Can a WordPress website have too many plugins?

March 26, 2018

One of the great things about WordPress is the great range of plugins available – over 10,000 at the last count. Plugins can be used to design almost any type of website without starting from scratch. But can a WordPress website have too many plugins?

In this post, I argue that you can have too much of a good thing. WordPress plugins are a double edged sword: They can be a great asset, but also pose some problems you should be aware of.

WordPress plugins are great, right?

WordPress plugins allow you to add a huge range of features to your website. Social media integration, discussion forums, online polls, security features, contact forms, e-commerce online shops – the list goes on. You can mix and match plugins to design your ideal website with no technical or programming expertise. Plugins allow anyone to be a WordPress designer.

But there is a downside.

As a professional WordPress designer, I’m often reminded of this when I’m asked to troubleshoot for a WordPress website we didn’t design. This usually happens when someone has designed their own website and got stuck; or if they have upgraded WordPress and their website no longer works.

Having too many WordPress plugins can cause a range of problems.

Reduced website performance and page load times

The simpler the website, the better it’s likely to perform.

Most website owners know that large image files take a long time to load. But not many people realise that too many plugins can cause the same problem.

Each plugin has to integrate with WordPress. This means that more processing is needed each time a page is loaded, and your visitors have to wait for this to happen.

As well as annoying your visitors, a slow website can damage your search engine position.

(Of course, not all plugins reduce your website’s performance. Some are designed to enhance it. We recommend installing either W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache for all WordPress websites, as they actually improve page load times.)

Increased security risks

The more complex a website, the higher the risk of security loopholes for hackers to exploit. Plugins make a website more complex. So having too many plugins can make your website less secure.

Harder to maintain

A good WordPress plugin developer will release regular updates for their plugins. These contain feature enhancements, bug fixes and close any security loopholes that have been discovered. If you have lots of WordPress plugins then it’s more work to keep them updated.

But more importantly, having too many WordPress plugins can cause big problems when you perform updates.

Each plugin has to interact with WordPress, the website’s theme and any other plugins that are installed. When your website was first designed, it was tested to ensure that everything worked well together. When you update WordPress, the theme or any plugins, you’re basically changing the website’s code. The changes that have been introduced may conflict with other elements on the website so they no longer work together properly. The worst case scenario is that there may be a serious conflict that breaks the whole website (see my recent blog post on updating WordPress safely for more advice on this.)

The more plugins a WordPress website has, the more likely these conflicts are to arise.

How many WordPress plugins is too many?

There’s no hard and fast rule, as it depends on the type of website. A simple brochure-style website should only need a few WordPress plugins, providing important features like SEO, security and performance – any more than 10 is probably unnecessary. A more complex, feature-rich WordPress website is likely to need more than this.

Rather than counting the number of plugins, a good rule of thumb is simply to have as few as possible.

But if you’re looking for numbers then however big your website, if you have several dozen plugins then it’s probably too many.

Audit your WordPress plugins

In your website’s WordPress admin, click on ‘Plugins’ and read down the list. Look at each one and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do I really need it?
  • Have you left any plugins installed that you didn’t end up using? Lots of people try a few different WordPress plugins when they first design their website, before choosing the one that works best. Make sure you’ve deleted any you didn’t use – don’t just leave them sitting there.
  • Look for any WordPress plugins that are deactivated (these are easy to spot as they’re greyed out). If you’re not using a plugin, delete it. Even deactivated plugins can have some impact on performance and make a website less secure.
  • Use P3 Plugin Performance Profiler to identify any slow plugins.
  • Does the plugin do something that is already being done by something else? Some common examples are:
    • Having the WordPress SEO plugin and a separate XML sitemap plugin installed. WordPress SEO includes sitemap functionality, so you don’t need a sitemap plugin too.
    • Having a Google Analytics plugin installed when a space for your Analytics tracking code is already built into your website theme.
    • Having the Contact Form 7 plugin installed when your website theme has in-built contact forms (for example, via a ‘Contact’ page template that you can select on the Edit Page screen).

But I need all my plugins!

Before saying this, think again. Are they REALLY that vital? Do your visitors really click on your social sharing buttons - what would happen if you removed them? Your tag cloud may look pretty, but is it really helping people to navigate the site?

It’s great fun to add cool features to a WordPress website with the click of a button. But it’s easy to get carried away. You can often tell at a glance when a website has too many plugins - every possible feature has been squeezed in, with no overall planning as to how they will contribute to user experience. For a professional result, each WordPress plugin should be added in a planned way and integrated into the overall design of the site. This is often forgotten in sites with too many plugins. Take a close look at your site and consider whether you’ve fallen into this trap.

If you have dozens of WordPress plugins that are genuinely vital to your site then it might be time for a redesign. When a WordPress website becomes this complex, it’s generally better to design it more holistically rather than bolting on huge numbers of plugins. Work with a WordPress designer to think through your requirements from scratch and design a system around your needs. This may cost more initially, but will mean you get exactly what you want and should reduce your maintenance costs.

But in most cases, a simple audit of your WordPress plugins can really tidy up your site. Remove any you don’t really need. Then sit back and benefit from improved performance, security and reduced maintenance costs.

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