Do You Need a Custom Website?

Do you have a custom website? 4 years ago (in 2014), we started off by cold calling companies asking for business. Primarily focused on website design, which to this day, is still one of Arrow Multimedia’s core strengths.

Our strategy for cold calling businesses was to find companies that had terrible websites and offer them an extremely low-cost alternative. Along the way we would sometimes encounter companies that had websites that looked like they were from 1995, but the owner was still quite proud of the website because it was ‘custom’.

Back then our target audience was small businesses, strictly in the Winnipeg market. Many of these small businesses had spent $10,000 to $30,000 on their website and held in high regard because their designer had sold them a custom html or php solution.

At this time, these small businesses would turn down our offer for a $1,000 WordPress website that looked current and professional, and instead preferred their custom 1995 website.

This is a loaded topic and there really isn’t a definitive answer to this. Some companies absolutely need custom websites, but most don’t. In fact, a custom php or html website in the hands of a small business owner can actually cost money rather than make money.

Also, I should clarify on the price point mentioned above – the rate of $1,000 is far too inexpensive for even a WordPress website. This was a rate we offered while we were focused on building a portfolio. Any business owner approached by an agency should be very wary of rates this low.

Now, on to the meat and potatoes! Does your business need a custom website? Should you spend the extra money on a custom website? What should you do instead?

Do you need a custom website?
There’s a very specific use case for a custom website. A custom website is really good for very, very small projects or extremely large one with huge amounts of custom functionality. Take a website like Youtube or Google. Both of those are custom coded and not based on a CMS platform. Facebook and Twitter are the same way. They all use CSS and jQuery libraries, but every line of code is written by hand.

For these companies, the website is their business and they have teams of people that maintain it every single day. These websites reach so many users at once that the code needs to be streamlined to serve a very specific purpose and even then, they need huge servers and data centers to manage all of the traffic.

If you don’t have millions of hits per day, you don’t need a custom coded website.

On the opposite end, if your project is simply too small to benefit from installing WordPress or another CMS, you might just want to throw together some HTML. I’ve built single page websites in 30 minutes by simply writing 100 lines of HTML, CSS and PHP, where the same size website would have taken me 3 hours to build had I done it through WordPress. I would have had to configure the entire WordPress engine and tried to manage all the bloat just for a single webpage.

As a designer, a CSM is designed to save us time and deliver powerful solutions for our clients as efficiently as possible. These are the two scenarios where a CMS doesn’t make sense.

The money question
One of the most important questions to ask yourself. Chances are, if you’re not an internet company then the extra money you would spend for the custom website is really not worth it.

Here’s the crux of the matter – If you assume that the cost of the website to be custom coded or built through a CMS is the same, let’s say both cost $50,000, the maintenance cost associated with those two websites are going to be very different.

Assuming that you’re going to have some sort of an SEO strategy, you’re going to have to pay for someone that knows SQL to be able to update the databases properly for a custom-built solution. That’s a specialization that demands a higher cost than your standard SEO agency. Now your SEO could cost 20% more over time because of the specialized skills required to manage it. If any content needs to be changed on your website, a small business owner wouldn’t be able to change the copy themselves.

Therefore, even if the initial cost is the same, the ongoing costs will be different.

What should you use instead?
For most companies, WordPress is usually the recommendation I make. Most businesses use a website to display information and WordPress excels in this area. One of the things you have to watch out for with WordPress is page speed, but if you work with the right designer, they’ll know how to deal with that.

We’ve even gone as far as built social media websites based on the WordPress platform through buddypress. Obviously these platforms would never work anywhere near the level of a Facebook or Twitter, but WordPress is powerful enough to build a platform similar to Medium. Just for an idea of adoption rates, WordPress currently powers about 30% of all websites on earth.

Our preference at Arrow Multimedia is to use WordPress but each designer has their own CMS that they prefer over others. I’ve worked with many designers in the past that prefer Joomla. Drupal is another market leader and a great option for enterprise level websites.

A word of caution about using overly obscure CMS solutions – if you work with a solution that has an ultra-low market share, you may have trouble finding support or finding other service providers that can service those platforms.