3 Consequences of Running Unused Plugins and Themes on Your WordPress Website

By Dan Fries - February 16, 2019 851 0

Unsure what to do with all of your unused WordPress plugins?

That’s among the concerns of many new users of WordPress. It’s common to worry that your new website looks a little skimpy, and it’s tempting to fill it up with unnecessary plugins or try different themes.

But… are those unused or deactivated plugins and themes slowing your website down? Are there consequences to just leaving them in place?

The short answer to both questions is yes, and here’s why.

WordPress Rules the Internet

WordPress is a top choice of many professionals precisely because of its features and scalability. When you first set up your WordPress website, it’s naturally going to look a little sparse and bland. But, any website is a work in progress. As you continue to build and develop it, you’re going to be adding a lot of content, files, data, themes, and plugins.

Adding content and plugins or changing themes is what helps your website grow and keeps it looking fresh. Maintaining your website so that it’s updated and relevant improves user experience and helps raise your SERPs.

It also slows you down. More content and add-ons means more information to process and more functions to perform, which leads to longer load times. Dysfunctional, clunky websites are something that will drive visitors away.

In other words, a website that is bloated with plugins and themes is going to create an overall poorer experience for your visitors. It’s also going to make managing your website more of a challenge.

Signs Your WordPress Website is Overloaded with Extras

It’s normal to try new themes and plugins when first building your WordPress website. It’s like getting a new toy or electronic device. You want to explore it fully, see what it can do, and learn what works and what doesn’t. You might go through 10 different social media share options or layouts before finding the one that’s right for you.

Before you know it, you’ve got a long list of plugins and themes cluttering up your dashboard.

How many extras is too many?

There are some questions to ask yourself about your plugins and themes. Your answer will determine whether to keep or delete them.

  1. Do you know what all of your plugins actually do? If you look at your list of plugins and wonder what they’re for or how they got there, chances are you aren’t using them and don’t need them.
  2. Are you having trouble updating your website? Outdated plugins may be the cause.
  3. Does the number of plugins outpace your content? If you have more plugins than posts, something’s gotta give.
  4. Do you spend more time updating your plugins than you do creating content? If updating extras is becoming a full-time job, how are you serving your real customers?
  5. Do you have multi-function plugins, but you only use one or two of the functions? New plugins are being developed every day. Try to find one that can take care of all of your needs rather than several that only provide one or two fixes. There are also a number of multi-purpose themes that can improve functionality.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having several plugins on your WordPress site. They’re designed to serve a vital purpose. However, your plugins are just like applications. They require resources to run properly, and they take up space.

Having too many plugins hinders performance. Eventually, your website is going to take a hit by losing visitors and dropping in the search rankings.

There are better ways to use these resources if you want to create a great user experience. Let’s talk about the consequences of running unused themes and plugins on your WordPress website in greater detail.

There are three main reasons that holding on to those plugins and themes you’ve tried and ditched or might want to use “someday” is bad for your website:

Consequence #1: Your Website Will Slow Down

As we touched on in the introduction, running a high number of themes and plugins that you aren’t even using on your WordPress site is going to slow down the speed significantly.

You see, your website is forced to send out additional HTTP requests to load all of those extras before getting to the reason your website exists: your content. Keeping unused or unwanted plugins and themes means there are extra steps that need to be taken before your site can be displayed on the user’s computer or mobile device.

But, it’s not just about load times. What are the true consequences of your website’s speed slowing down?



Reams of information could be written on this subject alone, but let’s keep it brief. In summary, it’s going to result in you having much higher bounce rates and lost trust from your customers. If you’re selling products or services, you’re going to see lower sales as well.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Amazon. They reported a 1% drop in their sales when their page load times dropped by as little as 100ms.

Slow load times and other glitches that ruin user experience do more than just hurt your sales. Google ranks on the overall quality of websites, and that includes user satisfaction and load speeds. It will penalize you for bad marks on both, which can undo all of your hard work with SEO and content creation. It’s sort of pointless to be the proud owner of a website that no one can find or wants to visit if they do manage to locate it on page three of the SERPs.

Unsure which features are slowing your website down, if any? Ironically, there’s a there’s a plugin for that. It was created for WordPress by Kurt Payne and allows you to test your plugins to learn which ones are causing your problems, and possibly lost revenue.

Consequence #2: Your Website Will Be More Vulnerable To Hackers

It’s a little-known fact that plugins are a potential security risk. They allow hackers to sneak in your back door undetected and wreak havoc.

In short, the more plugins you have, the more vulnerable your WordPress site is to hackers. The good news is you can restrict that vulnerability by getting rid of the plugins you’re not using. Plugins are one of the leading causes of website vulnerabilities, with over 23% of attacks originating via plugins. In fact, WordPress plugins represent close to 56% of the possible entry points that hackers can use to gain access to your data.

The good news is that most developers are aware of this problem. The reputable ones create updates and security patches regularly, and they’ll usually let you know about it as soon as possible.

You can mitigate the risk by installing updates for plugins you use as soon as they become available and deleting those you don’t use. WordPress also has plugins that will help keep your website more secure.

Consequence #3: You Won’t Be Able To Update Your Site

Have you ever tried to install a newly released software on your computer or app on your smartphone only to find that it’s not supported by your old operating system? It’s the same with WordPress plugins.

WordPress allows users to update their version whenever they release a new one. Old plugins you’re no longer using may become obsolete and incompatible with the newer version of WordPress that you’re running.

When this happens, you have two choices: either update the plugins so that they are compatible or get rid of the plugins. Option number two is the most viable and time-efficient. First of all, your existing plugins may not have an update available. Second, constant upgrades are time-consuming, especially if you’re updating features you never – or rarely – use.

Isn’t your time and energy better spent on content creation and customer engagement?

To sum it all up, the three biggest consequences of running unused themes and plugins on your WordPress site will be:

– A slower website with increased bounce rates that delivers a poor user experience

– More security vulnerabilities that make your site an attractive target for hackers

– Possible inability to update WordPress because the old plugins will no longer be compatible.

The news isn’t all bad

But don’t get discouraged. Despite its failings, WordPress is significantly more secure than most popular open source CMS’s out of the box, and many of their plugins and themes are dead useful. They improve the aesthetics and function of your website, and they make customization fast and nearly seamless. Plugins and themes can serve a valuable role when used well. Your website’s performance and user experience can actually be improved as a result of them.

You just want to make sure that you don’t have any unnecessary plugins or themes that are going to result in any of the consequences that we’ve covered here today.

If you haven’t gone through your list of plugins yet to see which ones you aren’t using and that you can delete, taking the time to do it now will save you time and hassle later. Just make sure to delete them and not simply deactivate them. An inactive plugin still takes up space and resources on the back end that could be allocated more efficiently once you clear out the clutter.

How to Delete Your Old WordPress Plugins and Themes

If the thought of going through your dashboard in search of problem plugins brings out your inner procrastinator, fear not. The process is almost literally as easy as 1-2-3. Think of it the same way you might tackle clearing out your file cabinet or a closet. It’s just spring cleaning for your WordPress website.

The first step is to upgrade your current version of WordPress if there’s a new release. Next, go through your list of plugins to determine their viability. If you haven’t used them yet, or you tried them and found a better solution later, delete them.

Those that weren’t used because of a problem with function or security can be saved if there is an update that fixes the problem and their necessary to the smooth operation of your website. Otherwise, get rid of them.

The same goes for themes that you tried and didn’t like. If they were that great, they wouldn’t be taking up space. Delete them.

The process of removing old plugins is pretty straightforward. Some of them are even designed to uninstall themselves. Each plugin includes a readme text file that explains how to perform different functions. Find the section on how to uninstall the plugin and follow the instructions.

In some cases, the uninstall process requires additional code to finish the job. You can edit the theme files manually to delete them.

Plugins that don’t have an option to uninstall themselves can be deactivated and uninstalled manually through the FTP program.

The process goes like this:

  1. Login to your WordPress website through the FTP program.
  2. Locate the plugin through your the list on your dashboard.
  3. Delete the entire plugin folder and all related files from your server.

Now, it’s time to get rid of those themes you took for a test drive and left gathering dust in your WordPress storage.

  1. Login to your admin panel.
  2. Go to your Appearance panel and select “Themes”
  3. Click on “Theme Details” for whichever theme you want to delete.
  4. Find the delete button in the bottom, right-hand corner and click it.

That’s all there is to it. You may have some residual editing lines or comments in your theme files or style sheet. Simply edit these to remove the appropriate lines of code.

VPN Plugins – Don’t Believe the Hype

A word about VPN plugins before we leave.

While growing in popularity, it’s likely they will clutter up your device and not provide the level of security and anonymity you think, especially when compared to a full-on service.

Most of these types of plugins are free and easy to install. Unfortunately, they also aren’t as secure.

A VPN plugin only encrypts data transmitted through your browser. What happens if you go outside the browser to use Skype or an email program? Your data is exposed, that’s what.

Given that we’ve just spent the last twenty minutes or so helping you get rid of plugins you’re not using, we’re here to suggest, as a general rule, stay away from “VPN plugins”, which claim to obfuscate your IP address.

A better bet would be to review the credible options available for an actual VPN service. In countries with increasingly draconian privacy regulation, it’s easy to succumb to the appeal of the “plugin for everything mindset.” Privacy groups like IAPP, SANS and Privacy Australia regularly publish VPN reviews, probing for possible security vulnerabilities. Groups like these provide an easy way to compare your options and warns you which to stay away from.

The bottom line? VPN plugins are not worth the space they occupy in your system.

Final Thoughts

Once all of this clutter we’ve been talking about is cleared, you should find that your website runs faster and more efficiently. Website maintenance is manageable if you perform a little file clearance on a regular basis.

Waiting until there’s already a problem will cost you more time and money than just tackling it a little at a time as you go. Setting aside one day a week to dedicate to maintenance chores will become second nature once you set a schedule and stick with it for a few weeks. Good luck!

Written By Dan Fries

Daniel Fries is a technical copywriter and founder of Next Ventures, which invests in early stage tech startups. He is the co-author of three highly-cited papers in the field of translational bioinformatics. Dan spends his (limited) free time tinkering with Rust and diving down the rabbit hole of decentralized technology.

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