How many plugins does your website need?

When it comes to plugins, opinions and advice are mixed. Some people place a hard limit on how many plugins you should use on your website — no more than 20, no more than 10, or even none at all. Why is this such a big deal, and does it really matter how many plugins you have on your website? Let’s take a look at how plugins work to gain a better understanding.

Why does it matter how many plugins you have on your website?

Let’s suppose that, just for fun, you decided to install and activate every plugin available in your Dashboard (at Plugins → Add New). At the time of our writing, that’s over 54,000 plugins! What would happen?

Loading speed concerns

One reason an excessive amount of plugins can create a problem is that it increases the amount of data it takes to load your website. This makes your site take longer to load, and uses up more data for mobile visitors. If you installed 54,000 plugins on your site and activate them all, your website would likely time out before it is able to load, rendering it completely unusable. More realistically, if you install an excessive but more realistic number of plugins on your site, the extra data could make your pages load slowly — but you’d really have to go over the top to make it so slow that it times out.

Learn more: How to use analytics to test your site’s loading speed

Security concerns

Every third-party plugin you install is another potential point of entry for a hacker. This doesn’t mean you have much of a reason to be concerned, but if you’re using plugins that haven’t been updated in a long time, they’re especially vulnerable to hacking, especially if they come from a third party rather than being installed from the built-in WordPress plugin database or WordPress.org (for clarity, these are the same thing — the plugins available at wordpress.org/plugins are the ones available through your Dashboard at Plugins → Add New). Even though the built-in plugins are vetted thoroughly, on rare occasions they can be vulnerable to hacking.

Learn more: Is WordPress vulnerable to malware or hacking?

Compatibility concerns

One thing we should point out is that it’s actually not possible to install and activate every plugin available. Some plugins have built-in checkers to ensure you’re not already using other plugins that do the same thing. Unfortunately, though, not every plugin includes a check like this, so it’s possible to use two plugins that do the same thing. In this case, you could end up with problems on your website because these two plugins are simultaneously trying to control the same element of your site. For example, don’t use two SEO plugins at the same time, because they both add the same tags to your posts and pages, so you’ll end up with duplicate tags or one plugin’s tags getting overwritten by the other one.

Learn more: 4 tips for WordPress plugin management

Some plugins impact your site more than others

With these three potential concerns in mind, it’s important to understand that every plugin is different. Some are very lightweight and won’t slow your site down much at all, but other plugins are massive, meaning one large plugin could bloat your site more than 15 or 20 small ones. Well-maintained plugins won’t be much of a security risk at all, but one abandoned plugin could be enough to make your site vulnerable to hacking even if you don’t have any others installed. You could use 100 plugins that all do different things and have no compatibility issues, or you could only have two installed that conflict with each other. With that in mind, it’s clear that there really isn’t a hard limit for a maximum number of plugins you should have.

How many plugins is too many?

Instead of focusing on a specific number, the answer is “just enough.” Don’t use plugins you don’t need, but if a plugin will make your site work better for you, don’t feel concerned about using it as long as it is well-maintained and doesn’t conflict with another plugin on your site.

For loading speed concerns, consider that the biggest impacts on page loading time are file size and number of requests. Even if you use all lightweight plugins, the number of requests can pile up, and that can slow your site down as well. Remember that one request is simply your site loading another file. That means that every plugin you install adds at least one request — and some add more if they include a bunch of files that are loaded on every page. But requests add up in other ways too: every image is an additional request, your theme adds at least 10 or so requests, and WordPress itself has several too. It’s fine to have 40 or 50 requests, but you’ll want to have no more than the low 80s. Obviously, that means 30 or 40 plugins will likely lead to too many requests, but rather than obsessing over a specific number, stick with “just enough” and use our page loading speed tips to ensure your site is loading quickly and you should be fine.

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