Choose your third party WordPress plugins wisely

WordPress plugins are great. They add extra functionality not available from the out-of-the-box software. However, too many, or the wrong kind of plugins, can slow your site down, cause the page content to jump all over the place as they load, and/or block important content on smaller devices (you know, those social media icons that sit at the side of the page blocking some of the text).
This can be at best frustrating to your visitors or at worst very annoying and may ultimately cause them to leave your website before they learn whether you can help them or not.

Too much page weight

The extra on-page scripts and styles needed to power a plugin add weight to your website’s page. The heavier the page, the longer it takes to load. Some plugins link to third party scripts. These too may slow down page load as they connect to the third party server. Try to choose plugins that use internal links to the associated script and CSS (cascading style sheets) files.
Where your plugin offers custom styles check to make sure they are not being added to the <head> area of your web page. These additional styles will also add weight to your page. Use as few custom styles as possible, or, if using a child theme, ask your web designer to add them to the theme’s style sheet instead, or choose a plugin that allows you to move any customizations to your theme folder.

Content “jumping around”

Some third party plugins and/or scripts cause the page to jump all over the place as they load, especially on mobile devices. Your page content will load first, and as each plugin loads, your content will move down or across the page as each plugin’s feature appears. Your content will “jump around” the page as each plugin determines what screen size your visitor is using, and shrink to fit accordingly (some even cause your page to shrink to fit the plugin’s content so your content is too small to read).
Some of the worst culprits I’ve seen that cause these problems are fixed social media share blocks (the ones I mentioned above that sit in the same spot at the side of the screen no matter where you scroll to), chat boxes that pop up above some content you were in the middle of reading) and what I call “ad injectors” (have you noticed there are more and more of these popping up on some of the most popular blog sites?). If they annoy you while visiting websites, consider how annoying they are to your own visitors.

Blocking Content

Other types of plugins that are annoying to your visitors are the ones that pop-up and block the text they are trying to read. Avoid any plugin that “pops-up” when a visit first enters your website or at the end of a blog post. Plugins, such as subscribe to our newsletter plugins, social media “share” or “like us on Facebook” or “if you liked this article you’ll like the next one,” may seem useful in collecting “likes,” newsletter subscribers or more readership, but, nothing is more annoying than visiting a website from a Facebook page you follow and being greeted with a popup that says “Like us on Facebook” every time! Instead, place your social share, newsletter sign up and RSS feed, where it is less intrusive, such as in the header, at the end of your posts or in the sidebar.

A few other points to bare in mind and to ask yourself when choosing to add a plugin.

Do you really need it?
Look into the pros and cons of the plugin and determine whether you really need it, whether it’s going to be of real benefit or just a hindrance or annoyance to your visitors. Unless it is a benefit to your visitors and improves their experience on your website, e.g. it aids navigation, provides additional information before they need to click or it makes visiting your website a pleasure, don’t bother installing it. If you already have several plugins, do the same. If it’s not providing a benefit to your visitors, deactivate it.
Would you find it annoying if you were visiting your website?
Everyone wants to add to their list so they can make money, and you’re probably no different. You may be tempted to get a newsletter sign-up or a like us on Facebook plugin that pops up when a new visitor arrives. But nothing is worse to a visitor (especially repeat visitors) than an annoying popup that prevents immediate access to an article or suddenly appears while you are reading. So choose a plugin that uses a widget in the header, sidebar or at the end of your blog post, rather than a pop up that blocks your content.
Is it compatible with your version of WordPress (which should be the latest version) and other plugins already on your website?
Before installing a plugin, read the description, check the reviews and star rating, see when it was last updated and which versions it is compatible with. If it has not been updated for a long time (in which case you will get a warning message saying that it is not compatible) or if the reviews suggest it is buggy, don’t install it. If there is no alternative and you feel you really need it, back up your WordPress before installing, just in case anything goes wrong when you activate it, and if something does, deactivate immediately. (Preferably test it on a different WordPress installation that you use solely for testing plugins and themes.)
How does it impact your mobile visitors?
Some plugins work fine and are less annoying on desktop browsers. But the same plugin can be vastly different on a mobile device, especially smart phones, where page real estate is at a premium, or the user has limited or roaming data. If you have access to a tablet or smart phone (ask a friend or family to borrow one if you don’t), check how your website’s plugins behave in each of them.
And one final tip: If you’re finding your web pages are slow to load, deactivate each plugin in turn and see how much your website’s page load speeds up (try different pages, browsers and devices and/or delete the cache – cached pages load quicker). If you notice a difference, decide whether you really need it or if there is a better alternative.

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