The Glossary: Custom vs Copy/Paste Web Development

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As a consummate networker and general man about town there are a couple questions that I run into on regular basis. I’ll be at an event or function and the inevitable (tired) networking question will pop up.

“So, what do you do?”

To this I will typically answer, “I work for a custom web development company in Downtown Phoenix”. This answer is usually either greeted with a nod of befuddled approval or the question, “So… like websites?”

But how can I blame anyone outside of the industry for the confusion? There are tons of different fields within the web space. In our office alone we have web developers, front-end developers, web designers, SEO specialists, social media managers and UX specialists.  Even within these fields there is some dichotomy. Are you a custom web developer or do work within an open source framework? What language do you code in? PHP? Ruby? Js?  To someone unfamiliar with the tech space all of those titles and terms just sound like gobbledygook!

Well thankfully I’ve decided to bite the bullet and (attempt to) demystify some of the terms you’ve heard thrown around at networking events or in meetings with your developer. Hopefully this post will educate you so you can “Talk Nerdy” with anyone in the space. This week we cover web development and what that can mean.

Web Development

While there are multiple different coding languages and styles of development, for simplicity sake I’m going to break web development into two categories; custom and copy/paste development. (For the purposes of this article, web development refers to building the bones and functionality of the site/software. I will go into the design and front-end development next week)

Custom Web Development

This is what we specialize in here at Invexi. Custom web development entails utilizing one or multiple coding languages (PHP, Ruby, .net) to build software and websites from “scratch”. Custom web developers have the ability to create virtually anything and, more importantly, alter these systems to suit the needs of the consumer/client. Some examples of custom web development that Invexi has tackled include

  • Ecommerce Shopping Carts
  • Online Schools
  • Inventory Management Systems
  • Customer Relation Management Systems (CRMs)
  • Sales Reporting Systems
  • Lead Sequencing Tools
  • Shipment Management systems

The way we approach custom development is that we listen to the needs and frustrations of the client to formulate a system that fills these needs.

For example, lets say that Acme Corp approaches us with the following problem. Acme is currently using 5 different pieces of software for these verticals; payment processing, inventory management, shipment fulfillment, website backend, and sales reporting. Not only can it be frustrating for employees to learn to navigate all of these systems but all of these systems have to “talk” to one another. Whenever one piece of software is changed or updated, changes must be made to steady the communication between these systems. What Invexi would do is streamline all of the aforementioned verticals into one piece of software that can satisfy all of these issues in ways that are tailored specifically for Acme corp.

The beauty of custom development is that it can be tweaked, changed and expanded upon to grow with your company. As opposed to the copy/paste development, outlined below, where users are at the whims of third-party software for functionality. Admittedly, custom development comes with a higher initial price tag but when you tally up the monthly fees and constant redesign/redevelopment that comes with copy/paste development, custom is objectively a better spend of your money.

We like to think that our job isn’t to simply build a website or a piece of software. Rather, we believe that our job is to increase efficiency and relieve frustrations of the day to day to save our clients time which can be better spent focusing on growth.

Copy/Paste Development

Most “web developers” you meet will fall into this category. While “copy/paste” development isn’t a technical term, I think it aptly describes the services these companies provide. A copy/paste developer is company or person who utilizes open source software and third party integrations to build a website. I like to refer to these websites as “Frankenstein” monsters  as they rely on bits and pieces of third party software to create the finished product.

The most common platform for copy/paste development is the WordPress content management system. WordPress is an open source CMS, initially built for blogging, WordPress has grown into the most popular platform for developing websites.  At it’s base WordPress is a platform that allows you to design and input content on your website in a easy-to-use manner. In fact, I am writing this blog post on the WordPress CMS.

It’s the expansion on the WordPress system that starts to be the issue. There are thousands of plugins for the WordPress CMS built by thousands of companies. There are plugins that can handle event management, inventory management, sales reporting, contact forms and virtually anything you can think of! Most of these plugins are either free or SaaS (Software as a Service). Sounds great right? Well the main problem with utilizing multiple plugins from different companies is that you are at their whims. If you are looking for a certain piece of functionality you have to wait until the plugin is updated to include that functionality.

Additionally, you are opening your site up to more vulnerabilities by utilizing multiple different plugins. If just one of those plugins gets hacked you could be compromising your whole system.

Finally, copy/paste developers may know how to put together a website but they could struggle with a fundamental understanding of coding languages and how to truly customize your system. While it seems like I may be virulently against copy/paste development, the truth is, that for many businesses, this is the best option. Copy/Paste development can be inexpensive for small businesses and offers a decent starting point to grow your online presence without breaking the bank.

That being said, as your company grows from small to medium to large your WordPress build will typically not be able to handle the functionality of what you are looking for. Additionally, as you grow the free options for functionality start to command a monthly bill. Once this happens, you have to do a cost/benefit analysis. Do you want to keep trucking along with pasted together WordPress build or should go custom to achieve a system that is built specifically for your business?

Do you want software that is built around your company? Or do you want to build your company around the software? It’s a tough question to answer!

This is the first in a series of posts where I plan to demystify some terms within the web space. Next week we’ll tackle the difference between a web designer and a front end developer. Stay tuned!


Externalities: Cost of Development

Outside of the cost of design and development, the literal coding/creation of a website there are many secondary cost associated with your online presence. Most