What is “CMS”?
But wait—before we ring that bell, a few definitions are in order. We’re dealing with some cumbersome, techy words in this post, so what do they mean?:
Content Management System (CMS): Content management systems exist to allow you to manage and edit your website content without knowing highly-specialised computer programming code. In other words, it’s a program that lets you edit and update your website. (In this post, “CMS”, “system” and “platform” will be used interchangeably.)
Open-Source CMS: WordPress is an open-source CMS. To build a website requires a “source code”, and an open-source CMS like WordPress freely shares its code with anyone who wants to use it. It’s an “open garden” approach—more customisable, variable quality.
Proprietary CMS: Rocketspark is a proprietary CMS. When a web firm keeps its source code under wraps, then that’s a proprietary CMS. It’s a “fenced garden” approach—less customisable, consistent quality.
Bespoke: This just means custom-built. Bespoke websites are usually built using an open-source CMS like WordPress (others include Concrete5, Drupal, Silverstripe).
Isn’t this post going to be biased?
Admittedly, this might look like we’re a biased referee overseeing a home match. But rest assured that our early pedigree was creating bespoke sites using open-source systems like Wordpress, so we’re well acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of both. In fact, it was experiencing first-hand the challenges of bespoke sites for small businesses that largely inspired us to develop Rocketspark.
And we’re fully aware that Rocketspark isn’t for every situation. Take, for instance, our own website. Our site (www.rocketspark.com) has a few requirements that go beyond what the Rocketspark CMS can provide, so we use the open-source CMS Concrete5, which we really like for bespoke sites. So believe us when we say we’re not keen on forcing square pegs into round holes.
Our aim in this post is simply to present the facts as fairly and objectively as we can. The weighting you give to the various pros and cons will depend totally on your website needs, and is therefore subjective. We give you the data; you decide the outcome.
So without further ado, let’s get it on. Ding-ding-ding!
Round One: Flexibility
WordPress offers maximum flexibility. Sharing the source code means that, in the right hands, it’s fully customisable. The Colonel just gave you the recipe to his eleven herbs and spices—now make chicken!
Not only that, being open-source allows web developers to develop plugins and themes for WordPress—bits and pieces that you can use to enhance your website. And there are oodles of them. This allows you to do virtually anything you want with your WordPress website, provided the plugin is decent quality (which isn’t a given).
Rocketspark is less flexible. Updates and changes to the overall system are made in-house, meaning there’s less scope for customising your website with features that aren’t provided as standard by Rocketspark. That being said, Rocketspark does allow you to embed third-party widgets, like Google calendars, booking systems and Trip Advisor badges. Rocketspark has all the tools that the majority of users need, but if you’re looking to do something really unconventional then you may hit a dead-end.
But perhaps the biggest coup for WordPress is that you can change web firms and take your website with you. Not so with Rocketspark. So what happens if you’re using Rocketspark and then decide to switch web firms? We’re not jerks—we’ll hand over to you designs and, if you’re a professional package customer, we’ll happily give you the Photoshop design files. But, due to the nature of proprietary systems, the bulk of your new site will still have to be built from scratch. The good news is that often the slowest part of a web project is the client gathering their content together so in some ways the hard yards are already done. Of course, if you like Rocketspark then you may not want to change web firms, but that’s a whole other story (see “And the winner is…” below).
Round goes to: WordPress
Round Two: Usability
Flexibility is a two-edged sword. While WordPress offers greater ability to customise your site, it takes some know-how to actually be able to get the most out of its customisability. In short, it’s not easy to use.
Taking the WordPress route will require some expertise. Don’t have said expertise? Nor do most people. That’s why the majority usually end up paying a web developer to do the hard yards for them. If you’re particularly computer-savvy, you might be able to do a lot of the dirty work yourself but it’s certainly not easy. For most people, the smart thing is to outsource the web-building and maintenance, in which case WordPress is only as good as your developer.
Rocketspark is very easy to use. It’s been made with elementary computer users in mind. Ease of use is a common theme in our customer feedback (check out our customer stories for a few examples). Rocketspark’s CMS is intuitive, meaning that everyday computer skills are totally adequate to manage your website without having to do any extra reading or training. For instance, Rocketspark uses drag-and-drop, one-click editing, image auto-resizing and WYSIWIG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). That means you won’t need to employ a developer—you can just do it yourself.
Round goes to: Rocketspark
Round Three: Design
What makes a better looking and more functional website? The high degree of freedom afforded by WordPress means that skilled developer can get an excellent result. Of course, said freedom makes it easy to make a really crappy website too. As always with WordPress, it depends entirely on who’s behind the wheel (or, more accurately, the mouse).
Rocketspark is more foolproof. The most basic package involves building your own site. But it’s dead easy; even your granny’s pretty rudimentary computer skills can yield impressive results. The flipside is that there’s less freedom to do whatever you want. But that’s usually only a concern for those with big amounts of programming nous. If you don’t have loads of programming nous, then the Rocketspark platform will still allow you to make a nice, easy-to-use website yourself. Rocketspark also offers design-and-build packages, where our team of designers will build your site in consultation with you. The initial outlay is higher, but you can rest assured that you’ll be able to get exactly what you want.
This one’s too close to call. Both systems are perfectly capable of making a slick-looking site, but the design results from WordPress are variable, whereas Rocketspark’s are more consistent. It all comes down to your (or your designer and developer’s) skill.
Round goes to: Both (draw)
Round Four: Maintenance
WordPress usually requires a lot more hands-on maintenance. Whenever platform updates are released, which happens frequently, you’ll have to update your own website. This can be a huge time-suck and even more so if you’re using multiple plugins. We’ve helped clients migrate from Wordpress to Rocketspark and its not uncommon to see little elements of their site that just aren’t working quite right as something has broken and they haven’t been able to fix it.
Rocketspark does the maintenance for you. We test updates and apply them to your site automatically, requiring little, if any, work from your side. That means that keeping your site up-to-date is both automatic and smooth. Take Twitter, for example. Twitter occasionally changes the way its feeds work on websites. We just have to update the Rocketspark CMS to accommodate the new Twitter feeds one time, and then can push that update out to all our users. It’s so smooth most clients won’t even notice anything has happened.
The other thing to consider is support services. There’s no 0800-HELPME hotline for WordPress. You’ll just have to rely on the platform’s community of users and/or the third-party developers who made the plugin to provide answers (or your developer). The sheer amount of information creates a big haystack—it could take you hours to find the proverbial needle.
When problems arise with Rocketspark, you’ll typically receive a reply the same day or, if it's after hours, the next business day. So you’ll get a quick fix or, at the very least, a workaround if the exact thing you want to do isn’t quite possible. With Rocketspark, maintenance and support doesn’t cost you any extra. It’s all part of the package.
Round goes to: Rocketspark
Round Five: Security
One of the downsides of being open-source is that there are more potential holes for hackers to get into. With WordPress, you’ll potentially spend a significant amount of time (yours or your developer’s) shoring up the system to protect it from cyber-attacks or fixing the damage done by one. Using plugins made by various developers may create more openings for hackers to exploit.
Even the US government hasn’t been able to ward off all hackers so we can’t make any absolute guarantees, but there would generally be fewer security risks with Rocketspark. This is where having a fence around the garden is really useful. Without the source code, cyber-vandals aren’t so easily able to wreak havoc on your CMS and so would probably rather focus their malicious activities on an open-source platform.
There is another facet to the security issue, though it’s of a very different sort. What happens if, say, the brains behind Rocketspark just suddenly disappears? Rocketspark has taken tens of thousands of hours to develop. That’s simply too big a time investment on our part for us to throw it all away and move permanently to Bora Bora. Ironically, this threat is probably more plausible with a WordPress site if, like most people, you’re employing a developer. If the developer disappears into thin air, then you’re faced with the same problem of trying to recover your website. Fortunately, there’s a large pool of dependable WordPress developers but it can take some time to find a good one. Going with a reputable developer with a strong portfolio and happy clients makes the ran-off-and-joined-the-circus matter a non-issue.
Round goes to: Rocketspark
Round Six: Cost
Since WordPress makes its code and software available gratis, you could be forgiven for assuming that you can get a website for free. In actuality, there are costs. You’ll need to pay for your own hosting. You’ll also need to pay for your domain name and email accounts. Not only that, you’ll probably want to buy themes and plugins. So “free” is a bit misleading; it can be cheap, but it won’t be free. Nevertheless, do-it-yourself with WordPress is the cheapest way to go. Prices vary, but in New Zealand hosting could be as cheap as $8/month (with no support) and about $25/year for the domain name, for a total of NZ$117.50/year. That’s peanuts, but the real cost is the time (and hair loss) entailed in learning the system, designing the site and maintaining it.
The reality with WordPress, however, is that most people need to employ a developer. At that point, costs can be all over the map. Again, it’s impossible to come up with any hard-and-fast figures, but having the site hosted will probably set you back anywhere between $20-$100/month where the developer does the maintenance and backups of your website. Your domain name will be somewhere in the ballpark of $24/year and you have to renew it. And, of course, there’s the design costs, which vary wildly—anywhere from $1,000-10,000. That gives you a total of NZ$264-1224/year + NZ$1,000-10,000 initial setup cost. Even though the platform is free, getting a site certainly isn’t.
At Rocketspark, the subscription is NZ$399+GST/year. The initial outlay can be free (if you do it yourself, which is really easy), we also offer design & setup packages, please contact us for a quote. That means there’s a range of options to suit most budgets. So having a Rocketspark site will cost you NZ$399+GST per year + one-off setup cost if you used one of our packages. And for that price you get the whole kit and caboodle: hosting, domain name*, email accounts, support services, updates and so on. Rocketspark isn’t the cheapest proprietary system around, but it is straightforward. And over time this model may prove more cost effective for you as the superior support and updates could save you a lot of precious time and, therefore, money. Make sure you view our Pricing page for the latest pricing.
*New domain registrations are free for the first year with a website subscription, conditions apply.
Declaring a winner on price is tough, due to the number of variables involved. If you’re a technical wiz and prepared to spend time setting up and maintaining your site, then a DIY WordPress site will be cheapest. If you need to employ a developer—which is most people—that will probably make the cost higher than Rocketspark. Of course, the specific costs will depend largely on the particular developer you have in mind. Our advice: shop around and do your own price comparisons.
Round goes to: Both (draw)
And the winner is…
This one’s definitely not decided by knock-out. There’s no clear winner. Here’s how the rounds break down:
Flexibility is the number one advantage of an open-source system like WordPress. It allows you to leave your current web firm and take your website with you. But this raises the question: why do you want to leave your web firm in the first place? Presumably because you’re not happy with it. That could often be the case when using WordPress, which can yield variable results depending on who your developer is. Rocketspark offers a consistently high-quality product and service, meaning that you might not want to leave Rocketspark (okay, maybe we’re a little biased here!) and we don’t have any long term contracts to lock you in. But it’s also worth remembering that most websites need an overhaul every 3-5 years, so if you have to leave for another firm after that time frame, having to start from scratch is probably no biggie—it was due for a makeover anyway.
Ultimately, the winner depends on your needs. As we mentioned in the introduction, what importance you give to each category will largely determine what CMS is best for you. If maximum flexibility is your biggest concern, then WordPress is your best bet. If low maintenance trumps everything else, then it’s a no-brainer that Rocketspark is the platform for you. But, that being said, here’s our ultra-basic, un-nuanced, boiled-down conclusion:
If you're a skilled developer, WordPress is an excellent option. If you're an average-joe user, Rocketspark is the way to go.*
*If you employ a developer to use WordPress, then it could go either way. You protect yourself from some of the weaknesses of WordPress (e.g., maintenance) but by the same token you also undermine some of the potential strengths (e.g., cost).