The Herd Mentality of “Essential” WordPress Plugins.

WordPress Mobile Speed

Updated


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If you search the phrase “Essential WordPress Plugins,” you’ll get about 1.8 million results. They all tend to regurgitate suggestions for the same old plugins. Copycat content. No wonder the identical plugins keep getting more installs. Even when better alternatives exist.

Sorting and testing all the new plugins is too much work. So people don’t test. They assume. The assumption is “popularity” is good. For plugins, that is usually decided by looking at the number of active installs. Active installs is not a sign of quality or performance. It’s a standard of herd mentality.

Herd mentality, or mob mentality, describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors. Examples of the herd mentality include nationalism, stock market trends, superstition, and home décor. —Wikipedia

Many recommended “essential” plugins have negative speed repercussions.

Our rule of thumb is: the more popular a plugin is (active installs), the higher the probability it’s a slow loading plugin. Why? We don’t know exactly why this correlates. But it holds up in our speed testing.

It’s the quality –not quantity– of plugins that slows down a site. Speed testing free plugins and themes is our specialty.

PagePipe.com (our blog) has 53 active plugins. It loads in under a half second in the USA and about 1.2 seconds for Europe (Pingdom.com). It can vary. That is using the cheapest, shared, old-magnetic GoDaddy hosting located in Arizona. No CDN. It will go even faster when GoDaddy updates to PHP 7.1 – but they’re running on outdated version 5.4. We share our server with 24 other domains. Why? We want to prove a point: You can use “speed strategy” rather than throwing money at load-time problems.

Our Mantra is avoid popular plugins. High number active installs means they’re the slowest.

We don’t know why “popular = bloated.” We speculate the plugin authors are content and apathetic to speed and quality. Popular plugins existed first and use old unoptimized coding techniques (obsolescence). They tend to get heavier with revisions instead of lighter (kludges).

The authors of old plugins don’t have competitive motivation to be lean for speed. This isn’t true for newer, less-installed, lighter plugins. Speed (load time) is now a desired feature we’re seeing more because of mobile devices. But fresh, fast plugins are not easy to find. There are 50,000+ plugins in the free directory. Wow! An ocean. We’ve calculated the directory growth rate and it’s 20 percent annually. That means 10,000 more plugins potentially in 2017.

What is more characteristic of “goodness” is retention rate. That’s calculated by taking the active installs and dividing by the number of downloads for all time. A plugin with a retention of 20 percent is pretty good. If it’s 5 percent or less, it’s a danger sign. They were tried – and dumped.

Slow plugin’s download file size is a clue. Bigger files load slower. There are some exceptions – but they are few.

Typical erroneous herd plugin suggestions

Jetpack
Always recommended by unknowing blogs.
https://pagepipe.com/the-truth-about-jetpack/

Anti-spam
Myth: A plugin to protect your site from spam comments is vital. Prevents user registrations from bots.
The usual recomendation is Akismet (installed with WordPress).
We say: Disable comments with a plugin. And get rid of Akismet, too. They’re a waste of time. Read more here:
https://pagepipe.com/does-akismet-plugin-help-or-hinder-wordpress-page-speed/

Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps are supposed to help SEO. We’ve found they are unnecessary. Google is quite capable of crawling your site fast. The best reason to include a sitemap is for visitors to find things. This is called “findability.” So we recommend using an HTML sitemap. But we’ve found a nice plugin that does both:
Simple WP Sitemap, Active Installs: 30,000+, download size: 115k.

Schema
All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin. Fiddling with snippets is unproductive. Read more: https://pagepipe.com/speed-up-yoast-seo-plugin-remove-it/

Caching
Myth: Caching plugins speed up your site and make it quicker to access.
The usual recommendation is either W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache plugin. We’ve find no speed improvement from caching plugins on well-optimized websites. In those conditions, there is no measurable benefit from caching. Except for one caching plugin, and it didn’t improve caching, it improved TTFB which is a server-side improvement in speed.

Cache Enabler, Active Installs: 20,000+, download size: 17k

Usually improvement from caching plugins is from some other function that is not caching related – like enabling Gzip code compression.

Lazy Loading Images
The usual recommendation is BJ Lazy Load. It is not our preference for speed. We’d recommend:
Rocket Lazy Load, 8,000+ installs, download size: 361k.

and for YouTube and Vimeo videos:
Lazy Load for Videos, 6,000+ active installs, download size: 254k.

Contact form
Myth: A contact form is the standard now for most sites.
The usual recommendation is Contact Form 7.
We don’t believe contact forms are necessary. They slow down your site. Use a large-size, email text link instead with Email Address Encoder plugin, 80,000+ installs, download size: 5k.
https://pagepipe.com/contact-form-7-plugin-causes-global-site-drag/

Gallery
Myth: Gallery plugins enhance or replace WordPress native galleries. These are also called “slider” plugins.
They always slow down a page load. And they are proven ineffective for navigation and SEO.
https://pagepipe.com/what-slider-is-the-fastest-loading/

Image optimization
Myth: Plugins always help compress the file size down to a sane level.
The most common and worst recommendation is Smush Image Compression and Optimization plugin. Read more about better alternatives:
https://pagepipe.com/smush-plugin-doesnt-really-help-with-speed/

For significant image optimization, we recommend:
Imsanity, 200,000+ active installs, download size: 152k

Search Enhancement
Myth: Plugins can increase the power and relevance of your searches to users.
The most common recommendation is Relevanssi plugin.
Read why the Relevanssi plugin author says not to use this particular plugin any more:
https://pagepipe.com/plugin-popularity-is-rarely-an-indicator-of-good-value-for-speed/

SEO
Myth: SEO plugins will help your site rank higher in search engines.
The usual recommendation is either “All in One SEO Pack” plugin or Yoast SEO.
SEO plugins are a waste of time. Read more about why you shouldn’t install an SEO plugin:
https://pagepipe.com/speed-up-yoast-seo-plugin-remove-it/

Security
Myth: WordPress security plugins don’t affect speed.
The usual recommendation is iThemes Security (formerly Better WP Security).
Most people don’t know security plugins slow down your site and use up server resources.
https://pagepipe.com/do-security-plugins-slow-down-wordpress/

Social sharing
Myth: A social sharing plugin improves site traffic and SEO.
We don’t believe social media marketing is a vital part of content marketing these days. It’s a controversial topic. But from our research, it is usually unproductive. Only 12 likes on your blog page isn’t very convincing or credible. It’s hard work to generate beneficial traffic from Facebook – an unproductive waste of time.

Most Facebook widgets and counters drastically slow down your site. Are you really getting a good return on your time investment with social media links? We’ve seen one-second wait times for Facebook counter widgets.

Broken Link Checker
This plugin slows down your site by consuming server resources. Broken Link Checker plugin is a RAM hog. It’s best to leave it disabled and only run it manually – not automatically. We keep Link Checker deactivated and only run it once a month.

Redirection
We see nothing wrong with this plugin suggestion other than it’s heavy. It automatically adds a 301 redirection when a post’s URL changes. The Redirection plugin has 700,000 active installs, and the download weighs 516k.

We use:
Simple 301 Redirects, Active Installs: 200,000+, download size: 5k. Much lighter.

MailChimp for WordPress
We actually use MailChimp. It does cause site drag. But we use:

Yikes Easy Forms for MailChimp plugin, 50,000+ installs, 3.7M download
3 HTTP requests, 4.5k page weight,  93 milliseconds load time.
This plugin is coded so minification is a big benefit. Concatenating and minifying with Autoptimize plugin reduced load time to 36 milliseconds for all theme and plugin CSS files. Bonus!
https://pagepipe.com/is-mailchimp-a-good-choice-for-speed/

Godspeed-

Steve Teare
performance engineer
July 2021

 

PagePipe Site Tuning Services for Speed

Instead of band-aid approaches, we drill down to the root cause of your slow site. This is origin optimization. Also known as site tuning. To do this, we analyze site components:

  • Hosting
  • Theme
  • Plugins
  • Scripts and third-party services.
  • Images and media library.
  • We minimize globally loading plugin effects.

Find out more details about Site TuningGet Speed!