SEA for EFFECTIVE INTERNAL & EXTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS Working with teams for over 30 years

Updating your website copy: how your new CMS could have hidden costs

We’re all sold on having a Content Management System (CMS) – in this day and age, being able to edit your website content in-house is a must and thankfully the rigmarole of having to go back to the agency who built your website every time you want a minor content change is over.

In fact, “will I be able to update it myself?” is one of the main questions we get asked by clients when discussing website specifications.

However, not all clients are aware that the decision of which Content Management System to use for their new website could potentially have similar implications of tying you to the agency who built it.

In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of using open source software (such as WordPress) as opposed to a bespoke Content Management System which is owned and maintained by a particular agency.

What are the initial cost benefits of open source vs bespoke CMS?

Open Source:
Essentially, the open source software that allows you to edit the site is free to download, which a developer then configures and customises according to the agreed specification. This customisation, which includes brand-centred design and functionality of your tailor-made site, is where the costs come from (as well as other time-rich factors such as planning, content and testing, etc).

As the research and development of the bespoke backend CMS and templates have already been invested in by the agency, they are usually able to sell a larger volume of websites at lower costs, which looks to be an appealing offer.

What are the implications if I need to change my site once the site is live?

Open Source:
Subject to any post-live contracts or terms and conditions agreed with your agency, an open source CMS will give you the flexibility to use other developers to update the site, should you wish. And because it’s a freely available and widely respected software, most quality web developers will be able to help.

WordPress, as an example, is an open source software which runs on more than 23 percent of all websites and powers more than 60 percent of all sites using known content management systems, so there are a vast number of WordPress proficient developers available. Its continual development and innovation means that the opportunities for expansion are endless.

As the bespoke CMS is the property of the agency you purchased from, you are usually contractually obliged to remain with the agency for the life-span of your website should you require any technical or functional updates. This means you will need to pay fees set out by the agency as and when you require more significant changes than the CMS allows.

What about hosting – can I control this?

Open Source:
You are likely to be able to move your hosting to another service provider easily, giving you full access and control of your website.

It is not in the best interests of the creative agency to share their intellectual property with you and you’ll find that they will organise the hosting of your site. This means that annual hosting rates are set by them and may be much higher than standard rates. More importantly, you are tied in to being their client and if you want to cease working with them, there’s pretty much only one option – cut your losses and invest in rebuilding a new site somewhere else.

How will my website be maintained after it goes live?

Open Source:
Open Source software like WordPress is being constantly updated by their development teams to keep the system up to date with technology, increase security, fix bugs and add features and functionality. New versions and patches are released periodically and it’s imperative that these are applied to your site regularly once live. As above, the flexibility with open source is that anyone can apply these updates, although it is recommended that these are carried out by someone with experience.

Unfortunately you probably don’t have much of a guarantee that the agency will continue to invest in developing the content management system they have created and if they do continue to invest, they may wish to charge you for any upgrades to bring it up to spec.


As an agency, SEA has experience of both bespoke and open source CMS, having built our own content management system, seaPublish, in the early days of online publishing and some years later moving to WordPress and other open source eCommerce systems.

This insight has led us to believe that open source content management systems offer greater flexibility to the client in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

As much as we always endeavour to forge long-term relationships with our clients, we’d rather they came back to us on the merit of our products and service rather than feeling trapped as part of a contractual obligation – our clients best interests are always our first priority.

Ultimately, there are pros and cons to both systems so when choosing which agency to work with on your next website project, make sure you know all the facts, particularly what happens next once the site is launched, to avoid any ‘surprises’.

If you’d like to know more about how we approach website projects using WordPress or other open source content management systems, please get in touch with Hollie by emailing and we’d be delighted to provide some advice on the options available.