Weighing the Downsides of External Content & Widgets


External content and widgets can allow radio station website owners to enhance the functionality and interactivity of their websites. From social media widgets to embedding videos, reviews, and sports scores, external content and widgets can truly transform a website.

However, despite their numerous benefits, integrating external content/widgets can also present several downsides.  Today, we’ll dive into these potential pitfalls so that you have a balanced understanding of how they could negatively affect your website.

What is External Content?

“External content” in the context of web development refers to any content or feature on a website that is not hosted or directly controlled by the website itself but is hosted and controlled by a third-party source.

Here are a few examples of external content:

Embeds: These could be videos (from platforms like YouTube or Vimeo), social media posts (like Instagram photos), or maps (from Google Maps, for example). When you see a YouTube video directly playable on a website, that’s an example of external content.

Widgets: These are small applications that provide specific functionality on a website. Examples include weather widgets, social media feeds, event calendars, and news or sports score tickers.  ScoreStream and AccuWeather widgets as well as Facebook timeline widgets are good examples.

Scripts or APIs: These can range from tracking scripts for analytics (like Google Analytics) to APIs that pull data from external sources like a stock market ticker pulling data from a financial database.  This could also be current weather data being pulled for a plugin that is hosted on your website.

Advertisements: Many websites display ads from external sources. Google AdSense is the most notable one but there are many others.

In all these cases, the website owner incorporates content into their site that is served from somewhere else, hence “external” content. This method has advantages, like providing functionalities without having to develop them from scratch and host them yourself, but there are some potential downsides.

Downsides of External Content

1. Impact Website Performance

The potential impact on performance is the most significant downside of loading external content/widgets on a website. These elements usually result in additional server requests, increasing the load time of your website.

Sometimes these elements can be lazy-loaded, meaning they will load once the page is fully loaded.  However, if your website is not set for this, the page will fully load after that external content is loaded on the page.  So, your page load speed becomes reliant on the widgets to be fast.  And just because they come from reputable sources, does not mean they will always be quick.

Every millisecond counts because website visitors expect a “right now” response.  A slow-loading website can negatively affect the user experience, leading to higher bounce rates and lower user engagement.

2. Steal Your Audience

External content and widgets can distract users from your website’s content and guide them toward other sites – away from your advertisers. This issue is particularly prevalent with social media widgets, news/sports widgets, and embedded RSS feeds.  Just remember – if it links offsite, it’s potentially stealing your audience and revenue.

Therefore, it’s essential to strike a balance while integrating external content and widgets. The content should add significant value and enhance the user experience without being overly distracting or enticing visitors away from your website.

3. Dependency on Third-Party Providers

With external content or widgets, you’re putting a degree of your website’s functionality in the hands of a third party. If the third-party server goes down, it could cause aspects of your site to malfunction or become unresponsive. These outages are beyond your control, and waiting for them to resolve their issues can frustrate you and your users.  Here’s an example of what Twitter widget users experienced when their widgets unexpectedly quit last week.

Nothing to see here.

4. Security Risks

Loading external content/widgets exposes your website to potential security risks. If the third-party provider has poor security measures, it could leave your site vulnerable to cyber-attacks.  For example, you’re displaying an RSS feed from another website, and someone slips nefarious code into their headlines.  This code could not be on your website as well.  Moreover, some unscrupulous providers could use widgets to inject malware into your website, compromising your site’s integrity and endangering your users’ data.  So, be very careful where you get the code or widget from.

5. Inconsistent Branding

It’s very likely that external content/widgets will not match the look and feel of your website. This inconsistency can harm your branding efforts, detracting from the user experience you’ve worked to create. While some widgets allow custom styling, they might still fail to capture your brand’s unique essence fully.

6. Privacy Concerns

Many external content/widgets track user behavior to provide personalized experiences or for advertising purposes. This raises some serious privacy concerns. Recent years have seen significant pushback against intrusive tracking practices, leading to strict data privacy laws.

Using widgets or code that fail to comply to these laws, it may inadvertently place you in a precarious legal position.  This is most important in several states with different unique privacy laws than others.  So, please review the data privacy laws involving the code that you want to place on your website.

7. Increased Complexity

Managing multiple external content/widgets can complicate your website’s administration and maintenance. Every added widget is another code you must understand, configure, and update. This may not be the case with simple embedded code, but there are some plugins that pull external APIs that may need to be updated regularly.  The need to regularly check for these updates or troubleshoot compatibility issues can take valuable time away from focusing on your website’s core content and purpose.

Wrapping Up

While integrating external content/widgets can certainly enrich a website’s functionality, it’s crucial to understand their potential downsides. Prioritizing your website’s performance, security, branding, user privacy, and simplicity should always be at the heart of your decision-making process. Instead of indiscriminately adding externally hosted features, consider each addition carefully and opt for trusted, reliable providers when necessary. We highly discourage any code or widget that takes visitors away from your content and advertisers.  Sometimes having less is better.

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