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How to Pick the Right Website Management Platform for Your Small Business

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Not even the humblest local businesses can afford to have a static website. To stay competitive, small businesses need to instantly update their websites, blog regularly and market consistently through email. You're lost before you've begun if you are wasting time or money on a plain-vanilla website. That's why adoption of both open source and commercial content management systems by small business website operators has increased significantly in recent years.

Related: Half of Small Businesses Don't Have a Website

There are many choices, across a variety of different platforms. For a small business to pick the right website management solution requires first identifying the pros and cons of open source versus commercial website management platforms aka, content management systems (CMS). Open source CMS has three pros:  

1. Price. You literally can't beat open source for price - free!

2. Distributed development community. Since many people around the world can be involved in an open source project, many cutting edge features get included in popular CMS.

3. Non-proprietary technology. Since the software is open source, anyone can adopt the technology and migrate it to another supported platform. It's transportable and you are not locked into a single vendor.

Related: Picking A Host for Your Small Business Website (Infographic)

There are also three open source CMS cons:

1. Price. Price is both a con and a pro because nothing is really free. The technology is available without charge but hiring someone with expertise or spending time to integrate the platform does cost money. In some cases, the cost of configuration can be as high as purchasing a commercial CMS bundled with support from the vendor. Learning an open source CMS can be time consuming and very difficult without the help of outside experts. That further adds to the costs.

2. Distributed development community. Again, this was listed as a pro but with a distributed development community, priorities can differ greatly from those of the small business owners using the CMS. For example, if a specific bug is precluding the business owner from accomplishing something on their website, it will take time before that fix is released into the software.

3. Non-proprietary technology. Non-proprietary software can easily be migrated to other providers but it also means lack of vendor certifications or expected levels of competence from vendor partners. How do you know someone is an expert in a particular CMS if there is little outside validation? Commercial CMS vendors usually have a certification program for third parties, can recommend competent partners or can provide support directly.

Commercial CMS ha it's own set of pros and cons. On the plus side:

1. Centralized support. With commercial CMS, the vendor is responsible for responding to bug fixes and feature requests. It's not necessary to go searching all over the place as the provider of the CMS can either support the installation directory or provide references to vendor partners with expertise in the platform. The open-source community has no obligation to respond to problems in a timely manner, whereas a commercial CMS provider has their reputation on the line or contractual obligations to respond quickly.

2. Stability and performance. Since open source developers aren't always professional developers, security holes, bugs and lack of testing can lead to faulty software that can reveal serious issues. Commercial CMS providers typically have live, production customers using the product. It must work.

3. Learning curve. Commercial CMS providers typically have training available to ease adoption of their technology. Open source CMS requires finding an individual who has expertise in the product or learning the product on your own.

Related: 10 Things Every Small-Business Website Needs

There are commercial CMS cons.

1. Price. The initial cost of a commercial CMS solution is not going to be free. Some systems have ongoing support and upgrade costs that make the software unaffordable for small businesses.

2. Vendor Lock-In. A commercial CMS built by a single vendor is not easily moved to another platform. In addition, the closed nature of commercial CMS means you are stuck with the features the provider has developed. It's difficult, if it is even possible, to customize the features.

3. Lacking cutting edge technology. Since commercial CMS vendors must be conscious of providing stable and high performing solutions, cutting edge features may be delayed due to extensive testing or market research needed before implementation. 

As small business owners get more sophisticated in utilizing technology to advance their businesses, choosing the right platform upon which to build is critical for long term online success. A hybrid solution between a commercially supported website management platform and an open source website management platform may be the answer.

Related: 10 Things Customers Want on a Website