When building a website or app, we’re always confronted with the challenge of ‘how’. Does it need a CMS? Should we use off-the-shelf tools? Is it worth custom development? Below is our ever-evolving criteria for how we make that decision.
Keep in mind, everyone’s project constraints are unique. Sometimes, a person’s budget excludes them from building custom software. Other times, security and data-ownership regulations may prevent them from using off-the-shelf options. These lists are a guide to inform the decision.
Should we build Custom?
Building custom software is flexible and allows for tremendous control. It also provides a defined ownership structure. On the downside, it requires greater expertise. It can also be more time-intensive and have larger upfront costs. You get what you pay for, right?
These trade-offs have informed the way we orient our team. Rather than bouncing between tools, we’ve developed deep expertise in a narrow set of programming languages. This allows us to reduce the downside of custom software while optimizing the upside. Is custom software right for you?
[ ] It’s a SAAS product
[ ] Site visitors login
[ ] Users interact with unique content once signed
[ ] The value of the technology exceeds the written or video content it contains
[ ] 3 or more WordPress plugins would need to work together to achieve the core functionality
[ ] The desired deliverable is the early stage of a much bigger vision
[ ] The client is disagreeable to technical limitations
[ ] The functionality is unique
Should we use an off-the-shelf solution?
‘Off-the-shelf’ means software that is already built and is available for your use. In most cases, existing tools err on the side of configurable and adaptable. The setup and installation is often faster. The downsides is being limited to ownership of intellectual property and extensibility. They’re great for getting from zero to 80% of your vision. The last 20% often requires a compromise in features or deep expertise to alter the tool.
WordPress is our go-to option for off-the-shelf content systems. While it might seem old or dated, there is a reason much of the web still runs on it. The WordPress team has done a great job of maintaining the technology over time and it’s very stable. The community of professions who know the technology allows for a lot of flexibility in other areas of your business.
If the content is e-commerce products, we’d suggest a specialized e-commerce tool like Shopify. WordPress is for content-heavy websites what Shopify is for e-commerce. In most cases, what they get right far outweighs the downsides. Is off-the-shelf software right for you?
[ ] Content changes exceed small edits every few months
[ ] A non-programmer-entity need to make content edits
[ ] Urgent changes needed often
[ ] Less than 3 WordPress plugins needed to achieve the core-functionality
[ ] The desired deliverable is the majority of the technology’s vision
[ ] The client is generally agreeable to technical limitations
[ ] Is the software a delivery mechanism for your thoughts, products, or services?
[ ] The technology needs a standard, online shopping experience-product page, shopping cart, payment, fulfillment
[ ] The functionality exists in many forms and is non-unique
Should we build a Static site?
Why make things more complex than necessary? Static sites are great when edits aren’t a common occurrence. They’re often faster to build and cost less than developing a WordPress site. They can also be great when design aesthetic is more important than the need to make changes.
If a site is mostly an online billboard that won’t change much over time, a static site is often a good option to lower costs, have a quicker turnaround time, and still get a polished site. Is a static site right for you?
[ ] Content changes are sporadic and non-urgent
[ ] There are a small number of very styled pages
[ ] There are unique design elements
[ ] A site needs to be live ASAP
“But what’s right for me?”
In depends. Your unique situation and constraints inform the best path forward. There is no hard and fast rule, but these principles should help inform the decision.