WordPress Development

Perks & Pitfalls

We love using WordPress as a content management system (CMS) for sites that generate a lot of web content. Although there are other CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla, it is clear that WordPress has now become the most widely used CMS platform in the world. It has also become the framework of choice for third party plugin developers, which offers front end developers like us a lot of backend choices for extending WordPress functionality well beyond that of its blogging roots. But the nature of the platform also creates its fair share of headaches that mandates periodic babysitting with bouts of extreme frustration.

The primary advantage of WordPress - its use of PHP scripting to dynamically build web pages from SQL database content - is also the platform’s (actually, the person charged with maintaining the WordPress site) nemesis. The trouble with WordPress as a development platform is the underlying codebase is a moving target. Although development of the WordPress framework is a team effort, mistakes happen, features are overlooked, bugs are discovered, exploits are made public...developers are not perfect. These errors necessitate periodic updates to the underlying framework code which can dramatically alter the functionality of a previously fully functional WordPress site, even rendering it non-operational altogether.

Many site administrators try to sidestep this problem by simply refusing to install WordPress updates. And here is where the benefit of the PHP scripting backend can cause serious harm to the site and the site’s visitors. The scripting nature of the WordPress codebase exposes it to attacks by hackers who, through mistakes in the scripting code, may gain some measure of access to the site’s backend. Exploits such as these can permit hackers to deposit rogue code designed to launch attacks against unsuspecting site visitors, often consuming vast amounts of server resources. In a shared web server environment (common to most WordPress installations), a single compromised installation can cripple an entire server, leading to poor response times for all hosted sites on that box. Consequently, most hosting companies worth their rates will force you to maintain an up-to-date WordPress codebase and may terminate your account if you fail to do so.

The difficulty in remaining current with WordPress updates lies in the way these updates react to your site customizations. If your WordPress site is built on a theme other than a default theme provided by WordPress, you may experience theme functionality issues after installing WordPress updates. Generally, your theme developer will update the theme's code to remain funcational with the current WordPress codebase. These theme updates must then be installed over your existing site's template files. However, it's not uncommon for theme developers to deprecate older themes and rollup necessary compatibility updates into entirely new themes, potentially requiring a complete redevelopment of your existing site.

In addition to theme compatibility issues, WordPress codebase updates can adversely affect the functionality of any plugins installed to enhance your WordPress site. Most WordPress plugins are free and, as such, receive very little ongoing support from their authors. A plugin responsible for sliding various images in your homepage header, for example, that previously functioned may fail to function with the revised codebase. If the plugin developer discontinues development, then you’re stuck looking for an alternative or writing your own, all while trying to restore at least some semblance of functionality to your public facing site.

We manage nearly 30 WordPress installations for our clients who enjoy the fact that we shield them from all of these complexities. Their WordPress sites stay current regardless of complexity. Their sites are hosted at a very reputable private hosting company that closely monitors its servers for outdated WordPress installations and other exploitable security holes. And our clients' sites consistently score very high performance metrics, resulting in an enjoyable browsing experience for viewers. If you would like to leverage the content management capabilities within WordPress without worrying about platform management, contact us - we can help!

About Aaron J. Courtney

Aaron J. Courtney is the Director of Technical Production at CenterStage Media. He brings media production, marketing, web development, and graphic design skillsets to the firm. He began working with film cameras at age nine and has served in various media post production capacities for over 15 years. Connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn and follow CenterStage on Twitter and Google+.

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