There are a lot of posts that discuss which WordPress plugins you absolutely must use. It’s awesome to think that you can add cool features to your site with the click of a button for free. WordPress.org (or .com to a limited extent) leaves you like a kid in a candy store.
What people don’t share about WordPress plugins is that they oftentimes take a long time to load. Google doesn’t like longer load time, and the reason is pretty intuitive: READERS don’t like a longer load time. We make a lot of unnecessary concessions to Google irrationally hoping they will direct their honey spigot of web traffic our way, but in this case Google is right: the experience of readers matters a lot. Take it from a guy whose site used to load just shy of ten seconds (thank you to anyone who experienced this from me). Readers don’t enjoy the retro experience of dial-up load times.
There are tools such as Google PageSpeed and Pingdom’s Website Speed test that allow you to see how fast your page loads in relative terms. For instance, you can run similar sites or bigger sites through the tool and see if your readers would notice a difference if they caught a whim to go from the New York Times (newyorktimes.com: 3.01 secs to load) to your site (leaderswest: 1.51 secs to load). Hopefully that makes some sense.
Let me bring this full-circle: For WordPress publishers, one of the biggest load time issues comes from plugins. Sorry. Every coded nugget of WordPress goodness results in a lag time for your page to load. I want to show you a tool to identify how much impact your plugins are having on your load time and then offer a few tips to help decide what you need and what you don’t.
In one of life’s great ironies: download another plugin
First, download the Plugin Performance Profiler from WordPress.org, then activate it on your site. Note that this is only available for self-hosted WordPress sites. This is a plugin from GoDaddy that is so useful that I assume its intention is to restore the karmic imbalance caused by unapologetically objectifying women to sell web hosting. But I digress.
First run a scan. From the Plugins tab > Installed Plugins > P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) >Scan Now
This will take you to another screen where there will be a big white button in the upper left hand corner that says “Start Scan.” Press that. The tool will then analyze your plugins and give you a result dashboard that looks like this:
With some visuals as well, one that looks like this:
You can see that I clearly am not opposed to using plugins, but each of them has a deliberate purpose that I can’t get elsewhere. I obscured my plugins, because my preferences are somewhat irrelevant to yours (not because I don’t trust you). The big idea is just to show you how long your plugins take to load so that you can understand how they are impacting your readers.
Do you need that Reddit share button?
Social share buttons are the worst. Oftentimes they load slowly, they have far more social networks than will ever refer traffic to your site, and they tend to look awfully busy. The Pingdom site specifically will illustrate to you how much time is wasted for each social network to communicate back and forth for a stupid share button.
Instead of using a share plugin, I decided to code share buttons into my site. Each social network explains precisely how to do it. Some quick examples:
(you can Google anything else)
It’s really easy to do and I personally think the way that the share buttons on my site are aligned is as nicely (or nicer) than any other share buttons I could use.
When I first implemented my own complement of share buttons I included Reddit and Inbound.org. I had those buttons there (rarely used) for quite a while, until I thought about the appropriateness of my content to those communities. My content doesn’t appeal to Redditors (who I perceive wanting very topical, up-to-the-minute tech news) or Inbound.org (who I perceive as primarily coming from the Moz.com community and being exceptionally aware of some of the stuff I’m writing about). So I dropped those two buttons and decreased my load time with negligible impact to referrals.
Incidentally, if you use plugins for Google Authorship, Twitter Cards, Facebook Open Graph markup, or schema.org markup – it’s quite easy to place those codes into your header by yourself. My implementation was a little more complicated with multiple authors, but between Google and GitHub I was able to set up my site with author attribution through all social sites using no plugins.
As I used the P3 tool, I saw that a plugin automating a backend process took a TON of time to load. I could delete it, but it would cause additional manual work for me every time I posted to my site.
I deleted the plugin.
I decided that a small bit of extra work for me so that readers had to wait less time for content in their browser was worth it. I’m not saying that paring down plugins or researching how to implement a specific metatag onto your site without a plugin is easy. But the decision to decrease load time is a decision to get your content to readers faster… and maybe to have Google direct their honey spigot of web traffic your way a little more often. At least one of those is a noble aspiration.
I’m curious to know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.