How many plugins should you use on your website?

How many plugins should you use on your website?
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If your website runs on WordPress, then you know that plugins are like little apps that add functionality to your website. Whether you need to adda contact form, security, backups, slide shows, galleries, or more, plugins will make your website work just a bit harder to bring you more customers.

All of that extra functionality comes at a price, though. Each plugin is its own little piece of software. Each one carries a risk of making it easier to hack your website. Each one carries the risk that it will conflict with WordPress or another plugin and crash your site. Each one adds more time to load your website, slowing things down for your visitor. So that begs the question:

How many plugins should you use?

As many as you need and no more. That’s a terrible answer, I know, but it’s true. If you choose the plugins you need to get the functionality you need and don’t add stuff that isn’t necessary, you have found the right balance.

The thing I keep in mind when choosing plugins is: what is the purpose of the website? Will this plugin help the website meet its goals or am I adding it because it looks fun and interesting? I seen website owners go overboard in both directions on this.

One site I was asked to repair had 37 themes and over 20 plugins installed and activated, including 3 different gallery plugins. Three plugins that have the same purpose and being used in different pages of the website. Those three gallery plugins were slowing down the site load times and they had a tendency to break the site whenever one of them needed to be updated.

I’ve also seen website where there were no plugins installed and the business was missing out on some of the convenience that comes with having a website. With no contact form, every web visitor had to call the business or email them directly. After adding a contact form to the website, that business saw a big increase in the number of potential customers contacting them.

Install as many plugins as you need and no more

Make sure that the website is capable of meeting your business goals – whether it’s social engagement, or getting customers to take action. Leaving off necessary functionality just for the sake of not having too many plugins ignores what the purpose of the website is.

Not all plugins are created equal

That being said, not all plugins are created equal. There are thousands of free plugins available on the WordPress.org repository. There are multiple solutions to the same problem and many plugins available for the same purpose. Many of the plugins were written by experienced developers and others by less experienced developers. Some use lightweight code that won’t slow your website down and others are full of bugs.

As an example, I only use a handful of social media outlets, so I tend to go with lightweight social sharing plugins, rather than the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ versions. You can also evaluate your site, and the plugins, using Pingdom tools. Some plugins look lightweight, but they load a lot of javascript or images and that will slow things down.

I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to plugins. When I find one that works really well, I tend to stick with it rather than trying a bunch of new plugins. That may not be the best solution for you, but I work on a lot of different websites and I like to know that the plugins I pick aren’t going to be too fussy or buggy and will get the job done.

I have a couple of friends who like to experiment with new plugins and I let them do the experimenting. They have more time and fewer websites to manage and can afford to fix the ‘white screen of death’ when a new plugin fouls up the works. When they find something they recommend, I’ll give it a try on a test website and see if it’s worth changing.

How many plugins do I use?

I like to keep things lean. On average, I run between 5 and 8 plugins for a website. SEO, contact forms, backup, limit logins and social share are on every site. As I need functionality, I will add plugins – custom post types, features block, membership and security plugins are pretty typical too. I’ve had sites with up to 20 plugins, but they were learning management systems with a lot of eCommerce integration and not a typical website.

Start with the website’s purpose

Always start with “what is the website supposed to be doing” – what business goal is it supposed to meet? What features and functionality will be necessary to meet that goal? What features will be necessary to manage the website and keep it secure. Add those plugins. When the website does what you want it to, stop adding plugins.

What kinds of plugins do you normally add to a website?

I’m always curious to see what other people consider to be ‘must  have’ or ‘should have’ plugins. Like I said, I tend to be a bit conservative, so your recommendations mean a lot to me. Let me know in the comments what you use.

* photo by Jim PennucciMulti tools” used under CC BY 2.0. Cropped and text added to original.

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