Could Your Ecommerce Site’s Plugins Be Holding Your Business Back?
There are several reasons why WordPress powers 30% of the web, but one of the biggest reasons is the volume of plugins that are designed to solve any number of issues for users. There are more than 45,000 free plugins alone, and it’s the vibrance of this ecosystem one of the biggest reasons why WordPress stands apart from other available content management systems.
But there’s a downside to all this choice – many of us operating in the ecommerce space have gone overboard with our plugins, and that can put a serious damper on a website’s business performance.
Why Your WordPress Plugin Choices Matter
Plugins add more functionality to your ecommerce website than WordPress offers right out of the box. The freedom to pick and choose plugins allows you to have a completely custom setup for your online shop, based on your needs.
Without plugins, WordPress wouldn’t be nearly as attractive as a platform for ecommerce merchants, because it’s the availability of plugins, along with themes, that enable you to truly customize the storefront’s user experience – as well as other integrations that operate behind the scenes.
You can find great WordPress plugins for ecommerce that do nearly anything you want to accomplish, such as SEO, image management, contact forms, related product widgets, contests, quizzes and video management. Premium plugins come at a fee, but these often include additional features and options not included with free plugins.
As helpful as WordPress plugins can be, they can also hurt your website. If you choose the wrong ones, or have too many of them, plugins can slow your site down, affecting your SEO efforts; increase the chance of website crashes; and can add security vulnerabilities.
How Plugins Slow Down Your Site
Not to get too technical on you, but each one of the files associated with your website requires its own HTTP request to load the page. When someone visits your website, a different request is sent to the server hosting your site for each and every file. The server then delivers the content back, and the user can see your website’s content.
Many plugins create additional HTTP requests, and the more of those you have, the slower your site will be. Most of the time, it’s a difference of milliseconds, and may not even be an issue. But, if you have a large website with a ton of plugins, you may really start to bog your site down, or if your plugins need to access information from other servers, you won’t really be in control of the load time lags associated with those queries.
Beyond creating additional HTTP requests, plugins can also negatively affect your WordPress performance due to additional database queries. WordPress uses a database to store all of your information, and some plugins add data to it, too. Depending on your server and your web hosting provider, too many database queries can slow down your website’s performance significantly. And keep in mind that when it comes to site speed, even the smallest improvements can move the needle dramatically. One study found that a one-second drop in speed makes for a 7% drop in conversions.
Increased Chance of Website Crashes
If you choose poor quality plugins – those that aren’t updated often, or have few downloads are generally red flags – there’s a chance it will cause your website to crash. Poorly written plugins are a big culprit.
The problem lies in how to determine if a plugin is safe. It’s not always easy to do this, because WordPress is an open source project. Anyone can submit a plugin to the central directory, for the general public to install.
This means anyone is free to create and distribute plugins, and some creators may not be as skilled as they need to be to create plugins that are stable even when used in high-traffic ecommerce situations.And yes, if your website goes down, it won’t be able to take any orders.
Added Security Vulnerabilities
The core WordPress software has a history of security issues and vulnerabilities. Its popularity makes WordPress an attractive target for hackers.
Adding plugins to it increases the potential for more security issues. Hackers are becoming more creative in how they’re getting into websites, and poorly coded plugins can give the hackers an easier way in. If your site is breached, it could be taken down, but the potential for major reputation damage to your business is even bigger, if word gets out that you’ve been hacked.
Many developers quickly respond and update the plugin in the event that a thread is discovered, but unless you’re a developer with time to explore the code in-depth, it’s nearly impossible to spot the security risk before you use the plugin.
How Many Plugins Is Too Many?
Although the factors discussed above can influence your website’s performance if even one plugin causes problems, an excess of plugins can likewise be damaging.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic number you should aim for. WordPress experts have offered numbers as low as 20, though some say the idea that you need to limit the number of plugins you use is a myth.
The truth is it’s likely not the number of plugins you have, so much as problems with specific plugins – although the more plugins you have installed, the higher the likelihood that a problematic one will be among them. And who wants to build an ecommerce empire that can easily be taken down by a game of WordPress plugin Russian roulette?
If you carefully vet all your plugins and know they truly make your site better on either the front or back end, and if all of them don’t appear to negatively influence speed and performance, there’s no reason to skip over them.
What You Can Do
There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re using quality plugins. These include:
- Stick with well-known plugins and authors.
- Check for duplication of function – for instance, Yoast SEO has a sitemap tool built-in, so there’s no need to have that one and Google XML Sitemaps both installed.
- Use the Plugin Performance Profiler (yes, another plugin) to determine which plugins are hogging all your resources.
- Test your site’s performance whenever you install a new plugin to see its impact on performance. If you notice it takes a big hit after installation, you may not want to use that plugin. You can try to find a substitute or just forego the idea of adding that functionality all together.
- Use a caching plugin to minimize slowdown.
- Update your plugins whenever updates are made available. Be sure to back up your website first.
Despite potential risks, plugins are one of the biggest reasons WordPress is such a popular platform. With them, you can simplify your back end management, add critical functionality, and ultimately improve the user experience. As long as you’re carefully choosing and managing your plugins, there’s no reason they will harm your site.