Is that “killer” plugin killing your blog?

Within your WordPress dashboard lies something akin to a candy store for website owners: all-you-can-eat plugins. One click and you can solve any website problem (real or potential).

The best part? Everything’s F R E E !!!

Photo by Pete Wright on Unsplash

Except…it’s not. Not always.

What the hell, you ask? Friend, if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’ when I tell you this:

WordPress plugins n-e-v-e-r come without a cost

Before you assume I’m about to suggest that you delete every plugin from your website, relax. I get that there are bomb-diggity plugins out there that absolutely help your website do its thing.

BUT…

If you want people to stay on your site, and read your stuff, and buy your things, and not bail on your slow-ass home page, you must understand the benefit and impact of any WordPress plugin you use.

Then you can choose wisely. Judiciously. Insisting that every plugin you allow into your site earn its keep, or you’ll make it disappear.

Man, what a badass you’ll be.

Plugins – we just don’t understand them

Most plugins aren’t just one, innocuous thing that sits in your WordPress dashboard. On the contrary – even the best ones use multiple files to do their jobs. If that job is at all outside the dashboard (most are), the plugin essentially tells your site:

“Dude – stick this in the page, too. Oh, wait – you need these instructions to make my stuff look right.” And sometimes, “Just a sec while I grab this scripty thing I left at my friend’s place across the internet.”

This process doesn’t always have a noticeable impact. Some plugins are well-coded, super-speedy nuggets of genius. The tasks you ask of them aren’t too demanding. Your web hosting is top notch so the server your site sits on can respond to the plugin’s requests, lickety split.

Let us explore your plugin’s environment…
via Wikimedia Commons

But let’s be real. In an honest assessment of any given plugin or its environment, there will be shortcomings.

If we were plugin psychiatrists we’d ponder their nature (well-coded genetics, we hope) as well as how they’re cared for (with the resources they need to do their best).

None will be perfect. We just don’t want any bad seeds, nor do we want to expect brilliant performance from a plugin that needs more resources than we can provide.

Which brings us to our final plugin point to ponder: How many plugins you have has as big an effect on your site’s performance as the quality and efficiency of an individual plugin.

Even the better website hosting servers – the ones 85% of website owners don’t use – get bogged down when you ask them to do too many things at once.

The solution? 1) Don’t install plugins without a very good reason; and 2) Make sure those you do have installed have the resources needed to work without dragging your site down.

Unless you want people to leave because your site is annoyingly slow. Your call.

You can do things without plugins – I swear

Does your e-mail marketing service provider encourage you to download a snazzy plugin instead of copying and pasting a line or two of code? Ya, mine too. When I installed the ConvertKit plugin, my page load time took a dump.

Love ya, ConvertKit, but your plugin? NO. Deactivated. Deleted. See ya.

Other e-mail service and signup plugins aren’t likely to be any better. They all go out and fetch their files from wherever on the internet. That takes time. And they do it with every. single. page load. Even if you don’t have a signup form on that page.

SumoMe is a lightweight plugin like Takakeishō is a featherweight wrestler.
Photo by FourTildes

Popular pop-up purveyor SumoMe is a sumo-sized performance drag. To make matters worse, I often find people using SumoMe on top of whatever else they’re doing to ask for e-mail signups.

I admit I haven’t conducted an exhaustive review of all pop-over options, but I can promise you this:

  1. All pop-overs, pop-ups, fly-ins, exit intents, etc. need scripts to work. ALL.
  2. The more things the plugin you <3 does, the longer your visitor will wait. At least, you hope they’ll wait.

There’s also the annoyance factor to consider when using pop-overs or pop-ups instead of a simple form. They’re supposed to encourage more signups. But the only place I find data to support that claim is on the websites of the companies that make the plugins. Coincidence?

Here’s another task many people think requires a plugin: Social media profile links. The favorites of website newbies are oftentimes the worst-offender plugins that seriously slow their site.

If that’s you, it’s OK. You didn’t know. Look at you soaking up the knowledge now, tho!

Here’s a better alternative: Use simple icons and link them to each social profile. Those plugins that show everyone your Twitter or Facebook profile add multiple scripts, as well as images and styling that probably clash with your actual content.

How about adding your social icons in a footer (or sidebar, if you like…or header, if your theme has that option) widget? Here’s a decent set of instructions for doing just that: https://socialmediawidgets.wordpress.com/

Not feeling fearless enough for even baby-step HTML? OK. Maybe another day. For now, at least switch to a plugin without all the bells and whistles. Try this one: Lightweight Social Icons

In case my social widget skepticism was misplaced, I looked for evidence one way or another. I found nothing to support the idea that an embedded widget gets you more followers than a simple icon.

Here’s what I think: Those plugins and their fancy widgets boost the social media channel’s brand. Not yours.

Recap + action plan

Here’s my bottom line on plugins:

  • Most of them add multiple files that are loaded into every page, slowing your site a little. Or a lot.
  • There are often better ways to accomplish a task than installing a plugin, so don’t automatically add one.
  • You should know both the benefits and impact of every plugin you use.

I know that last one is tricky and takes a little bit of time, especially if you have a lot of plugins. Here’s a realistic approach to trim any plugin fat and get your site loading faster, ideally in two or three seconds or less:

  1. Figure out how quickly your site loads. A test at GTMetrix is good enough to get a quick idea.
  2. Take a hard look at every plugin in your WordPress install. Any you’re not really using? Great! Deactivate & delete.
  3. Make another pass. Are there plugins you might be able to do without, but you’re not 100% sure? That’s cool. Deactivate, but don’t delete just yet. You’ll still need to update these plugins, but they won’t load and affect your site’s speed.
  4. The next time you log in, or maybe the time after that, delete deactivated plugins you did fine without.
  5. Go back to GTMetrix and do another test. Over three seconds? Repeat steps two through five.

Full disclosure: There’s more to a quick-loading site than plugins. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be working on posts to help with other slow-site culprits so your visitors will stick around instead of giving up.

Next up will be images. You’ll be surprised at how big an impact they make on your site, and how easy it is to put the kibosh on that nonsense.

In the meantime, if you have questions about plugins just give us a shout in the comment area below. And, if your site is still dragging and you want to get it taken care of quickly, look into our WordPress Page Speed Optimization service. It’s like a performance tune-up for WordPress websites.

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