us to learn more about our CMS solutions and how they can help you achieve your website goals.

CMS Options We Recommend


  • Pricing: This premium platform offers a subscription-based license with a range of options that depend on various factors, e.g., site visits per month or add-on modules you choose.
  • Key features: Sitecore offers a range of features for managing content, personalizing digital experiences, and optimizing marketing campaigns. Among such features are multi-site management, personalization, analytics and reporting, marketing campaign management, and third-party integrations.
  • Tech stack: This proprietary CMS platform is built on the .NET framework and uses C# and JavaScript. Currently, Sitecore is on the way to composable technology.
  • Key clients: A range of high-profile clients across various industries, including American Express, L’Oréal, and Canon, rely on Sitecore.
  • Best suited for: Large enterprises that require a highly scalable and customizable CMS platform for managing complex digital experiences. Sitecore is ideal for organizations with large amounts of content, multiple websites or brands, and a need for robust personalization and analytics capabilities.


  • Pricing: Umbraco has a free, open-source version with basic functionality, as well as a paid version with additional features and support.
  • Key features: The platform offers an intuitive and user-friendly interface, customizable templates and themes, and a robust set of content management tools. It also enables version control, workflow, and multi-site management.
  • Tech stack: This CMS is built with the .NET framework and uses C# as its primary programming language. 
  • Key clients: Some of Umbraco’s key clients include Wired UK, Heinz, Peugeot, and Microsoft.
  • Best suited for: Mid-to-large-sized businesses and organizations looking for a customizable, scalable, and secure CMS solution. It is also a good fit for developers and designers who prefer the .NET development framework but don’t see Sitecore.

Rely on SaM Solutions’ Umbraco development team – and get a feature-rich, intuitive CMS for efficient content management.


  • Pricing: The platform’s free, open-source version is called Community Edition. There’s also Enterprise Edition – a paid version with advanced features.
  • Key features: Aiming at ecommerce businesses, Magento offers customizable product catalogs, flexible pricing rules, powerful search capabilities, and integrated payment gateways. It also provides multi-language and multi-currency support, and a large selection of third-party extensions and plugins.
  • Tech stack: Magento is built with the PHP programming language and uses the Zend framework. 
  • Key clients: Coca-Cola, Ford, Nestle, and Nike developed their websites with Magento.
  • Best suited for: Mid-to-large-sized ecommerce businesses. It is also a good fit for developers and designers who are familiar with PHP and Zend frameworks.

SAP Commerce Cloud (ex. Hybris)

  • Pricing: SAP Commerce Cloud is a paid solution with pricing determined based on the size and complexity of the business.
  • Key features: With this powerful CMS, you get advanced product and catalog management, search and personalization tools, omnichannel capabilities, and integrated payment and order management, let alone a wide range of integrations and extensions.
  • Tech stack: The content management system by SAP is built with Java and Spring framework.
  • Key clients: SAP Commerce Cloud supports the websites of Adidas, Levi’s, Samsung, and Puma.
  • Best suited for: Large and premium ecommerce businesses. 


  • Pricing: WordPress is a free and open-source CMS with additional paid features and services available through third-party providers.
  • Key features: This popular CMS platform provides customizable templates and themes, a user-friendly interface, and a robust set of content management tools. It also offers a large selection of plugins and integrations, as well as multi-site management capabilities.
  • Tech stack: WordPress is built with PHP and uses MySQL as its database management system.
  • Key clients: Among WordPress’s famous clients are BBC America, Sony Music, and Microsoft News.
  • Best suited for: Small to mid-sized organizations that need a customizable and easy-to-use CMS solution. It is also a good fit for bloggers and content creators who don’t own an established company yet.

Why Choose SaM Solutions to Customize a CMS?

Our company has a good breadth of experience in CMS and portal development, particularly with Sitecore, SAP Commerce Cloud, and Magento. This means we have a deep understanding of how these systems work and how to tailor them to deliver a robust, stable, and versatile content management system.

Additionally, our software development experts always rely on web development best practices  as well as implement the latest technologies and trends in the industry. Placing a high value on communication and collaboration, we work closely with our clients to understand their individual business requirements and goals, and to ensure that the content management solution they create meets those needs. Don’t hesitate to contact our team to discuss your CMS customization project.