Less is More: WordPress Plugins vs. Custom Coding for Websites
How websites deal with what’s known as “plugins” is a critical factor in their performance. Plugins, also referred to as “add-ons,” are essentially software installations that add certain features and other customized elements to the capabilities of a website. These features can be incredibly useful and help dental or medical websites provide viewers with a unique and efficient experience; however, plugins developed for general use versus features that are custom coded for a website can have some drawbacks. We talked with Brian Ambrose, one of Rosemont Media’s talented Web Development Managers, about the pros and cons of plugins and why websites that are developed with excessive plugins rather than custom coding can end up causing huge problems.
Should Plugins Be Avoided Altogether?
According to Brian, the quick answer to this question is no. “It’s important to note that plugins aren’t inherently bad. Plugins extend the functionality of your site—and some are crucial to building a high-quality modern website. However, using too many plugins—and plugins from questionable sources—can cause performance issues as well as security vulnerabilities that can have long-lasting negative effects on your site.”
While plugins can provide vital benefits in terms of making your site what you want it to be for your practice and the website’s viewers, inefficient or unsecure use of them can result in significant weaknesses and may create major problems. “Anyone can add a plugin to the WordPress Plugins repository (there are currently around 59,000 plugins on it). Not all plugins are created equally, and not all will be maintained in the future. Often, a plugin will be created by someone to solve a specific problem but not updated once newer versions of their supporting software have been updated. This can cause security issues as well as coding issues. Plugins with outdated code can break an entire site if they are using code that is no longer supported.”
Brian says one of the most serious repercussions of having too many plugins on a site is the effects they can have on speed. It’s been well-documented that large percentages of website visitors may click away from the site if it takes too long to load (even as little as three seconds). “Plugins are blocks of code that get added to the site. Each one you use adds more code that the browser has to process. Installing too many plugins will inevitably slow your site down because the browser and servers have to process more code. What’s worse is that it’s possible for the plugins to have conflicting code that can actually break or nullify the effects of each other. Having too many plugins can also make it hard to manage and keep up with which plugins are staying up to date.”
What Are the Security Risks of Plugins?
Plugins that aren’t from reputable sources and/or those that have not been updated can increase the risk of a website crash or a massive security breach. These effects can create an enormous mess that can be extremely time-consuming and costly to clean up. Disreputable and/or outdated plugins may increase the risk of opening the door to malicious code, viruses, and malware that can result in the takeover of a computer device, data loss, data theft, and other negative impacts. Again, this is not to say that one should never use third-party plugins, but it is possible for them to introduce risks and potential vulnerabilities that need to be considered. Understanding the risks of plugins, being strategic and thoughtful when it comes to determining which plugins to use and how to properly maintain them, and knowing what to do to enhance the security of plugins is essential to mitigating the possible complications.
With all of this in mind, the trick is to know the pros and cons of plugins so that you and the developer/host of your website can utilize them in a way that maximizes their advantages and minimizes the potential for harm. When it comes down to it, Brian says a “less is more” approach to plugins is typically best. “By using a small number of reputable plugins, along with a suite of locally built and constantly maintained plugins, we keep a balance of adding needed functionality without adding unnecessary bloat to our sites.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on September 1, 2020.