I posted recently about WordPress plugins and frequently wax lyrical about how useful they are. They can extend what your blog is capable of and in truth they can supercharge it beyond belief. But can you have too much of a good thing? If so, how many WordPress plugins is too many?
When you start a WordPress blog it’s exciting to play around with it, and to be fair you should. Experimenting by modifying your WordPress configuration is a great way to learn about your exciting new toy!
When you find out about plugins, you might be tempted to install lots of them because the functions they add can be so appealing. This is especially true when so many of them are free.
The problem is you really need to be selective about the plugins you install. You also need to be careful how many plugins you use, in particular when you don’t know what they do behind the scenes.
Even apparently useful plugins can affect the performance of your blog and make your posts and pages load slowly. I bang on about this a lot. Of course, I don’t mean to bore people, but folks, page load speed is VERY important.
Why Can Many WordPress Plugins Slow Down Your Blog?
You might install a plugin to perform a specific function that seems relatively small on the face of it. But unless you understand the plugin code, you can’t be sure what it’s doing in the background.
Whenever someone lands on your blog, WordPress builds the page by connecting to its database, loading its core files and then loading your plugins.
This process runs on your host server, which sends your code to the requesting browser for your page to display.
As a part of this process, many plugins make HTTP requests to load certain assets such as scripts and CSS. Every request made adds to the time it takes for your page to load.
Obviously, the more requests made, the slower your page load is.
Furthermore, poorly coded plugins make requests for things that aren’t necessary, which is literally a waste of time.
So… combine lots of HTTP asset requests with a smattering of unnecessary ones, and the result can be a distinct increase in your page load time.
Some plugins make calls to external APIs that reside on other domains. As an example, think about social media plugins that pull data from Twitter or Facebook.
When an external API call runs, time is added to page load. This is because the page can’t be fully built until there is a response from the API.
As with loading page assets, the more API calls a plugin makes, the more time it takes for the data to be ready for a browser to render.
Sloppy plugin designers can run database queries unnecessarily. The queries themselves might be inefficient making them slower.
Any plugin that has to query database tables to read or write data before a page can load means that more time will pass before the page renders.
The result of this is your visitors will tap their fingers while they wait to read your content.
Complexity of Tasks
The complexity of plugin queries required to fulfil a task also has a bearing on how long a page takes to load.
If a plugin has to query large database tables before it can complete a task, you can imagine there will be an impact on speed. This is especially true in the case where data in such tables increases over time.
In this case, queries will take longer to complete in line with the data growth in the table. If a table becomes exceptionally large over time, eventually it’s possible your page load will time out before the plugin query has time to complete its execution.
I don’t want to scare you but it’s even possible for complex queries on large databases to cause your server to fall over!
This is All Great… But How Many WordPress Plugins is Too Many?
I’ve digressed a fair bit so let’s get back on track!
The answer is not straightforward.
If you’ve installed and activated queries that require lots of assets, make many API calls and use badly formed queries on large tables, the answer is not many.
One badly coded plugin can be enough to tip your page load speed over the edge and make your blog unusable.
You also have to consider that some plugins might not be updated in line with WordPress updates. Plugins that perform okay in one version of WordPress might not work so well when a new version comes along.
I’ve know of many WordPress blogs that run 80+ plugins without any noticeable impact on the time it takes their pages and posts load. Of course these plugins are well coded to ensure they do not impact performance.
The truth is you will need to use plugins to make your WordPress blog perform in precisely the way you want… and you may have to kiss a few frogs along the way to find plugin perfection.
You may also have to install dozens of plugins to achieve your ideal WordPress blog… and that’s fine, as long as the plugins are well developed and your blog is still usable.
WordPress Plugin Checklist
- Always install free plugins ONLY from the WordPress.org Plugin Directory. They may not be all perfect for you, but you can get a good feel for their popularity and read reviews about them from real users.
- If you’re going to buy a premium plugin, research the developer, read reviews from users, check out the support policy and ONLY buy from developers you trust.
- Whenever you want to install a new plugin, check your page load speed before and after installation and activation. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to get a good feel for how a plugin impacts your blog.
- Remember you don’t have to stick with a plugin once you’ve installed it. It’s straightforward to deactivate plugins and uninstall them if they don’t behave.
That’s it for now. Thanks for visiting!
Do you have a lot of active WordPress plugins running on your blog? How many WordPress plugins do you think is too many? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it!
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