One of the great things about using WordPress as a website platform, is the ability to add plugins to get the features and functionality you need. Plugins can be an amazing tool, but you need to understand what plugins do and how to pick and use them effectively.

Think of plugins as modular additions to a home. They come pre-fabricated, serve a specific purpose and do a specific thing.

There are two important points to remember when it comes to plugins:

  1. Only have what you need, and
  2. Take care of what you have.

Only have what is absolutely necessary

There is no set guideline or best practice when it comes to how many plugins a website should have. That said, there is definitely such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. Fewer is better, for a whole bunch of reasons.

They don’t always play nicely together

Plugins can sometimes have conflicts with other plugins, or they can run into security issues, or they can become unmaintained, all of which can result in breaking part or all of your website.

They can impact your page speed

Plugins add functionality to your website, and in some cases, that means adding additional assets that your website needs to load, things like images and code, all of which can affect how quickly your website loads.

If you have a WordPress powered website and you’re installing plugins that add features such as sliders, forms, FAQs, portfolios, etc., your site could end up being bogged down and as a result, run more slowly.

And remember, that a slow loading website has a negative impact on both your website conversions (because a slow site makes people not stick around!), and also your SEO ranking (Google does not like slow sites!).

However, if you’re adding plugins that are only in the back-end and not loading resources on the front-end, then you may have zero impact on your load times. For instance, Yoast SEO, Classic Editor, and Imagify (my recommended image optimization plugin for WordPress) all fall into that category.

Not all plugins are created equal

Stop hoarding plugins!

Plugins are easy to get and add, but they’re also really easy to forget about.

So many websites are bogged down with plugins that no longer do what they’re supposed to or are just no longer needed.

In my experience, marketing companies and those DIYing their websites are particularly at risk of this happening. They tend to add plugins they hope will serve a specific purpose and then they just leave them running in the back end, even if they don’t do the desired job and aren’t actually being used.

Remember what I said about too many cooks in the kitchen?

Someone DIYing their website might install three different plugins that do the same thing, just in different ways and then decide they like the last one they added and use that one.

But, often times they will leave the other plugins (that didn’t work out) still active and so potentially you could now be loading 3 sets of assets to your website when only one set is necessary.

The result?

A slower loading website and more potential maintenance headaches for you.

It’s not only performance issues that are a concern with multiple plugins. Just by having more plugins, you open yourself up to more security  issues.

For example, someone with five plugins is better off than someone with thirty plugins, simply based on having fewer plugins.

How do you know which plugins are good and which ones suck?

If you have the knowledge about which plugin creators are reliable, you begin to know which plugins are better and will be maintained. But let’s be honest, the typical creative professional is not going to be able to make this determination.

After all, you’re specialists in your own industry, not website plugins!

Then, as if you’re not already busy enough, plugins require monitoring and updates.

Bugs need to be fixed and updates installed, which means that more plugins means more work and more maintenance for you. Meanwhile, what you really want to be doing is focusing on the creative work of your business, whether that’s planning a wedding, or catering an event, or designing stationery, or whatever is your specialty.

Keep your active plugins up to date!

Regular maintenance of your WordPress plugins is vital to making sure your website continues to function smoothly. Some plugin updates include important security updates to fix vulnerabilities that could otherwise leave you open to having your website hacked.

And my friend, hacking happens so much more often than you may realize.

Even if they aren’t security patches, there are other important reasons to stay on top of the plugin updates.

For example, updates often include new or improved features that will benefit your website. Or it may include performance updates that could result in your website loading faster (and as I said before, that can lead to better website conversions and search rankings for your business).

How to do a plugin cleanup

Now you know why it’s important to keep your plugins clean. But you may be wondering how you actually go about it, without worrying about breaking your site.

So, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you proactively clean up your own WordPress website’s plugins.

Your plugins will fall into 3 categories:

  1. Active plugins that you actually need
  2. Active plugins that are not being used and you do not need
  3. Deactivated plugins

1. Do a backup first

Before you do anything else, you must make sure you have a proper website backup system in place before you start making any changes to your plugins. It’s possible that you might think a plugin is safe to delete and then later discover that *whoops*, no, you really did need it.

I wholeheartedly recommend VaultPress as a backups provider, and it’s extremely inexpensive. You’ll likely only need their “Jetpack Personal” plan at just $39/year (and monthly payment options are also available).

(Need help installing VaultPress on your website? We can do it within 1 hour and remove that task from your plate.)

2. Review your plugins

Okay, so you have your backups system in place now and you’ve verified that there’s a backup in Vaultpress’s vault, right? Great, let’s move on to the next step.

Go through your plugins and note which ones you are actively using and what each plugin is for.

If you’re not sure what a plugin is, go to the plugins page and read the description of each plugin. You can visit a plugin page by clicking “View Details” or “Visit plugin site.”

3. Deactivate any unused plugins

If there are any plugins you know that you no longer need, it’s safe to deactivate them (note that I said deactivate, not delete).

For example, perhaps you added a plugin for a short term, limited purpose and you no longer need it. Or, maybe you used to use one gallery plugin and now you’re using something better, but never got around to deleting the original one.

4. Test!

It’s key to ensure that you always double check your website is still in in full working order after deactivating each plugin.

So, deactivate each plugin, ensure you clear the cache on your website (including any caching plugins you’ve installed, such as WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, etc.) and then view your website, ideally in private browsing or incognito mode.

Check all pages, posts, etc. to see what’s different (if anything). If everything looks good, continue on deactivating plugins and testing. Rinse and repeat.

5. Delete

Only once you’re sure you don’t need a specific plugin, would I recommend permanently deleting it from your website.

It’s really important to realize that some plugins will have no visual effect on your website, so be careful.

If you aren’t entirely aware of what a plugin does, ask for help. If you worked with a developer to build your website and you aren’t sure why they added specific plugins, be sure to enlist their support in doing your clean up. They should be able to give you some insight into what you’re looking at, why it’s there and if you need it.

Here are some reasons why deleting unneeded plugins is a good practice:

  • To reduce future problems on your website: Plugins can sometimes lead to conflicts with WordPress or other plugins. Having fewer plugins on your site will reduce the risk of this happening, which means less work and fewer headaches for you.
  • To increase security: Plugins can occasionally have security holes, especially if they aren’t maintained or updated. Having fewer plugins mitigates some of the risk, so you’re less likely to have your website hacked. Trust me, that is a nightmare you don’t want to deal with if you don’t have to.
  • To potentially improve page load speed: Since many plugins add extra stuff like JavaScript and CSS to your website, removing plugins you no longer need can reduce the load on your website and as a result, help it load faster (and a faster loading website ultimately results in a better ranking in Google).

At the end of the day, don’t fall into the trap of “I’m not using it, why do I need to update it,” and then just leave it there not updated.

If you’re not using certain plugins, remove them.

And always, always keep your plugins up to date.

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