Wordpress... Worth the Risks?

We've been in the web business a long time, and we know: Static content gets stale. Boring. Overlooked. Customers get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, and then they and click somewhere else. That's just the way people are. Websites need to be current, so that search engines see your website is active and your customers see you're actively providing new deals, great services, and useful products.

Changeability is a fundamental aspect of website design, and is often overlooked by small businesses and amateur developers. Once a website is built, it can't just sit there. It needs to be updated.

So how do you keep your website up to date? Two ways, really. First, you could hire a web programmer to do it for you, and that's a fine solution -- if you have a programming team who's reliable, responsive and skillful. But be warned -- it won't be cheap. Do not be surprised to get billed $90/hour for services like this. Holy cow! Why so expensive? Because programming is an acquired skill in high demand. Even if the overall task is trivial -- say, changing the wording of a paragraph on your website's about page -- the programmer has to log into the server, locate the appropriate file, and make the update without breaking anything. Is that hard to do? Probably not. But do you know how to do it?

Chances are, also probably not.

The other option is to have your web programmers set up a Content Manager, so that you or your staff can update your website inhouse.

CMS

A Content Management System, or CMS, is a new buzzword that's wafting throughout the web. It's become pretty commonplace these days. Just like it sounds, a CMS helps you manage the content of a website. It's basically a layer of software that exists between you and your web server, and knows how to translate your instructions into code the web server understands.

There are a ton of Content Managers out there, many of which are free and "easy to use." At first glance, that sounds awesome, especially for smaller businesses on a tight budget... but have you ever heard the expression, "you get what you pay for?"

The most prevalent CMS out there is WordPress, and that's a little scary. Sure, with WordPress, just about anyone can update their website. The thing is, when you install WordPress -- or any Content Management System, for that matter -- you're installing an interface that can directly access the depths of your website.

Why is that so scary? Think of it like this: Your website is your castle, and the gates are guarded by a complicated maze of pitfalls, traps and dead ends. Woe to those who dare enter malevolently, for only the true nobles who know the maze's solution can breach the castle walls... right?

Well... when thousands of castles are surrounded by the same maze, invaders only need one solution. Once they've found it, thousands of castles are at stake. And here's where this little analogy doesn't do the problem justice, because we're not actually talking about primitive berserkers blundering their way down narrow labyrinth corridors and banging on the walls of a keep. We're talking about simple, automated programs, written by intelligent hackers with malicious intent, that can attack a multitude of websites simultaneously and conquer with the speed of the digital age.

We're not even exaggerating here.

Three Shocking Problems With Wordpress

These are the main problems with WordPress.

1. WordPress is so widespread that the same simple exploit can literally affect tens of thousands of websites.

2. The WordPress codebase is open to the public, clunky, and full of bugs. At the time of this writing (02/2017), it has over 6,000 known Core, Plugin and Theme vulnerabilities. And this list is growing fast. Only seven months ago, that number was just under 4,500. Damn.

3. Installing plugins to extend functionality is as easy as editing actual website content. Which sounds awesome, except for the fact that the plugins are often written by amateur developers who introduce security holes in their immature code. Or, the plugins are written by professional developers who do just the same thing by making silly mistakes.

Do You Really Want To Deal With WordPress Headaches?

Because if you do, you've got your work cut out for you.

First things first, you're going to need a theme -- which, in WordPress speak, is basically a "layout for your website." You can program it yourself, hire a WordPress developer to program it for you, or (what most people do), find a pre-built theme somewhere on the internet and use that. Some of these are free, some of them are commercial packages. You will learn first hand that a common problem with free themes is that customer support is often lackluster at best, and there's no guarantee it will be readily monitored. A common problem with commercial themes is that the developers will outright ignore you unless you create an account on their website and provide proof of purchase. Pretty much all support will be handled in web forums -- not over phone or even email.

If you or anyone else needs to modify the theme in any way, create a child theme and make the modifications there. Do not edit the theme itself. If you do, future updates to the theme will destroy your work -- meaning either the theme can't be updated (dangerous), or you'll have to do the customizations all over again (wasted time).

Next, you're probably going to need to add some functionality to your website; something the theme doesn't inherently do. For instance, you might want a contact form, a slideshow, or a product gallery. WordPress lets you "plug in" functionality with software packages called "plugins." And oh, there are tons of them. If you want your WordPress site to do something, chances are someone's already written a plugin for it. So go crazy and plug in all the functionality you think you need.

Finally, and the most important step of all, keep everything up to date. And we mean everything. Seriously. Make sure you're monitoring the package version of WordPress, your themes, and your plugins. If they're out of date, they may be vulnerable to all sorts of problems, security flaws and hacking. This kind of maintenance is something you need to do thoroughly and often, or the question is not if you'll be hacked, but when.

Did you Know?

If your site gets hacked, google will find out. If you're lucky, it will still show your website in search results, but with a warning to visitors: "The site may be hacked". If you're not lucky, it will remove your website from search results all together. That's right. Just gone. This can be a huge pain to fix, and even if you do fix it, hacked sites suffer long term search ranking penalties.

A Terrible Customer Experience with WordPress

We don't want to mention any names here, but not too long ago a prominent interior design company came to us with a problem: Some of their portfolio pages had disappeared from the website. They were running WordPress using a commercial theme -- which they bought -- written by a group of developers -- who were ignoring them -- so they came to us for assistance.  

The missing pages were still in the WordPress CMS. They hadn't been deleted. After some investigation and reverse engineering, we pieced together what had happened.

It went down like this:

  1. A new version of WordPress came out, so they updated it.
  2. Updating Wordpress broke some of their plugins.
  3. Updating those plugins broke their theme.
  4. Updating their theme:
    1. changed the way the theme's Profile settings were applied
    2. did not remember certain Profile settings that were previously set (so those settings had to be hunted down in their new location and reconfigured)
    3. broke the css layout, which had to be manually fixed by overriding styles (in the Custom CSS Section)

So basically, they did everything they were supposed to do, and WordPress broke anyway.

Do you really want to deal with headaches like these? Because if you don't, we have a much better solution for you.

We Have A Better Solution For You

We absolutely understand the importance of keeping a website up to date, and we get why people use WordPress. It's the Content Manager that everyone else uses, and it's cheap. But WordPress isn't the only solution out there. You have better options.

Introducing the Michigan SEO Group Content Management System

1. Our Content Manager was built in house.

It's codebase is not open to the public, and it's not shared with outside developers. No one else uses it, and to extend the maze analogy, no one else knows its solution.

2. Our Content Manager was written from the ground up with SEO in mind.

It enables you to edit urls, html meta data, body content and image alt text. In fact, it is the main tool our internet marketing directors use to optimize a website for targeted keywords.

3. Our support team is ready to assist.

When you need help, you don't have to sign up for a wordpress account, provide proof you paid for some feature or theme, post a message on a forum, and wait 24 hours for a disingenuous response. Our suport team is a just call or email away, and you can expect a prompt reply from someone you know on a first name basis.

3. Our developers are professionals.

We have been developing websites with custom solutions since 2001, and maintain an excellent track record for security and support. Behind the scenes, our code is lean, powerful, extendable, and efficient. Which means, your data is safe from hackers, and your website loads fast -- enabling people and search engines quick interaction with your content.

But most of all: Our Content Manager is simple to use. Making edits to your website is as easy as typing in a word processor.  Need a fancy layout? No problem. Our Structured Content section allows you to enter information in a simple table (kind of like Excel), and the Content Manger automatically knows how to render that data into a beautiful, responsive design.

If you'd like to learn more about our Content Manager, we'd be happy to give you a tour on how it works. If you'd rather discuss website Design or SEO, give us a call or contact us from the website. We'd love to have a chat with you, and we'll even throw in a free copy of our book on Search Engine Optimization.

If you're interested in a demo, check out our portfolio! All these websites have been built with CMS, so they're simple to update and easy to use.

We look forward to chatting with you soon!