Plugins and Fast WordPress Sites – It’s not the Number of Plugins, It’s the Quality
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We’ve heard a lot about why the faster your site loads, the better your customer experience is, the higher your Pagerank will be, and the higher your site will convert. Today, I’m going to address one of the more crucial areas of site speed, and also dispel one of the most common myths about how to make WordPress load fast.
WordPress speed performance can be broken down into three major areas of focus:
Speedy managed WordPress hosting – Investing in fast WordPress hosting like WP Engine offers is one of the simplest ways to get a big win here.
Streamlined code in your theme – Googling for “free WordPress theme” is not the best way to find a well-coded theme that loads quickly.
Installing only scalable plugins – This is what we’re going to dig into today. Every plugin adds a bit of complexity to your site, and it’s important to install well-developed plugins from a reputable source.
Plugins allow site owners to exert very specific control over site performance because plugins are simple to swap out and exchanged for one another. Installing and enabling is as easy as uninstalling and disabling. If one plugin is slowing your site down, you can find a faster one or remove it altogether. In general, we always want to have the fastest set of plugins possible for the features you want the plugins to add!
Dispelling A Myth
Can you have too many plugins? There is a common refrain heard in the WordPress ecosystem, spoken at Meetups and written in blog posts that you want to run as few plugins as possible because “having too many plugins will slow your site down.” This isn’t strictly wrong, but like anything that has to do with development, there’s a bit of nuance and subtlety you can dig into here.
Yes, more plugins will add more code that a browser has to load, which can slow it down. And to paint with very broad strokes, a website with a simpler codebase will usually load faster than one with a complicated one, all other things being equal. Since plugins are basically a way of adding code without having to write it yourself, telling new WordPress folks to run as few plugins as possible is great advice. It keeps people from installing 10 different Facebook plugins that all basically perform the exact same functionality.
How many plugins is too many?
I chatted with Pippin Williamson, the developer of Easy Digital Downloads, because he’s one of the active WordPress thought leaders who runs a high number of plugins, and they load quickly. PippinsPlugins.com runs 81 in total, and EasyDigitalDownloads.com runs 83.
I wanted to investigate why this was, so I chatted with Pippin to see why he was running that many plugins, and whether or not it was affecting his site. He explained to me that the trick isn’t how many plugins you have, but what operations they need to perform in order to render your site in a visitor’s browser. Most plugins are pretty simple, but some will perform complex actions that are “expensive” in terms of backend processing, and will slow a website down. In other words, you could have a quickly loading website with 80 plugins, and add a single, complicated plugin and lose half a second (or more) of loading time!
According to Pippin, there are four major areas he looks for when he evaluates adding a plugin to his website.
Does it load lots of scripts, styles, or other assets?
Does it add extra database queries to each page?
Does it perform complex operations?
Does it perform remote requests, like to external APIs?
Load a lot of scripts, styles, or other assets on pages.
There are two ways to speed this process up. The first is to stop plugins from loading certain things altogether. Some plugins are set to load files on every pageload, even when they aren’t necessary for that page. You want to specify when the file is loaded.
The other way to speed pageload time is to load the assets either asynchronously, or even after everything else has been loaded on the page. A good example is loading Google Analytics asynchronously so that it doesn’t block other requests from loading in the process. Google Analytics is essential to your website’s SEO, but it’s also a big file, so you want to make sure it can be loaded at the same time other assets are loaded, rather than in serial, so it would hold everything up.
Plugins that add extra database queries to each page
Database queries have a large impact on performance, and plugins can make a lot of these requests if the plugin author wasn’t careful. For example, plugins that track post/page views by storing a value in the database every time a page is loaded will dramatically impact performance over time because the server has to make an additional MySQL request for that number on each page.
Now, the number of page views or comments on a post can be important to display, but it’s not a mission-critical enough to hit the database every time you load a page. In order to reduce this, you can reduce the frequency a plugin queries the database, or kill specific database requests altogether and save the processing power in addition to speeding your site up.
If a plugin is making a lot of database calls, it’s important to evaluate the importance of that plugin’s functionality and weigh it against the speed of your site. If you can find an alternate plugin that makes fewer database calls, you may consider using that one instead. A good developer will be able to help you work through questions like this.
Plugins that need to perform complex operations
Plugins that query large amounts of data and then perform an action with the data will impact performance. In general, plugins that perform overly complex operations should do them off server, and not in your WordPress hosting environment.
Good examples of this are the class of ‘Related Posts’ plugins that create FULLTEXT indexes on the “posts” table in MySQL. A FULLTEXT index is essentially a mechanism for making complex search queries against the content of posts, like “posts which contain A and B but not C or D.” It turns the MySQL database into a mini search engine, which really isn’t what MySQL was designed to be.
These queries become increasingly problematic as sites get larger and larger because the FULLTEXT index will continue to grow as well. At run time, the index will consume huge amounts of resources. Over time, the site slows to a crawl, and in extreme cases can crash the server if it runs out of threads.
Plugins that perform a lot of remote requests
This can include requests to external APIs from 3rd party services, and the like. Anything where your site needs to make an external request in order to run can impact performance.
Again, this comes down to the number of requests that have to be made by your site before a page can load. The more times you have to request data from an external API, the more times you have to wait for a response from that API.
You can have plugins that request data from external APIs (earning reports, page views, etc.), you just want to ensure that they don’t adversely affect performance by caching the requests. Caching the request will mean that the request doesn’t have to run every time you load a page, which will save you a great deal of time.
So how many plugins is too many?
Breaking this down, the number of plugins is less important than the quality of them. When you hear folks tell you, “running fewer plugins will make your site faster,” that’s not 100% true. Sometimes a single plugin can make all the difference in pageload time because it loads too many scripts, or hits the database with expensive requests.
If you think your site is loading slowly, and a plugin may be the culprit, there’s a very simple way to test this out, and you don’t have to be a hardcore developer to do it. To check for unscalable plugins, all you need to deactivate all of them from the plugin menu in the wp-admin and then load your site. If the site loads faster, you know that there was an issue with one or more plugins. Now, activate the plugins one at a time, loading the homepage every time to narrow down which plugin is causing the slowdown.
Once you’ve discovered which plugin is the culprit, it’s time to find a replacement. Ask around at your next Meetup, or in an online community to find a replacement. Of course, then you can write a blog post about what you’ve learned to share what you know. If you run into an issue, it’s very likely that someone else has run into the very same one. Your blog post will make a huge difference!
Consistently updating your plugins is key to any successful and secure WordPress site. To help you manage your plugins with confidence, WP Engine created the Smart Plugin Manager. Smart Plugin Manager is an automated solution that checks your plugins for updates nightly and ensures that when updates happen, your site doesn’t break.
Hope this helps.
Join the conversation.
There are 70 comments
A more eloquent solution than deactivating all plugins would be awesome.
I try and keep down the number of plugins but since I’m using a budget shared hosting provider I appreciate that my sites will never be fast.
I’d love to go with you guys, especially now that you have servers in the UK, but cost prevents it.
Maybe at some time in the future!
Good article Austin, thanks!
I’ve always liked using the P3 plugin (ironic, I know) to give me an idea which plugins are bogging my site down. It’s helped me diagnose more than a few rogue plugs over the years.
We really liked having chat window in the sidebar of our site. It made authors and readers feel a lot more connected. It had a unique power beyond what they got from comment conversations. We used Chatroll which worked pretty well. But it REALLY slowed our page loads down dramatically. It was a tough call, but in the end we decided to live without chat.
I run 46 on one site and I have to agree, it’s not the number it’s the quality of the coding that matters most. And I too use the P3 Plugin to track down the resource hogs.
I don’t use any caching or performance enhancers but rather cloud hosting to eliminate many performance issues. It has taken 3 years to gather a list of essential plugins that don’t affect the overall performance. Others are Theme Specific and don’t really have an influence on performance but if they weren’t well written that might be different.
My host has set his service up on Amazon with integrated Amazon SES email autoresponder and I host 10 sites for $29 a month total. I can host as many as I care to on the one account and love the performance. Cloud hosting is the only solution for me.
I read your message and I wonder if you can share the list of plug ins you found not to affect performance?
Thanks in advance,
Very informative article Austin..and you simply debunked the myth of using too many plugins…. I would also like to add a plugin here “P3 profiler plugin”, which will let a user check, which plugin is taking maximum time to load, queries and other vital details… As this will help one to find a plugin which is taking ages to load……
I run 80+ plugins too, but I can narrow the speed hogging plugins down to just a couple. The rest of zero noticeable impact on performance.
So tru, the best thing to do is analyse page load speeds and performance and then start removing elements that arent required and optimising your site. I did it on my site, reduced the http requests by 60% and page load speed went up massively.
Thank you for this informative article! I have heard the common advice about plugins and certainly try to follow it. But I do run several plugins for things I can not code. It helps to know what I’m looking for (and to avoid) since I do need them, but really need to speed up site loading.
I just moved one of my sites to WPEnine at the end of August, went live last week.
The process of removing plugins onthe do not use list was not easy, but I understood the reasons.
I struggle though still with one. We had to get rid of Contextual Related Posts and replace it with the recommended Nrelate plugin that runs a process on their own server to determine what posts might or mit not be related.
I understand the performance trade off here, but in reality I’m watching my bounce rate go up after this switch because the logic just isn’t as strong at nrelate as it is in an internal plugin that analyzes each and every post contextually. 🙁
Speed is an important aspect uf the user interface, but so is recommending that next page to read (my site is an online version of a physical magazine).
I’d challenge WPEngine to find some creative business or technical solutionfor those of us that need a more resource intensive plugin from time to time.
On a related note, as I went through the migration, our biggest challenge and question was
“Did we get all of our images transferred over to the new server?”
Again WPEngine does not allow users to use the Broken Link Checker plugin. Alternatives are recommended. I tried them and they are saddly totally ineffectual and pail in comparison to the depth, accuracy, and ease of use of the Broken Link Checker plugin.
I’d further challenge WPEngine to consider allowing migration related plugins like this at least for some initial period of time.
This is actually pretty horrible advise. I imagine people are now going to install dozens of plugins because of what they read here.
My clients don’t understand 99% of what you wrote here. It’s far similar to tell them not to install too many plugins than explain all of this. Having to quality ensure every plugin the client installs is unrealistic. For a huge percent of people using WordPress, they have no idea which plugins are “quality” and which are not. While it does not take care of the solution of slow sites running bad plugins, it’s certainly easier and more affective to people that don’t understand WordPress to use LESS plugins.
*it’s far simpler*
can’t agree more
We run: http://wordpress.org/plugins/p3-profiler/ and find out what is causing the overhead; it will usually be pretty clear which the worse offenders are. When we find a bad one, we determine if we can live without it or find a replacement.
Great find Tyler, thanks for sharing, already discovered that SEO ultimate was a major resource now testing with Yoast plugin instead but still showing em results after scan for seo ultimate which is now deleted lol.
Probably just needs to login again.
Such a useful plugin though, great share!
I agree with Michael that most people running wordpress have no idea which plugins are “quality” and which are not.
Can someone write a post on this, I mean how can we judge the plugins quality for better page load.
I wouldn’t call it horrible advice. Clients hire us in order to translate/control and help them make proper decisions. Rules like “Don’t do X, Y or Z” with no reasons don’t allow us to make intelligent decisions. I appreciate the “whys” about things so I can be pragmatic and smart in my development decision-making.
If your business model is to install WP, tell your client not to install too much, and set them free only to return for emergencies, then yea—perhaps you shouldn’t encourage them to read this. But if you are charging them for advice and continued development, you should be pleased that they understand why they will continue to need you.
It would be great if web development were color-by-numbers, but it actually requires a bit more.
Nice post. I use a plugin called “P3 Plugin Performance Profiler” to test websites performance and is very useful to see what plugins are slowing wp.
Thanks for the comment!
Thanks, great article. 83 plugins. WoW and the page loads in 2 secs per webpagetest.org
I now get along fine with 7 plugins and get very near 1 sec page load times and good page speed scores.
I notice that Calendar type plugins are resource hogs. In fact Tribe basic Events Calendar, which I use and recommend, uses like 70% of all resources used by plugins. Using the excellent pro version or adding the great community add-on just made resource management unwieldy for all the event management and other features those modules added.
The lesson for me is to find the sweet spot of absolutely necessary functionality and best possible user experience via fastest page load times possible.
P3 (plugin performance plugin) at
is a valuable tool to help you see what is actually going on with your plugin demands on resources.
I manage sites at both WPEngine and Synthesis and am glad I made that investment in a serious hosting company.
Thanks Austin! I was wondering if I am running too many plugins on my site. I don’t seem to have many issues other than the inevitable broken code when I update plugins.
The article speaks of Pippin Willamson with 83 plugins so I think I’m OK with my 12. Lol
Stopped reading after “the faster your site loads … the higher your Pagerank will be”
Thanks for the great post. I was trying to know how to speed up my website when I came across this.
I guess I should start by installing the W3 Total Cache plugin.
Thanks once again!
Thanks for your comment Ken!
If you host at WP Engine you don’t need W3 Total Cache (because of our EverCache technology).
If you don’t host with us though, W3 Total Cache is something you should consider. Another option (if you don’t host with us) is WP Clean Up, which should help you trim your database: http://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-clean-up/.
Hope that helps!
Hi Kirby, thanks for the WP CLeanUp link. However, when I got there I saw this message which totally put me off! Any comments?
“This plugin hasn’t been updated in over 2 years. It may no longer be maintained or supported and may have compatibility issues when used with more recent versions of WordPress.”
Great post in a time where I am dealing with this exact issue.
I wanted to know how many queries is to many when dealing with a large mysql database?
Also, on the part about not turing your mysql db into a big search engine, well then how do you get around that if you have a listing type site (real estate lets say) and you need people to filter thousands of listings by price, type, location, rooms, etc. All very standard queries…
Thanks for your comment John.
To answer your question, there is no definitive number to how many queries are too many, but the general rule of thumb is the less queries you have the better. When dealing with searching through your database, in most instances it is best practice to cache your database requests, so that the most common queries are not run often and don’t take up server resources.
Hope that helps!
Awesome! Thanks for the valuable information !
I think Icegram is the best plugin there is,Its an All-in-one: Popups, header / footer bars, notifications, messengers which is absolutely free
check it out yourself http://www.icegram.com
Thankyou for this. Always good to hear from the experts. I guess there is a difference between using many and using them intelligently. Thanks for the post, very helpful.
Wow is really amazing idea to test and find the plugins which makes trouble in WordPress site
I’m not a programmer and I want to use this plugin:Genesis Simple Edits.It will affect my site’s speed?
Every thing can be concluded in just one sentence : It’s not quantity, it’s quality.
Wow!! Using 83 plugins on a website and run it fast it’s not easy.
We must always check the web performance and look what is consuming each part of the code. Sometimes 404 errors on some scripts may cause a nice damage on the page load.
A membership program that I joined is hosting my wordpress site and they had advised members not to install more than 5 plugins in order to affect the website loading speed.
After reading this great post, I now know what to do.
Thanks a lot.
very good information iam fan of wpengine
There is a great tool called P3 Plugin Profiler https://wordpress.org/plugins/p3-profiler/ to help figure out what Plugins are causing performance issues on your site. It gives you great graphs (simple and advanced) to get a sense of what plugins are causing issues where.
Sir,It’s very useful information for me and your ultimate guide plugin info is awesome
I agree! Quality is more important every time. You need good content, best plugins and quality people behind 😉
Great post Austin! Never would’ve thought about plugins this way. I always tried to keep it to a minimum on all of my sites because our mind would automatically assume “less is more”. Oh, and 80+ plugins! That is insane.
Great content ages like fine wine!
I just optimized one of my sites using this guide.
Thanks for the article, really useful for me.
You’re right, number of plugins isn’t so important, what & how this plugins perform is more important
This was an interesting read and one that I found useful. I’ve always read that too many plugins were a bad thing and I’ve been trying to cut down, but I love the functionality that they add and I never have less than 20-25. Glad to see its not as big a problem as I thought!
keep writing thnx
I worried about my 10-12 plugins until you mentioned 81-83 for those sites.
there is even another plugin 🙂 which will show you the number of queries each plugin is making, its sort of a debug plugin. don’t remember the name though but just people know abt this option.
Luv from learningcms.com
Well this is definitely a new perspective for me. I buy the whole quality over quantity thing, but I still keep plugins down to a minimum because I do believe that with every plugin added to your site it poses another problem – which are security risks. It’s just another entry “hole” into your site and something else to be concerned about (especially being that some plugins tend to lag in security updates). So I still operate with the minimalist approach and always search for a viable solution before I resort to installing yet another plugin.
P.S. How do you feel about one of those WordPress affiliates plugins i.e. where you’re operating your own affiliate plugin on your WordPress site and it’s steadily accumulating a growing member base. Do you think that will slow down a site?
Nice post but I don’t agree. If you have WP Rocket then there’s no need to worry. The speed will not be affected by plugins, I have experienced it.
Very well done Wp Engine! You ripped apart the myths in the minds Of bloggers and newcomers.
Technical SEO is definitly the most underrated rankingg factor. I have recently read a study where a website owner could get 40 % more traffic by reducing loading time below 1 second.
Really helpful post.
Great post Austin. There are lots of WordPress plugins out there but what differentiates them is the quality of it’s function. May I also suggest “member press” plug in, which enables user signup for your site for a paid membership subscription.
very good information, love it.
Yes, Thanks for sharing.
I agree With Austin. Quality is more important every time. Thank you for this informative article!
Quality is more important every time. Thank you for this informative article
I think both plugin and quality contributes to the value of a site.. Please has anyone make use of WP bakery page builder plugin? I need one and want to hear from those who have experience with it
This is such a nice article. Thanks for sharing this.
Really informative post Austin. This is a new perspective on this topic. I have often seen recommendations to use not more than 25-30 plugins to ensure site speed. Anyways it would be always better to reduce the use of plugins unless it is essentially required. It would always be a time-consuming process to identify the plugins that affect our site speed.
Great point. I like to use Plugins Garbage Collector to delete any plugins files left agter i delete them. 81 plugin is alot of plugins lol.
Super informative article… and you simply debunked the myth of using too many plugins….
This is a follow up comment – I have found that everything in this article is 90% correct.
Not using any plugins for this article https://hananshah.com/what-is-event-blogging/ let’s see what happens.
thanks for this. This makes sense
Good article Austin, thanks!
I agree with Michael that most people running WordPress have no idea which plugins are “quality” and which are not.
Awesome! Thanks for the valuable information!
Well said…. if you have installed quality wordpress plugins then you don’t need to worry about at all speed or anything else. I am very much curious when it comes to select plugins for my websites.
Thanks for sharing this great info.