Plugins allow WordPress to be one of the most famous choices for creating and managing a professional website through a Content Management System (CMS). The easy availability and extensive functionality that these "additional chunks of code" offer to a website are enormous.
Think about it for a second: a single plugin is enough to transform a simple website into an eCommerce store or a members-only platform or even a bookings and reservations website. That's why WordPress keeps earning a bigger market share year over year.
The possibilities are almost endless. And WordPress users take advantage of them by piling plugins up on top of one another to being able to add their desired features to their vanilla install.
However, plugins can also be the cause of your worst WordPress nightmares. In fact, there are more than a few hassles associated with an uninformed and unrestrained use of WordPress plugins that, if neglected, they can raise a variety of different issues to your website, your store, and your users.
So the question is: how many plugins can I install on my website or store without worrying about consequences? What's the maximum number of WordPress plugins I can have installed (if any)?
Let's dive in!
The answer to "How many plugins should I use?" is useless
Before we start, let me ask you a question instead:
How many windows in an office space are too many windows?
Heads up: you're getting a cold shower (soon).
I see the look on your face. It' showing that you think the question makes little to none sense. And I agree with you.
That's the same reaction a WordPress developer has when asked: "How many WordPress plugins are too many?".
The query about what a maximal number of plugins anyone can have installed at the same time in their WordPress site doesn't have a straightforward yes vs no answer.
Mainly, because it's the wrong business question you're asking.
The reason is that there's no "generic website" which that generic question would refer to (just as there's no "generic office").
Your website - just as your office - it's not a generic and surely is different from your competitor's, from mine, and from Nasa's as well.
(I warned you about that...)
So why focusing on the total number of your installed plugins has 0 value for your business?
Short answer: the number of installed plugins doesn't give any additional and valuable information other than the quantity itself.
For example, a website can have more than 50 plugins and still work absolutely fine, while another with fewer than 10 plugins can continue to run into problems regularly because they're low-quality plugins.
This has to do mainly with the quality of the plugins and the overall plugins stack powering up your WordPress website. As WordPress developer and Codeable expert Francesco Carlucci points out:
When it comes to using plugins, we don't have to overdo it because not every plugin is well-written, and not every plugin might work properly with other plugins already existing on the website. There's not a pre-defined number of plugins we can say something like: 'Wait, that's too many plugins.'
Still, the question about "how many plugins..." underlies a really important and crucial matter. And that has to do with moving your attention from the actual number of installed plugins onto their quality and how they integrate harmoniously.
Shift your focus: from the number of WordPress plugins to their quality
The number of plugins doesn't matter at all. Don't think so, uh?
Well, Pippin Williamson, one of the most famous, appreciated and successful WordPress developer runs 80 plugins on his website. And he's not afraid to tell that.
Hear him out telling that in an old interview with Brian Krogsgard from Post Status (gosh, time flies):
He quickly sums it up by saying:
80 plugins doesn’t bother me a bit — as long as you know that the plugins are good. There really is nothing wrong with a lot of plugins. I know personally, that Matt Mullenweg’s site runs 80 or 90 plugins. As long as your plugins are built well, and used for their specific purpose — most of the time you’re not going to run into problems.
And that's because not all plugins are alike. Especially, you should know that:
- not all WordPress plugins are greatly-coded
- not all WordPress plugins follow best practices
- not all WordPress plugins require the same amount of resources
- not all WordPress plugins have the same impact on your database
- not all WordPress plugins do the same number of HTTP requests
Each plugin is different from the other in several ways. But as long as it's of high-quality, which means written following best practices and regularly improved/updated, there are way fewer chances you'll be experiencing any issues by installing it.
So the question now is: how can you find high-quality WordPress plugins?
How to be sure you install only high-quality WordPress plugins on your website
A plugin is only as good as the code behind it. This is because a well-written and constantly improved/updated WordPress plugin is much more efficient than 100 poorly-written and neglected ones. In fact, the number of times a plugin is updated is one of the greatest indicators towards its quality. Francesco explains further:
All plugins need to be updated. Take a complex plugin like WooCommerce, or well-known ones such as Contact Form 7, Akismet, Gravity Forms: they all require new updates and improvements from their developers. When a given plugin was last updated is an important indicator when choosing a plugin to be installed and that's something we can check directly from the plugin page on the WordPress directory.
The reputation of the people behind a plugin matters
The developers behind a plugin, and their reputation for rolling out regular updates, are important elements you might want to consider when deciding whether to install a specific plugin on your website or not. For example, premium plugins like Gravity Forms, Easy Digital Downloads, Advanced Custom Fields have strong names and companies working behind in order to ensure that these additional chunks of code are working at their best.
Another quick way to gather info around a plugin is, of course, provided by looking at its ratings score. Don't stop just by looking at the stars, and try to dig a bit deeper and read why users of that plugin either love it or have rated it with a low rating score.
Ask help to a professional to evaluate a WordPress plugin
An experienced and trustworthy developer is one of your biggest assets when it comes to matters that involve a certain level of technicality. A simple Google search for WordPress plugins and then sifting through reviews is not adequate to make a correct business decision.
A WordPress developer comes in handy in this regard because they won't just be able to assess the plugin's quality (as you imagined). They will also provide you with insights on how that plugin will impact and affect your performances, security, and whether it'll be smoothly integrated into your current plugins stack. Francesco highlights the dangers of installing plugins on your own:
If you keeping installing plugins one after another just by picking the first ones that come out of a Google search, very soon your website will become slow, clunky, and probably with some security flaws. While having a developer doing plugin orchestration, and suggesting when it’s worth installing a plugin or custom develop a feature, you'll be sure that every plugin you'll be installing will be a good one and your site will stay healthy.
So what are the most common issues with installing low-quality WordPress plugin on your site?
As you've seen, the number of plugins doesn't matter at all as long as they're quality products. The bigger the slice of poorly-coded you have installed, the higher your chances to experience at least one of the following issues:
- Security flaws
- Site crashes
- Poor performance and speed
- Increased HTTP requests and/or additional database queries
- Reliability issues
- Higher maintenance costs
One of the key aspects when talking about WordPress plugins is that website owners tend to ignore the importance of putting some resources into improving the quality and efficiency of the plugins they install. This is because they wish to save a few bucks here and there but they don’t realize the impact this has in the long run. Francesco elaborates:
If we bring in more poorly-coded plugins, or even plugins that are too big for our needs, the maintenance costs will increase over time. WordPress is an ever-evolving platform, and your website needs to keep up with its pace in this ever-evolving development strategy. The more plugins you bring in to your website, the more expensive it will become to maintain it properly, to keep its performances high, and to keep it secure.
It's not the number of WordPress plugins you've decided to install on your website what you should focus on. The quantity of plugins isn't related to growing your business, either directly or indirectly.
Rather, it's their quality what you should focus on. Especially, it's about how good the plugins you decide to use have been coded. It's how smoothly they interact and run within your plugins stack. It's how they don't negatively affect your performances by being resource-intensive. It's how they are continuously updated and improved by their developers so that they can't be exploited for malicious attacks which might take down your site.
From a higher-level perspective, it's about paying attention and bringing into focus those elements affecting your business. And, certainly, knowing how many windows you have at your office isn't one of them.
This blog post features Francesco Carlucci, a technology expert and software developer helping companies to reach their goals since 2007. He specializes in enterprise-level WordPress development, custom integrations, e-commerce, and performance-oriented solutions. When he is not writing code, you can probably find him writing blog posts for internet entrepreneurs.