Taming Plugin Creep: A Definitive Guide for WordPress Site Owners

Image illustrating the concept of Plugin Creep.

Ah, WordPress plugins. They’re like the candy of the web development world. Colorful, tempting, and there’s always room for one more. Or is there? I’m Matt Levenhagen, and if you’re anything like me—a web developer with a penchant for creating dynamic WordPress sites—you’ve probably faced the dreaded beast: plugin creep.

Plugin creep sneaks up on you. It starts innocently enough. “Oh, I need a form builder,” you say. Then it’s a slider plugin, a security plugin, a speed optimization plugin, a plugin that offers 900 features, but you only need one.. you install it… Until one day, you realize your WordPress site is less of a sleek sports car and more of a clunky cargo van, struggling under the weight of too many plugins.

The Perils of Plugin Overload

1. Complexity Creeps In: Every new plugin weaves its thread into the tapestry of your site, making the backend resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. More complexity means more potential for conflicts, especially when plugins don’t play nice together.

2. The Feature Shuffle: Ever spend hours trying to figure out which plugin is responsible for that one specific feature? Or worse, which plugin is overriding another’s functionality? It’s the web developer’s version of finding a needle in a haystack.

Even as a developer, if we are new to a site and it’s complex, we have our way of doing things. What if that’s creating some custom code (maybe CSS), but the reality is, the theme actually controls these layouts or styles? That can stack and become a real confusing mess over time.

3. Security Nightmares: Each plugin is a door, and some are left wide open. The more doors you have, the more likely one’s going to let in something nasty. And let’s not forget, when licenses expire, and your credit card is as unresponsive as a cat in a sunbeam, those security updates drift just out of reach.

4. The Bug Parade: With great power comes great potential for bugs. More plugins mean more chances for those pesky glitches that have you pulling out your hair and questioning your life choices.

5. Performance Takes a Hit: Every plugin demands its share of resources, slowing down your site. A slow site is not just a visitor turn-off but a direct ticket to the bad books of search engines.

Poor performance can also stem from conflicts between plugins and inefficient code. There are ~60,000 plugins in the WordPress marketplace. Are the developers all good coders?

6. Usability and Maintenance Overhead: Remember the last time you tried to find a plugin in your dashboard and ended up on a half-hour detour through settings you never knew existed? Too many plugins can overwhelm even the most seasoned site admins, not to mention the maintenance marathon of updates, compatibility checks, and renewals.

I manage sites at Unified Web Design that unfortunately (as we likely inherited them) have 50-100+ plugins. One round of updates.. a few days later, there are another dozen out of date. Fun to maintain that! 😃

7. License Limbo: Ah, the joy of license management. Nothing quite like a plugin update stalling because the license expired, your credit card decided to retire early, or the renewal email got cozy with spam. It’s the admin task equivalent of herding cats. Especially if the business lost track of who got the license in the first place or similar.

Charting a Course Through the Plugin Jungle

Fear not, brave site owner, for there are ways to tame the wilds of plugin creep:

1. Regular Plugin Audits: Every few months, dive into your plugin list. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” If it hasn’t been used in the last quarter, it might be time to say goodbye.

2. Embrace Multitaskers: Seek out plugins that can wear multiple hats. Sometimes, one robust plugin can replace several one-trick ponies.

3. Update and License Management: Keep a spreadsheet or use management tools to track plugin licenses and renewal dates. Ensure your payment information is up to date to avoid update interruptions. Make sure you know who owns (purchased) that license and identify any vulnerabilities there!

4. Testing Environment: Use a staging site to test new plugins or updates before going live. It’s like checking the water temperature before diving in.

5. Backups Are Your Best Friend: Regularly back up your site. When things go south, and occasionally they will, a recent backup can be your time machine.

6. Keep It Simple: Before installing a new plugin, ask if its functionality is truly necessary or if there’s a simpler workaround. Would it be better to have your web developer write something custom?

7. Build Custom with Limited Plugins: If you’re lucky, you have an opportunity to rearchitect your entire site or are starting from scratch. Think deeply about every plugin choice. Ask what’s essential or what could be custom. Do we really need it or is there a simpler way?

If this seems overwhelming, speak to an agency (cough cough like my web design agency) and get help building a custom, purpose-built site with less bloat. Partnering with professionals can dramatically streamline your site, focusing on performance and user experience while minimizing dependency on plugins. Our team at Unified Web Design specializes in creating efficient, tailor-made WordPress sites that balance functionality with simplicity. Let us help you declutter your digital space, making it more manageable, secure, and speedy.

Final Thoughts

Plugin management is an art and a science. By staying vigilant, conducting regular audits, and prioritizing simplicity, you can ensure your WordPress site remains a lean, mean, digital machine.

Remember, every plugin should earn its place on your site. Treat your plugin list like a guest list for an exclusive party. Not everyone makes the cut, but those who do? They’re absolutely essential to the experience.

Stay savvy, fellow WordPress aficionados, and may your sites stay speedy and secure!

Do you need help auditing your plugin or maintaining your site? Check out what we do here: Unified Website Maintenance.