CMS vs. Web Development: The Differences and What to Choose

By JJ Rosen September 23, 2022
CMS vs. Web Development

One of the most frequently asked questions from new customers looking to design a new website is: What are the differences between a CMS (content management system) and custom web development? Understanding CMS vs. web development is the first step in not only knowing the differences between the two but choosing the right one for your business’ needs.

What Is a Content Management System (CMS) ?

A content management system (CMS) is an application that is built on a web application framework. The web application framework provides tools to customize, maintain and organize a website. Examples of a web application framework are:

  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • PHP Framework
  • Net Framework

A CMS is NOT the website framework. It’s simply the platform it is set upon. WordPress is the most popular open-source CMS written with various programming languages (PHP, MySQL, MariaDB). The WordPress theme framework is a “parent theme”. The framework has the core functions but not the styling. The CMS is what allows users to create web content and web pages.

When deciding on CMS vs. web development, you should know there is a difference between a standard CMS and a custom built one, which we’re referring to as web development.

Standard CMS vs. Web Development

Before diving into how to choose a CMS vs. web development service, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between the types of websites.

Standard CMS

A standard CMS has a predefined interface and functionalities. Customization is possible, but limitations exist that can restrict what can be developed on the site.

Custom Web Development

Custom web development is not predefined. A website is made from scratch with an open-source framework. A custom build website can be adapted to the needs and desires of the owner with virtually not restrictions – as long as the developer is skilled and experienced enough.

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Learn more about our web design and development services.

CMS vs. Web Development: What’s Better?

Most of our clients ask us what is better after learning about CMS vs. web development. At Atiba, we always recommend custom web development because we have a team of website designers and developers that can create a website no matter how complex a client’s vision is for a site.

To help our readers know if custom web development is truly the best choice for them, the following points can help with making the decision when it comes to CMS vs. web development.


CMS platforms can only do so much when it comes to creating web pages. A content management system such as WordPress can cause a growing business grief if the CMS platform can’t scale to meet the needs of the business and its customers.

Custom website development has no limits. Whenever a business website needs to grow to meet their specific needs, a developer can add in new features and web content with ease.

A generic CMS may be a good choice for small businesses, but it may not be the best option for rapidly growing businesses with specific requirements.


CMS platforms are set up to be sold to as many people as possible. They have a basic framework, so the costs are low to purchase and customize the included features. For small businesses, this can mean making an ROI quickly.

Making up the ROI on custom website development isn’t as fast because web developers have to use their coding knowledge and programming languages to create a business website from nothing at all. The effort, skill, and custom built website increases the costs, which means it can take longer to see a return on the investment.

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While custom development may take longer to see a return on, the developed website is positioned to do more than a standard CMS. This means that a custom website is often much more successful in revenue generation, especially with the ability to scale it.

In our experience at Atiba, customers with custom web development vs. standard CMS platforms end up generating many more leads and revenue.


The CMS vs. web development price is a consideration when choosing between the two. As probably already assumed, a predefined content management system costs much less than a custom developed website. While content management systems vary in cost depending on the unique features of each, using custom web developers means paying for a higher level website.

Advanced Features

Custom built websites can include advanced features to maximize user experience. Online users are used to the appearance of standard small business websites, but with a website that has unique features tailored to the business’ offerings, visitors are impressed. That’s what makes the difference between a successfully converting site and one that doesn’t convert as well.

Search Engine Optimization

One of the hardest situations to escape from when using a predefined CMS vs. web development that’s built from the ground up is the ability to optimize it for search engines. Standard CMS’ (even popular CMS sites) often come with a lot of bloat. This can cause slow loading speeds and poor performance.

Custom development means keeping search engine optimization (SEO) at the forefront. Clean coding, proper keyword insertion, and fast loading and functionality can set up a website to achieve prime ranking for its target audience(s).


Security should be another important consideration when deciding on CMS vs. web development. Open-source CMS can include plugins and third party integrations, which can lead to security issues. Websites collecting sensitive information can become legally responsible for leaking confidential information do to open-source CMS vulnerabilities.

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Custom development can ensure the site is protected from hackers. Since the custom CMS is unique, hackers don’t have the information they can easily get from predefined ones that have been sold hundreds if not thousands of times.

Custom development is the right choice for businesses that collect confidential information from users.

How to Make a Decision on CMS vs. Web Development

Budget is the first consideration when trying to decide on CMS vs. web development. To identify the budget, consider business needs and project requirements. The more that’s needed in graphics and functionality, the level of customization increases which can quickly eliminate a standard CMS.

It’s a good idea to discuss your business’ website needs with a professional. Atiba has a team of website developers who can help you decide if it’s better to invest in a standard CMS vs. web development.

Contact us now to discuss your website project requirements and how our tech services can help.

Additional Reading:

CMS Website Design

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