There are many reasons why over 25 percent of the web is powered by WordPress, but one of them is the abundance of excellent plugins that easily solve a variety of specific problems for users. There are over 45,000 free plugins alone, and these are one of the biggest reasons WordPress stands out from other content management platforms.
With nearly 1.4 billion downloads from the WordPress plugin directory and many more downloads of premium plugins directly from developers, it’s clear that plugins are very popular with users. In fact, many plugins are truly vital to the successful running and management of websites.
However, did you know that as much as WordPress plugins can help, that they can also hurt? There are a few factors that can lead plugins to drastically slow down your site performance and can even lead to your site crashing or being vulnerable to a security breach.
Plugins Can Slow Down Your Site
Any web user knows the frustration of a website taking forever to load, and this is a feeling you don’t want visitors to your website to experience. Unfortunately, using too many plugins or using plugins that don’t work well together can significantly limit your site’s speed and overall performance. To understand why this is the case, it helps to know a little bit about how plugins work.
You don’t need to dive deep on this, so for our purposes, we’ll only discuss the two aspects of plugin performance that can negatively affect your site’s performance.
Extra HTTP Requests
Every single file (from content to images to script files) associated with your website uses an HTTP request. Whenever a user visits your site, a different HTTP request is sent to the server to access each and every file. The server then sends the requested content back and the user is able to see all of your website’s content.
Many plugins create additional HTTP requests. The more HTTP requests, the slower your site will be. This is often just a matter of milliseconds, and it may not even be an issue at all for most websites. However, if your site is very large and you have tons of plugins, your site might start to be really bogged down.
In addition to creating additional HTTP requests, another way plugins can potentially negatively affect the performance of your WordPress site is through sending out extra database queries. As you probably know, WordPress relies on the power of a database.
All of your site’s information is stored in this database on your server. Some plugins store information on this database as well, and rely on database queries to both store and retrieve that information. Depending on the size and quality of your server and hosting provider, an excess of database queries can significantly slow down your website’s performance.
Plugins Increase the Probability of Website Crashes
Perhaps the biggest fear of any website administrator is that the site will crash. It’s possible that the use of lots of plugins could lead to your site completely crashing – crashes caused by poorly written plugins.
The challenge is how to determine if a plugin is safe. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to do this. WordPress is an open source project, and anyone is free to create and distribute plugins. Naturally, some of these creators might not exactly know what they are doing.
Plugins Can Add Security Vulnerabilities
The core of WordPress has a history of vulnerabilities and security problems itself and the addition of plugins opens up the potential for more breaches.
Hackers are getting ever more crafty in searching for ways to get access to websites. WordPress plugins sometimes give these hackers a new way in.
Most plugin authors are quick to respond and update their plugins when such a threat is discovered, but unless you are a developer yourself and have significant time to invest in exploring the code in minute detail, it can be nearly impossible to see the vulnerability beforehand.
How Many Plugins is Too Many?
Although many of the factors discussed above (poor coding, plugin conflict, etc.) are bigger factors in how plugins can hurt your site, it is true that an excess of plugins can be damaging. You may be wondering what the magic number is, or what number of plugins you should never go past.
There isn’t really a hard cut-off number, though some WordPress experts have offered numbers as low as 20 as being the threshold you shouldn’t cross. Other experts, though, suggest that the idea that you can have too many plugins is a myth. It is likely that the true issue is not necessarily the number of plugins, but problems within specific plugins.
If all of your plugins have been carefully vetted and all truly make your site better on the front-end and/or the back-end and don’t appear to have a significant impact on your site’s speed and performance, there is no reason you can’t have a lot of them.
What You Can Do
If you’re thinking that you better immediately stop using any WordPress plugins, not so fast. There are things you can do to minimize the risk of plugins negatively impacting your site’s speed and performance. Despite the potential issues, plugins are still a major asset that can absolutely make your site better. The key is learning how to choose wisely which plugins to use.
Stick With Well Regarded Plugins and Authors
Before adding a new plugin, take some time to research it a bit and determine to the best of your ability whether it is safe. Reviews can help to this end, as can seeing how recently the plugin was updated and whether or not it is compatible with your current version of WordPress.
It’s also a good idea to stick to plugins by well-respected developers. But because even the seemingly best plugins can sometimes leave you temporarily vulnerable, it’s vital to regularly backup your site. Our Duplicator plugin simplifies this by allowing you to schedule backups regularly, so you won’t be in danger of losing everything in the event that your site is exploited.
Beware Duplication of Functionality
Before installing a new plugin, check to make sure the plugin’s function isn’t duplicated in an already installed plugin. Some plugins have multiple areas of functionality, so it might not be immediately obvious if a new plugin does something another plugin is already doing.
Take time to check the complete functionality of a new plugin against all of your existing plugins. Duplication of function between plugins can impact your site’s performance by slowing it down or even breaking the site.
Find Resource Hogs With Plugin Performance Profiler
If you have a lot of plugins and you have site performance issues but don’t know which plugins are to blame, you can try a tool like P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). You can also just go through your plugins, disable them one at a time, and see if you notice any difference.
If disabling one plugin makes a big difference to your site’s performance, you’ve found your culprit. If no one plugin stands out, the issue is likely plugin conflict or duplication, and it’s time to carefully go through and vet all of your plugins again to determine which ones you really need.
Test Performance When You Install a New Plugin
When installing a new plugin, it’s a good idea to test your site’s performance before and after installation. There are many tools available to test site speed and overall performance, like Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
If your site’s performance takes a big hit after installation, you may want to consider not using that plugin. You can also make use of a resource like WP Speedster that offers speed and performance information for thousands of plugins.
Minimize Slowdown. A great way to minimize any slowdown that using a lot of plugins can cause is to use another plugin! It sounds counter-intuitive, but the use of a caching plugin can drastically reduce slowdown and can potentially make your site even faster.
Making sure to update your plugins whenever an update is available is a great way to address many of the downsides with plugins. Authors often patch plugins for vulnerabilities, performance issues and general bugs.
Of course, updating plugins comes with it’s own risks so you’ll often want to copy your site to a staging area first then apply the updates there just to make sure you won’t crash your site.
The Bottom Line?
Despite their potential risks, plugins remain one of the things that make WordPress such an attractive platform. Plugins offer vital functionality and simplify back-end management while making the website user experience better.
As long as you choose and manage your plugins carefully, there is no reason the use of plugins will slow down or otherwise harm your site. If an unforeseen security breach or website crash were to happen due to a plugin, you can rest easy when you’ve used Duplicator to create regular backups. Your site can be back up and secure quickly.