January 22, 2015

WordPress is the world’s most popular blogging software and is used by many as a content management system and basic website manager. It is simple to install, easy to change, and comes with loads of plugins to extend functionality and improve usability. In short, WordPress is awesome.

Despite being awesome, WordPress does have a few problems. Chief among its issues are the very plugins that make WordPress so great. Sometimes plugins can be a security risk, impact performance, reduce search engine ranking, or become a compatibility nightmare. Read on to learn why it is possible to have too many WordPress plugins.

Determining If You Have Too Many WordPress Plugins

There are several ways to go about determining if plugins are damaging your website. The first, and most straightforward method of determining if you have too many plugins is to look at page load times and site performance. It should take just 2-4 seconds for a WordPress site to load. Just like large image files take time to load, plugins that make too many server requests or are poorly coded may be slowing down your website. The easiest way to determine if you have this problem is to simply visit your website and see for yourself. If it feels slow, it is slow.

Another way to determine if you have a plugin problem is to take stock of your security problems. If you have issues with hacking, stolen passwords, and other security breaches, then the problem might be a plugin. WordPress itself is fairly robust, so look for suspect plugins before you ditch WordPress.

Finally, if you find that your website is difficult to maintain because you are constantly scrambling to fix bugs, update plugins, or close security loopholes, then you probably have too many plugins. Note that this is a highly subjective measure. What one person considers to be too much maintenance may be easily manageable for another.

Some people will argue that you can never have too many plugins. They claim that poorly coded plugins that are the problem. This is only partially true. Poorly coded plugins are the biggest part of the problem, but you really can have too many. How many it takes to start to affect performance is based on your hardware, your webhost, the quality of the plugins, user load, and a host of other factors. Remember that the more plugins you install, the greater the risk of performance-draining conflicts between them.

How to Audit Your Plugins

Counting plugins is not the way to determine if you have too many. If you find that you have slow load times, problems with security, and are spending too much time maintaining your site, then you need to audit your website to determine which plugins need to go. WordPress itself even recommends removing or deactivating unnecessary plugins to improve performance.

Start by asking yourself if you really need or use a plugin. Often plugins are installed because they sound great, but you end up rarely using them. Pay close attention to plugins that make lots of HTTP requests or query databases frequently because you need to justify all of those extra processing demands with increased use of the plugin. If you don’t use it (or use it infrequently), get rid of it.

Once you have removed plugins that you don’t use, install plugin performance assessment software (there are several options out there). This software will tell you which plugins are impacting performance. If the plugin is a must-have, then either look for a faster alternative or try to figure out a way to tweak the one you have. If you can possibly get rid of the plugin, then scrap it. Note that if you don’t want to invest in another plugin to monitor performance, you can selectively disable plugins and then measure performance to find those that are problematic.

Finally, check to see if the plugin is redundant. That is to say, see if one plugin is doing something that is already done by another plugin or by the WordPress software itself. There is no need to double up on functionality.

How to Choose Good Plugins

To help prevent performance issues from arising, start by choosing good plugins right off of the bat. The first thing to look for is popularity and ratings. If a plugin is popular, then it probably performs well. Read the reviews to see if people have performance issues and pay close attention to details like the webhost they use or the hardware they are working with. This information can tell you a lot about how a plugin will affect your site.

The second metric for determining the quality of a plugin is load time. Look to see if, after installing a plugin, your site still loads in roughly 2-4 seconds. Anything longer than 4 seconds suggests that something is wrong with the plugin or it is causing conflict with other plugins. You can look to see if it is making excessive HTTP requests or if it is querying a database too often.

If you have the skills, a third and excellent way to evaluate a plugin is to look at the code. Evaluating code requires that you reassess plugins each time you update WordPress. Look for plugins that stay up to date as an indicator that they are well-coded and backed by informed programmers.

Too Much Is Not Enough

If you fall into the group of people who insist that they need each and every one of the dozens of plugins they have installed, then you have a couple of options for improving your site. You can start with the simplest option, which is to accept that your site is slow and just live with it.

If the above doesn’t work for you, then you might want to consider downloading a plugin manager. It may seem counterintuitive to install another plugin when you already have too many, but this is a solution that can help. Plugin managers help to cache data and thus reduce the load the plugins place on a sever. They can help a lot or a little, it really depends on what is causing the performance issue.

Keep in mind that you really can have too many WordPress plugins just like you can have too much junk in your garage. Try to part with the plugins you don’t need or use, update those you do use, and eliminate conflicts and redundancy as much as possible. Loading time of a website can make or break it. Users aren’t willing to wait, so eliminate plugins even if it means giving up functionality for speed.

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