CMS platforms offer direct and immediate access to your website content, but there are trade-offs. Learn how to manage the risks while taking control of your website content.
One of the most common questions we receive about building medical practice websites is whether to use a CMS (content management system) templated website,such as the popular WordPress templates,or create a totally custom, HTML website. In this post, we explore the differences between these two methods of building websites, advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to choose which platform will best suit your practice.
What is CMS?
In our context, CMS refers to software that allows you to build and customize a website without deep knowledge of website coding or programming languages. The software is an out-of-the-box website builder solution that can be installed on a web server allowing a user to customize aspects of their website through an administrative login page.
By the time the World Wide Web had become a household name, more and more businesses understood the need for a website in order to be considered legitimate, but some business owners preferred to directly build and manage their own website without the involvement of developers and engineers – thus, giving rise to CMS platforms such as WordPress. Over the long run, things haven’t exactly worked out that way.
CMS Costs & Benefits
CMS platforms have some definite advantages. Most important of these are having direct access to make content changes, the feeling of being in charge of your own website, and savings associated with bringing some website maintenance work in-house.
On the other hand, there are aspects of CMS platforms that need to be closely managed in order to make sure your website is competitive and produces a return on your investment.Let’s discuss what to watch for and how to manage these sites.
CMS platforms are templated environments by definition. This means that many of them start out as carbon copies of each other where the core code is designed to be a one-size-fits-all solution. This is advantageous for persons (and web vendors)who lack deeper engineering talent as it allows them to put up a basic website in a very short time. However, it simultaneously presents a juicy target for hackers who might spend a few hours hacking one website and then apply the same hack to thousands of other websites that are using virtually the same code. This temptation for hackers is a constant challenge for website owners.
Over time,every WordPress website evolves into a patchwork of themes, plugins, and widgets. Core updates to the WordPress engines are also applied from time to time, and all this can introduce potential instability into the system. Because all these modifications come from different sources without any coordination, we also routinely find that compatibility becomes an issue when one plugin interferes with another or a new core update disables certain features or a given widget/plugin. This can often cause performance issues such as slow page load times that will be detrimental to both your SEO and user experience, and are usually difficult and costly to trace.
One of the most attractive aspects of running a WordPress website is the availability of countless so-called “plug-ins” (sometimes called widgets). These are mini-programs that can be installed onto your WordPress website to achieve various functionalities ranging from adding a contact form to installing a photo gallery or a rotating banner, etc. Anyone with a little bit of coding experience can make their own WordPress plugins. Sometimes, these plugins may perform their role well, but also cause unintended (or sometimes intentional) performance or security vulnerabilities.
Because of the modular nature of most CMS platforms, various components can make independent changes to the CMS code.This can introduce inconsistencies in template design features or break the design altogether. These errors can usually be reverted by removing the offending plugin but may go unnoticed by the website owner for a long time until a visitor mentions that some part of the website is broken.
In the early days of CMS, templates were not only unoptimized but were unoptimizable. Over time, more and more templates come with basic optimization features; however, with ever-increasing complexity of search engine algorithms, optimization of WordPress templates also requires more skill. There are tools that allow reasonably comprehensive optimization of WordPress pages, but they do require in-depth knowledge of not only SEO but also of the various plugins being used to manage the optimization of the template. Again, this is far from a clean hands-off solution.
Basic Preventative Maintenance
Many of the common issues with CMS templates can be addressed by keeping an up-to-date installation of the various components of CMS.
- Keep WordPress core files up to date
- Keep the WordPress theme up to date
- Update plugins (widgets) installed on your theme and routinely remove those that are no longer used or required
- Only install themes and plugins from trusted sources
We recommend applying updates with a thorough quality assurance process every time, but especially when updating core and theme files. Depending on the deployment of other components, core updates may take down a website entirely. In order to avoid this, be sure that you:
- Are familiar with how to roll back any updates that might have caused issues
- Create a backup of your CMS database prior to applying major updates
CMS platforms have become quite adequate at allowing creation of a basic website, but without professional help,many will lag for clunky design, glitchy performance, and need for security and performance upgrades that require far too much time on an ongoing basis to be a real hands-off solution or offer significant cost savings without serious risk. Add to this the increasing complexity of search engine optimization, increasing competition in medical marketing, and the occasional deep maintenance that is not possible through the administrative user access, and you’ll come to appreciate that without help from a skilled vendor, templated websites remain far from an ideal solution for all but the most basic of websites and business models.
Given all the above considerations, we can only recommend CMS websites for those practices that possess sufficient in-house personnel/expertise to take advantage of the content-editing capabilities from CMS choices, and for those practices where more advanced requirements of website architecture and custom interactivity are not a requirement. Our strongest recommendation is for practices to seriously consider the costs of CMS platforms when they may not be fully committed to taking advantage of content editing capabilities and potential savings that CMS systems may offer.
Ali Kouros is co-founder of MetaMed Marketing. Ali heads up operations, engineering, productions, and practice marketing for MetaMed.