Lots of choices... don't get carried away!

[This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series.]

I’ve gotten this question a few times and I thought it was worth a more detailed treatment than a 140 character response via Twitter.

It does fascinate me that we, as a people, are always interested in finding out “how far we can go” before we utterly break something – it’s like we’re obsessed with knowing where the absolute boundary is so that we can toe the line and stop but not before we take a long gaze over the edge.

Or perhaps that’s just me – I’m always testing limits, overstepping boundaries, and generally getting in trouble when it comes to experimentation (which can be a really good thing for a curious blogger!).

For what it’s worth the answer that I instantly give 9 out of 10 people is that it simply depends on a number of different factors.

You see, the issue is not necessarily the total amount of plugins that you have installed and active on your WordPress blog – it’s finding the right balance between performance and user experience that counts, both being very important.

Here’s what I mean:

  1. Not a Fix – There comes a point when you realize that no plugin is going to solve some of the much broader and more significant challenges that a blog might have, especially when it comes to crafting great blog content. No plugin will fix bad form and effort.
  2. Not a WordPress Theme – Although many people know the difference between a WordPress Theme and a WordPress Plugin many people treat the latter like the former – that is, they believe that the right combination or right amount of plugins will “cure” any grievance or issue they have with their theme. The point? Find a WordPress Theme that does most of what you need out of the box instead of buying a theme and thinking “I know just the perfect plugin to add to this!” before you even make the purchase!
  3. Less is More – The more complicated your user experience the more potential that you have to lose valuable visitors, traffic, and even search engine ranking based on your poorly designed UI as a result of your plugins. And you’ll eventually realize that you’re reach a point in your experience where adding another plugin doesn’t do anything for your user experience – yes, there’s a ceiling of sorts that you have to find.
  4. Server Speed – The more plugins that you have the more requirements and resources it’ll take from your server and hosting solution which will directly impact your end-user experience. We call this “bloat” and it’s something you need to continually minimize if you’re going to maximize your WordPress blog. This might be one of the more important considerations as you start loading up your blog with nonsense plugins!
  5. It’s About What Not to Install – I coach bloggers all the time to think about how they can strategically eliminate elements in their core experience instead of adding more. Your long-standing succes depends on your ability to craft amazing and compelling content and not about your ability to point and click-install boilerplate plugins that you think are half-way decent (or that you saw recommended on one of those top problogging blogs about blogging). Sure, I’m making fun of myself here a bit but the point is that you need to be extremely prejudice when it comes to adding more plugins to your system!
  6. It’s About Your Visitors, Not You – All of this can be generally summed up in the idea that your plugins are primarily for your end-user and their experience and not so you can have something new to stare at by yourself when no one else is coming to your blog. If the plugin isn’t making a significant up-tick in user experience and traffic then say goodbye right quick.

Again, the long-form answer to the plugin quantity count question is that it generally depends on those core factors.

Not “practical” enough? Fine, I’ll concede to you people and give you some quantitative advice. Here’s what I practically recommend if you’re looking for a number to shoot for:

  1. Shared Server – If you’re on a shared server and hosting environment and haven’t done anything to optimize the system I generally recommend 8-10 plugins for an optimal end-user experience. You can add more but you’ll start seeing a performance hit really quick.
  2. Shared Server with Caching – If you manage to install a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache (and I recommend the latter for shared) then you could possibly go as high as 15-20. That’s toeing the line though in most scenarios.
  3. VPS & Dedicated Server – If you’re on one of these guys then you can definitely go north of 20+ plugins, depending on their system and out-of-the-box configuration.
  4. Custom Rig & Setup – And if you’re running something custom then you probably already know the limitations of your own box and could rock as many as so well please.

Remember, the ultimate goal is not to afford a system so that you can infinitely scale to your heart’s content but rather to find the perfect balance between performance and usability. And if you were to back me into a corner and ask me for the “Golden Number” I would say something around 12-15.

Fine, ok!? You asked!

One final suggestion is that many plugins are really “heavy” in their codebase and if you have the skills to custom develop your own plugins (or put them right inside the theme itself) then that’s a great solution as well.

For example, the theme that I’m using, Standard Theme, has built right into it advertising options so that you can offer strategic advertising for clients and partners:

Pretty slick! Built right into the WordPress Theme.

This is nice since you don’t have to install another plugin to create this functionality.

If you can find a WordPress Theme that has most of what you need and then hard-code in the other features that you want then you’ll have a much more streamlined and efficient experience!

If you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to ask!

[This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series.]