How many WordPress Plugins is too many for your site?

Whenever I do any WordPress performance optimisation work, one of the first things people ask or put in the email when emailing me is “It’s got a lot of plugins on the site.” I usually have one response – “There’s no such thing as too many plugins”. Sure, having a lot of plugins can be a sign of slowdown, but it is not necessarily it’s the case. In this post I’m going to share my thoughts on WordPress plugins and when they should be used.

Understanding Plugins

First I think we should understand what plugins are. Plugins are – with a few exceptions – small programs that extend the functionality within WordPress. Some plugins are small, but some need to be big – having a shop is not a small task and a large plugin like WooCommerce is probably needed. However my advice is generally keep them as small as you can, and as large as you need them to be. Well written plugins are small, yet allow extensibility with other plugins.

The fallacy of too many WordPress plugins

Usually the conversation of having too many WordPress plugins occur between two site owners. One with a large number of plugins, another with a lot less. Often sites that pride themselves on a low number of plugins usually have a large bloated theme. This is generally not a great idea. You need to think if we were to change the theme design, how much functionality would you have to take out of the theme? For example if you have custom post types (such as dedicated portfolio post types, or a team members), you’d probably want to keep them within a plugin, rather than put them in a theme.

When you should remove plugins?

There are times that I do remove plugins, outside of replacing old outdated plugins with better ones. They tend to fall into four categories, they are:-

Remove plugins that are inactive

This is the most common ones. Obviously inactive plugins don’t add anything to the page loads, but having inactive plugins can be bad. Inactive plugins can be a security risk. This is doubly true if you aren’t updating the site regularly.

Likewise I try to remove plugins that have a one time use (such as migration) once done.

Large plugins that can be replaced with several smaller plugins

This can lead to more plugins being installed. Larger plugins tend to have a bit of bloat, particularly if there are not well optimised. Take for example one plugin that adds twenty blocks to the editor. That’s fine, but let’s say you only use 3 of those blocks. The other 17 if not built correctly could be loaded. If there’s 17 stylesheets and 17 JavaScript files loaded, it may be better instead just using putting those three blocks into its own plugin.

Bloated plugins that have more efficient versions

A list I like is this list of slow plugins for Online Media Masters. Although I use many of the plugins in the “slow” list, there are alternatives for some that are just slow. It is worth reviewing your plugins, their functionality, and if bloated, heavy plugins can be replaced.

Plugins that’s functionality is better to be in a theme

This is the rare one, but to give you an example – I tend to not have a social media sharing plugin on sites. Why? Because if I’m building a theme I’d include the buttons manually within the theme. Using the social media block and links, with a small amount of PHP code, I can recreate this without the overhead of the plugin. This is rare, but in this instance I find that using flat PHP code within the theme works better than having a plugin.

That’s great, Rhys, but show me the list!

You may be expecting a list of my favourite plugins, and – well – I don’t really have one. You may find a (woefully incomplete) list on my WordPress profile, but in all honesty I don’t have one. When you hire me for WordPress consultancy on a project I will provide a tailored audit of your plugins on your site.

Your (plugin) mileage may vary

Of course, this is just me talking from my many years experience, and it may not be something everybody agrees with. How many plugins is too many WordPress plugins, do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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