The Trouble with (Some) WordPress Plugins

WordPress Tutorials

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I love a good WordPress plugin.

I’m not so keen on the shitty ones though, are you?

You don’t have to answer that, of course you’re not.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for all the hard work plugin developers put into their products, as I have no plugin coding skills at all, and writing a plugin and making it work for everybody looks tough, but the fact remains: some plugins are shite.

It’s bound to happen.

At the time of writing there’s just over 34,000 plugins available from WordPress.org alone.

They can’t all be kick-ass.

WordPress Plugins Available and Downloaded

So what’s the problem with WordPress plugins?

Here’s a few examples of the type of issue you might come across:

  • They’re poorly coded
  • They make more requests on the database than necessary
  • They’re buggy and support is weak

This affects us and our readers in different ways.

Perhaps the most annoying is slowing down our site(s).

No-one likes using a slow site.

On top of that, slow loading times can seriously and negatively impact the user experience and you could lose visitors if your pages take too long to load.

If you’ve never tested your site to see how fast the pages load, here’s a couple of tools you can use: Pingdom (this is a good one because you can test from three different locations: Amsterdam, New York and Texas) and GTMetrix.

If your site takes too long to load, it might not be the fault of plugins. It could be the server, the size of the images on your page or even the theme.

How many plugins is too many?

The answer is ‘it depends’.

One terrible plugin is too many.

Forty fantastic plugins isn’t.

There’s no definite answer – you have to judge each site on its own.

If you think a plugin is slowing down your site or causing other problems, there’s a plugin you can install (I know, I know) which tests the performance of all the plugins you’re using.

It examines each one and creates a report so you can identify the one(s) causing the issue (and bear in mind, the result may vary from time to time).

P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) is the name of the plugin.

P3 WordPress Plugin

I don’t use many plugins on this site, so I ran it on one of my others, which uses 30. Here are the results.

P3 Plugin Performance Profiler ResultsThere’s a little notice at the bottom of the picture saying some plugins may show artificially high results, here’s why:

P3 scans your site as a logged in user. Some plugins enable more functionality when you are logged in. When P3 detects a plugin which could be a false positive, such as Jetpack, you’ll see a notice. The authors of these plugins have put a focus on performance and you should feel safe leaving them enabled on your site if you need the functionality they provide.

If you see results like this, you might be tempted to uninstall any plugins that use too many resources. But what if those plugins are ‘essential’?

A better solution is looking at the ones you don’t need, and uninstalling those instead.

The three plugins mentioned in this report: Contact Form 7, WordPress SEO and WP Experiments Free are all very useful, and there’s no way I’ll stop using them.

However, I have another 27 to choose from, and I know many of them are surplus to requirements.

Once we get past the performance issue, what other issues can arise from WordPress plugins?

Incompatibility

In a world in which we have access to 34,000+ plugins from our own site, countless others from sites around the web and a load more from premium plugin providers, it’s hardly surprising that some of them don’t work well together.

In all the years I’ve used WordPress, I haven’t come across it very often. But I’m one of those people who uses as few plugins as possible, and I tend to not stray from the plugins I know and love. I just don’t have the time or inclination to experiment with them.

Might you have?

You might be a perpetual tinkerer and faced the incompatability issue head-on.

It’s a nightmare when it happens.

The only way to figure out which plugin is causing the problem is to disable them one at a time until the problem fixes itself.

The sad thing is, you don’t know if a plugin will cause a problem until it’s loaded and the damage is done. At first install, it’s easy to fix, but after it’s run for a while it’s harder.

Because I mostly use the same plugins on each site, I can make an educated guess when something does go wrong.

Viruses and hacks

The WordPress code is Open Source (everyone has access to it) and the coding language is PHP. This combination makes it easier than usual for would-be hackers to hack your site and spread viruses, and plugins are an easy way in.

This is one of the reasons you should only use plugins from trusted sources and not some random site you happen across on our journeys around the web.

Here are a couple of examples of major issues with attacks made through plugins:

There’s plenty more blog posts and forum threads talking about hacked sites.

If you don’t want yours to be one of them, think carefully about the plugins you’re using.

What can you do?

I know it’s very tempting to install lots of plugins to add more functionality to your site, but please resist.

Think about your visitors.

If your site provides a poor user experience they won’t come back.

Think about managing all those plugins too. The constant updates and potential problems if a conflict happens during a future update.

I recently set out to speed up a persistently slow site of mine. Before I started work on the plugins I ran a few tests to see how fast the pages loaded.

The results ranged from 3-15 seconds.

The target was two seconds or less.

I reached it by disabling all unnecessary plugins and installing a caching plugin (it might look daunting, but for most people the default settings are fine).

Take it easy

When getting your WordPress blog it’s natural to go digging for ways to jazz it up.

Social sharing buttons, a Facebook widget, a different commenting system, specialist admin tools – plugins exist for just about every purpose you can think of.

But ask yourself if you really need them, and if the answer is no, wait until you do before you install them, and then, do some research to see which is best for you.

 

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