Plug In Carefully: The Problem with Excess Plugins

Merchants often turn to plugins or modules when an eCommerce platform is missing certain features. However, having too many plugins can cause problems.

You may not know it, but you’ve undoubtedly seen plugins in use in many online stores. On the front end, plugins enhance the customer experience by providing sliders, widgets, social media feeds, and customer reviews. On the back end, merchants turn to them to manage Google analytics, customer reviews, and SEO optimizations.

Merchants often turn to plugins or modules when an ecommerce platform is missing certain features. Plugins can be a fast and easy way to add functionality – the alternative to custom coding – and there is a varied and vibrant selection of free plugins to choose from. They are also great for those who are new to website building because they help make a website look more professional easily and cheaply.

You’ll find most Miva stores use just a few modules because the platform has extensive native functionality. With Miva, you don’t need plugins to add a faceted search or combination facets that allow you to create robust shopping tools such as year, make, model lookups for auto parts. Within the platform, you can also send abandoned cart emails and wishlists that increase conversions.

To compare, how many plugins, would you guess, are available in the WordPress PlugIn Directory? 100? Higher. 1,000? Higher. 10,000? Higher. 100,000? OK, lower. 40,000, according to the wpmudev.org blog. A single WordPress site had 637.

Cheap? Fast to install? There has to be a catch to plugins! Yes, there is. Actually, there are a lot of catches.

Website crashes. Security breaches. Reliability. To name just a few of the worst case scenarios.

If issues arise with plugins, you have to get in touch with the team that built them. And if they are free, support will vary. If it’s a small question – how to style a plugin on the front end, for example – timing may not be a big issue. But if you’ve got a lot of plugins and they start breaking, getting in touch with multiple teams swiftly is a bigger issue. The nightmare is likely to worsen if you upgrade your site software and plugins break because they haven’t been tested for compatibility. This article on the wpmudev.org blog by Joe Fylan has more info and advice.

Even if nothing is broken, plugins can cause problems. One of the most common issues is sluggish page speeds. Plugins can slow your site down, depending upon how the plugin was built, because of the additional Javascript or CSS code that your browser must load. All files require HTTP requests – and the more you add, the slower your site is apt to be. You can test page speed with Google PageSpeed and Pingdom. Slow load speeds can cause real damage to your sales; customers will move on and shop elsewhere if your page doesn’t load fast enough.

If you do choose to use plugins, choose wisely. The Too Many Plugins blog post on Websitesmadeeasy.tv suggests you review each plugin by these criteria:

  • Ratings (Aim for a high rating of 4 – 4.5 or higher)
  • Number of active installs (See how each plugin compares to the others in a given searched keyword)
  • Date of last update (Look for a plugin that’s been updated in recent weeks or months rather than years)
  • Depth of support (Typically there will be tabs for these options in their FAQ section and Support section. If there is not, you may consider looking to see if they have a website or offer other types of support).

As Fylan says in his blog post, “Not even the most respected developers can avoid having some issues with their WordPress plugins.” Here are five fixes he recommends. (More detailed information is available on the blog here.)

  • Fix #1 – Check for Functionality
  • Fix #2 – Deal with Site Slowdown
  • Fix #3 – Test Plugin Performance
  • Fix #4 – Security, Security, Security
  • Fix #5 – Reliability Solutions

In the site building best practices sections of drupal.org, a blog post titled Avoid too many modules advises that it’s always wise to consider carefully before enabling a module. And here is a valuable tip: if the functionality is no longer needed, it should be uninstalled with related files removed from the server. As a general guideline, the blog recommends:

  • Small website – 20 or fewer contributed modules
  • Moderately complex site – 20-50
  • Very complex – 50-100 may be needed for complicated use cases

If you have 100-150 modules on your site, it says, “you either have a very complex website or there are more efficient ways to build your site.”

If you don’t want to commit the resources to manage and maintain plugins, you can find another option. You can choose to use a platform like Miva that has feature sets found in plugins built right into the native functionality of the site. Similar bells and whistles, fewer problems, and faster page load times. And lots and lots of features and functionality to turn to – without plugins or custom code – as your business grows. Because extensive QA is performed with each software update, you’ll need less IT support going forward. And you’ll know the features will work together flawless because they were developed by the same Miva software team.

About The Author

Elisa Williams

Elisa Williams is a journalist and communications strategist who combines storytelling with solid research and analysis. A contributing author to the Miva Blog, Elisa has written for a wide array of consumer, business and technology publications, including Newsweek, Real Simple, Computer Life and Inc. Her marketing and content development work includes supporting technology companies that specialize in ecommerce, financial services and big data.

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