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WordPress Plugin Best Practices: Why Less Is More

How many plugins are enough? That’s one of the questions that constantly baffles WordPress users and sparks a continuous debate in the WordPress community.

Novice website owners often install as many plugins as possible, irrelevantly whether they actively use them on their website or not. With more than 55,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s easy for an inexperienced user to feel enthusiastic like a flip trader in a thrift store. That’s where the main problem with too many plugins lies.

By installing too many plugins on your WordPress site you can cause numerous performance issues. With more than 40% of visitors leaving slow-loading websites after 3 seconds, it’s important now more than ever to think about the plugins that you add to your site.

Also, a big number of plugins can pose multiple security issues. As more plugins are being added, the greater the chance that some of them can be exploited by hackers due to their vulnerabilities.

Without further ado, let’s see how too many plugins can cause problems, and how to successfully manage their number through WordPress plugin best practices.

What Is a WordPress Plugin?

Plugins are a way to increase and supplement the functionalities of your WordPress site. They provide you with customized features that you can use to adjust the website to their specific requirements.

There are plugins for anything you can think of, from starting an online store to creating a job board and wiki website, improving your SEO and security, boosting performance, and so much more. With that being said, where can you find good plugins for your site?

The WordPress plugin directory is the safest way to get the plugins that you need. Each plugin in the directory is manually examined by developers from WordPress. These plugins must meet rigorous guidelines to enter the directory, so the chances of spamming your site are pretty low.

Featured WordPress plugins list

Most plugins are free to download, install, and use. For that reason, it’s understandable that new users go overboard and install too many plugins. But sometimes, more does not always mean better!

Some plugins can deplete your database, grow the number of queries and destroy the performance of your website. If a plugin is properly-coded you shouldn’t have to worry about those issues. But, it’s something to take into account before deciding to install it.

The Problems with Having Too Many Plugins

a person having website problems as a reuslt of too many plugins

The WP plugin issues can be caused by the plugins that you install, their coding structure, and whether they’re active or not, among other factors. Plugins are an integral part of WordPress and can be really useful. However, the more plugins you install on your site, the greater the risk for serious problems on your site.

When you discover how easy it is to install and use WordPress plugins, you might be tempted to install 20-30 plugins at once. This is where the problems start.

First of all, your website may become slow. Each of those plugins has its PHP, JavaScript, and other files that affect the performance of the site. Moreover, when you run too many plugins at once, conflicts between them can happen that can cause the website to crash.

Additionally, some plugins are poorly coded or haven’t been updated for a long time which can make your site easier to hack into. Furthermore, some plugin authors may stop updating their plugins. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye out for regular updates. If a plugin hasn’t been updated for a year, consider replacing it.

HTTP Requests Growth

HTTP requests are request-response protocols that a browser sends to your site’s server to request data and loads the page for the visitors as a result. Some plugins need extra CSS styling, imagery, and JavaScript to work properly. They produce the extra HTTP requests. The server fetches the requested data and serves it up to the browser.

The more HTTP requests, the more resources from your server are used, and if all your server is used up, it will crash. That’s not a good situation to be in because your visitors won’t be able to see the website unless you restore everything and get it working again.

Each HTTP request takes time to be completed. Hence, the more HTTP requests, the more time it takes for them to be processed and as a result, you’ll have a slower loading time for your website.

Excessive Database Queries and Database Bloating

The greater part of your WordPress site is stored in the database. Each page load requests data from your database and that process takes time and resources.

Much like HTTP requests, the more queries that are sent to your database, the more database needs to work. As a result, the whole performance of your site suffers.

The more plugins, the more data must be retained in the WordPress database. Because your database and your server have limited storage space, the more information you store, the more it becomes bloated.

This is a problem that makes the database inefficient, which automatically results in a slow loading website. If each of the numerous plugins is activated, the problem can become even bigger. Even deactivated plugins can still store data in your database and generate bloat.

Problems

The more plugins, the higher the chances of facing a plugin compatibility problem. Plugin incompatibility happens when two or more plugin codes don’t work well together, forcing each other to break.

Of course, there are so many plugins available and that is pretty remarkable! But the fact is that not every plugin is created by an expert. That’s where often the problem with plugin incompatibility starts. In most cases, plugin incompatibility occurs due to:

  • Both or more plugins working on an identical feature, but in completely different ways.
  • Plugins are developed with different and non-updated WordPress versions.
  • Badly-coded plugins.

If you notice any inconsistencies in how your website works, or if plugin becomes unstable, it may come as a result of plugin incompatibility.

Security Gaps

An inexperienced plugin developer can easily miss out on a security gap in the plugin which is not obvious at first glance. The more plugins installed, the higher the risk that one of those plugins can be utilized by a hacker to exploit and infect your website.

We all know that plugins are created to make the community a better place. Despite that, hackers often hide behind the mask of kindness and use plugins to insert hostile codes on websites.

A plugin should be much more than functional, and there shouldn’t be any room for security gaps. If you don’t know anything about the developers that created the plugin, you can’t know their intentions or their level of competence. Even without malicious intentions, their incompetence can lead to an error that can cause serious damage to a site.

Resolving the Problems Caused by Too Many Plugins

We’ve already established that if you’re inexperienced and install all sorts of plugins on your WordPress website, security and performance problems are inevitable. In that regard, what are the possible solutions for the plugin pitfalls mentioned above?

Use Only the Necessary Plugins

If you run a small blog website, you may only need one or two plugins. But with larger websites, you may need tens of plugins to make everything work. The crucial thing to keep in mind here is to use only the plugins that are genuinely necessary for your site.

When you partner up with true WordPress professionals, you’ll find that there are tons of less-known features in the WordPress core that can help you add the functionality that you’re looking for in a plugin. By inserting the right CSS or JavaScript snippet, you can avoid the extra plugin code, and improve the performance of your site at the same time.

Check if you have inactive plugins as well. An inactive plugin that you don’t use can cause severe security problems because hackers can use the plugin’s vulnerabilities to access to your website. To delete the inactive plugins, log in to your website, go to “Plugins” in your WordPress dashboard, then click “Deactivate” and then “Delete” under each inactive plugin.

deactivating WordPress plugins

Use Only Credible Plugins

You only need plugins with a positive track record. For example, when choosing a smartphone, you’d be better off with an iPhone than with a brand that you’ve barely know. The same goes for plugins. You need to install or purchase plugins that have positive reviews and proven success.

Look when the plugin was last updated. It’s visible in the plugin description.

Regular WordPress plugin updates

Image source: Jetpack

The best plugins are updated frequently! If a plugin has not been updated in the last twelve months, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t use that plugin.

Also, the number of active installations is a strong factor in choosing a credible plugin. Go for plugins with 100,000+ active installations and 4+ stars rating!

big number of active installation of a WordPress plugin

Image source: bbPress

Make sure that the plugin authors offer support. There are many free and credible plugins offer excellent support.

WordPress plugin support tickets

Image source: BuddyPress Support

Besides plugin reputation, you should also verify the reputation of the plugin developers. Open the plugin author’s name and check how many plugins they’ve developed and whether they contribute to the WordPress community or not.

Review their support threads to see if they’ve actively resolved tickets. Analyze their website, and look for more information. Check if they have detailed support documentation and if their website looks like they’re credible.

Be extra careful with developers who only have a single plugin and are not proactive in the community and support forums. Having only one plugin is not necessarily a red flag, however, you must be extra careful by pre-checking everything.

Regular Plugin Updates

Plugins get regular updates all the time. These include security patches, so it’s very important to update your plugins as soon as you see that one is available. Keeping your WordPress installation up-to-date is also very important.

For any plugin that you use or you intend to install on your site, verify the date of the last update. Also, ensure whether the plugin is compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

At times, that can also be a sign that the developer doesn’t want to maintain the plugin, which results in a lack of new functionalities. Again, avoid plugins that have not been updated in the last year.

Check the Plugin Compatibility

In most cases, plugin incompatibility is easy to discover. You just need to detect the plugin/s that are causing the compatibility issue/s. One of the ways to do it is by deactivating your plugins one at a time and refreshing your site after each deactivation to determine if the issue has been resolved.

Open your WordPress dashboard, and go to Plugins. Under each plugin, you’ll see the button “Deactivate”. Start by deactivating just one plugin.

deactivating WordPress plugins

Refresh your website, and confirm whether that is the problematic feature. If the issue is resolved, you’ve just found the culprit, and if not, repeat the same steps until the problem is resolved.

When you find the plugin that has caused the compatibility issue, first, you can uninstall and reinstall it to see if the problem is solved. Or, if you need the plugin and can’t find an alternative, you need to get in touch with its developers and ask them for some help in fixing the compatibility error.

It is impossible to completely eradicate plugin incompatibility. However, certain steps can help you reduce the risk of WordPress plugin problems:

  • Ensure that your plugins are compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
  • Examine if the plugins have been regularly updated. Avoid any that have not been updated within the last year.
  • Read user reviews. If there are too many compatibility complaints, avoid installing it.

Another thing, there might be some plugins that are still not compatible with the Gutenberg Editor.

If a plugin exposes functionalities in the Classic Editor, open the Gutenberg Editor and check if you can perform the same functional task. If the plugin is compatible, everything should work fine.

Common incompatibilities include:

  • An “Add Media” button in the Classic Editor, which doesn’t exist in Gutenberg.
  • A metabox in Gutenberg that isn’t fully-functional.

Seeking Help from Experts

Whether you’re a new WordPress user or you are looking for a custom plugin for your site, this is a good time to hire a WordPress expert. WordPress professionals can help solve these problems and save you trouble in the long run.

At DevriX, we create custom plugins and solutions that perform only the necessary functionalities. This enhances your WordPress performance and removes the excessive overhead. We analyze and optimize every single component and detail of your web platform.

We also optimize existing plugins, remove unnecessary components and features, and we create plugins that work well together. When the plugin architecture isn’t stable or easily detachable, we can develop custom-tailored plugins that will address your problems in the best way possible, optimized both for speed and UX.

Wrapping Up

It’s time to analyze your WordPress website and ensure that all of the current plugins that you’re using are necessary. Examine your list of plugins. See if you have similar ones that do the same thing and if any of them are causing security and performance issues.

Remember that less is more when it comes to plugins. Consider what type of extra functionality are you looking for. Have a detailed plan of what you’ll be using the plugin for, and how your business and your customers would benefit from using that plugin. More importantly, you need to determine whether or not each one increases the value and functionality of your website.

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