Commercial or propriety systems are still a popular choice of CMS for many people who are reassured by the technical support, service level agreements, safety and security.

There is also the fact that many commercial systems are already ready-built which means that they are quicker to implement than many open source systems. These systems tend to be well established which means that they show signs of longevity and have a solid, reliable and professional feel to them.

This is further supported by accompanying documentation, user guides and training manuals – all of which are essential for new content editors.

A company which has a mix of ‘expert’  content editors and business authors (who are often less technical) will be looking for a system which caters for both. The needs of the novice user are as important as those of the power user. 

If you are looking to save time (but not money) then a commercial system is a good choice.

There is a wide range of commercial systems to choose from but for the purposes of this guide we have included the most popular brands to start with. These will be followed by less well known systems over time.

They include:

  • SiteCore
  • EpiServe
  • Ektron
  • Alterion
  • Amaxus
  • Sitefinity

What are the reasons for choosing a commercial CMS instead of an open source CMS? Especially when there are an increasing number of open source systems to choose from and many of these are free or low cost?

Advantages of a commercial CMS

There are several good reasons why you should choose a commercial CMS which include:

  • Stability: a commercial system is likely to be established and stable compared to an open source systems which is due to testing and evaluation. These types of CMS have a dedicated team of developers who provide support and technical know how on a constant basis.
  • Usability: a commercial CMS takes the needs of non-technical users into account by ensuring that the system is easy to use and is accompanied by user manuals and training guides. It is likely to have undergone usability testing with consideration given to the overall user experience. A commercial system is designed to be used by both technical and non-technical users with support provided by access to a development team.   Whereas an open source system is often designed with technical or ‘power users’ in mind who will have an understanding of and familiarity with the functionality of the site. They will have expertise in programming or site architecture which means little or no product documentation. It may not be usable to users with little or no technical expertise and this is considered an ongoing issue for many open source systems.
  • Support and advice: commercial systems have help guides and training manuals available for its users along with access to technical support. Whereas an open source system relies upon its community to provide this level of support which can be off putting for a non-technical user. There is no customer or IT support department for them to contact which can leave them feeling isolated and lacking in confidence. 
  • Documentation: one of several advantages of a commercial CMS is product documentation which needs to be well written, easy to understand and fit for purpose. It will have been written with the goals of both the users and business in mind as well as the demands of the search engines. This documentation is a standard feature of a commercial system but less so with an open source CMS. Any documentation provided by an open source system may be subject to the needs of the developers rather than the end users which leave a sense of uncertainty about the system.

These are all positive reasons for choosing a commercial CMS but as with any system there are disadvantages as well. We have listed those as well so that you can compare both the advantages and disadvantages with an open source CMS.

Disadvantages of a commercial CMS

There are advantages of using a commercial CMS but like any system, it has its disadvantages as well.

These include:

  • Cost: commercial systems can be expensive whereas an open source CMS is usually cheap or in some cases, free of charge. There is likely to be the cost of hosting but apart from that an open source CMS is a good option for the budget conscious among us and significantly cheaper than a commercial CMS.
  • Constraints: this refers to the fact that the user of a commercial CMS is often tied to that provider. In other words, constraints are placed upon the architecture, interface design and features which prevent user customisation. The system is not extensible: if a user or company require a particular feature then the CMS provider will do a cost benefit analysis to see if this is viable. If the provider decides that there is sufficient interest and it is feasible to do so then they will offer this service but often at a considerable cost to the user. For many companies the ability to extend a CMS to fit their business requirements is an important factor when deciding upon a suitable system. 
  • Risk of a takeover: in today’s current climate there is the risk of a takeover by another CMS provider. This means that the commercial CMS you purchased with the relevant licence, maintenance and technical support can be bought out by another provider who decides not to continue with it. A company may purchase a commercial CMS only to find that it has been discontinued as a result of a takeover which also has a knock on effect when it comes to advice and support. If that system is no longer available then it is almost impossible to obtain the necessary help and advice needed to ensure its existence.


There are positives and negatives with a commercial CMS but these equally apply to any other type of CMS. There is no such thing as a 100% perfect CMS so it is a case of finding the right system for the job.

We have talked about evaluation in the open source CMS section and this equally applies to a commercial system. If you or someone you know is thinking about a CMS then evaluate both of these before making a choice.

Any company whether large or small  who is thinking about using a CMS must consider the long term effects of their decision which will impact on different levels. If the decision is the right one then the benefits can be immense but choosing the wrong system may mean a disastrous outcome for all concerned.

What needs to be considered are the costs of training, usability and accessibility; flexibility, standards compliance, upgrades/changes and maintenance. Also factor in the cost of support, implementation and integration with other systems.