CMS or HTML: Big Differences, But Does It Matter?

Each year, we build or remodel more websites than the year before. And every year, technology evolves to help us offer creative online solutions. It is amazing what can be done in code that helps a brand position products and services to ultimately drive sales. There are different ways websites are being built – some from scratch with HTML and supporting programing languages, others with content management systems (CMS) that provide an initial toolset to simplify the development. They are quite different and while each has its merits, it is important to evaluate which option is best for the goals at hand.

Brandner uses both methodologies to support our clients. We look at the business objectives, existing resources our clients want to share on the web, target audiences, past and expected user traffic, budget, and other elements that go into site planning, and develop a recommendation to help our clients have a unique branded presence on the internet. Sometimes it is an easy call whether to use a CMS or HTML programming, while there are other times we have to weigh the project requirements to come to a the best option. They each have their own merits to consider.

Site with structure in mind

CMS’s like WordPress and Squarespace continue to grow in popularity and use. We’ve worked with different varieties for over 10 years and continue to believe they are a great option when building a web presence. Most CMS programs provide many templates that allow for quick implementation and provide the flexibility to adjust the look to match nearly any brand standard. And, the ever-growing number of plug-ins available for these programs makes it easier to add forms, dealer locators, videos and much more.

A good CMS should also enable non-technical team members to update existing materials or add new content. Many of these programs can be set-up to allow for "authoring" capability without access to change other user’s content, and when trained properly, can make updates within the site's look and feel without having to know HTML code.

When the priorities of a new website lean toward quick implementation, preference for a page-by-page consistency and a need to have non-technical staff updating the content, a CMS is a strong choice. When the scope of the project requires more customization, we then look at the option of custom building the site.

Exact design and build

There is nothing like a custom-built website. It gives clients the flexibility to open up the imagination and build the exact user experience they want.

As with a CMS project, we evaluate the goals of the website and define the overall user experience. Using a custom HTML-developed methodology opens the possibilities of how that experience looks. Our web designers have built custom tools to help architects determine what product to specify, what a product might look like on a home, and portals where a user can order annual access permits or register for their next sales event.

A custom HTML site provides much more flexibility in the overall design, opening up the options for different layouts, unique menus, and creative use of space that might not be easily possible with a CMS. The ability to connect custom databases to a site also can allow a client to provide unique content based on a user’s profile. It empowers the company to portray itself online as a resource to answer questions and provide solutions.

Cost versus benefit

An important consideration of any project - web or otherwise - is the overall cost versus benefit. The lower cost of a CMS implementation comes with limitations, whereas the flexibility of a custom-built site usually comes with a larger price tag. In our experience, each project is different and there is never a one-size-fits all. Even with our CMS sites, each has a different look or different plug-ins that makes it unique. When we work with clients to determine which solution is best, we look at every option to make sure everyone is happy in the end.


It is hard to remember a time when there wasn’t a website to promote your brand or show off the latest products. But today, URLs are a commodity sold to the highest bidder. Once the URL is secured, it is all about the content and the design. How that design and content are implemented into a functioning, successful website can come in different ways. Evaluating your priorities and objectives will help you land on the right solution.