When it comes to WordPress plugins, we all have our favorites. It would probably take you only a few seconds to come up with at least five plugins you install on virtually every website you create. You little nerd, you!
I’m no different. Among my all-time favorites is Jetpack by WordPress.com. Initially installed on one of my sites for its excellent stats and analytics feature, by now it has a fixed position on my go-to list of plugins.
However, even though I use it on a regular basis, the other day I realized that my knowledge of Jetpack is not as comprehensive as it should be. The plugin just offers so much that I haven’t had the opportunity to test all of its features in their entirety.
It’s about time that changed and I dove a little deeper into the “one plugin to rule them all.” You with me? Let’s go.
What is the Jetpack plugin?
First of all, Jetpack is not so much a plugin as it is a whole box full of tools, widgets, and services. Previously these were only available for users of WordPress.com. With Jetpack, Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, has packaged all favorite features into one place to make them available for the self-hosted WordPress websites.
Currently the Jetpack stack includes more than 30 powerful features. They cover topics from site customization, content tools and user engagement, to site performance and security.
The system requirements for the plugin are fairly standard:
- The latest version of WordPress. Those running version 2.7 or later should get a prompt in their dashboard asking them to upgrade. Click the link and follow the instructions to update WordPress to the latest version.
- A web host with PHP 5. Jetpack follows the same requirements as WordPress.
- A WordPress.com account (more on that below)
- A publicly accessible website that does not require authentication.
- XML-RPC enabled and publicly accessible.
- Legacy WordPress.com/Automattic plugins should be disabled before installing Jetpack (ex. WordPress.com Stats, After the Deadline, Custom CSS).
Because Jetpack allows you to hook up your self-hosted WordPress site to WordPress.com’s infrastructure, you will need to create an account with WordPress’ commercial version in order to run it. But don’t worry, it’s quick and easy to do and free of charge.
How to install Jetpack on your WordPress website
Though it comes with a whole host of features, Jetpack’s installation is no different from that of any other plugin. The only extra work you need to do is the aforementioned setup of a WordPress.com account to connect Jetpack to its service. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
1. Install Jetpack from the WordPress directory
The easiest way to install Jetpack is from within WordPress itself. Log into your site and go to Plugins → Add new. Search for ‘Jetpack’ if it doesn’t already show up on the front page. You can then install the latest version of the plugin by clicking ‘Install Now.’
Alternatively, you can also download Jetpack from the WordPress plugin directory and install it manually. To do so, click the download link on the plugin page download it to your computer. Unpack the archive and upload the plugin’s folder to wp-content/plugins on your server via FTP. Then log into your site, go to the Plugins menu and there click ‘Activate’ right under the plugin name. All done.
2. Set up a (free) WordPress.com account
Follow this link for the signup. To set up your own account, you will only need an email address, a username, and a password. Fill in the necessary information and submit. You will receive an email from WordPress.com to confirm your account. Follow the link to finish the setup.
3. Connect Jetpack to WordPress.com
Once you have activated Jetpack, you will see a big green bar on the top of every screen inside your WordPress dashboard with a prompt to link your new plugin to WordPress.com. If you click on the link within the banner, it will take you right to the page where you can do so. Input your newly set up credentials and click on ‘Authorize.’
Good job, your installation of Jetpack is now fully activated.
How to activate modules within Jetpack
To activate and deactivate the Jetpack’s features, go to Jetpack → Settings. Here you can see a list of all available modules and their status. On the right you can order the list in several ways, by active or inactive modules, alphabetically, by newest, by popularity, and by topic.
In order to activate any of them, simply hover over the module in question and an ‘Activate’ link will appear. Click it and presto, your new feature is ready to use. Hovering over a module which is already active will show a link for its configuration.
Beware of the bloat!
With more than 30 features and services to choose from, it is easy to go a bit overboard with Jetpack. Unfortunately the plugin doesn’t help with that either as it will activate a whole number of modules by default. When I installed the latest version of Jetpack for the sake of this article, I found a breathtaking 20 of its modules already running when I first entered the settings page. Holy server bloat Batman!
Therefore when you install the plugin, disabling everything you are not going to use should be the first order of the day. Fortunately this has gotten much easier over time and doesn’t require several clicks per feature as it used to. The new interface even lets you deactivate in bulk. For good reason.
Jetpack: 8 highlights from the feature list
Which modules should you keep running? That’s a fair question. With so many features, widgets, and services to choose from, it can be difficult to determine what is worth it and what is not. To help you decide, I will first give you a list of the highlights from the Jetpack app stack before moving on to the full list of available features.
Photon is a free CDN (content delivery network) plugin. It allows you to use WordPress.com’s infrastructure to load images appearing on your website (currently only for posts, pages and featured images) from an external source. As a consequence there are less bandwidth demands placed on your server, your website loads faster, which in turn is good news for readers and SEO.
Photon is one of the favorite modules of Jetpack and for good reason. It’s free, it’s fast, and because it’s part of the WordPress.com infrastructure, it is highly reliable. All you need to do is turn it on and it will automatically load all of your images into the system.
2. WordPress.com stats
Let’s face it, everyone with a website loves looking at their stats. Seeing the numbers for page views and visitors climb can be quite a thrill (or frustration). It’s probably safe to say that there are people out there who check their website statistics more often than their email.
However, there’s no need to log into Google Analytics for that. With Jetpack, your WordPress website will have its own stats right there on the dashboard, complete with:
- Number of visitors on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis
- All time views of your content
- Top-performing posts and pages
- Main referrers and search engine terms
- Most-clicked links from your website
In addition to that there are enhanced stats available on WordPress.com.
Granted, the level of information is by far not as sophisticated as Google’s analytics solution. However, WordPress.com stats give you enough for a quick peek at how your site is performing. If you would like to read more on this topic, read the article on analytics for WordPress.
Imagine you type in the address of one of your websites for a routine check. Instead of taking you right to it, you wait and wait and . . .the connection times out. What? Your site is down? How long has it been that way? How many visitors have you turned away without knowing? Oh my gosh, this is a disaster!
To avoid this kind of situation, Jetpack comes with Monitor. This service, the subject of a recent Weekend WordPress Project, will check on your site every five minutes and notify you via email if it detects downtime. This simple yet powerful feature alone is almost enough justification to install Jetpack on your website.
Every marketer knows that pushing your content out to the social web is necessary these days. However, connecting your WordPress site to all social accounts can be a pain. Luckily, Publicize makes it a breeze.
The service allows you to connect up to six social accounts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Path, and Google+. After you have done so, whenever you publish new material on your website, it will now be automatically shared on these accounts. Pretty neat, huh?
5. Related Posts
Jetpack falls into the category of an extremely dat
The folks over at WP Engine have a list of plugins which they don’t allow to be used on their platform. Among them are almost all popular ‘related posts’ plugins. Why? Because they are extremely database intensive.
If you look further down, however, there are a few plugins of the same kind of that they don’t have a problem with and Jetpack’s related posts plugin is among them.
The reason for that is that Jetpack allows you to outsource all the heavy lifting to the WordPress.com servers. What they effectively do is index your WordPress website and – from analyzing the available content on your site — then suggest related content underneath your posts. Good news for your loading times!
6. Jetpack Comments
Let’s face it, the native comments of the WordPress platform are already quite nice and there are a bunch of plugins out there, which make them even better. So what can Jetpack do that others don’t?
First of all Jetpack comments do not hijack the entire comment section as other solutions do. Instead, it offers a few key improvements that make life (especially that of your users) a lot easier.
Most notably is the fact that Jetpack gives them the opportunity to log in with their social and WordPress.com accounts. That way they do not have to set up yet another login with yet another website just to interact with your content.
Jetpack Comments can also be further enhanced with Subscriptions. This functions allows visitors to subscribe to comment threads and your entire website from the convenience of the comment field. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
7. Spelling and Grammar
Though many of us who use WordPress mainly as a blogging tool like to think of ourselves as word magicians, there is always room for improvement. Luckily the Spelling and Grammar module is here to help with that.
It’s essentially a spelling plugin for the TinyMCE editor that uses Automattic’s ‘After the Deadline’ service to improve your content. Smart suggestion technology offers improvements for spelling and grammatical errors, as well as customized profiles for users. It has never been easier to write better content.
Jetpack makes integrating social media on your website as easy as drag and drop. Literally. Sharing allows you to change the number and type of social buttons visible underneath your content with just a few mouse clicks.
Besides the usual suspects, there are also a number of less common sharing services available such as Reddit and Pocket. If that is not enough for you, you can even create you own options. Besides that there are a number of customization settings available to make it all look the way you want.
Jetpack features – the full list
These eight services alone make installing Jetpack worthwhile. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is what else Jetpack has under the hood:
- Beautiful Math – Math geeks rejoice! This feature allows you to write complex mathematical equations, formulas, and more.
- Carousel – Full-screen photo slider for your embedded galleries.
- Contact Form – The name says it all, add a simple contact form to your site.
- Custom CSS – Add custom CSS without creating a child theme.
- Custom Content Types – Customize and organize how different types of content are displayed on your site.
- Enhanced Distribution – Automatically shares your content with third party services like search engines.
- Extra Sidebar Widgets – Seven additional widgets such as Facebook Like Box, Latest Tweets, Gravatar Widget and more.
- Gravatar Hovercards – Display additional information when hovering over the avatars of Gravatar users.
- Infinite Scroll – Automatically pulls the next posts into view when the reader approaches the bottom of the page. Needs to be supported by your theme.
- JSON API – Authorize external applications to connect to your website with WordPress.com’s OAuth2 authentication system.
- WordPress.com Single Sign On – Lets visitors sign on with the login system from WordPress.com so they don’t need to register separately on your site.
- Likes – In case you didn’t know, WordPress.com has its own Likes system which you can enable for your content. Not to be confused with Facebook Likes!
- Markdown – Allows writing rich text content with Markdown.
- Mobile Theme – If your regular theme does not come with a mobile version, Jetpack offers with its own lightweight mobile theme.
- Notifications – Receive notifications in the navigation bar from all your WordPress sites when logged in.
- Omnisearch – Searching through all of your content (posts, pages, comments, media, and plugins) and external sources at once.
- Post by Email – Post new content to your site by emailing it to a designated address.
- Shortcode Embeds – Embed content from sites like Youtube, Flickr, Vimeo and SoundCloud with convenient shortcodes.
- Site icon – Set a favicon for your website.
- Site Verification – Verify your site with Google, Bing and Pinterest.
- Subscriptions – Allow your visitors to subscribe to comments and posts by email. Requires Jetpack Comments.
- Tiled Galleries – Provides additional layouts for image galleries: Rectangular, square and circular.
- VaultPress – Backup and security service (subscription based) for your WordPress site.
- VideoPress – Service to easily upload videos to WordPress.com and show them on your site. This is also a paid service.
- WP.me Shortlinks – Avoid long urls with one of the shortest link shorteners.
- Widget Visibility – Set rules where specific widgets should or should not be displayed.
So, is Jetpack worth downloading?
There’s no denying it, Jetpack is chock full of a lot of awesome features. Putting them all in one centralized place inside “one plugin to rule them all” also sounds very appealing. Especially if you take into account that it is run by the people behind WordPress.com and each feature has therefore been stress tested on hundreds of thousands of blogs.
The biggest downside of the plugin, however, is the price you pay for its feature richness — the size. Unzipped, Jetpack is many times larger than the WordPress core. Especially for those running their websites on shared servers, this is an important consideration. Plus, pretty much all modules inside the WordPress stack can be had in other form as individual plugins, often with more features.
So should the Jetpack plugin be a part of your site? More than 13 million people, me included, have already answered that question with yes. However, it really depends on your needs. If you are only going to use one of its main features, you might be better advised to find another best-of-breed plugin for that one purpose. But even if you will only utilize two or three of its compartments, in my opinion you should go for it. Either way, you will only find out if you test it.
Do you use Jetpack? What is your favorite feature? Or if you don’t use it, why did you decide against it? Let us know in the comments.
Nick Schäferhoff is an entrepreneur and writer/blogger from Germany. He learned WordPress when he needed a website for his first business venture and instantly fell in love. He is passionate about health, productivity, and continuous learning, which he writes about on his lifestyle blog. When not building websites, he likes to travel the world, experience other cultures, and learn new languages.