How many plugins are too many?

How many plugins are too many on a WordPress site? It’s very common to hear this question from WordPress users.

The first simple answer is: when they are more than “as less as possible”.

Why? What does it really mean “as less as possible”?

As the fewer plugins you have, the less work you have in terms of maintenance and problem solving, and the higher will probably be your site performance. How much higher depends also on the quality of the plugin, in some cases it could be not a lot higher or even the same. We will speak about this topic.

What does really mean “as less as possible”?

It means that if you really need a plugin and you know it’s a well-coded plugin, install it if you don’t need it, don’t install it. Simple, but I see many times a lot of plugins that are installed, but they don’t do anything useful.

If you can reach the same results without a plugin in a clean and maintainable way, don’t install that plugin.

Impact on Maintenance and Problem Solving

As you probably already know, you should keep all your plugins up to date. Unfortunately, every update could be a risk of breaking something. We can, of course, discuss the level of risk, it will depend on the kind of plugin,  but surely if you have dozen of plugins, the risk becomes higher.

More plugins you have higher will be the probability of conflicts between them. It will depend on the quality of your plugins, but at the same quality, the risk will increase with the quantity.

Moreover, if you have some plugin conflicts, you will spend a lot more time to find the root cause if you have many plugins (to find which plugin is eventually causing an issue read the blog post  “WordPress – How to detect the cause of the problem without breaking anything“).

Impact on site performance and security.

Every plugin will give you some functionality, but will also consume server resources and depending on the plugin, introduce some HTTP requests on the front-end.

Some plugins are well coded, others will not care a lot about your site performance and security.

Dozen of very well-coded plugins may slow down your site by less than a few poor-coded plugins.

The same concept is valid about security vulnerabilities.

However many plugins, even if they are very well coded, many times can’t avoid loading heavy scripts and stylesheets or ask heavy database queries.

When you install a plugin, perform a couple of tests with a speed meter tool as e.g. with and without the plugin. This is the best way to evaluate the impact of the plugin on performance. Be careful, perform the tests with the same conditions (server cache, server settings, theme, page, ….).

As said if the quality of your plugin is high, they should not slow down a lot your site, but this doesn’t mean that they will not do it at all. We can discuss the amount of the speed decreasing, but it’s clear that if a plugin requests something to the database, or introduce an additional stylesheet, script, font … or whatever, it will slow down your site. The difference may be not noticeable, but it will not be exactly 0. It’s different for plugins that are designed to speed up the website (plugins for caching, optimization…).

If you have dozen of plugins, even if they are very well-coded plugins, these not noticeable differences altogether could become noticeable.

If usually, you don’t notice big differences, all those times that your server is less performing, you may have a slower site.

Moreover, many plugins don’t introduce the lowering of performance on the frontend, but they do it on the backend.

What to do then if I need their functionality?

Many times you can’t avoid installing some plugins. Imagine if you need e-commerce, a forum, a membership … on your site, I don’t think you will write all the needed code yourself.

What to do then before to install another plugin?

Here my answers:

  • think first if you really need that plugin
  • be careful to choose the best-coded plugin
  • perform some speed tests comparing the candidate plugins
  • evaluate the best compromise between what the plugin gives you (easy of use, quality of support …) and the lowering of speed it introduces
  • evaluate the security of the plugin

Each answer would need a dedicated blog post, probably you will find them in the future on our site. Now let’s see what to do after you have chosen the best plugins, but you have dozen of them.

How to limit the lowering of speed introduced by my plugins?

Let’s suppose you have as fewer plugins as possible, and they are all well coded, but you still need to limit the speed lowering introduced by your plugins.

To achieve this result, the best thing you can do is to load only the needed plugins on each page.

You may have e.g. a plugin for membership, but only a few pages need its functionality. You may need a contact form only on your contact page, but the plugin you have installed is loading scripts and stylesheets on all pages.

Imagine you have 20 plugins, but on a page, you need only 4 of them, on another page, you need only 2 of them…

If it was possible to load only the needed plugins, you would not load 20 plugins on each page, but 3-4 maximum 5.

Of course, to selectively disable plugins on specific pages, you can use Freesoul Deactivate Plugins