WordPress Plugins: How Many Should You Have Installed on Your Site?

WordPress Plugins: How Many Should You Have Installed on Your Site?

The world wouldn’t be the same without plugins.

Perhaps I am being a little melodramatic, but this much is certain – WordPress wouldn’t be the same without plugins. Although the core code provides you with a basic blogging framework, it is plugins that allow you to add the kind of functionality that has made WordPress so popular.

How many plugins you should have installed on your WordPress blog is a hot topic. There is nothing worse than coming across a client’s website and seeing a mess of plugins, and not knowing where to start. It is at this point that you can be tempted to tell a client that they should have less than x plugins installed on their site.

After all, it isn’t an illogical leap to say that having too many plugins installed will slow down a site and lead to potential security threats and/or conflicts. But the question is – how many is too many?

On the Contrary…

…that is not the right question (although it is seemingly the most popular).

One plugin has the potential to place a strain on your site equal to ten others. On a WordPress site with 30 plugins installed, just one could represent a security threat. One single outdated plugin could conflict with your brand new shiny upgraded WordPress core.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. The number of plugins you have installed on your site is not the main issue (despite what a plethora of woefully misleading articles say). It is the quality of those plugins that makes all the difference. Although having many plugins installed will statistically increase the chances of something bad happening, the cause is more down to making poor choices – not making too many choices.

One Bad Egg Does Not Spoil the Bunch

WordPress Plugins

Stating that you can have “too many” plugins is akin to saying “this bottle of milk is sour, so I am never going to drink milk again”. You should not base your plugin philosophy on the poor performance of poorly-coded plugins that should never have made it onto your blog in the first place.

If you want to have 30 plugins, fine – go ahead. The key is in making the right decision in deciding whether or not to install any one plugin. Sarah Gooding (of WPMU fame) produced a good list for ascertaining whether or not a plugin is likely to be well-coded:

  • Plugin Author – Is the plugin’s developer well-respected and known for producing high quality plugins?
  • Stats – Is the plugin widely used without many conflicts / issues? Peruse the support forums, if possible.
  • Support – When a plugin developer supports his plugin, whether in a free or professional capacity, it’s likely that all the user feedback has helped to refine the code so that it works smoothly and more efficiently with each release.
  • Documentation – Is the documentation thorough and easy to understand?
  • Interface – Is the plugin’s interface intuitive enough that you can find your way around or do you have to spend hours reading up on it to understand how to use it? A high quality interface is many times the sign of a well-constructed plugin.

The above criteria are useful in making a decision regarding a particular plugin. I would also check when the plugin was last updated. Beyond that, there are two key considerations which primarily drive my decision-making process:

  1. Will the plugin provide the kind of functionality that will have a directly beneficial impact on my site?
  2. Does its functionality warrant the extra strain it places on your site?

The first question is one you must ask honestly. Let’s face it – we all suffer from “shiny object syndrome” when it comes to plugins, but a little objective analysis can save headaches down the line. I have a couple of plugins on my site that I am essentially stuck with because I have utilized them over a period of time. I no longer want these plugins, and had I known at the time, I wouldn’t have installed them in the first place.

Plugin Performance Profiler

Plugin Performance Profiler

The second question is a little more difficult to answer, but as discussed yesterday, Performance Plugin Profiler can give you an idea of how resource-intensive a plugin is. Whilst it’s not going to return precisely accurate results, it can certainly show you if a particular plugin is a real resource hog (or not).

What About Conflicts?

One of the most compelling arguments against installing multiple plugins on your site is the potential for plugins to conflict with each other. But this again is really an argument against installing poorly-designed plugins.

Whilst the “best” plugins available can conflict with others, such conflicts are typically resolved (especially if they involve other “high profile” plugins). By definition, plugins that are not as carefully constructed will lead to further conflicts. It is entirely possible to have a whole bunch of plugins on your site without conflicts. You just have to make sure that the plugins you have installed were well designed.

Go Easy on Yourself

By all means, try to keep your plugins list lean. But do it for the right reasons. Get rid of plugins because they are unnecessary, resource-intensive, and outdated. Don’t get rid of them because you think that you have “too many”. There is no “too many”.

Now for the obvious question – how many plugins do you have installed on your site? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons images courtesy of Jordi Payà and Laineys Repertoire

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12 Comments

  1. 60 plugins… that is definitely a lot! Good tips in the article, I'd ad "shelf life" as a decision making factor as well. I've seen many shiny plugins last a few months max before the developer bails.

  2. Andy says:

    Hey Tom, nice suggestions and Info, I'm running 15-30 Plugins on my Sites depending on what I think is useful. And always try to use Plugins that replace 2 or more others (like WordPress SEO by Yoast) to keep the List as small as possible.
    What I'm still looking for a 'minimum-needed' Plugins-list – the basics you need to start as a beginner. Out there you can find 1000's posts with 10 to 100 recommended plugins and all are different – leaving the Newbees alone with the guesswork.
    Do you have any suggestions to start with ?

  3. PAK Oregon says:

    I have created and now administer 19 WordPress sites.

    I use the Weaver II Pro themes package on all but one of my sites. Weaver II Pro is VERY powerful package and has reduced my reliance on plugins. More often then not, when I think I may need another plugin for something I find a way to do it via Weaver, The one site I am not using Weaver for will be migrated to a Weaver environment very soon.

    When I do find it necessary to use a plugin, I research the list of suggested plugins for the function I am looking for and find the one with the highest ranking, a large number of installations and is up to date with the latest version of WordPress.

    I try and steer away from plugins developed by authors that were trying to do something for themselves and only have "published" a couple of plugins. They are more likely to vanish then other plugin authors.

    I have used a couple of plugins where the author was no longer supporting their plugin. Then when newer versions of WordPress and Weaver II Pro came along they would no longer function.

    I have heard stories of WordPress web site developers that had issues with out of date plugins and then having to either hire someone to revise the out of date plugin or do it themselves.

    Theme packages are less problematic then plugins but I did run into one issue with a theme developer that is somewhat related.

    I had my theme developer do a bunch of customizations a couple of years ago for my first WordPress site. At the time I didn't pay attention to how this theme would be updated to keep current with WordPress and associated plugins. The last major revision to WordPress brought this to light. Since I only paid for specific customizations and did not consider ongoing maintenance I was stuck having to pay the developer about $700 to bring my customized theme up to date so I would work with the latest version of WordPress. At this point I made the decision to migrate the theme package to Weaver II Pro.

    My goal is to keep all my WordPress web sites on the latest version of WordPress. Doing this can be problematic if one doesn't pay attention to their theme and plugin developers track record.

    IMHO a really good article that address these issues specific to slow adoption rates of new WordPress versions can be found at:
    http://www.dev4press.com/2011/blog/slow-adoption-rate-of-new-wordpress-versions/

    All my sites use the following plugins:

    Formidable Pro
    Google Analytics for WordPress
    Page Links To
    WP-reCAPTCHA
    DirtySuds – Embed PDF
    Dave's WordPress Live Search
    Simply Show IDs

    Here are some additional plugins that some of my site utilize:

    Awesome Flickr Gallery
    Social Media Counters
    Comprehensive Google Map Plugin

    Phil

  4. Michael says:

    Wow-great article and very informative! I'm not a developer but a user of WP. I currently have a highly customized WP site with 30 plugins installed. I recently had my developer do a complete scrub of the site to clean up a lot of the conflicts stemming from poorly designed plugins. I can attest to the importance of having the right plugins – it definitely makes difference.

  5. Ivica says:

    I can repeat what Pippin wrote – more then 60 plugins, well optimized site and therefore pretty fast.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Awesome article, I just went over all my plugins on my site. I'm pushing 30 right now but every single one is being used and being used with a purpose!!

    I'm gonna check out the Performance Profiler though, that seems pretty sweet!

  7. Pippin says:

    Thank you for being one of the few sites to post a <em>good</em> article on how to judge the plugins you should install. I don't know if this is related to my Twitter rant this morning, but good to see regardless.

    Now, to answer your question, I run over 60 plugins on my site at all times, and have done so for over a year.