Our content recommendation service Contextly recently ran into an issue with a client who was using a fairly popular WordPress plugin called Social Sharing Toolkit, which is intended to make it easy for readers of a site to share a post on a wide range of social networks.
The plugin seemed to be blocking our service from showing our content recommendations to readers.
We installed it locally to discover what the problem was and and how to work around it. (For the technically minded, the blocking problem was that this plugin loaded an old version of jQuery after jQuery had already been loaded and used by our plugin.)
I then ran our test blog through tools.pingdom.com to check some speed changes and HOLY MOLY, the difference was staggering.
On our test post without the “Social Sharing Toolkit,” the post had 53 requests, downloading a total of 521.3 kb. The page loaded in 659 ms, under three quarters of a second. It was in the top 5% of when it comes to speed of loading.
After turning on “Social Sharing Toolkit,” the post had 612 requests. It doubled the page size to 1.2 MB. And the page loaded in 4.73 seconds. And now the blog loads slower than 67% of sites on the net!
What happened? The plugin loaded tracking bugs and scripts from BlueKai, TubeMogul, Reson8, Casalemedia, Mathtag, AdAdvisor, 360yield, Sonobi and a whole slew of others. These scripts put cookies on readers’ browsers so that third parties can tie together data about your readers from around the web.
Not only is this plugin compromising your readers’ privacy and giving away your valuable data, it slows your site down. That’s a bad experience for readers and slow-loading counts against your Google ranking.
This is *not* to say that all free plugins in WordPress do this. The large majority do not.
But if you are using a plugin for some kind of service, especially one that uses external servers to do work on your sites behalf, you should check what their privacy policies are and if the plugin is inserting tracking cookies and scripts. One way to do this is to use a webpage analyzer like tools.pingdom.com or Google’s PageSpeed Insights and look at the list of calls made by your webpage. If you don’t recognize any of them, try removing plugins one by one until you identify what plugin is responsible for the call.
There are such things as free plugins, that’s the beauty of WordPress’s community. But there are also such things as “free” plugins that cost you a lot.
This might be a bargain that you are willing to pay in order to get the service; but it’s a bargain you should *know* you are striking.
If you install a plugin, run a speedtest before and after you turn it on. And run a check every once in awhile because sometimes popular plugins get bought by shady outfits which then include this kind of stuff in the next “upgrade”.