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Casual Fridays: The Propriety of Proprietary – How Portable is Your CMS?

Is WordPress the only viable CMS choice?

When you make a decision about who’s going to build your next website, are you making a technology decision, a relationship decision, or both?

How portable is a site that’s perfectly tailored to your needs?

In this installment of Casual Fridays, Chris and I might bring up more questions than we answer, but at least they’re interesting questions.

Christopher: Good morning.

Mark: Morning. It’s time to talk about proprietary content management systems and the idea of portability. 

Christopher: It comes up a lot when you’re talking to prospects and so therefore we talk about it a ton behind the scenes. It’s an issue that honestly continues to be hard to figure out.

Mark: Yeah, it’s quite difficult. It’s a complicated issue. There are lots of elements to it. The core issue is that most all the clients we work with have been in business for a while. Because of that, they have multiple websites. Because of that, it’s likely that one of those versions of the websites they’ve built with an outside developer was a bad experience. So everyone is kind of scared of being held hostage by a developer. The assumption is that if we build it on WordPress, that won’t be possible, because anyone can do anything with WordPress. The counter to that is that we build very specific sites. We build complex & custom sites for clients who need to get a lot from their site. There’s not a default site that just does that. Even if there were, the client wouldn’t want it, because they don’t want to look like everybody else. So WordPress or not, we’re building very custom experiences and the question at the end of the day is how portable is that custom experience, regardless of what platform is on?

We understand that the clients need the right site and everyone agrees on that. But how portable is the right site?

Christopher: One thing that Mark has brought up before that I think is a really interesting way of looking at this idea is that every time someone calls us and wants to work with us, usually what they’re looking to access is a certain kind of thinking about how to deal with the website, how to deal with digital marketing. They’ve seen how we’ve gone about it. They’ve seen our success stories. They’ve heard us talk about it. They want to engage with us on it. They’re usually not thinking about the tool until they get deeper into that conversation. It usually isn’t the first thing that comes up. It’s usually somewhere down the line. There are plenty of prospects for whom WordPress would be completely fine. They don’t need a custom site. I was sharing with Mark earlier that I built a site for myself just recently using WordPress. It was a very simple install. There was some configuration, I’m using a few plug-ins to get some basic stuff in order because WordPress itself is a very simple shell. It occurred to me, even there, at that level of simplicity that, I’m already dependent on other developers, other plug-ins, customizing the code to some degree – If I were to hand it to somebody else, they’d have to interpret all that. That would be some work. That’s even at the most basic level, where I’m just dealing with images and text. The kinds of sites that we would build for our clients of course would become much more complex. Still doable, still interpretable, but the difference between that custom version of WordPress and perhaps a proprietary CMS would be pretty negligible at the point, except for the perception.

Mark: Right, right. Exactly. The idea is that the fundamental kernel of WordPress is more portable because people have seen it more than anything other than WordPress is true. But we have to think about the greater context. One being how custom of a site do you actually need? Two, based on that situation, are you your own developer or are you going to hire a developer? Everyone who comes to us obviously is hiring a developer, which means they need something relatively customized. Three, once you have a custom site, how long do you expect it to last? What we see time and again is that the average website for mid-sized business last about three to five years – there are many reasons for that and that’s a different post for a different day – but three to five years is what you’ve got. Something would have to go horribly wrong over the that three to five year span to warrant firing them completely and moving the site to somebody else. Now that’s obviously happened – we’ve seen clients coming to us who are coming from that situation and that’s unfortunate – but it’s a relatively rare occurrence. You have to get to that kind of a horrible situation in order for the issue of portability to even come up.

Christopher: Right. A couple years ago, we had a newsletter on this subject. We haven’t really revisited this subject since. My conclusion in that newsletter and down to the title was – ultimately when it comes to this issue, you’re choosing a developer. You’re not really choosing a CMS. Even if you’re choosing WordPress, you got to choose a developer to work on it, unless that’s you. But most of the time for the kinds of things we’re talking about it is a relational issue. It’s not a technological one. Although technological questions come up and become really relevant to a buying decision. But in the end I think the best way to think about this is about that relationship. If you’re looking at the course of time that you can expect the site to last. Well, can the relationship last in that time? How do we work with this person or group of people? How much insight can we have into that before we decide to say go? I think one thing that sets people up for worrying about this is that everywhere else on the web, when you buy a tool or buy a service, that thing can just go away overnight. The blog tool you use. The thing you use for bookmarking, whatever it is. Sometimes those things just go away, and you don’t have any recourse. What we’ve always tried to embrace is – look, if you don’t want to be in a relationship anymore, which is fine, you can take the thing. We’ve always had that kind of open license agreement where you can take it, but as Mark has pointed out before, let’s say you get to the kind of site we advocate for, which is tied in with the CRM element, tied in with marketing automation. Sure you can one of those elements, but then are you going to take the other two? Are you going to take the marketing automation tool? Are you going to take the CRM? Those kinds of things you can’t really take. Those are services you pay for that exist within a technological container. So it does become a little complicated at that level.

Mark: Yeah. To preface, this is an open question. This is something that we’re not trying to force an opinion about. We’re in dialog about this and we basically invited you into this dialog in a very sincere way. There’s a comment box right underneath this video – we would love to hear the detail of your thought on this. We do, like I said earlier, a very specific thing and so, we exist in a small world in many ways. We like that world and we’re quite good in that world, but there’s all sorts of other situations. We’re not trying to force an opinion. But with the issue of portability, like Chris mentioned, there’s a site, there’s the CRM and the market automation tool, those things comprise the ecosystems we build. At any given point you might decide that any one of those things might not suit your needs anymore. That might happen before the natural three to five year life cycle of the website. Leaving any of them, no matter what platforms any of them are in, will be painful. It’s going to be hard. There are some facts that we know and one fact is that just because the site’s in WordPress doesn’t mean it can be easily moved from one to another. Conversely, just because a site is not in WordPress doesn’t mean it can’t be moved. Either way, if the site is customized, what we know for sure is it’s going to be hard. Just like moving from SalesForce to Microsoft Dynamics, it’ll be hard. Moving from Hubspot to Marketo will be hard. It’s tough moving and when you are deciding to build the version of your ecosystem or your new site whatever it might be and you’re looking at a developer, as Chris wrote in that newsletter almost three years ago, you’ve got to choose someone who you think is going to be a good guide for you. It’s almost like choosing a trail guide. Chris, you might’ve had even used that analogy in your newsletter, I can’t recall. But that’s what it is. You’re forming a relationship. The relationship matters a lot more than any specific technological element. The business we’re in is paying a lot of attention to all of those different elements so that we can create the best solutions for our clients. It’s not as if we make x amount more dollars if we do it with our CMS instead of WordPress. We don’t, actually. It’d probably be cheaper to develop in WordPress. It’s just a matter of what the correct solution is for these very specific kind of high performing marketing sites we happened to build.

Christopher: Something that Mark mentioned in our first version of this that I want to make sure we touched on again is that when he’s talking to a prospect, they might be looking at our offering against a few other options. He mentioned that in some cases they’ll be like, “Well, some people are offering us what you’re offering us for ten grand and some people are offering it for a hundred and we can’t really differentiate.” Ultimately, unless you can look under the hood and know what you’re looking at, you can only differentiate on the basis of the relationship. You have to ask yourself the question: What is it going to be like? Or do I know what it’s going to be like to work with this person or this group of people? What might the next three years look like? You have to sideline the technological at some point and ask those sort of existential questions of: What’s it going to be like to work with them? What’s the expense? What’s the communication like? Are we going to be able to nurture this thing? I think those are really the relevant questions once you get past any hang-ups you might have about a particular technology or solution.

Mark: I agree. You think about three years. In some ways, three years is nothing. In some ways, three years from now is wholly inconceivable, especially with what we do. What is going to be going on in three years? What devices are people going to be using to access a website in three years? We really don’t know. We can assume that a certain percentage will be allocated to certain devices, but three years, in what we do, is such a terribly long time. That’s part of why clients have such a hard time choosing, because it is very much a long-term commitment. It’s very much like buying a car or having your car worked on. One big difference there is that with the car you can go see – what is a 2005 Prius worth? You can see ten thousand of them and see what they’re all worth and all the different options. With websites, you can’t. Websites are not apples-to-apples. It’s wholly unregulated and it’s not standardized really in any way at all. It’s hard for our clients to choose what to do. It’s a very difficult situation. So one of the things we advocate for on the sites we build, and we speak with our clients about how they’re going to help their clients through these issues as well, is to have the site act as a buying concierge just to help them navigate through this difficult process. So it’s complicated, it’s always moving. We’re basically along for the ride. We want you to be as much a part of that as possible.

Christopher: Let us know what you think. There’s a comment box below here. We really do want to hear about your thoughts. Let’s get a conversation going about that. Otherwise, hope you enjoyed this and have a great weekend.

Mark: Thank you.

Christopher: Bye.

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