WordPress myths & costly pitfalls of custom CMS systems (2019)

Narooma and South Coast South Coast Sydney and Melbourne Web Design Wordpress

Recently I’ve come across web development shops that have an aggressive stance towards open source content management systems, such as WordPress and Joomla – touting that they are somehow inferior, slow and confine the output of the creatives designing and developing their product within the boundaries of pre-built themes.

In practice, these are baseless myths and they’re perpetrated by an increasingly isolated bunch of developers that promote their own, home-grown content management systems. Thankfully we don’t get a whole lot of this on the South Coast but we do see it coming from various agencies in the big cities.

While we don’t use it exclusively, we use WordPress a lot – and one reason is because of its sheer popularity with our clients. WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS for a reason. In this post, I provide some examples that debunk a few myths surrounding WordPress, and later I’ll explain why anyone would want to convey this message.

Myth #1 – Using WordPress means your creativity is hampered.

Good WordPress websites are not hampered or constrained by pre-existing themes. Themes can be made from scratch, or clean, well-coded base-theme templates can be used for great results. Decent web developers don’t use pre-built templates or at the very least use them out of the box. When we use WordPress, for many lower budget sites we use a range of frameworks or themes that speed up the development process and we’ll work upwards from there.

Most of the time, this literally means we can have very basic page layouts – with headers, navigation, sidebars and footer layouts in place. Sometimes, it means we can whip up a rough, working prototype website for clients that need a feel for the site, or run it past a focus group before any serious design work ensues.

Normally, we’ll go through a wireframe and design process until it is approved. Good web design businesses focus on the client, their needs and craft beautiful designs without thinking about any constraints. On approval, we apply those designs, details and extra functionality into the WordPress theme framework we’re using that’s suitable for the project – and that will require coding with HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP.

So does using WordPress mean you’re stuck with the design or functionality of a theme? No way. Only if you’re doing it yourself or you’re using a web designer with no coding skills. With us, we keep the code clean, fast and importantly, keep the costs down to a practical price range that suits mosts businesses.

Myth #2 – WordPress is slow, and so are pre-built themes

With any site on any framework, it’s as slow as you make it. If you fill up an HTML site with multiple CSS files, multiple javascripts, massive unoptimised images and loading fonts and these types of resources – then yes, it will be slow.

There’s another part to it though, and that’s behind the scenes. WordPress contains a heap of processes for functionality you may not necessarily use on your website. This can mean the database is not 100% optimised for speedy operation and there are redundant PHP processes that slow things down server side. The practical workaround, that’s effective for millions of sites around the world, is to use caching. And it can be done really well.

We can cache database objects so its not working hard, cache theme resources and cache pages so they’re rendered from HTML files.  With javascript & css minification the number of resources loading on a page at once is reduced. Of course, reducing the amount of unnecessary CSS and code so you don’t have a bloated theme in the first place is a given. At this point, the difference in reality becomes harder and harder to determine.

Using a clean, well coded theme and optimised images, we put a WordPress site to the test using www.pingdom.com’s speed test utility… and we put it up against a web design agency’s site that uses their home-grown CMS system. The results?

  • Custom CMS – load speed: 563ms load time. (nice, rapid!)
  • WordPress CMS – load speed: 695ms load time (slower, but rapid!)

Repeated tests yielded similar results. The site on the custom CMS loaded fewer javascripts and resource files, and was slightly smaller in total, combined file size. While smaller, it was faster, no doubt. By 130 odd milliseconds. To put this into context, throwing a few 200kb photos on your homepage might blow this out by another half second. So do we really need to say WordPress is slow?

No.  It’s just a weird kind of developer snobbery, and in practice it’s basically rubbish

So… if it isn’t slow, and you can design and build whatever you want… why say it?

Here’s why – and having worked at agencies around the place, it’s the oldest trick in the book. 

1. They’re literally forcing you to stick with them.

Yep. If they’ve got a custom CMS, that means they’ll be managing it on their own servers. And that means, in the majority of cases, your website will only work on their server.

If you have a disagreement, or they raise their prices, and you want to change provider – your website may as well be thrown in the bin. It can’t be hosted anywhere else – at best you could grab some text, images and HTML code and hand over to another developer to convert into your preferred open-source system. This can cost thousands.

2. They’ll make money through expensive hosting

Your hosting environment will be unique, and the agency will be monitoring it and managing this specific environment themselves. Having worked in this way for agencies around Australia, it’s a massive exercise and a costly one. How much do you think IT infrastructure support specialists and dedicated developers to support the custom CMS cost annually?

This generally means your hosting will be more costly. And not only will you be paying more than regular hosting, there’s nothing you can do about it – your website will only work on their servers. Sometimes the CMS’s advantages will be spruiked to justify the costs – whether it’s a special analytics interface or integration with a 3rd party API (WordPress can do all of that). Or it might be the costs are hidden; wrapped up in an ongoing maintenance plan or service level agreement.

Oranges for oranges though – it’s more expensive. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

At Fisse Design, our managed hosting services have no contract – you can leave at any time and work with your preferred supplier. We’re confident most developers can pick up where we left off, grab the website and place it on any old standard web hosting plan. We like to think that you stay with us because our service is good and well priced… not because you’re forced with us. That’d be pretty nasty.

3. Expensive website builds and upgrades

Because no one else in the world will be using the same custom content management system, no one else can build your site or manage design updates or functionality upgrades to your site. They probably wouldn’t even be granted access. Being specialised introduces costs, and why wouldn’t you – when you’re the only operators in the world building these specialised websites.

That’s why you’ll find the cost of entry, i.e. your first website build, is already more expensive. And if you’ve built say, a $15-20,000 website with them, how can you say no to $5000 worth of updates that in a global marketplace, might only be worth $1000. You’re stuck.

WordPress and other popular, open-source content management systems have millions of developers around the world contributing – building snippets of code that are available to use and reducing the development time on projects. This translates to a cost benefit to you – and that’s why as a general trend websites are cheaper compared to 90s and noughties.

So there you have it.

Next time you read about these mythical failings of open source content management systems, just have a think about why a salesman would need to do so (when selling the benefits of their own bespoke content management system). Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If it’s so good, why is no one else in the world is using it?
  • How much will it cost me for website updates?
  • Can’t these features be offered via an open source CMS, like WordPress?
  • How much will it cost me for ongoing hosting and maintenance?
  • Can I leave this supplier?
  • Have you talked with anyone else to guide your decision… or only the salesman?

Building custom websites on the South Coast!

Yes – and would you believe it, we can build you a custom website!

It will be custom, built completely from scratch if necessary. We can work out the functionality, layout, design – and you can have as much input as you want. Then, it can be built on an appropriate open-source content management system and hosted wherever you want. Click here for more info!

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Fisse Design

Shop 5/4-6 Noorooma Cres,
Narooma NSW, Australia

5.017 reviews
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Jervis Bay Kayak & Paddlesports Co

a year ago

Adrian and his team are simply amazing. We are an existing business and our old website was out of date and quite complex. We spoke to a few designers but Adrian stood out for being wonderful to talk to (I actually understood what he was saying!) and making the entire process so simple, along with working to our budget. The team created an amazing new site, on schedule, on budget and kept us up to date the whole way through. I had been in fear of getting this done but have already let them know our new business will be getting set up through them without a doubt!


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Shilo Christie

a year ago

Adrian is a fantastic at his job and so is Sarah. Excellent service and great they built a fantastic website for us! Would definitely recommend 😊


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Matthew Deveson

2 years ago

We recently had Fisse Design build our website www.whalemotorinn.com - excellent service and we are very happy with the outcome. For example, easy navigation, great look and feel and all of the pictures and content that we wanted to reflect what our business is about. Most of all Fisse Design was able to capture the essence of our vision and our reason for being in the site. Thanks Adrian and Sarah - Matt & Jen


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Whale Inn and Restaurant

2 years ago

Fisse Design have just completed our new website and the whole process was so smooth, from the re-design, transition and launch. The site really captures our us and business and looks amazing. Thanks for helping improve our business!


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Rachele O'Reilly

2 years ago

Always very professional. A creative approach. Lovely to deal with.

Rachele O’Reilly
Impact Exhibitions & Events


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Venetian Plaster – All Render Texture

3 years ago

Adrian was great, he was fast and reliable and understood what I wanted. and he did a great job on my website. Something no one else had the time or effort or talent to help me. I highly recommend fisse design!


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Jodee Coyle

3 years ago

I asked Fisse Design to do our web page and facebook. From the minute i waked in to door Adrian and Sarah were friendly, warm, professional and very easy to deal with. For someone like me who knows very little about the process, they both made it so easy. Thank you. Would highly recommend.


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Eric Hopkins

3 years ago

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Narelle Jackson

3 years ago

I am the new manager at Horizon Holiday Apartments in Narooma. I initially contacted Fisse Design to organise a revamp of the Horizon legacy website with a view to provide a new site in 2018. The professionalism, knowledge and design ability of the staff at Fisse Design is absolutely fantastic. As it turned out, the legacy website had many broken links and instead of a revamp, Fisse Design provided us with a complete new website to meet our initial needs within a 1 week period which is just an amazing outcome. We could not be happier with the service that Fisse Design has provided us and we look forward to working closely with Fisse Design in 2018 to build a more informative and guest focussed website with lots of additional information. I thank Fisse Design for everything you have done for us. I honestly believe that there would not be a better web designer/developer in Australia that would work with you so closely and ensure the client receives exactly what is asked for. Well done Fisse Design and thank you so very much. Narelle @ Horizon Holiday Apartments.


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Oakleigh Farm Cottages

4 years ago

Thanks to Fisse Design for the upgrade of our tired outdated website to a modern reactive site with online booking page and content manager.We are loving the ongoing customer service from web hosting to upgrades & technical support. It give us peace of mind to have Fisse Design looking after our gateway to the world.


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Lou Porich

4 years ago

Fisse Design are fantastic to work with. They have done a great job developing the new Burrabooks website… not launched yet, but getting closer.

Very friendly, professional and cooperative! Thanks for a great job Adrian.


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Vicki Moorhead

4 years ago

Right from our first design brief with Adrian, everything seemed to feel like it was going to be "too easy". Our area of expertise is everything bicycle & Adrian is all about website design. Bring the two together & we now have a slick web page, thats easy to update, looks great on any platform & our business digital presence has soared in performance.


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ChelleMick Gardner

5 years ago

We were recommended to Adrian through friends and couldn't be happier with the results so far. We have engaged with Fisse Design to host, redesign and optimize our site on the internet.

Early days but already seeing results. Highly Recommended.


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Karen Mclellan

5 years ago

We asked Fisse design to build us a new website last year for Oakleigh farm cottages and were really impressed with how Adrian really wanted to get to know us and the business first, so that he fully understood what we needed. We wanted a modern, sophisticated, mobile-responsive design that was user-friendly, really ranked well and integrated our booking system and that is exactly what we got. It's been working really well for us and Adrian is always there with support, ongoing updates and general advice on the online presence of our business. Always approachable, easy to get on with and adaptable. Highly recommended


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Don Waterfield

5 years ago

After about 7 years using Ebay exclusively to sell our product, we decided that it was time to have our own website but did not know where to start. We found Fisse Design via google, discussed our needs with Adrian and he came up with a website that was beyond our expectations. Initially we required a website that linked our viewers back to our Ebay online Store, however after 12 months we decided to run our website and Ebay separately and had Adrian design a shopping cart. The website has gone from strength to strength due to Adrian's help and advice. We could not be happier with the website and Adrian has set it up so as we can change product, blog and upload images etc. We have no hesitation in recommending Fisse Design to anyone.


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Chris Smith

5 years ago

We got Fisse Design to redevelop our website and make it stand above our competition. For us the biggest asks were for it to rank well on Google, for the site to look great (on mobile phones too) and to hook it up with our bookings system. I trialled a few bookings systems until I found the right one for me, and Adrian got it to work with all of them. He did the lot and we simply couldn’t be happier. He did it for a great price and now he’s hosted it for over 2 years without one hiccup. As for the search engines, almost immediately we saw the effect of his optimisation work and over the weeks and months we enjoyed #1 , #2 and #3 rankings for all of our main search keywords. He also gave us some sound advice and a basic online marketing strategy which we followed - and it has all simply worked! Anytime I’ve got a problem, he sorts me out. Absolute legend, highly recommended.