Fact versus Fiction: A Q & A on WordPress Plugins

When it comes to WordPress sites, designers and admins—when asked what is one of the most confusing aspects of the platform—will most likely put “plugins” somewhere on their list. Indeed, plugins are fantastic and, in many cases, a must-have when working on a WordPress site. But too often users grab certain programs because they’re fun to play with or because they believe they need them to get their site to full functionality. And whereas this may be the case, sometimes utilizing certain plugins—or utilizing too many plugins all together—can cause some serious problems.

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For instance, did you know that certain plugins are redundant, in that the core operating program of WordPress or the theme you’ve chosen already has a built-in version? Or are you aware that having too many plugins may slow down the load times of your site? Likewise, if you have plugins that are idle or not used, you’re opening your site up to malware attacks as those plugins (which you probably aren’t updating on a regular basis) are prime territory for hackers looking to get in and cause chaos.

If you’re interested in some myths and realities of WordPress plugins, read on for some questions and answers.

Q: Can WordPress plugins really affect my sites load time?

A: Absolutely. Each WordPress plugin works a little differently; some of them make “database calls” on the backend while others load their assets on the front end. So each time a plugin needs to make a database call, load times get longer simply because there’s more data to access. Also, because most plugins make a request to HTTP to load assets such as images, scripts etc., each of those requests further adds to your site’s page load time. Therefore, if you’re using multiple plugins that are making too many requests to HTTP to load files, your site’s performance as well as the user experience can be greatly affected.

Q: Is there a way to check if plugins are slowing down my site?

A: Yes. To see if any of your plugins are affecting your page load time, it’s important to first check all the files that are being loaded by those plugins. Thankfully there are lots of nice tools to help. You can use your browser developer tools such as Inspect for Google Chrome or Inspect Element in Firefox simply by visiting your own site and right clicking to Inspect. A tool panel will open, and you can then click on the “Network” tab to reload your site. As pages reload you’ll be able to watch your browser load each file, so keep an eye out for those that take a long time. There are also tools such as Pingdom and GTmetrix that can help you with this, each of which will show you exactly how much time it takes a file to load.

Q: How many plugins are too many to have?

A: This is hard to answer, because a really good single plugin may add just a couple of files to your site, while a bad plugin made use a dozen or more. So what should really be of concern is not how many plugins you have, but the quality of those plugins. Do some research and only use highly rated plugins, which are well-coded in that they keep file loads to a minimum. Some poorly rated plugins will actually load separate files on every single page even if those files aren’t necessary, which will absolutely slow down your site.

Q: How can I tell the difference between a “good” plugin and a “bad” plugin?

A: As noted previously, do some research before downloading a plugin. Only use those that are well coded and have garnered good reviews. The fortunate thing to remember is this: if you are looking for a plugin that fulfills a specific task, there’s a very good chance that there are lots of them available for that specific task. This means you can choose one that gets good recommendations from reliable sources.

Q: What are deactivated or inactive WordPress plugins, and should I delete them to increase page load time?

A: If you look in the admin area of your site, you can see all the plugins that have been loaded: those that are active will be highlighted in blue, and inactive plugins will show a “delete” link below them. Thankfully, inactive plugins do not slow down WordPress because each time a user requests a page from your site, the core program only loads active plugins and completely ignores those that are inactive. As to whether you should delete plugins you’re not using, ask yourself “will I ever use this plugin again?” If the answer is no, then there’s no point in keeping it. And keep in mind that, even if a plugin is deactivated, WordPress will continue to show updates for that plugin, which can be annoying. Lastly, while inactive plugins are generally harmless, remember that, if someone attempts to hack your site, those files (again, whether active or not) can be infected and used to install malware on your pages.

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