You’re all set to begin exploring options for your new nonprofit, organization or business website. You talk to web design companies. You get quotes. You listen to a variety of speels.

You get bombarded with assurances about how easy it will be to maintain and update your website all by yourself. Most web design companies that you’ve spoken to have mentioned CMS (Content Management Systems). They cite names like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. These are leading and highly respected open-source platforms used by the overwhelming majority of top design companies to build professional websites. But there’s one twist: One agency has pitched building your website using their own Custom CMS system. They tell you it’s a better way to build a website.  This should be a red flag. The word ‘custom’ is a fancy word used by some design agencies to make you feel like you are getting something special. They’ll tell you it’s all about having a website uniquely suited to you. The dirty word they don’t want to tell you is that their system is “proprietary.”

Open Source Content Management Systems: Website building systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are free. They are constantly developed, updated, bug-fixed, and security-tested by a community of tens of thousands of professional web designers, and by the big development teams at WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. There is simply no comparison between this depth of experience and, say, the single web developer at the small agency pushing you to use their Custom CMS.

Custom Content Management Systems: This is a website building system that is not open source. It is closed source (proprietary), meaning that it is developed by a small web development team. It is never free. And because it is proprietary, it has less of everything (modules, themes/templates, plugins, etc). The cost of the overall system is usually hidden within your overall website development costs.

Here are 6 reasons not to use a Custom Content Management System for your website:

1. Inexperience: Custom Content Management Systems pitched by agencies have not been developed based on feedback from a user community of hundreds of thousands or hundreds of thousands of web developers. As a result, they tend to be unfriendly from a user perspective. The back end in particular, where you administer your website as an organization, is often primitive. On the other hand, Open Source Content Management Systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla have been around for many, many years. Each is highly respected and used by everyone from small to large nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies to the Whitehouse (Yup, that Whitehouse!). Heavy emphasis has been placed on creating and perfecting user friendliness in each of these systems.

2. Security and system updates: Custom CMSs depend entirely upon the small agency to fix security issues, bugs and technical updates. Their small in-house design team can tell you all they want about how they stay on top of it, but the reality is they CANNOT discover, fix and update their custom CMS system at any where near the pace that a global community of web designers do every day for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. Oh, and the Big Three also have their own large in-house development teams working constantly to update their free, open source platforms.

3. You are handcuffed: Agencies pushing Custom CMS systems are putting themselves and their business first. The customer (YOU!) comes second. Imagine buying a new Ford car from a Ford dealership and the only place that you can fix or repair your car is that particular Ford dealership because they have custom-programmed your car’s computer. You cannot take your car to any other Ford dealership because they cannot access the custom computer. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Custom Content Management Systems are designed to handcuff you long term to a particular web design agency. Agencies typically use Custom CMSs because they want to restrict clients in every aspect of web design, site updating and site maintenance. This guarantees a continuation of your dollars flowing in long term. These agencies fear potentially losing clients to other agencies.  By handcuffing you to a Custom CMS, it deliberately prevents you from going elsewhere in the future. By the way, if your website is built with WordPress, Drupal or Joomla you can easily transfer web management or future web work to another agency that uses Open Source Content Management Systems. Yes, that would be the overwhelmingly majority of professional web design companies and agencies.

4. Add-on features: Custom CMSs are way, way behind  in terms of functionality. Period. There is absolutely no way that a Custom CMS, maintained by a small web agency, can offer the same functionality,  add-ons and modules available with Open Source CMSs that are created, maintained and developed every day by a global professional web design community. Plugins and modules provide added functionality such as newsletter signup forms, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), video widgets, social media integration, surveys, and many other tools to grow your audience. With Custom CMSs the trend is outdated and primitive tools that simple can’t keep pace with changing user needs and demands.

5. Documentation: Custom CMSs typically lack documentation. It’s deliberate. Agencies using Custom CMSs typically want to keep the source code behind their systems a closely guarded secret. This prevents you and other agencies from doing work on your website. Having no complete documentation is another red flag. Would you buy a car without a complete user manual? Documentation explains how a platform was built and its coding. It also explains how to use the system as an administrator. Proper documentation gives you power. Agencies using Custom CMSs don’t want you to have power. Oh, by the way, full documentation, full source code and support from a global community of professionals are available 24/7 from the large communities of WordPress, Drupal and Joomla designers, and from the sites of WordPress, Drupal and Joomla themselves.

6. Design: Some agencies trying to convince you to go with a Custom CMS will suggest that Open Source CMSs use weak, poorly designed web themes (templates) for websites. They describe WordPress, Drupal and Joomla themes/templates as being “inferior.” Lol. Most web designers fall off their chair when they hear this grossly ridiculous claim.  The trouble is that nonprofits, organizations and businesses who don’t know otherwise tend to believe this rubbish. WordPress, Drupal and Joomla have massive communities of highly acclaimed award-winning professional designers that put to shame little agencies making such manipulative claims. A little agency of just one or a few designers simply can’t keep pace with today’s design trends or the volume of pro designers who make superior site design templates (themes) every day working with WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. Furthermore, these designers ensure themes/templates are code compliant (that means up to date with current technical and web code requirements!) and fully compatible.