Does Having Too Many Plugins Active Affect Your WordPress Site’s Performance?

Posted on April 3, 2018 by in Resources | 66 comments

Does Having Too Many Plugins Active Affect Your WordPress Site’s Performance?

People always talk about how using too many WordPress plugins at once can affect your website’s performance. It stands to reason, considering plugins need resources to work. However, the real question is whether the impact plugins have on your performance is noticeable and if there’s a limit on how many you should use.

Instead of speculating, we decided to run a series of tests to determine the impact plugins have on your site’s performance. We’ll explain how we performed this test and show you our results, before discussing what they mean. Let’s get to work!

Why Your Plugins Can Affect WordPress Performance

A WordPress plugins tab.

The plugins you use can affect your site’s performance.

To use a loose analogy, if you think about WordPress as an Operating System (OS), plugins are the equivalent of applications. Like an application, a plugin needs resources to run, and in many cases they even run in the background while you’re not explicitly using them. Simple logic dictates that there will be a limit on the number of plugins a WordPress website can run before its performance takes a significant hit.

However, it’s worth remembering not every website runs on the same hardware. This means while one site might run into a bottleneck when using several plugins, another might not. Likewise, not all plugins use the same amount of resources. In other words, while we know plugins have an impact on performance, the real consideration is whether that impact is negligible or not, and if there’s a way to quantify it.

Our Plugin Performance Test Methodology

If you’re using a robust hosting solution, such as a dedicated or a Virtual Private Server (VPS), you’ll have a lot more leeway when it comes to the number of plugins you can use. With that in mind, we decided to use a shared hosting plan for all our tests. After all, they’re the most popular type of web hosting. If you use something more powerful, your results will be markedly better than ours.

For accuracy’s sake, we split our tests into five stages where we’ll test the impact individual plugins have on a new WordPress website. Here are the five categories we plan on testing, with two plugins in each one:

  1. Security: Wordfence and Jetpack.
  2. Search Engine Optimization: Yoast SEO and All In One SEO Pack.
  3. Image optimization: ShortPixel and Compress JPEG & PNG images.
  4. Contact Form: Contact Form 7 and Ninja Forms.
  5. E-commerce: WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.

We’ve chosen these categories and plugins as they are some of the most widely used. We’ll also be using each plugin with its default settings. During each stage, we’ll test how those plugins on their own affect performance, using a clean WordPress install each time. Before we get to that, we’ll start with a baseline using zero plugins.

We decided to use Load Impact for our tests, as this service enables us to simulate real-life traffic scenarios by loading multiple virtual users at once. Each time it adds a new user, it tells us how long our website takes to load. In our experience, its results are much more consistent and comprehensive than other page speed testing services.

The Load Impact homepage.

To keep things simple, we’ll run a short two-minute load impact test for each of those plugins, using up to ten users. We’ll then calculate average loading times for each test:

A Load Impact test.

Finally, we’re going to run one final round of tests using sets of five, ten, and fifteen plugins together. This should provide us with credible data to answer the question we posed in the title of this article.

How Using Too Many WordPress Plugins Affects Performance (In Numbers)

First off, here are the first results of our benchmark test, using a new WordPress website with zero plugins:

The results of our baseline test.

Without any plugins, our WordPress website loaded in a blazingly fast 0.6 seconds. Now let’s check out the results of our remaining twelve tests, covering individual plugins and their effect on performance:

Test Results (in Seconds)
Wordfence 0.69 (+11.5%)
Jetpack 0.64 (+6.6%
Yoast SEO 0.93 (+55%)
All In One SEO Pack 0.9 (+50%)
ShortPixel 0.66 (+11%)
TinyPNG 0.86 (+43%)
Contact Form 7 0.66 (+11%)
Ninja Forms 0.85 (+41%)
WooCommerce 0.78 (+30%)
Easy Digital Downloads 0.71 (+18%)

These results confirm our assertions that WordPress plugins can and do impact performance. Moreover, certain categories of plugins appear to be more resource-intensive than others. Early on, we expected security plugins to cause a more significant hit when it came to performance. However, using Wordfence only slowed down our site by 11.5 %. Jetpack, on the other hand, barely impacted our speed by 6.6%.

Overall, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plugins appear to have the most substantial impact when it comes to WordPress performance, which was unexpected. In fact, we re-ran those two tests multiple times and received similar results. E-commerce plugins also have an enormous impact on your site’s performance, which is to be expected since they add a lot of functionality to your website.

We now know that individual plugins can have a significant impact on WordPress performance. However, we wanted to know whether that performance hit would scale linearly or exponentially as the number of plugins increases. To figure that out, we tested five of the above plugins together (using one from each category). Then, we ran an additional two tests with sets of random plugins to avoid bias:

Baseline Test  Five Plugins  Ten Plugins  Fifteen Plugins
Average loading times (in Seconds) 0.6 1.09 (+81%) 1 (+66%) 1.12(+86%)

The results were surprising. Logic dictates we should see at least a linear decrease in performance as the number of plugins we use rises. However, our results seem to suggest that past a certain number of plugins, performance doesn’t decrease as much as you’d expect.

Compare the results of the five and ten plugin tests, for example. You would probably expect the website with ten plugins to take longer to load. However, in this case, it consistently scored higher in our performance tests. To be clear, we used the same base set of five plugins and only added five more for the second test.

The results of our third test did line up with our initial expectations, though. We saw a 5% decrease in performance between using five and fifteen plugins. That five percent is nothing to scoff at, but we expected the decline to be much more significant.

What Our Results Tell Us About How Plugins Affect WordPress Performance

To sum up our results, the number of plugins you use will definitely have an impact when it comes to your website’s performance. However, according to our tests, performance doesn’t decrease linearly past a certain point.

In fact, the type of plugins you use seems to be the most important metric when it comes to performance. A single behemoth plugin, such as WooCommerce, can slow your website more than using five or ten different plugins together.

Overall, you shouldn’t be scared of adding an extra plugin or two to your website if you really need them. However, implementing new features manually whenever possible can help performance in the long run. There are also several ways you can speed up WordPress, which should be able to counteract any performance hit you take from the plugins you use.

Conclusion

Plugins are basically mini-applications that run on top of WordPress, and just like any other application, they require resources. However, most popular WordPress plugins are excellent when it comes to using a reasonable amount of resources.

According to our tests, the types of plugins you use have a larger impact than the amount you use. If you’re using a decent hosting plan, you shouldn’t be scared to add more plugins if you need them, as long as you keep an eye on your site’s performance.

How many plugins do you use on your WordPress website and have you found that they affect its performance? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!

Article image thumbnail by vladwel / shutterstock.com.

66 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. It’s really good to have a report on the effectiveness and efficiency of plugins. It would be great to see a Part 2 post with a dummy site full of content.

    • John Hughes

      Hi Mark. Thanks for your comment and the suggestion. 🙂

  2. Great post!
    Useful and well explain data, don’t remember to read information of effectiveness and efficiency of plugins.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • John Hughes

      Hi Natalia. You’re very welcome. Happy to help.

  3. Thank you for this post. It would be great to see a Part 2 post with Performance plugins. How much does it actually improves speed and if the number of plugins has more or less impact on speed then without a performance plugin?

  4. This is a topic I just discussed with a client last week. They wanted to avoid using plugins due to a fear of speed reduction, but I think I’ll send them this article so they can see that not all plug-ins are equal.

    • John Hughes

      Hi Matt. Glad you found it useful. 🙂

  5. Yoast, that’s a lot of performance decline…. too bad it’s so necessary on all sites or isn’t less burdensome…

    • When I used YoastSEO I felt the same way… for the past year or so I’ve been using ‘The SEO Framework’ instead because its much faster, its easy to extend, and because it works really well with Multisite – highly recommend it as worth a try, and would love to see it included in a follow-up test 🙂

  6. Can’t argue with the numbers but some immediate thoughts:-

    1) 30% for WooCommerce. Really? Anyone who’s ever looked at a Pingdom or WebPageTest test for a WooCommerce site will see that the tail is long and never-ending…

    2) JetPack can be a terrible resource hog. Really surprised by that result.

    3) The figures for the SEO plugins are weird as the work is effectively done once a post is published. What are they still doing that’s causing that performance dip? Any plugin makers out there that can answer?

    • You can easily enough have WooCommerce stores load under 1 second if you know what you are doing.

      • Interested to know how you’re getting the speed of WooCommerce down to 1-second, I’ve tried and I just can’t see how you’re doing it. If you’re doing it server side I’ve got that checked, mind you I am in Australia worlds worse internet.

  7. Thanks for sharing John, I agree that using a decent hosting plan will help to keep your WordPress site up to speed when running multiple plugins. I recommend you A/B test your performance with WebPageTest or GTMetrix when enabling a new plugin to see its impact. Also you can use Plugin Organizer to selectively disable plugins for certain pages. Before doing this make sure your site is optimized by caching what you can cache and compress what can be compressed. Enable GZip, HTTP/2, and run the latest version of PHP. You might also want to consider a CDN. Did anyone implement AMP already? What about PWA’s 😀

  8. Interesting. But you didn’t use your own Divi builder and other plugins. Is there a reason for that? Hmmmmmm? 😛

    • Good point. Especially since it is heavily impacting the TTFB of any wordpress site. And don’t forget the ET Auto-Updater which is apparently loaded each time while accessing a page/post of your wordpress site.

  9. Is this also true if the website has a caching plugin? I can imagine that plugins have to process data first before delivering the content to the user, what I understand about caching is that the final page is saved and ready to be served to the user, so in that case plugins might not influence the speed.

    • Correct except in the case of dynamic data like Woocommerce plugin.

      You can implement server-side caching, though this depends on the kind of host and access you have

  10. I would like to see the same results tested against a DIVI based website with only a security plugin and any required plugin to help the DIVI functionality.

    • I was going to ask the same. Themes such as Divi eat a ton of resouces and then there’s plugins.

      I’d raise the bar by using PHP 5.6 (or whatever is the default in such shared host). >:D

    • Yes please do the same tests using a full DIVI based website – generally I find the builder etc can significantly slow sites down!

  11. It would also be interesting to see how this test was impacted by the end users system or device. Since many people use mobile devices, more plugins could have a very big impact especially when you consider data limits.

  12. I have 33 active plugins on my main site (I have a multisite setup). They do increase load time but not as much as my location does. The routing between the US and Norway adds a lot. I knock off some of the extra load the plugins cause with
    WP Performance Score Booster and WC Speed Drain Repair plus some server setup. I’m currently trying to reduce my plugins but it’s hard since I need the functionality.

    • What kind of hosting do you use?

      Using a VPS powered by Nginx (+Ngx_Pagespeed),
      PHP 7 (+Opcache),
      MariaDB, Redis for Object caching will reduce your use of those “performance plugin”.
      Most importantly, what kind of site, the traffic, what kind of actions do users perform?

      With that in place, you can tune the above stack and maintain all your 30+ plugins.

      Cheers!

    • Do you need all 33 active on all your multisites? You are only loading the plugin if it is active on the site you access if it is not activated on any sub site then it is not loading on that sub site.

  13. Just a thought to complete the list… How about plugins that stops spams?
    Anyone but me find wordpress is not really a good student on stopping spams posting?

    • John Hughes

      Hello David. The Akismet Anti-Spam plugin will help you reduce the spam on your site. The plugin is lightweight, user-friendly, and effective, so it’s highly recommended. You can access the plugin via the following link:

      https://wordpress.org/plugins/akismet/

      Hope this helps.

  14. I just ran a test for up to 50 concurrent users on a fully loaded site and got a pretty static load time of around 160ms. I am on a dedicated server though which kind of shows what difference hosting can make.

  15. Another consideration with loading multiple plugins is security, every plugin carries a security risk, the more plugins the greater the risk.

    Best practice is to only have the plugins you need and not to have any plugins installed but not active, if they are not needed delete them.

    • John Hughes

      Hello Ray. Thanks for your important comment. Security should, quite naturally, be of paramount concern, so it is well worth keeping this in mind. 🙂

  16. It depends if the active plugins cause slow queries and increase the number of HTTP requests being made on load.

  17. Often in articles regarding plugins and their impact on websites I see the advice to implement code instead of using a plugin. That sounds great; however, there are some things to be aware of when adding code instead of a plugin.

    Most people don’t code and rely on copying and pasting code they find on the web. This code may not be current or error free. Plugins from WordPress.org must stand the test of many users and errors are reported quickly. Update records and WP version compatibility are also recorded. Copy paste code found on websites rarely provides this information.

    If you are adding code manually then you are responsible for updating it. You are also responsible for security. Widely used scripts as we saw with Tim Thumb can be targets for hackers. Old code and scripts make a site vulnerable.

    For me the peace of mind I get from using quality plugins is worth a little slow down to a website.

  18. This is great info. We’re into our 20th year running our own hosting infrastructure as well as doing extensive WordPress web development. These days we focus on using Divi and plenty of testing over the years as well.

    Our hosting platforms provide shared hosting and there clearly are limits on the numbers of sites that can run on servers based on infinite hardware variations. We appreciate that themes like Divi provide many functionalities that previously required numbers of plugins to be added and note that although we haven’t hard tested like you have here – a server loaded with Divi sites performs better then those using many other themes.

    Another point might be to mention to remove additional unused themes as well from WordPress installs.

    The database bloats with additional plugins and themes. One weakness I see overall with WordPress plugins and themes is most of their inability to clean up the database properly after their removal. A bloated database can slow down a WordPress site’s operation.

  19. And this is only about speed. Let’s not forget how a multitude of plugins can conflict with each other. It’s really a pain to find out which plugin is actually causing a problem when it does. I would prefer to use a theme that makes a lot of plugins unnecessary.

  20. This is by far the most useful blog post I think you guys have ever shown. Plugins are a double-edged sword when it comes to using them. They add features that help cut time off of development but add bloat that can cripple a site if you use the wrong ones. I was most eager to see the difference between Yoast and All In One SEO as I have always known Yoast to be a massive resource hog and one of my most dreaded plugins to use aside from Woocommerce. I’m stunned by the fact that All In One didn’t perform all that much better. Thank you so much for this great insight.

    • John Hughes

      Hello David. You’re very welcome. Happy to help. 🙂

  21. Thank you for taking the time to review plugin impact on wordpress load times/resource drain/performance. I would have loved to see the comparison between Ninja forms and Gravity Forms. I suspect it would be a measurable strain on resources especially with all of its add-ons (vouchers, signature, quiz etc…). Nevertheless it is an indispensable plugin on my arsenal (the same goes for Yoast, Woocommerce). It would also have been nice to see a performance comparison with all the best/most popular page builders)… I know they definitely have an impact just wondering how much (which is the biggest offender).

  22. One of the biggest advantages of using CMS’ like WordPress, is that website owners can take more control over their site. So I think plugins are really important, and would avoid coding anything for my clients unless absolutely necessary – let the plugin developers take the responsibility for keeping up with WordPress, PHP etc. evolutions. What I would like to see is plugin developers placing more emphasis on performance, maybe with some sort of performance rating in the WordPress respository entry for the plugin – housebuilders, washing machine makers etc. all need to do this… so why not plugin (and theme?) developers? Then at least developers and DIY website owners will have a better early idea of what kind of performance the site should get.

  23. Great post. Confirms me staying with Contact Form 7. It’s sooooo lightweight and can easily be styled in code

    • John Hughes

      Thanks Peter. Much appreciated. 🙂

  24. Valuable post. Developing for performance and keeping tabs on performance hits among competing plugins is key in our operations. Wondering what other tools you considered besides Load Impact, and if Loader.io was considered for testing.

    • John Hughes

      Hello Servemark. You might also consider using Pingdom to test the performance of your site. In addition to page speed monitoring, Pingdom allows you to glean visitor insights and troubleshoot the root cause of performance issues:

      https://www.pingdom.com/

      Hope this helps.

  25. Well… obviously. The question answered basically is, does more code take more time to run? Yes! We could run a blazingly fast website with purely html and static content. It would be fast, but it doesn’t satisfy our use case.

    A useful comparison should include functions performed by a plugin. Does Yoast SEO (or any plugin mentioned) take more time to run than having its functions coded into a theme?

    Similarly, are the first five plugins taking longer load times because they are the ones calling the most used libraries and APIs? That actually explains the behavior on 10 and 15 plugins.

  26. From my perspective it doesn’t make sense that all plugins load and run for every page and post.

    However, if your server caches the HTML
    version of your page and you pre-load your cache the only problem I’ve seen is taking over a website with lots of plugins and not knowing which are needed or even being used.

  27. I’ve been lucky to have a good team of techs that have optimized our WordPress site(s) to run a little better/faster. It can always help to contact techs to speed things up a bit if the site is a little slow but they need WP experience. At least I know that adding that extra plugin shouldn’t drag down a site’s speed but it depends more on *what* plugin.

  28. This is a never ending topic. Since I started working with WordPress, I’ve always been taught that the more plugins a wordpress site has the slower it will be. From my experience, it’s not always the case. But I’ve kept this “more plugins mean slower websites” mentality to this day.

    I make a habit of installing no more than 15 plugins per site. 15 is already a little too high for my taste.

    • John Hughes

      You’re welcome, Roberto. 🙂

  29. In my opinion, one needs to use the limited set of plugins which are necessary and rest need to be done by using some coding. A fast website is always what a visitor demands.

  30. Of course, the less plugins the better for the website. Sometimes – it is impossible ;|

  31. Hi, I noticed you didn’t mention the P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) as a tool for checking the effective impact of each plugin, would’nt it be useful in this scenario?

    • John Hughes

      Hello Bonaventura. Thanks for your comment. The reason we did not mention P3 is that the plugin hasn’t been tested with the latest 3 major releases of WordPress. As such, it may cause compatibility issues with certain installations.

  32. Hi together, the article shows above all how important it is to support basic functions in a theme. Especially in the area of SEO ELEGANT THEMES could upgrade and earn itself a unique selling point: Divi Editor and Splitt Testings make it already great today – with more built-in SEO support functions the necessity of plugins like Yoast for 80% of users would be eliminated more and more… Would that be something for your product roadmap?

  33. HI Guys, thank you once again for the great post. I dont think you will be able to help or give advice but worth a shot

    we have been using xTheme for our sites but are making a mass swithch to DIVI. our main reason for moving is how slow the sites get with plugins. no matter how what plugins we implement

    my main issue is the migration of data from xTheme to divi do you have any suggestions on how we can do this.

    thanks in advance

    • John Hughes

      Hello Peter. Thanks for your question. We recommend you submit your enquiry to our support forum so we can deliver the optimal solution:

      https://www.elegantthemes.com/forum/

      • Thanks John, after posting we did that. Great article man I very much appreciate the time and effort that went into it

        Thanks

  34. Nice article, good to know. Are you going to test Divi, Bloom and Monarch?

  35. Nice article, I tried to load the different plugin and tested on my website. Using many plugins is a bad idea.

  36. Unfortunately, the article never answered the question posed in the title, “Does Having Too Many Plugins Active Affect Your WordPress Site’s Performance?”

    It answered a different question, “Can a certain set of plugins doing certain things slow down a site?”

    The title is all about quantity and it would be great to test the notions about that. To do so, you might test the loading of a site with no plugins against the same site with 100 or 1,000 dummy plugins that do nothing. That way it would show if simply having a quantity of plugins has an impact, versus timing the tasks particular plugins actually do.

  37. Thanks for this post John.
    I obviously expected a decrease in performance but the 5 to 10 plugin result surprised me (nicely).
    Thanks for testing what we all assume as obvious but in fact is not so. I don’t think anyone believes that too many plugins will not impact performance but your test demonstrated that the answer is not as linear as we may think. Good stuff. Merci

    • John Hughes

      Hello Jean. You’re very welcome. Happy to help.

  38. Wow, I wasn’t expecting such results when it comes to SEO plugins. Why they impact our websites so much? o_O Thank you for sharing this research, very inspiring

    • John Hughes

      Thanks Tomek. Glad you found it helpful. 🙂

  39. Very useful post. WordPress must find out the way out to nullify the effect of plugins so that it may become the indispensable CMS in the world. Our website CouponzPoint.com is a WordPress site. We have optimized it and reduced the time significantly. Our Google Page speed Insights are awesome. But if WordPress do this wonder, it would be really great.

  40. Thanks for this great information. Whenever a visitor visits a WordPress website, it first loads it’s all core files and then loads all active plugins, which affect site load time. So I think it’s good to avoid plugins or to use only well-coded plugins only on WordPress site.

  41. Hmmm… I never thought about it this way.
    I better go do some editing now 🙂
    yeah, and thanks for the tips. You rock Blog Tyrant!

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