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November 6, 2018

Advice from an Expert: How to Weed Out Unnecessary WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are a big part of what makes the platform so flexible. I look at between 100 and 200 plugins per day, and there’s truly a lot that you can accomplish with them. That doesn’t mean that every plugin is a good one, and a lot of sites are hosting plugins that are unnecessary. 

Unnecessary WordPress plugins are sometimes installed by the site owner or webmaster. Alternatively, they could show up inside a theme or as part of a package of plugins. They don’t always look unnecessary at first, but they can still be slowing down your site or causing problems on the back end that make your website less responsive. It’s important to identify these plugins and find good plugins that address the same needs without adding dead weight to your website and frustrating your site’s visitors.

Here’s how to sort the bad plugins from the good.

The Making of a Good Plugin

How do you tell good from bad?

Unfortunately, as someone who does a lot of code review for developers creating plugins for WordPress, I see bad plugins all too often.

You know the type—a bad plugin slows your site down, does its work in a convoluted way, and can be worse for your WordPress site than not having it installed at all. 

Of course, there are a lot of excellent plugins available as well. Good plugins don’t reinvent the wheel. They do their jobs efficiently and address a unique problem that hasn’t already been solved. When exploring new plugins, look for those that break new ground with an effective and innovative solution to a problem.

How to Identify a Good WordPress Plugin

If you’re going to install a plugin, one of the best ways to find a good one that won’t harm your site is to do some research into who created the plugin and how they did it.

See if they actually use WordPress and are actively involved in the WordPress community. Checking out their personal or company site to see if it uses WordPress can help you gauge their own level of experience with the platform and their knowledge of it. Not being a WordPress user is a warning sign that this developer is probably not someone who can develop well for WordPress.

Developers who actively give talks about WordPress and participate in WordPress meetups and events are more likely to know what they’re doing and to be strong developers for the platform. WordPress has a strong and active community of developers who express interest in helping plugin users improve their websites and find the right solutions. Answering user questions in the free support forums and being responsive to what other people say about their code are other good signs. You want to know if that developer is a good WordPress citizen and is interested in supporting WordPress users.

From there, I also look at plugin reviews and ratings, but I also take them with a grain of salt. What works for one user may not work for another. Your own mileage may vary with any plugin, and it’s important to remember that. What you are trying to determine by looking at reviews is whether or not problems mentioned are subjective issues or fatal flaws. 

While a large number of positive reviews for a plugin is a good sign, that may not mean as much as one trustworthy review. If you know a user who reviewed the plugin personally, then you can give their review more weight and that might help you make your decision.

As a general rule, a widely used plugin is probably a safer bet than one that’s lesser known. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a widely used plugin is going to be exactly what you need. It can be helpful to look at the code if you can before installing a plugin. While this isn’t something everyone has the knowledge to do, it does give you a glimpse at how the developer tackled the project.

Ultimately, picking a plugin sometimes come down to your gut. If you ever have a bad feeling about a plugin you encounter, it’s okay to walk away. In fact, I’d advise it!

Removing Unnecessary Plugins—The Last Step

So, now you know what sketchy and pointless plugins look like (They’re the ones slowing you down and getting in the way of what you want your site to accomplish.) let’s talk about removing them. Once you’ve identified a problem plugin, you can deactivate it and delete it afterwards. (Note: Leaving an inactive plugin on your site without deleting it can give that plugin the opportunity to create an ongoing security risk.) Deactivation and deletion should be a straightforward process. A better idea is to also delete any lingering files in your directory. An even better idea is to use the plugin’s uninstall process if it has one.

There’s no set number of plugins you need to target for removal to keep your WordPress site healthy and responsive. While some people say you should limit how many plugins you have on your site, the truth is that it’s okay to have more plugins as long as they all work and play well together. 

You also don’t want a large number of plugins that do the same task, either. If you have redundant plugins, target some of them for removal after choosing one good plugin that can handle the work you need accomplished. 

Plugin removal can feel good, and it should. This is important maintenance work that helps make your WordPress site better. So, analyze those plugins already on your site. Remove those that don’t belong, and go forth and enjoy a leaner and meaner website.


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As DreamHost’s official WordPress guru, Mika Epstein troubleshoots any issue that comes up, offers top-notch support, and plays a key role in building and maintaining DreamPress, the managed WordPress hosting solution DreamHost offers. When she’s not working as a WordPress developer, she’s racking up stamps in her passport to speak at WordCamps about coding and open source technology. She also writes about these topics—and more—on her personal WordPress website.

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