When budgeting for a new website project, some people leave out the CMS because of all the  free open source options available. Except they're not free.

Carrots dangling over raised hands

There's No Such Thing As a Free CMS

Thu Apr 5, 2018

After weeks of re-branding, message testing and planning a website re-launch I was shocked to find out that Joshua Hamilton Industries* had not budgeted for a CMS. When I asked them about the deficit ,they happily chirped, “Oh don’t worry we’ll just use one of the free CMS tools on the market.”

Only there is no such thing as a free CMS tool, and it didn’t take long for Joshua Hamilton Industries to start feeling the pain of their choice. Ninety days after launching the updated site, an exciting new product capability was ready to be featured. It should have been easy to simply modify the existing products section—right? Wrong.

A developer was necessary and the estimate came in at $2,800. And that was for only one change! Based upon the expected future change requests (which they were keeping to an absolute minimum) the free CMS was going to cost them $18,000 in the first nine months alone.

Sadly, this organization is not alone. Many people think there is a free or virtually free approach to website content management. But this is only true if your website has a single content contributor and blog format with no other components, and you pretty much never want to change anything. And even then, you get what you paid for it.

When you want to do any of the following tasks, development resources are required.

  • Update navigation
  • Change the order of content
  • Review design elements
  • Introduce new sections
  • Integrate with other systems
  • Upgrade to the latest version of software (to maintain security)

And developers cost real money. You can expect to pay upwards of $50 per hour for their services on average.

At this point you have three choices: (1) Fork out the money to a developer (2) Keep the status quo and don’t update your website or (3) spend hours trying to learn these skills for yourself (and in the process not doing the other 100 things on your to-do list).

That supposedly free CMS just cost Joshua Hamilton Industries a lot of cold, hard cash. But that’s not the only cost. The choice of CMS also cost time.

A CMS that isn’t built for scale across content creation means you not only have to pay someone to make changes, but that you have to wait for that person to fit you into their schedule. And trust me, those developers are in high demand.

Lastly, and this is something we can never get back. These “free” CMS tools cost us content. Content we need to drive SEO and improve conversions. Because the user interface is frustrating and workflow capabilities are extremely limited recruiting subject matter experts to write website content is a painful process. As a result we don’t scale content creation sufficiently to meet our marketing goals.

Because none of us have a lot of extra time or money sitting around waiting to be wasted, it’s important to build your website on a solid foundation that can be easily updated over time. Luckily, there are many affordable options that protect one of your most precious marketing investments, your website. 

* Company name changed to protect the frustrated.


Samantha Stone
Samantha Stone
Marketing Advisory Network

Samantha is a fast growth, B2B marketing junkie, mother of four high energy boys and wannabe gourmet chef. Throughout her career she has launched go-to-market initiatives and lead marketing strategies for award-winning, high growth technology companies including Netezza, SAP, Ascential Software and Powersoft. In 2012 she founded The Marketing Advisory Network to help enterprises unleash the possible within their organizations. You can read more about her marketing philosophy and get practical advice by visiting her blog.