How many plugins are too many?

Something I get asked a fair bit by customers with existing WordPress sites is “How many plugins are too many?”. 

Well it depends.

Firstly let’s just have a quick look at what a WordPress plugin actually does. It is essentially some software that extends the core functionality of WordPress to do something that it doesn’t do out of the box. They’re pretty much apps for your website. 

One of the reasons WordPress is so popular is because it is so extensible through plugins. 

If you need a certain feature, well there’s a plugin for that!

It sounds great, and it can be, however plugins carry a certain amount of risk that needs to be understood and managed.

Every plugin that you add is something that can break (now or in the future), it is something that is written by someone other than the core WordPress team (so could potentially do something nasty), and it also may not play nicely with other plugins that you already have installed.

So you can end up with situations where your site ends up getting hacked, runs super slow, you get weird errors or it doesn’t work at all.

The general rule of thumb is to only use what you really need and be aware of developers that aren’t really developers that get around their lack of knowledge by cobbling together a solution by using a bunch of plugins. A tell tale sign of a shonky site is one that has many different plugins from many different authors other than the developer that do very simple things like add sliders, galleries etc. 

You can’t really say all plugins are bad and put a number figure on the max limit. Plugins are a great way for developers to isolate functionality. Often if I’m adding a feature to a site, I will code it into a plugin so I can maintain it separately from the rest of the site.

E-Commerce sites in particular often need quite a few extra plugins for things like payment gateways, shipment tracking, accounting systems integration and stuff that is unique to the site (not everyone uses Xero and ships via Australia Post for example). So you’ll find more plugins on an e-commerce site than you would on a “brochure” style website.

So the bottom line is it is really about quality over quantity. 

Have a look at who has written the plugin you are thinking of using. If it is a free plugin from the WordPress repository, have a look at their support forum and see if people are reporting any issues with it. How do they respond to issues? Are they on the ball, or do they take ages to reply?

Have a look at when the plugin was last updated, if it has been updated recently then that tells you that it is actively maintained and less likely to be problematic.

Keep in mind that just because a plugin is in the WordPress repository doesn’t necessarily mean that it is endorsed by WordPress or that it has been extensively checked and guaranteed not to cause issues.

If it is an e-commerce plugin, who’s selling it? Do they have reviews or a Facebook page you can check out? Do they offer a money back guarantee? A good safe bet is to use plugins sold through woocommerce.com

If you’re not sure whether a plugin is right for the job, or you’re worried your site is having issues because of plugins that you’re using. Ask a pro to take a look for you.

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