What are WP plugins, and how many should you install on your blog or website? Can there be too many active plugin installations? This article answers those questions and other FAQs.
WordPress plugins are like smartphone apps for websites. Many of them are free, easy to add, and quick to configure. These bits of software add smart features and interactive functions to websites at the back and front end. Written in PHP language, plugins work seamlessly with WP sites, blogs, and online stores. Despite the appeal, it’s important to use them sparingly.
The official WordPress (WP) directory has over 55,000 plugins to choose from as of 2020. There are also thousands of premium third-party options as well as free ones.
How Many WordPress Plugins Are Too Many
There’s no fixed number to say how many WordPress plugins are too many. It depends on how big your site is and the type of project. The critical factor, though, is not so much the quantity of plugins, but their quality. Before you download anything, ask yourself if it’s a must-have extra? If not, you may as well skip it and focus only on those you deem essential.
Plugin health matters
Checking the health of a plugin before you download it is a good habit to get into. It can be tempting to grab something by a catchy headline. Try not to fall for this trap.
These 6 checks can help you to make better-informed decisions.
- How many downloads have the plugin got?
- When was it last updated?
- Is it compatible with the current version of WordPress?
- Consider the star rating and any user feedback
- How fast and thorough is the author’s response to comments?
- Is it in WordPress’s latest plugin vulnerabilities list
Not all plugins are equal
Plugins add functionality to enhance the site and user experience. Developers write them in PHP code, the same as WordPress. PHP utilises resources directly from the hosting server. But more plugins also mean browsers have more code to load. That said, well-written code should have minimal to no impact on page speeds.
Here are some of the reasons plugins can cause issues with a website:
- Performs complex operations
- Performs remote requests
- Loads numerous scripts and styles
- Adds additional database queries to web pages
You don’t need to wear a tech hat to work this stuff out, especially with well-established plugins. Use the 6-point checklist above before you commit to anything. The highly-rated options are popular for good reasons. Most are quality programs that meet the site owner’s expectations.
Why Limit Plugin Installations?
More plugins mean more maintenance. Also, every major WordPress update can affect how your installed plugins work or don’t work. Outdated WordPress apps sometimes cause site conflicts and may even break pages.
Here are 3 potential’ negative sides to plugins that all webmasters should heed:
- Impacts page speed and slows performance
- Weaken security
- Conflicts with other active plugins
#1 Impact speed and performance
It’s easy to learn of the advantages of any WordPress plugin by its description. It’s more of a challenge to find out what—if any—its negatives are. Unfortunately, some plugins come at a price in that they can harm a site’s performance. It’s not always easy to find the culprit if you have many of them installed?
#2 Weakened security
There are WordPress plugins that enhance security, but others may also weaken it. The more there are, the higher the risk. Problems are most likely to occur with active plugins that have poorly written code. Developers who write bad code leave open doors for hackers. One way to detect vulnerabilities is to use a plugin that scans for security issues.
The Sucuri Scanner is an excellent example of a WordPress security plugin. It has over 700,000 active installations at the time of writing, and a 4.5 score out of a 5-star rating. No webmaster should take WP security lightly, and the more protection one has, the better.
Related reading: How to Limit Login Attempts to Your WordPress Dashboard
#3 Conflicts with other active plugins
A common frustration for site owners is when one plugin triggers a conflict with another. The more there are, the greater this risk. The feature-rich ones tend to be the biggest culprits, so fault-finding should start with those. Outdated software is another common cause, so check the program’s details in your plugins screen.
Here are three potential problem areas to look out for with active plugins:
1.. A new version is available, but the user hasn’t updated it
2.. The plugin version hasn’t been tested with the latest release of WordPress
3.. The plugin is no longer supported (maintained) by the author
Visit the plugin download page if you’re unsure about compatibility or updates.
How to find conflicting plugins in WordPress
ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR WORDPRESS BLOG OR SITE BEFORE YOU MAKE ANY CHANGES
The best way to fault-find is to deactivate the major ones first. Remember to refresh the page (F5) before you check the results if the conflict is at the front end. You might have to deactivate all the plugins and reactivate them one at a time if this doesn’t work.
The more WP plugins you have, the longer this takes. It’s the only way, other than restoring the site to a previous date when you knew everything worked.
You can bulk Deactivate all plugins, and then Activate them one at a time, testing as you go:
How to prevent plugin conflicts
It’s not possible to prevent all plugin conflicts, but you can certainly reduce the chance. The best way to do this is to update plugins one at a time rather than collectively as a bulk action. It’s not wise to keep outdated plugins activated unless you test them. Remember, it’s quick and easy to Deactivate, Delete, Replace, or Reactivate plugins from your WP Dashboard.
Make use of support forums
WordPress has a friendly global community. It’s where fans of the platform go to share ideas, pass on tips, and help with issues. Forums are an excellent resource if you’ve identified a plugin conflict that you don’t know how to fix. Others may well have experienced the same issues before you. You can search the official WordPress Support Forums here.
Types of WordPress Plugins
There are two types of WordPress plugin. One is for the back-end, which is where the administrator builds and maintains the site. The other is at the front end, or live website. The job of front end plugins is to improve the site’s appearance and or enhance visitor interaction. There are several thousand available, and more coming onto the market all the time.
Here’s a breakdown of the main categories that WordPress plugins fall under:
Back-end (administrator) plugin categories include:
- Page builders
- Design plugins
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Front-end (visitors) plugin categories include:
- Login forms for member sites
- User feedback widgets
- Polls and surveys
- Mobile optimisers for fixed themes
- Live chat
There’s sure to be a plugin that lets you add whatever feature or function you want.
Don’t Use a Plugin when a Widget Will Do
Plugins are more powerful than WordPress widgets (tiny blocks of content). But forget the former if a simple sidebar widget has what you need. Although widgets can occasionally cause conflicts with plugins, such occurrences are unlikely.
Read: How to Add and Use Widgets in WordPress for more.
Get to Know WordPress Plugins and Screens
Small, lightweight plugins are less likely to cause issues than feature-rich ones. Some come in a Lite version, so look out for those if they offer what you want. Another way to reduce conflicts is to go into a plugin’s settings page and disable any of its features you don’t need. The secret here is to use only what’s necessary and disregard the rest. Try to ignore the ‘Free’ bait.
Do a few searches for plugins if you’re new to WordPress. Read some of the descriptions and user feedback to get a feel for these small programs. Deactivate and delete any you don’t need. Too many plugins can cause clutter for your visitors and conflicts for your site.
Take some time to familiarise with the Plugins’ screen in your WP Dashboard if you’re new. The image below highlights all the main areas of interest. Click the View Details link (red arrow) to view the specifics for any of your installed plugins.
The details pages are a great way to view information about the selected plugin. You can also see the star ratings and get to read the latest feedback from real users (example below).
People often go overboard with free plugins, especially new site owners. They download and activate way more than necessary just because they can. It cost nothing to test plugins on your site, and that’s to be encouraged. But always remember to discard those you don’t need.