So much of the modern travel research and booking process takes place digitally that if you’re not visible in Google rankings – or if your website is dated – then there’s high chance you’re losing online bookings.
Are you looking at updating your current site, or perhaps overhauling it altogether? As you create a brief or ‘wishlist’ for a potential provider, you’ll need to think about a number of things – what design elements appeal the most? What site architecture makes the most sense for your product? How will you integrate your booking system? Amidst these decisions, one of the most important things you’ll need to determine on this list is whether you’re wanting your website to be built with closed or open source software.
All of the websites in the world are built using software – which is the code, or ‘language’ that sits in the background, controlling everything the user sees, how the website flows, how it looks, the transition between pages – everything. When we talk about choosing between ‘closed or open source software’, we’re talking about deciding on the type of code that’s sitting in the background; the ‘framework’ that the site is built with.
Open source websites are created using software with an open licensing agreement. This means anybody you want – including yourself or a different developer – can make edits and adjustments to the site. Open source code encompasses coding languages that are widely known; think the Spanish, English or Chinese of the software development world. Essentially, open source code can be worked (and improved/optimized in the long term) by anyone you wish. If you decide you’re unhappy with your current developer or agency, you’re able to easily move your site to a new provider – because the way in which it is built is widely understood. Examples of great open source software include WordPress, Silverstripe or Umbraco.
The benefits of open source websites are centered around you being in control of your website. Changing, growing or optimizing your current site is an easy task; meaning that your online presence grows and develops with your business, and you’re not stuck or tied to any one developer or agency long-term.
In the past, there were some concerns with the security of open source websites, but this is no longer the case. Robust security fencing and server controls mean that open source websites are completely trustworthy.
For highly complex software projects – think bespoke technology for insurance claims, or busy logistical systems – closed source code can deliver more complicated technology. However, the bulk of development projects (including tourism websites) don’t require anywhere near this level of code complexity.
Just think: If open source software was unsecure, or wasn’t robust, why would our national tourism board be building a new consumer-facing site with Silverstripe (a popular open source code). If open source software is good enough for Tourism New Zealand’s consumer site – with its multiple language portals, operator database and article/deal functionality – then it’s most definitely suitable for small to medium size tourism websites.
Closed source websites are at the opposite end of the spectrum. This software is distributed under a closed license agreement where the code is not shared with the public or even yourself. Because the website language is proprietary, you need to picture a language only spoken by one person in the entire world – the software developers/agency who created your website. These are the only ones who can make changes, and technically own the rights to your website – which they would commonly charge you a monthly subscription to use. Essentially, closed source websites completely lock you in with one provider, putting them in control for the lifetime of your website.
Unhappy with the service your agency is providing, and want to take your website to another web developer? Not possible. If you have a closed source website and want to change providers, you have to leave your website with the original provider and create a completely new site. Heartbreaking when you think about all of the money and time invested in it.
Agency starts to increase the cost of your monthly subscription? No much you can do, other than pay up or leave the website with them and create a completely new one with another company.
Has an error suddenly popped up on your website, which needs fixing as soon as possible? Chances are you won’t have access to change it yourself – so you need to contact your agency to make changes whenever they can, and this may not be a fast (or overly affordable) process.
As mentioned earlier, closed source websites are highly bespoke, and are great for projects which are large, complicated or have very unique requirements – think banking or internal government systems. However a closed source website literally means you’re marrying your agency, and a divorce will be messy (and expensive!) if you are unhappy.
It pays to get clued up on closed vs open source code before you begin a tourism website project. Some agencies offer closed source websites without fully explaining the ramifications to the client; so the client doesn’t know their agency retains ownership of their site (or understand that they won’t have a leg to stand on if they’re unhappy with their service.
We build our websites based on bespoke design, open source WordPress or Silverstripe platforms. When a client pays us to deliver a website, we believe that – once live – they own it, and should want to continue to work with Maverick because of the quality of work we do; not because they are forced to.
Be wary of ‘cheap’ website deals – think closed source template sites charged at bargain bin monthly fee, or larger projects built with closed source code because it’s ‘best practice’. Nine times out of ten the agency is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, and putting their profits over what’s best for your business.