This post is being written in response to some major issues we have been seeing on new client websites! Many of our new clients are coming with more plugins and themes installed than we can count – and sadly they were never made aware of the issues that could come from this.
One client had 3 different plugins activated that did the same thing – they were all drag and drop builders, which we are not fans of in the first place – but when they could no longer see their edit page screen they came to us for help. The fix was easy – remove the plugins that they were not using – although we had to figure out which one it was that they WERE using!
So this guide is just a simple reminder and outline of why and how you can keep your backend running smooth.
What Are Plugins?
Plugins are add-ons for WordPress (other CMS systems have them as well but they may be called something else) – that extend functionality of a website. They can be downloaded from the WordPress.org repository or could be a pay for plugin you received elsewhere.
What Are Themes?
Themes are what controls the look and feel of your website. Themes often include files like styles.css which control the colors, fonts and general page looks as well as functions.php which will allow for custom code to create functions and formats within the theme without the use of a plugin.
Why Do I Need To Worry About These Items?
Well, depending how your website is set-up you may or may not be experiencing page speed issues related to one of these items – but that is only the start of why you should know what your site is using!
Here are just a few reasons why having too many plugins or themes installed is bad for you:
- Maintenance – because there are often updates required, this becomes a cumbersome job
- Speed Issues – too many active plugins can load a lot of resources which in turn slows down your website
- Security Risks – plugins and themes can come with holes that allow back door access to your website, the more you have installed the higher the risk – this is rare but does and has happened
- Compatibility – on rare occasions we also see issues in plugins working with other plugins
Handling Extra Themes
Cleaning your themes will keep your website secure from hack attempts and can free up disk space on your server.
In the image below you can see a website that has 9 themes installed! And you can also see that 3 have a new version available – which means they need to be updated and can be putting your website at risk for a hack attempt.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to note that theme that is ACTIVE so you do not remove this theme since this is the theme that is currently making your website happen! It is also important to know whether that theme is a child theme for another theme.
Child themes are custom themes based off a parent. The reason you WANT to use a child theme is if you have customizations you want to make to your website without having issues if you need to upgrade the theme.
As an example – in the below image if we were using Twenty Thirteen as our core theme, and then had to do an update – if we made customizations to the look and feel those changes would be lost after the update is applied.
This client is using GENESIS as their parent theme and then Lifestyle Pro as their child theme. So they can easily update Genesis when an update comes out with no issues to the website.
Deleting The Themes
Deleting themes is fairly simple. Simply click on any theme you would like to remove and in the lower right you will see a red DELETE link – just click that and your theme will be deleted. We have added an image for you to see the link!
SUGGESTION: We do recommend keeping the latest default WordPress theme, which at the time of this post is Twenty Seventeen. Sometimes you will run into issues with a functionality and by having a default them you can easily switch over to see if the theme you are using as the issue!
We have seen websites with plugins that are outdated, duplicates of other plugins and plugins that do not even work at all anymore – just sitting wasting space and putting websites at risk.
How do you know if you really need those plugins?
- If it is deactivated and you know you will never use it – DELETE!
- If it is a plugin that has the same functionality of another plugin you have – pick one and DELETE!
- If it is outdated and not compatible with your current version of WordPress – DELETE!
So many people will delete a plugin but not delete it — if you know you may use it again in the future – then go ahead and keep it, but if you know you will never use it again there is no benefit to you having it.
Because so many plugins offer similar functionalities it is common to test multiple plugins to see which one works best for your specific needs. But once you find the right plugin for you – then you should delete the others.
Plugins CAN become outdated and you should make it a common practice to review them! Here is what you should look for:
- From you admin area – go to plugins.
- Go to each plugin and click VIEW DETAILS
- Look at the popup box and look at the LAST UPDATED date and COMPATIBLE UP TO details
- If it is recently updated and compatible with the latest WP version you are great
- If it shows a warning “this has not been tested” like the image below – then you may want to go to the next step….
- If you see a message about it being updated – you can take a look at the comments for the plugin. Click on WORDPRESS.ORG PLUGIN PAGE in the popup to go to the landing page for the plugin – then look for the go to Support Forum button. If you see the author of the plugin answering questions and no complaints from users you are probably OK for a bit. If you are seeing a lot of complaints and no author responses at all you may want to remove the plugin.
IMPORTANT: Plugin authors should be testing their plugins with the newest WordPress versions – some just take longer than others. We would NOT delete a plugin that shows the not been tested message if the author is showing activity and there was a fairly recent update like this one.
Plugins & Speed Issues
Active plugins CAN GREATLY AFFECT SPEED! This is why we are so careful with the plugins we install and try to hard code as much functionality as we can. We created a full guide to selecting WordPress plugins here to help you understand what to look for before clicking that install button!
Now, the bigger question is how are the plugins you have installed affecting your page speed?
There used to be a great plugin called P3 Profiler that would actually take your plugins and test them for speed impact – but that seems to be defunct now sadly….
The only real way to test whether a plugin is impacting your website in a bad way is to run a page speed test with each plugin deactivated one by one.
Yes, a pain in the butt and it will take TIME – but it could help greatly in the long run with visitor retention, page speed and search rank.
If you have already read our Speed Series post on understanding the WebPageTest.org waterfall, this will be a great first step for you to understand if there are plugins that are significantly impacting your page speed load times.
Have plugins you are not sure about? Need some help assessing your situation – let us know!
Jill Caren brings over 12 years of WordPress and SEO experience to help you improve and grow your website. She has spoken at several events on SEO and has been published in several top SEO publications. You can contact Jill here.