How many WordPress plugins are too many? If you've ever wondered this, you aren't alone. Join us as we explain the problem with having too many plugins.
Approximate read time: 11 minutes
Plugins are one of the best features of WordPress. We are huge fans! We are plugin developers of course, so that shouldn't be a huge surprise.
But truly, most people who use WordPress love plugins too. They give users the ability to extend their site and do amazing new things.
As is often the case, there can indeed be too much of a good thing. It's true: the number of plugins installed on your WordPress site will have an effect, whether positive or negative.
This is something we talk about on the Formidable blog all the time. So we decided to make it official with a dedicated post.
Keep reading to learn why having too many plugins installed could be killing your site.
The trouble with WordPress plugins
Here's the deal: bad things when you install too many plugins. Bad things like considerably slower load times. It could even be the case that the more plugins you add, the slower your site becomes.
While it's true that the quantity of plugins matters, that isn't the only variable. Nevertheless, we hope this article can answer one important question: how many WordPress plugins are too many?
But to do that properly, we need to take a bit of a deeper dive.
I know, I know. A WordPress plugin deep-dive? Sounds boring. Can't we just give it a number and be done with it?
As much as we want to advise you to "install no more than 20 plugins", the fact is that there are a lot of variables to consider.
If we want to find out how many plugins are too many for a WordPress site, we need to understand the following:
- How WordPress plugins work
- WordPress plugins: quantity vs. quality
- WordPress plugin best practices
- The problem with too many plugins
- (Finally) How many plugins are too many?
How WordPress plugins work
Before we can figure out the best number of WordPress plugins to have on your site, let's first go over the basics of plugins. WordPress plugins work by extending your website's functionality.
Sometimes a plugin builds on existing features that are included in the WordPress core. Other times, plugins will introduce entirely new features to your WordPress site.
What is the WordPress core? WP Super Geek puts it like this:
You could split the WordPress files into two groups – the core files and the content files. Core files make up the appearance and functionality of the WordPress platform, and content files are added by the user in the form of themes, plugins, and images.
WordPress plugins vs WordPress core
Since WordPress plugins exist outside of the core of a WordPress install by default, it's not hard to see how problems could emerge. Every time you install a plugin in WordPress, there is a chance for conflict. This could mean conflict with the built-in features of WordPress, or, conflict with other plugins.
Think of it this way: all core WordPress features have been designed to work flawlessly with each other. And they do a pretty good job of that. But they have not been designed with any particular third-party plugins in mind.
Don't get us wrong. WordPress is an opensource software that allows for plugins. It's just that it would be impossible for the WordPress CMS developers to ensure every third-party plugin can be installed issue free. Why? Because there are over 55,000 WordPress plugins available!
Unless you have the ability to configure PHP files, it's best to keep this in mind as you consider which plugins to install.
With the variables mentioned above, it's not hard to imagine how things can go wrong. A WordPress plugin created by sloppy developers could end up breaking your entire site quite easily.
Luckily, the opposite is also true. A great WordPress plugin created by dedicated developers could improve your website dramatically.
Which brings us to our next plugin-related question: what matters most - quantity or quality?
WordPress plugins: quantity vs. quality
The goal of this article is to answer one simple question: How many plugins is too many? Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as 'a number'.
When it comes to plugins, we should consider 2 factors:
As far as WordPress plugins are concerned, quantity matters. Every plugin you install is another chance you'll see issues on your site.
Not only can they cause issues by themselves, but they can contribute to site-wide issues like load time and up-time.
Code quality matters too. You could have a lot of plugins installed and see very few problems on your site.
Plugins that undergo regular updates and are supported by quality WordPress developers are always better.
What's more important?
So what's most important: quantity or quality?
The answer: they both are!
Here's a simple analogy that should ring true in most cases.
It would be better to have 20 high-quality plugins than to have 5 low-quality ones.
The fact is that a poorly coded plugin could do a lot of harm to your site. At the very least, scrutinize your plugin directory for any plugins that haven't been updated recently.
Does that mean you should uninstall plugins that aren't regularly updated? It's a good rule of thumb, but it's not always necessary.
When in doubt, try to find a plugin that is regularly updated to replace plugins that have gone dormant.
What about add-on plugins?
Before we go any further, there's one exception we want to clear up. We're talking about add-on plugins.
Sometimes, plugin developers will create add-ons that extend the original plugins' functionality. These add-ons sometimes come in the form of additional plugins in the plugin directory. They are installed, activated, and deactivated the same way as any other plugins.
On the surface, this seems to break the rule of having too many plugins. But actually, this is a much better way to do things.
Our plugin has dozens of add-on features. The reason we keep them out of the core is that we want our main plugin to be as fast as possible. Another bonus is that our add-ons are specifically designed to work well together. The same cannot be said for every random WordPress plugin out there.
This is one reason why our plugin can be used to create entire websites all by itself, like a directory website for example.
In other words, users will only install the features they need. So there are times where you may install more plugins, but the net result is still a faster WordPress site.
WordPress plugin best practices
Here are some general rules to follow to minimize the potential issues plugins can cause:
- Keep your plugins updated
- Only install plugins you need
- Always remove inactive plugins
- Only install credible plugins
1. Keep your plugins updated
Keep your plugins updated to reduce your risk of being hacked. An out-of-date plugin can create the perfect backdoor for hackers to exploit. It has happened before!
If you are having trouble staying on top of plugin updates, you could use a plugin to help you. I know what you're thinking, "but don't we want to avoid installing more plugins?" In general, yes, that's correct.
And of course, one of those nifty features helps make auto-updates a breeze on your WordPress website.
2. Only install plugins you need
Options are always great to have. But unless a plugin is being used regularly, we recommend removing it. Consider that every plugin you install increases the chance your site will have issues.
While it's true many plugins will cause no problems at all, having more plugins than you need will usually make your website slower.
And visitors hate slow websites.
3. Always remove inactive plugins
It can be tempting to deactivate a plugin and keep it on your site just in case you want to use it later. But even inactive plugins can be exploited by hackers! For that reason, you should always delete inactive plugins.
After all, if you change your mind, it only takes a few minutes to install the plugin again.
4. Only install credible plugins
Just like when you shop for products online, you should only deal with reputable sources. Therefore, only install WordPress plugins with a solid reputation.
How do you know who is credible? Taking a look at the number of 5-star reviews is a good place to start. Also, consider how recently the plugin was last updated. If it hasn't been updated in over a year, you might want to think twice.
The problem with too many plugins
The problem with too many plugins isn't too difficult to pinpoint. But it is somewhat technical. This is the scary business that can be overwhelming to the WordPress newcomer.
Having said that, you're building a website - that's a highly technical pursuit! You shouldn't let a handful of new terms scare you.
Now that you're feeling a bit bolder, let's continue...
There are 3 main reasons why having too many WordPress plugins can cause problems:
- Slow page load times
- Site vulnerabilities
- Compatibility issues
1. Slow page load time
Nobody likes a slow website. As mentioned earlier, people will leave immediately if a site loads too slowly.
In truth, there are many reasons why a site could load slow. To get a general sense of how your site is performing, you can run a test using a tool like Pingdom.
Even a website that loads in 2.5 seconds can be given a low-performance grade. That should give you an appreciation for the number of details involved in site speed.
When it comes to WordPress plugins, they affect site speed in 2 major ways:
- HTTP requests
- Database queries & database size
An HTTP request is a protocol that a web browser sends to a website server to request data. When it comes to plugins, many of them require extra CSS, images, and code to function.
So, more plugins mean more HTTP requests, which we usually want to limit. Each additional request uses server resources. Too many will cause your site to crash.
Up-time isn't the only thing that's affected by excess HTTP requests. As well, each additional HTTP request will lead to slower load times for your site. This is because the HTTP requests need to happen every time your website is loaded.
Generally, to reduce the number of HTTP requests, limit the number of WordPress plugins on your site and choose your plugins wisely. It is always better to have fewer, higher-quality plugins.
Database queries & database size
WordPress is a CMS system that depends on a database to function properly. When you have additional plugins installed on your WordPress site, you will increase the number of database queries that occur upon page load.
As with limiting HTTP requests, fewer plugins (and better plugins) will reduce the number of database queries.
The problem isn't just about the number of requests though. When it comes to databases, size matters. As you can imagine, the larger your database is, the slower your website will load.
To make matters worse, even deactivated plugins can leave a lasting impression in all the wrong ways. In many cases, a WordPress user could uninstall a plugin and still find leftover junk in their database.
Prevention is the best medicine here. If your site grows to be very large, it might be time to consider hiring a developer. A skilled developer will be able to fix your database, as well as configure cloud-based solutions to improve database issues further.
2. Site vulnerabilities
When considering security issues caused by excess WordPress plugins, this excerpt from a 2019 report by Sucuri puts it best:
Long-lasting malware campaigns targeting deprecated, vulnerable versions of plugins continued to be leveraged by attackers to inject malicious scripts into affected websites using vulnerable components.
And a vulnerable component, in most cases, is a plugin that hasn't been updated.
The same Sucuri report found that 44% of vulnerable sites had more than one vulnerable software present. Websites are most easily compromised when they are neglected. When you fail to update your website, it is more easily hackable.
Luckily, the risk is easy to mitigate: just update your plugins!
3. Compatibility issues
Sometimes, WordPress plugins can work together flawlessly. Other times, they can cause serious compatibility issues when they are installed on the same website.
Indeed, the more plugins you have installed, the more opportunities there are for conflict.
Ever heard about the WordPress white screen of death (WSOD)? If not, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Conflicting plugins running PHP can cause code errors or memory limit exhaustion. This can result in a completely broken website: the aforementioned white screen of death!
If you are currently experiencing WSOD, all is not lost. Check out this great tutorial on fixing WSOD by WP beginner.
At any rate, a plugin may be perfect in how it functions, but can also cause compatibility issues at the same time. This is yet another reason to keep your plugin directory trim.
How many WordPress plugins are too many?
Now that we have a lot more context, let's circle back. How many WordPress plugins should you install?
We could give you a number, but we know that number won't stand up to scrutiny. As we've just discussed, the fact is there are a lot of variables.
But instead of a solid number, we can give you some wise words to live by:
This simple rule can change the entire way you look at WordPress plugins. Think carefully about what each plugin does. Are there higher-quality, recently updated plugins that can do the same thing? Maybe there is a plugin that can do the job of three plugins you currently have installed.
For example, think carefully about your website. Do you have a CTA plugin, a newsletter subscription widget, and an email plugin? Chances are that a single form builder plugin can replace all three. In fact, a form builder could replace many plugins.
Another place to check is your WordPress theme's options panel. With many modern WordPress themes, you'll find features that can replace the need for a plugin. The result? Many people install plugins they don't actually need.
In cases like these, it usually is best to use the built-in features your theme offers.
Pick the right plugins
In this article, we mentioned the importance of consolidating plugins. We also mentioned the importance of an up-to-date plugin. Formidable Forms fits those criteria perfectly!
With a WordPress form builder plugin like ours, you could easily replace several plugins on your site. Check out the powerful features found in our free plugin, or, feast your eyes on the pro version if you're looking for more.