The Wild-West of WordPress Plugins

Be cautious or end up with a broken or hacked website!

If you’ve ever researched website design you’ll probably be aware that there are systems available which allow you to update the content of the website directly, without referring back to the original designer.

These tools, known as content management systems (CMS), are useful for making small changes to your website e.g. text in a staff biography, but are not so easy for larger modifications such as adding a new image gallery or a new treatment section. For these types of more complex changes, you will almost certainly need to ask your dental web designer to intervene, as skill and experience is still required.

There are other issues associated with CMS too, for example the need for regular security updates to prevent hacking. So a clear understanding of the pros and cons of CMS is required before you opt for it.

One of the most popular CMS platforms is called WordPress which originally came to the fore as a blogging platform. Over the years, the system has been wrangled into a full-blown CMS and is now widely used for website design, not just blogging. However, to use it as a valid website CMS, you really need to add certain “plugins” to WordPress to extend the core functionality; for example to add contact forms, sitemaps, SEO features and more. But using these plugins requires care, experience and ongoing maintenance if you want to avoid having your website broken, or worse, hacked.

The problem with WordPress plugins

The concept of plugins to extend your website’s functionality is great, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a free-for-all when it comes down to the development of them. This is because the plugin library is vast and not managed directly by the core WordPress team. Anyone can contribute a WordPress plugin and as such the quality of them varies significantly, from those which are diligently managed and updated, to those which have huge, inherent security risks.

The problem is that you don’t have any guarantees which is which – indeed even the most popular plugins with regular support, still periodically get compromised by hackers causing all manner of grief for WordPress website users.

Another serious problem with plugins is that you just can’t guarantee ongoing consistency and support. Developers may start out with the best of intentions and contribute a great plugin, then over the years they get distracted by other projects and move on. Unfortunately you’ve already used that plugin and your website relies on it, but you’ve lost the support and also the security updates which will invariably be required. This can cause you website to break as the core functions of WordPress update; or worse, you get hacked.

What can you do to minimise the risk associated with plugins?

The inconsistency and risk associated with WordPress plugins is huge and should not be under-estimated. As such you should think carefully before electing to use WordPress as the basis for your dental practice website. Whilst it is popular, it is maintenance intensive and prone to hacking. More often than not, you will need expensive maintenance support to mitigate the risk, however this will definitely not completely remove it.

If you do decide to use WordPress, you must understand which plugins you or your website designer are proposing to use. These need to be minimised and rationalised back to only the most reputable plugins which have a good track record of support. You should also cross-check with websites which list plugins with know security issues (sadly there are many!) and also consider using an additional WordPress security tool to try to protect your site. With all of this in place, and with a bit of luck, you should be OK. Well maybe! In my opinion, there are just too many hacked dentist’s WordPress websites around to ever feel really secure when using it.

Is there an alternative?

WordPress is popular and many website designers will steer you towards it because it’s cheap and easy for them to use. You can pick up a pre-designed template for £30, add some treatment text and images to get a dentist’s website up in a matter of days. However, it will look “samey” and also have all of the security risks noted above. It’s always “horses for courses” of course, and if this suits you, then please go-ahead. However, if you are concerned about security, don’t have a big budget for maintenance updates and don’t want to use a generic design template, then fortunately there are other options to WordPress.

Here at Dental Media we can supply and support WordPress but we will always advise you as to the pros and cons, many of which are listed above. We’ve seen lots of other dental designers have whole fleets of their client’s website wiped out by hacking, and even with the best maintenance in place, hackers still periodically get through. Alternatively we can supply more robust CMS platforms or you can simply come back to our team when you need updates completed to your website. This is headache-free, will ensure a fast and professional job, and almost certainly cost you a lot less than an expensive monthly maintenance contract.

If you’re about to embark on a new practice website project and need advice on content management systems, then the web team at Dental Media will be pleased to advise. You can reach us on 01332 672548 for a no-obligation discussion.