WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) for websites by a significant margin. Something like 450 million websites use it. It isn’t without its flaws, but because it’s open-source and has an immense ecosystem around it, it has a lot going for it.
The size of that ecosystem can be a double-edged sword, however. There’s a tremendous number of plugins that can add any number of features without requiring any coding skills, which sounds great in theory (and it can be in practice), but can easily cause problems a few years down the line.
A CMS is software. Plugins are software. That means a website built in WordPress and using various plugins is a complicated web of interoperating software, every piece of which has to perform its own tasks while playing nice with every other plugin.
That isn’t a problem when a website is brand new, of course – if a plugin doesn’t work when developing the site, it’s easy to replace it with something else. Where problems do tend to arise is two or three years later, once every plugin (and WordPress itself) has gone through several update versions. Each one is a self-contained piece of software, and like any older software, sometimes you will run into compatibility issues. In the case of a website, that usually means broken functionality or potentially a conflict that leaves the website completely nonfunctional.
Perhaps worse, some plugins become abandoned by their developer and don’t receive any updates at all. In those cases the immediate problem is not a loss of functionality but rather the lack of security updates to fix vulnerabilities that inevitably arise. This is usually the root cause of websites getting hacked, which can involve anything from injecting malicious links into the web pages, to running crypto mining software on the hosting server.
Keep it simple
That’s why when I design a website, I like to keep things as simple as possible by using the minimum number of plugins. It’s more work upfront but it makes the website much less precarious and much more likely to still work well years later. I typically assume a five-year lifespan for a typical website, after which time clients usually want some kind of visual refresh. When I do need to use plugins I try to stick to popular ones and ideally use multiple ones from the same developer to improve odds of future updates being compatible.
How can you fix it?
If you already have a newish site that uses a lot of plugins, my suggestion would be to take a look at which ones can easily be replaced or removed. Plugins that add Google Analytics code or Google Fonts aren’t necessary at all – things like that can be added directly to your WordPress theme, or to a bare-bones custom plugin that uses only built-in WordPress features and won’t require updates. Try to consolidate and simplify as much as you can.
Once you’ve cleaned up what you can, set up some kind of backup system. This won’t directly fix the underlying problem, but at least you’ll be able to restore a functional version of your site if something breaks. Without a backup it may be impossible to roll back to the last working version of your site. It’s only a stopgap solution, but it’s better than your website being offline for weeks or months.
If you prefer to have a pro look it over, most developers with sufficient WordPress experience (yours truly included) can log in to your admin dashboard and take a detailed look at your specific setup. I find that I can generally remove or replace about 1/3 of the plugins in use. My highest priorities are abandoned plugins which are no longer being maintained, because these make the website much easier to hack even if it still seems to work perfectly.
With those out of the way it’s mostly a matter of incremental optimization. As a side benefit this often brings performance gains, since there are fewer plugins that need to run before generating a webpage. It can also be a good time to do an SEO audit, checking how page templates are built and other related technical / on-page SEO factors.
In general, this all falls under the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. It’s easy to forget about a website after it has been online for a while, but that often means that when you are reminded of it, it’s because it’s broken. For some businesses it may not be a big deal if their website is offline for a few weeks, but for those who would prefer that doesn’t happen, a little bit of proactive maintenance can go a long way.
In related news
DesignRush have informed me that Corazza In-House Marketing has been recognized as one of the Top Canada Web Design Companies!