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Lean And Lightweight Plugins For WordPress

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: November 11, 2020

At Isotropic, we love balancing speed and functionality when it comes to building WordPress websites. In this article, we wanted to detail the plugins that we have used in the past which are known to be lean and lightweight.

By adding the least amount of code to the front end of the website, you can ensure that it loads quickly for visitors (a better experience and something that Google values when ranking). This list was curated by our developers and agency over years of building out WordPress websites.

Through trial and error, we've found several incredibly well designed plugins that add functionality, but have a minimal impact on the speed of a website due to their lean design.

We're going to try to hit every single aspect of a WordPress website, but if you have a lightweight plugin that you would like to add to this list, feel free to let us know in the comments section.

Each plugin on this list comes with a quick description of why we have used it in the past, if we are currently using it, and some pros and cons. With that said, let's get right into it. And feel free to use the table of contents to the left to navigate between categories.  

Page Builders

Oxygen is a website builder for WordPress. When compared to major page builders, this tool is the lightest out there in terms of frontend assets loaded. It's also one of the best for agencies, incredibly flexible, and created for agencies and developers. We now use it for the majority of our WordPress websites, and absolutely love it. There's definitely a bit of a learning curve for less experienced users, but the pros that come with the tool are more than worth it.

A major selling point is the clean code that it outputs. When compared to other page builders, Elementor specifically, many users are switching because of this.

Related: https://isotropic.co/elementor-vs-oxygen/

CSSHero isn't your typical page builder. Instead, it allows you to modify existing themes, and works in tandem with a builder like Oxygen. This is basically a graphical user interface or everything that CSS has to offer. You can point and click on various elements that make up a website, like DIVs, text, and sections, and then easily apply CSS to them.

The tool doesn't alter the theme files in any way. Instead, it creates its own stylesheet which sits on top of the pre existing files. You can also export your work as CSS, LESS, JSON data.

When it comes to speed, the developers of this CSSHero say it best: “From a technical standpoint, CSS Hero only generates and enables a single, static extra CSS stylesheet that cleanly overrides your Theme’s original stylesheet.”

Related: https://isotropic.co/csshero-and-elementor-powerful-custom-css/

Disclaimer: We’ve used Beaver in the past, but now tend to sway towards Oxygen because we have a great workflow with it. The reason that it appears on this list is the simple fact that it outputs incredibly clean code, just like Oxygen.

According to SupaMike's tests, Oxygen loads 33KBs, whereas Beaver Builder loads 38KBs of frontend assets.

It is very well designed page builder on the back end, and we know many professional website creators who love it.

Popups

Boxzilla is a plugin allowing you to add pop-up or slide-in boxes to your WordPress site. It's one of the cleanest and simplest popup plugins out there, especially when you compare it to something like Green Popups which loads a ton of front end code (super overkill if you just want a basic pop up).

Only 6 kB of JavaScript is added to your website.

It's also super flexible and expandable. You can add any content you want to pop up, such as short codes, iFrames, and more. Boxes can be shown on certain events, including exit intent (though that’s a premium addon.

Forms

Piotnet Forms is super well done, and a relative newcomer to the form plugin sector. A very powerful alternative to legacy form solutions out there (You have access to repeater fields, payment processing, and more), and incorporate in Elementor like builder. Surprisingly, they only load 11.8KBs on the frontend of your site.

Read our review: https://isotropic.co/piotnet-forms-review-better-than-legacy-competitors/

I feel an obligation to include Contact Form 7 in this list. Not only is it one of the most popular plugins out there, it's also super simple, yet expandable. It comes in at 15.65KBs of frontend assets (according to that Google Sheet).

Something even less bloated than Contact Form 7, Lightweight Contact Form has no CSS stylesheet, no extra files, and no overhead. It’s just one file, But integrates with Google's recaptcha version 3 as well as JavaScript client-side and PHP server-side validation.

Search Engine Optimization

Slim SEO is just that -- Slim. Here's the selling* (well, they're free) proposition:

"Currently there are many SEO plugins for WordPress in the market. But these plugins often have too many options and are very complicated for ordinary users. Access to their configuration section, you will easily get lost in a maze of explanations and options that you sometimes don’t understand. Besides, there are ads!"

The entire plugin is just 40KBs and covers Meta Tags, Redirection, OG, images, schema, sitemaps, header footer code, RSS feeds and more.

Social Share

A newcomer to the crowded pack of social sharing plugins, Novashare is marketed as a lightweight alternative. We've had the chance to use it in several content sites, and can definitely confirm that this is the leanest, yet most fully-featured solution out there. It comes with share counts, 10+ networks... but perhaps the most impressive feature is the fact that it loads under 5 KB of front-end assets.

That's. Wild.

Scriptless Social Sharing

Need a free and simple social share plugin? Scriptless is your best bet (or a code snippet) - There's no Javascript, just simple SVG social share buttons. Choose where they're inserted, how they display, and what networks to show -- and that's about it!

GDPR / Privacy

Sliders

Virtually every single slider plugin out there is incredibly bloated (cough cough Rev Slider). Instead, we recommend using an easy library called Slick (there are a bunch of other solutions out there, like Flickity).

Backups

Because we're including every category of plugin that would be needed on a production website, Updraft has found its way into this article. However, backup plugins don't really impact the front end loading speed of a website, and updraft Pro is the best solution we found.

If you're really looking for a lightweight solution when it comes to backups, use Cloudways hosting which comes with automatic backups ?.

You can also easily dump a DB with WPCLI [wp db export], and then archive files like so [tar -vczf yourbackupfilename.gz .].

Security

Security plugins such as WordFence slow down the fontend of your site, but are definitely a necessary evil (unless you're paying for a Cloudflare business plan and have super secure hosting).

Instead of listing those tools off, we wanted to highlight Simple History which shows recent changes made within WordPress, directly on your dashboard or on a separate page.

It is simple, but super helpful when auditing changes on a site. In the event of a hack or deliberate attack, you can easily see what went wrong, and what was changed. It also tracks failed user logins and User Data Erasure Requests. There’s also a ton of support for other popular plugins.

Performance Optimization

(Our favorite section, couldn't you tell?)

A free, simple and quick performance solution. The plugin covers CSS/JS, Database, and Image Optomization, as well as caching. The pro version has even more, like a plugin organizer (think the main feature of Asset Cleanup).

Swift is the perfect balance of results and ease of use. It's a one click installation, which automatically optimizes your WordPress website for speed.

Obviously, if you're looking for something bulkier (more control), you may want to take a look at W3 Cache or WPRocket. But, for a simple solution, Swift is our go to.

The Flying suite of plugins by WP Speed Matters are a collection of incredibly useful tools that take up virtually no disk speed (and definitely speed up frontend loading times -- that's what they're designed to do!).

Flying Scripts only loads scripts (identified by keywords) on user interaction. Flying Images gives you unlimited access to a CDN, lazy loading, WebP and more. Flying Pages preloads pages when a user hovers a link, increasing perceived speed. In my opinion, these plugins are the most underrated on the repository.

Increases the speed of your site by reducing HTTP requests, disabling plugins, stripping out code, and optimizing your database. The whole plugin is 50kb, and loads no JavaScript on the front-end of your site. It's great for that final push when it comes to speed.

Cleans out the database, which typically results in a quicker backend experience.

Script Management

What's better than a lean and lightweight plugin? A super simple code snippet that can replace it. These two tools are the industry leading script management plugins (with it, you can potentially replace dozens of plugins, speeding up your site).

Code Snippets is an easy, clean and simple way to run PHP code snippets on your site. It removes the need to add custom snippets to your theme’s functions.php file. Remove the plugin, all of the Snippets are removed too (which we really like). Works with the Oxygen Builder perfectly.

Launched in September, Advanced Scripts is Code Snippets on steroids (think that plugin merged with VS Code).

It makes it easy to write and incorporate PHP, CSS, and Javascript. You can also write SCSS and LESS code, use custom hooks, and quickly add CDN served assets.

We've recently begun adding Advanced Scripts to most of our WordPress sites -- it's just a joy to use.

Other Utilities

A super simple, yet incredibly useful plugin that does what its name implies: Finds and replaces strings in real time (after page is generated, but before it's sent to the visitors browser). We typically use this to replace miscapitalized words: Ex. WordPress to WordPress.

A simple, lightweight way to create ad zones and insert them into your WordPress website.

If you're looking for a quick and easy way to migrate posts, this super small plugin allows you to export them in zip format, and then re import them into a new installation.

If you run a WooCommerce shop, Booster will make your life much easier, and has a minimal frontend impact as it's essentially a collection of code snippets with a toggle on/off GUI. There are more than 100 hundred modules, which only apply (minimal code) to the frontend when toggled.

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Jules
14 days ago

Thanks! Great suggestions.

James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

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