“Let’s install a plugin for that.”
That is one of those phrases that make us cringe every time we hear it. Yes, WordPress makes it super easy to add certain functionality with the use of plugins, but what is the trade off to those plugins?
There are an awful lot of plugins out there as you can see below — just over 49K WordPress plugins that can do everything from run a membership community to speeding up your website. Whatever you need – it is probably out there.
But downloading plugins for everything you need may not be the best option! We are going to cover some things you should consider before being too quick with downloading multiple plugins.
HOW MANY PLUGINS ARE TOO MANY?
There is no “right” or “wrong” amount of plugins to have on your website. Only have what you need and delete what you don’t!
The issue is never about how many plugins you have – but what benefit are you receiving from them versus the load time or security risks they may be adding.
Below are some things to consider when considering plugins for your website.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS FROM HAVING TOO MANY PLUGINS
Plugins are one of the most common ways hackers access websites. In a Wordfence survey 55.9% of website owners who had their website compromised confirmed it was due to a plugin.
The plugins that act as access points for hackers are often allowed in through poor code or lack of updating – which is why we stress the importance of carefully reviewing plugins before installing them.
Just take a peak at a list compiled by WP White Hat Security that shows WordPress Plugin vulnerabilities from December 2016.
Some plugins also require running “database queries” which means it has to dig into your database for information to load when the page loads. Both of these situations can greatly affect your page load times.
So every plugin you add – adds more “things” that need to be served to your visitor, the longer it will take the page to load.
In the image below from a website we tested shows just how many requests the website has to make before it can load the home page – 213! That is a LOT of images, JS files, Stylesheets and other elements that need to be accessed by the server before the page can be delivered. A 12.3 second download time can make all the difference in losing or keeping a reader.
Some of the worst types of plugins are those that have to pull information from OTHER websites. So when you add plugins like advertising blocks that are pulling ads from a 3rd party website or those popular Facebook page boxes that show a like button and your current fans — you are relying on THOSE websites to load fast and return the data quickly.
This website sample below has a lot of ads on the website as well as plugins that they may not necessarily need like Google Analytics and Alexa certify.
Not all plugins play nice together! Because of all the code and scripts used in many plugins, every once in a while we will find a few that do not work together.
As an example in the past we had a client who was using Yoast SEO and a plugin for an administrative functionality they needed. Yoast SEO did not like that plugin and rendered the SEO functionality on the post edit page useless. So every time we updated the SEO plugin – we had to add some code to make them play well together.
This can happen at any time — just because all your plugins play nicely now, does not mean they will in the future.
DO YOU REALLY NEED THAT PLUGIN?
Website owners should really think about whether or not a plugin is “CRUCIAL” to the functionality of a website before installing it.
Plugin example: we often see clients have installed a plugin to be able to get Google Analytics tracking installed.
But this is something that can be easily done by grabbing the script from your Analytics account and installing it directly in your functions file or theme code.
Comment moderation plugins are another one. We have never used one. On sites where we use native WordPress commenting we actually use the core WordPress anti-spam functionality, which if done right can block a lot of the spam comments websites are known to receive.
When we custom code a website we analyze every aspect of the functionality a website needs to determine fi we can code it or if it makes more sense to use a plugin.
Real client example: we recently completed a website for rangelands.org – on many of their pages they had a lot of content that needed to be shared and we wanted to do it in the cleanest way possible and opted for “tabbed” content on those pages.
We could have installed a plugin to handle the tab functionality, but instead we chose to code it in manually by adding JS code and custom fields. By doing it this way we were able to limit the code needed and we avoid the need for future plugin updates.
TIPS FOR SEARCHING FOR PLUGINS
ANALYZING THE SEARCH RESULTS
Below are just a few of the more important things you should look at when reviewing whether or not to use a plugin. Let’s say we want to find a plugin to create Pricing Tables (although we personally would custom code this, we understand not everyone can!) – here is how we would approach our search.
Visit the WordPress Plugins directory and enter Pricing Tables in the search box. You will see a list of all the available plugins as shown in the image below.
What you want to look for in your initial review:
1) LAST UPDATED date – this shows how good the developer is at keeping things updated.
2) COMPATIBLE up to date – this lets you know the version of WP that it works with. If you do not see the latest version of WP here it is probably best to move on.
TIP: If you need to know the latest version of WordPress that is available, go here where you can see a list of all versions.
3) ACTIVE INSTALLS – shows the number of websites the plugin is being used on – a good indicator of popularity.
4) STAR RATING – shows the overall satisfaction of a plugin by its users. But keep in mind a 5 star rating by 2 users is much less meaningful than a 5 star review by 10,000.
5) PLUGIN AUTHOR – we look at this for every plugin. We prefer to use plugins by well known authors that have a following and reputation like Automattic, Photocrati, Yoast etc.
All of the above you can see at a glance from the search results page – so you should be able to narrow down your options to 1 or 2 that you would like to consider.
For this example we may want to take a deeper look at Pricing Table Builder – Easy Pricing Tables to use on our website since it is recently updated, has a lot of active installs and a good amount of positive reviews.
ANALYZING THE PLUGIN DETAILS
Now that we have an idea of what plugins we may be interested in installing to handle our pricing tables, we may want to take a deeper look at the plugin we are considering.
So I take a peak at the Pricing Table Builder – Easy Pricing Tables plugin page – you can see the screenshot below.
Here is what we look at on this page – all located in the right sidebar:
1) RATINGS – just to see more details about the overall ratings. I do see they have (13) 1 star reviews, so I may want to look into those by clicking the 1 star link. After looking at those reviews, it seems most are older and not really giving any good feedback for the rating – so nothing in there really concerns me.
Remember no matter how hard you try you will always have some people who do not like what you offer! We keep in mind that most plugins are free — so the expectations of users need to be taken into consideration. Some will install a plugin – not read the instructions and immediately say it does not work.
We do also look at some of the other ratings as well to get more details about the good, the bad and the ugly of a plugin!
2) SUPPORT – in the right column you will see a support area that shows how many support threads there are and how many have been marked resolved. If there are a high number of threads with no resolve – it is something you need to consider. Click VIEW SUPPORT FORUM to actually see the forum threads and activity.
We also encourage you to look at the support area even AFTER you install a plugin to determine how actively it is being supported. A slow down in support CAN mean an impending lack of support in the future – not always, but sometimes!
3) COMPATIBILITY – this area allows users of the plugin to note whether an update has affected them in some way. By choosing the WP version and Plugin version it can be noted that their may be a compatibility issue which will allow the plugin developer an opportunity to review and fix the plugin.
MAINTAINING YOUR PLUGINS
It is just as important to maintain your plugins as it is to choose them! Plugins can sometimes go dormant and not be updated by the original creator – it is important to know this before it is too late!
We monitor our clients websites who host with us monthly to ensure that all plugins are kept up to date and are still actively supported. For the more popular plugins like Yoast SEO, Wordfence, Sitemap XML or any other of the more popular plugins we just make sure the latest version of their plugin is compatible with the latest version of WP – then do our updates.
For smaller and lesser known plugins that may be installed we actually visit the plugin page bi-monthly to ensure there is still activity going on. By doing this we actually averted a client disaster when a plugin they were using to manage a fleet of cars went dormant and people were beginning to report vulnerabilities in the code. We immediately removed that plugin and found a new way to create that same functionality – if we did not do this plugin check, he may have risked being hacked.