Ask Mike: Why Use a Content Management System Vs a Hard-Coded Website?

Last Friday during Ask Mike on the Move, Mike strolled around downtown Valpo while discussing this week's question which came from Trail 9's new intern, Juan. Juan asked,

Why choose to use a Content Management System (CMS) instead of a Hard-Coded Website?

A hard-coded website is a website written entirely by hand in a programming language, like JavaScript, Python, PHP, HTML, and/or CSS. To a developer, it usually looks like this:


Content Management Systems (CMS), on the other hand, are much more user-friendly software systems which make it possible for non-technical website owners to edit their own content, and they can do it without knowing how to work with programming languages. Here's an example of our Drupal CMS interface for a blog post entry:


We'll be discussing 'open source' CMS's throughout this post. Open source CMS software is license-free and free to use, edit, and redistribute. The top three most popular CMS's, Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla, are all open source CMS software. They all have large teams of developers working on improving them and adding new modules and plugins for higher functionality. 

A Note on CMS Do-It-Yourself Websites:

CMS websites are geared with nontechnical users in mind, but they need to be configured by professional web developers in order for them to work the way you want them to. Even after a CMS website has been created and launched, it's recommended to have a web developer assigned to it so as to maintain security, update and edit any modules, fix any crashes, and more upkeep work that only a professional technical expert will know how to do.

This is especially important for large, open source CMS websites like Wordpress, which has been attacked in large scale repeatedly over the past year. Because CMS's are so popular, they often become a larger target for hackers.

Back to our topic! What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of using a CMS over a hard-coded website? 


You've probably heard of CMS's like Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla before; websites using open source CMS's like these have been hugely growing in popularity over the past ten years. Hard-coded websites are becoming rarer in comparison, but we still come across them from time to time.

Hard Coding Benefits

Hard-coded websites can be great solutions depending on what they're used for. Hard coding works best for simple, more static websites rather than websites with greater levels of complexity. These websites are typically made up of just a few pages of information and don't include things like portals, forums, or eCommerce solutions.

In addition, hard-coding works fine for website owners if they want no responsibility whatsoever in maintaining their content. Of course, CMS's work just as well for this; if you pay a web developer to be entirely responsible for your website, they can do so with either hard coding or using a CMS.

Finally, simple hard-coded websites don't have as much database interaction as CMS's do. This lack of activity can, in effect, make your website perform faster than it would when using a CMS.

If a simple, informative website that you don't want to personally maintain is what you're after, then hiring a developer to hard code it may be the best solution for you. But, hard coding certainly has its drawbacks as well.

Hard Coding Drawbacks

With a hard-coded website, you can't change anything yourself. This goes from adding a new announcement on your home page to editing a link in a blog post, all the way to changing a single comma when it should have been a period all along. If you ever want to make any changes to your website, you need to contact the developer, tell them what you want to be done, and wait for them to do it. They'll usually charge you extra for that specific time, and there's no guarantee of when the changes will be finished. In summary, hard-coded websites are often much more frustrating for their nontechnical owners to deal with.

In addition, changing your website over to a new development company can also be quite a hassle. If your original developer hard-coded the website in a nontraditional way, then your new company may have quite a time figuring out how to edit it. It may even turn out that they can't use the original website, and they instead have to make a new one. This can require a lot more paid time for the new developers. Thus, it's very easy for hard-coded websites to end up being a waste of money.

As we mentioned earlier, hard-coded websites are usually static with only a few pages. There are existing frameworks to break from this mold, but they also require a lot of developer time. There are resources to help speed up that time, but, from every use-case we've seen, it's always been more practical to just go with a CMS from the start.

We at Trail 9 choose to work with the open source CMS Drupal. With our goal of helping our clients build their online presence, they need to be able to quickly create and maintain their content.


CMS Benefits

Nontechnical website owners can maintain more than just their content using a CMS; they can maintain anything the CMS has been configured to incorporate, including their users, subscriptions, and products.

CMS's allow for prebuilt modules and plugins to be used for higher functionality, which in turn speeds up the website's development time. At Trail 9, having a standard set of modules, or a standard configuration, helps us to immediately meet 70-80 percent of the development that clients are usually looking for. And, by using an open source CMS, we can fully customize their website according to whatever goals they have. 

Open source CMS's are so popular that many web developers are experts in using them. Choosing a developer or a team for configuring your CMS is much less limiting than choosing someone to maintain your hard-coded website.

Thus, CMS's allow for more complex websites with many functionalities that you or your staff are still able to maintain. 

CMS Drawbacks

Because CMS's are typically used for more complex website projects, the cost of development may be slightly higher than a hard-coded website would be.

But, more complexity and higher functionality often create a more positive business representation and user experience.


Hard-Coded Websites

Hard-coded websites tend to be smaller in nature, but they're also usually lower cost than CMS websites. In addition, hard-coded websites don't let you make any updates yourself, and you're usually stuck with the developers who created them.

CMS Websites

CMS websites allow for nontechnical users to make various updates whenever they choose. Modular functionality can be added and removed as the website grows or as your business is changing, and some CMS's even allow nontechnical users to make those kinds of functionality updates. The website process is also sped up because there is less developer involvement. 

With a CMS, you can even change your design depending on a certain timeframe, like for sales, seasons, or holidays- if that's how your website is configured. So, if you're an eCommerce store, for example, you can make those changes quickly and easily with just a few clicks. Whereas, if you have a hard-coded website, you're really stuck with whatever's there at the time, relying on a third party or another person to make those updates for you.

Having a CMS makes your website more portable. Depending on your hosting, you can it move it to and from different hosting platforms much more easily than if your website was hard coded. This isn't to say that you can't also switch hosting platforms with a hard-coded website, but if you did, you would need to rely heavily on the original developer to make the change.

So, if you want to be free from your developer or have fewer interactions, or have more options and a stronger ability for website growth, then that's where a CMS really shows it value.