One of the most popular plugins in the WordPress repository is Jetpack by Automattic. Many users will have come across this plugin before, as such the support team at 34SP.com gets a lot of questions about the plugin – the most common one being questions about what Jetpack can actually do.
JetPack is the swiss-army knife of plugins. It has tonnes of different features to add to your WordPress site, and you just pick the ones that suit your setup. The Jetpack website describes the plugin as ‘The ultimate toolkit for WordPress’ and in a lot of ways it fits that description quite well; with this one plugin you can go from a default WordPress installation to a customised, optimised and exciting website.
To download JetPack you just need to login to your WordPress admin area and go to ‘plugins’ from the side menu, then ‘Add new’. You won’t even need to search for it, Jetpack is right there at the top of the popular plugins page.
Click to install and activate Jetpack and you will almost be ready to go. Unlike most plugins Jetpack also has an additional sign up step, which is to create a WordPress.com account. This does give access to some additional features, so follow those steps as well and you’ll be ready to run with your new plugin.
When the plugin is installed you will see that an additional ‘Jetpack’ option appears in your WordPress sidebar, it gives you access to many of Jetpack’s features, which we’ll talk through a few of the ones we like now.
The Jetpack control panel is separated into two areas – the dashboard, and the settings area. We’ll deal with the dashboard first and then talk about the settings area.
As soon as you click on Jetpack from your WordPress admin area you will be taken to the site statistics page. These are insights generated by Jetpack, unrelated to anything like Google analytics or our own AWStats provided in your 34SP.com control panel, so they might give you some different results to what you are used to.
Jetpack’s site statistics tell you how many views and comments you’re getting. But click through to the ‘Detailed stats’ and you will have access to more insightful metrics such as referral links, popular blog posts and what search engine terms people are using to find your website, making Jetpack’s site statistics quite handy to have on your dashboard.
You can even add the statistics to your WordPress admin area home page. To do that go to the main ‘Dashboard’ link from your sidebar and then click the ‘Screen Options’ button from the top of the content area. From there you will have a bunch of checkboxes for content you wish to display on the dashboard homepage. If you tick ‘Site stats’ this will add some data to your WordPress admin area homepage.
Lower down in the dashboard area of Jetpack is an ‘image optimisation’ button you can toggle. This enables Jetpack’s Photon feature. Photon caches your images on WordPress.com’s CDN for faster delivery, so it can increase the speed in which your images are served to viewers.
Back within the Jetpack menu, above your site stats there will be a button for ‘Settings’. This button will take you to the Jetpack settings page where you can access a lot of the plugin’s main features.
On this page, you can manage the connection to WordPress.com by adding a sidebar to your admin panel. The ‘Writing’ page also has options for spell checking, speeding up media files and even some fancier features like adding infinite scroll to your site, of course you must have a compatible theme for this to work.
Along the navigation there are also options for social icons, discussion and security. A good security feature is their brute force protection – but only enable that if your host isn’t already protecting you against brute force attacks. Many hosts will be actively protecting against brute force attacks on the server level (and yes, we do).
Custom content types
From within the ‘Writing’ area of the settings menu you will be able to enable two new custom post types – testimonials and portfolios. Testimonials adds a new post feature creating a template for review-like content, complete with a rating system.
The portfolios custom content type adds a new section specifically for creating pages to hold images or projects in. The special thing about Jetpack portfolios is that there is a wide selection of WordPress themes which are designed to display these portfolios in unique and creative ways. Here is a theme called ‘Blask’ with the portfolios enabled:
You can search for themes which support portfolios by going into the ‘Appearance’ menu of your WordPress admin area, then in the ‘add new’ section you have the option to apply filters to your search – one of the tick-boxes will be for portfolios. Most themes in those results will support Jetpack’s portfolios.
One of my favourite features Jetpack has to offer is its contact forms. When you go to create a post or page, with Jetpack enabled you will have a contact form button above your editor.
Click on the ‘add contact form’ button and it will dump a basic contact form on your page content. Hover over the form and click the pencil icon and you will be able to edit the form, add fields, remove and create new types of form content to create pretty much any type of form you can imagine. To add something to your form just click the ‘add field’ button at the bottom of your form template.
The editor is drag and drop, so it’s easy to reposition fields and create a really impressive looking form.
Submissions to your Jetpack form are added to a new ‘Feedback’ section which will be added to the left hand menu in your WordPress admin area. You can also set the form to drop you an email, but the feedback provides a central location where you can view and manage all your form entries.
In addition to all these features, Jetpack works alongside the official WordPress app. You can download the app to your mobile device and have access to your WordPress site on the go. The app allows you to manage and create posts and pages, as well as access to your site statistics and features for user management.
Jetpack versus other plugins
Jetpack has a ton of great features for getting your WordPress site up and running. However it is probably better to install Jetpack on a newer WordPress installation, just because most of the features it offers many sites already have another plugin taking care of it. For example, you might be using Contact Form 7 for your contact forms, or you might be using Smush for image optimisation.
Jetpack is much more worth having if it adds features you need to the site, rather than duplicating the existing functionality of your WordPress install. Plugins are very much down to preference a lot of the time, and it might not be worth removing a plugin you really like to swap it for Jetpack.
It is also worth mentioning that because Jetpack has so many features, it might not be designed to be the very best at everything. A plugin such as Contact Form 7 is designed purely to make contact forms easy, and that is its only job. Jetpack is juggling many jobs at once.
The plugin has great contact forms but is it worth installing it for one feature? Again, personal preference plays a big part in that, because I do really like Jetpack’s form builder.
Final thoughts and speed implications
I really like Jetpack as a ‘beginners plugin’, because it has a lot of commonly requested features that people usually want on their website all ready to be added at the click of a button.
Jetpack is also regularly accused of slowing down your WordPress website, but I do not find great evidence of this when using it myself. I would expect Jetpack to slow down your website if you enable every single one of its features – because there are a lot of them! You can see all of Jetpack’s features by clicking the ‘Jetpack’ button in your WordPress admin area’s sidebar, then scrolling to the bottom and clicking ‘debug’. The debug menu gives you access to a list of all Jetpack’s features.
So in order to keep your website running as speedy as you like, only enable the Jetpack features you plan to use. Overall I really like the Jetpack plugin, the features are easy to use, genuinely useful and all in one easy to access location, it’s no wonder it has over a million installs.