Whenever possible, avoid the all-in-one plugins.

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Plugins are cool, and supply a lot of the juice that makes WordPress so popular. We could write an entire book about plugins, but for right now, we’re going to look at some of the ways plugins can cause problems for your website. Has your site suddenly started crashing for no apparent reason? Are page elements disappearing or looking weird? Or has your site suddenly ground to a halt, with pages loading in slow motion?

All these problems and more can often be traced to a plugin problem. Keep in mind that not all plugins are created equal.

There are no dangers from plugins as long as you have the savvy to undo any damge when they blow up because of incompatibility with your chosen theme. Experimenting in advance of production with a deadline is a good idea.
There are no dangers from plugins as long as you have the skill to undo any unforeseen damage. Plugins can sometimes “blow up” because of incompatibility with your chosen theme. If you have a tight deadline, allow extra time for experimenting just in case of bad luck.

Some plugins try to do too much. When you first installed WordPress you may have noticed that the JetPack plugin was already sitting there waiting for you to start using it. It’s hard to resist a plugin that’s created by the same outfit that develops WordPress itself, a plugin that does so many different things, and a plugin that you don’t have to pay for. That’s got to be good. Right? Wrong. The last time we checked, JetPack comprised over 30 modules – lots of fun and helpful tricks – but the first thing we do when we install WordPress is deactivate and uninstall JetPack. We like some of the things JetPack can do, but we’ve determined that JetPack is a resource hog, and can really slow things down.

The best plugins do one thing, and do that one thing very well. Whenever possible, avoid the all-in-one plugins, remembering that a specialized tool will always do better than a Swiss Army Knife.

If your site suddenly slows down, a plugin is probably the cause. Of course this assumes that you already know that it’s not a hosting problem, or caused by un-optimized graphics.

Think for a minute. Have you recently installed a plugin? If so, and if your site was running OK until just recently, consider that recently installed plugin your number one suspect. Deactivate that plugin, and see if your speed returns to normal. If so, that plugin was the culprit, and it’s time to look for a different plugin. If that doesn’t help, deactivate all the plugins, and check the speed. If the speed seems normal with no plugins running, re-activate your plugins one at a time – checking the page speed after each re-activation until you find the misbehaving plugin.

Plugin, heal thyself. OK, a plugin can’t heal itself, but there’s one plugin that can help you figure out what other plugins are causing problems. The P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) plugin analyzes what the other plugins are doing, and will show you which plugins may be dragging things down.

Popular plugins are not always the best. While looking for a plugin, the WordPress plugin directory lets you see how many other people have downloaded a particular plugin. So you might think that if one plugin has been downloaded three million times, while another plugin that does the same thing has only been downloaded three thousand times, the more “popular” plugin must be better. Maybe. But before downloading and installing, check the reviews and support-forum entries for each of those plugins, and then decide. Our own testing showed that a wildly popular contact-form plugin is not as fast (or as secure) as a much less-popular plugin that does the same thing.

Plugins are a lot like chocolate cake. There’s not much that’s better than chocolate cake, but too much cake can cause problems. Just as discovering a great plugin is a real treat, too many plugins can ruin everything. There’s no magic number where you can say it’s too much. Some people run 20 or more plugins with no problems. But every plugin extracts a price, no matter how small. We’re not saying keep plugins to a minimum – just use them in moderation, and be alert for problems.

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