Other than which host to use, the only other question I hear most from both beginners and advanced users is whether using the WordPress Jetpack plugin will help or hurt their site.
Should you use the WordPress Jetpack plugin?
There's an old Chris Rock comedy sketch (Cheap Pete—not suitable for children) where Chris is trying to buy an Audi. The guy selling the car gives him a number that is way too high, so Chris starts trying to negotiate things he might take away from the car to lower the price.
Even though it's been almost twenty years since I saw him perform in Oakland, I remember that routine to this day. Not because of how awesome it was—though it was good—but because I hear it every day when people try to price website projects.
People want features. All the features. So many features. And because it's WordPress, and WordPress is free, they're hoping that they can get those features for free.
And that's when people start talking about Jetpack because it has a ton of features. So many features. All the features, really. And it's free.
- So should someone use it?
- Should you install it?
- Will it help your site?
- Will it mean you won't need to purchase other premium plugins to have an amazing site?
The answers to these questions are it depends, it depends, it depends, and it depends.
But you probably already knew that. What I want to do is help unpack the plugin, explain why it's powerful, and why you might want to consider using it on your site.
But to do that, we need to deal with the first myth I hear all the time… that it will slow down your site…
Will it slow down your site?
WordPress is a powerful and flexible content management system for your website. What makes it so flexible is that it doesn't come jam-packed with a million features that you may never use. That's why we have plugins. So that we can add the features we want.
And the Jetpack plugin is a special plugin because it's more like a container of plugins than just a plugin itself. You install it like a plugin, but that's where the similarities end. The moment you activate it, you'll notice that you now have access to tons of other features you can add to your site.
But that idea, of a ton of other features, is what scares people. Because they've heard that the more plugins you have on your site, the slower it will get.
Repeat it with me: It's not the quantity of the plugins on your site that matters, it's the quality.
So let's deal with the “slow down” myth of Jetpack straight away—Jetpack won't automatically slow down your site. The code is pretty good. And here's the really good news—if a feature isn't activated (which you control), then that code won't be running in the background of your site. So the “weight” of the Jetpack plugin is completely in your control.
You decide how much of the plugin's features you want to run on your site.
And to be honest, the people coding that plugin spend a lot more time updating and working on that plugin (and its performance) than many other plugins out there. So from an overall performance perspective, I don't think you have to worry about the speed of your site.
Now, let me qualify that for a second.
If you have a unique situation where logically the feature you want to leverage from Jetpack will slow your site down, it's not on Jetpack. The same feature coded by some other plugin will likely have the same performance impact.
Here's my silly example:
Imagine that you have activated Jetpack and are using the custom CSS module. And imagine that you drop in some 5,000 lines of additional CSS to your site to make it look and work exactly like you want it to. And let's say it isn't the most performant approach to your site's design. Nothing about Jetpack will be slowing your site down. If you don't use Jetpack but activate a different plugin for custom CSS, and drop in the same lines of CSS, guess what? It will perform equally slow.
What is Jetpack and what can it do?
The WordPress Jetpack plugin is pretty massive—in terms of available features. And while most of the features are free, there are Premium and Pro editions that give you even more features.
- Image CDN: Jetpack allows you to offload your images to their servers so that your site loads faster.
- Site Statistics: Jetpack monitors traffic to your site and gives you statistics to help you see which posts are popular
- Related Posts: You can offload the complex processing of finding related posts to their servers
- Automatic Publishing: Jetpack will publish your posts to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter automatically
- Social Sharing: Jetpack gives you those social buttons on your posts so readers can share your content
- XML Sitemaps: Jetpack will create a sitemap for your site and share it with Google to help you rank better and faster
- Brute Force Attack Protection: Jetpack knows about attacks and can use that data to protect your own site
- Site Monitoring: Jetpack will monitor your site every 5 minutes to see if it's still active and available
- Sidebar Customizations: Jetpack allows you to contextualize your site's sidebar and dynamically change what's visible
- Publish by Email: Jetpack allows you to write your posts via email and send them it to get automatically published
- Comment Enhancements: While WordPress has comments already, this will give your readers a way to be notified of comments
- Contact Forms: Jetpack makes it easy to create contact forms for your site
- Custom CSS: Jetpack can give you a simple way to add your own custom CSS to your site's theme
- and more than 20 other features…
As you can see, Jetpack was designed to be the utility of all utilities to ensure that a user of WordPress could install a single plugin and then have access to tons of features that they might want. The upside of the plugin is that they can have that without having to add any others, or purchase any premium plugins.
Of course, even with the ability to turn on and off these features, aren't there other products that are available to do some of these things?
Are there alternatives to Jetpack?
Yes, absolutely, there are. But nothing exactly like Jetpack. Most of the time, the alternatives are single solutions for single features. The one exception I know of is called Slimpack and it has a series of features like Jetpack all wrapped up into one plugin.
The biggest difference between Slimpack and Jetpack is that it removes all the features that require you to have a WordPress.com account.
And that's not something I've yet touched on.
Jetpack has a requirement to have a WordPress.com account—which is free to create. The benefit of this account is that some of the features listed above push work from your site back to servers that you don't run (or pay for). But that also means that some amount of your data or content is moving thru servers you don't run (or pay for).
The people I know and trust who work on this product have assured me that if you use Photon (the image CDN), for example, the image you upload to your site gets processed on another server before you get the compressed version, but that they don't do anything with the image (from capturing its metadata to tracking anything about it). It moves over other servers, they agree, but those servers are only doing the work that you know of.
This has caused some people some stress—because just because no one is doing something now doesn't mean they might not do something in the future. And a conspiracy-oriented person can come up with many different scenarios where the Related Posts feature gives someone else's servers a ton of information about your posts that they could do something with.
You have to decide what risks that presents and what your risk profile looks like, which we'll deal with next, but let me highlight a couple of great solutions you might want to look at if you're not inclined to use Jetpack.
- Ninja Forms – Free (extensions have cost)
- WPForms – Free ($39 for non-lite edition)
- Gravity Forms – $39 (1 site personal license)
- Formidable Forms – Free ($49 for personal edition)
For Site Statistics:
- Google Analytics – Free
For Image Compression:
- Imagify – Free (More than 25 MB starts at $5/month)
For Site Maps:
- Yoast SEO for WordPress – Free
And there are plenty more. These are just some of the alternative options off the top of my head.
While some of these are free, you'll notice that many of them have premium versions that have cost. Should that be a factor? Absolutely, but not the only factor.
How do you decide if it's right for you?
The reality of making any decision about your website is that there are several factors you must weigh—more than just the cost. That's why the Chris Rock sketch is funny. Because he's willing to remove the passenger-side airbag and only have a single lane change signal (instead of both). That's just crazy!
Here are the five factors I suggest you consider
1. Business Continuity
If you decide to use an alternative to Jetpack, and it's a free plugin, you have to ask yourself if that plugin will even be around (or updated) in a year. The difference between that free plugin you're considering and Jetpack is that Automattic (the company that powers WordPress.com) is not likely going to disappear.
But this is only a question if the site really matters in the long run. I know tons of sites that go up and come down within months or a single year because their goal isn't long-term. And in that case, the plugins you use may not need to stand up for the length of time that someone else might need.
If you're comparing Jetpack to a bunch of free alternatives, I'd recommend Jetpack. If you're looking at premium plugins as alternatives, it might be a tie.
Why a tie? Because the Jetpack team is still a finite team that works on 30+ features. A premium form company may have less staff, but they're only working on that single product/feature. So there's an upside if you trust the business behind the premium plugin.
I told you we'd come back to price. It's a factor. Not the only one, but it's still something to consider. Jetpack gives you a ton of features for free. And their paid versions give you even more! If price is your biggest consideration, then Jetpack is the way to go.
But if your site is a mission-critical site, you might want to consider the premium plugin alternatives because, in the end, you will likely get what you pay for.
I should note that you can pay for priority support for Jetpack.
3. Risk Profile
The WordPress codebase isn't owned by Automattic. It's an open-source codebase that is available to everyone. It can be managed even if Automattic were to fall off the face of the planet, or if they started to do something you didn't agree with. Jetpack, on the other hand, ties your site directly to Automattic.
That's a fact. But it's a benign fact.
Only you can decide if that presents a risk that you are willing or unwilling to deal with. I can tell you that for many of the sites I've worked with, those customers have never considered it much of a risk. But I have worked with a few that won't allow their content to even move over some servers that they don't control.
Those are the same sites that also won't integrate with Google fonts or other social sites. So if you have restrictions like those already, then Jetpack may not be a perfect fit. Or, alternatively, you can turn off features that would integrate your site to their servers.
4. Number of Features
One of the things most people don't adequately evaluate upfront is how many of these features they'll actually use over time. If it's one or two, consider a premium plugin solution. If it's more than three or four, consider Jetpack.
The benefit when you're using eight or nine of these features is that you'd hope and expect that Jetpack will never conflict with itself, where eight different plugin companies could create updates that impact each other.
5. Updates and Performance
Jetpack has some really sharp developers working on it. And they're constantly updating the codebase (or sections of it). Additionally, they're looking at the product performance from the perspective that many other plugins have yet to experience. Jetpack is likely installed on more hosts, on more servers, and in more configurations that most plugins. So they get performance feedback that few other plugins do.
On the other hand, as I mentioned above, the update schedule is likely not as iterative or fast as companies whose sole focus is a single feature. So while the performance may or may not match, the pace of updates may be better.
As you can see, your specific situation will dictate whether you decide to use Jetpack.
Is it hard to install and try Jetpack?
It is very easy to install and try Jetpack out. You simply go to your WordPress installation:
- Log in to the admin (/login)
- Click on Plugins.
- Then click Add New.
- In the Featured section, look for Jetpack and click Install Now.
- Then Activate the plugin.
- That will allow you to Connect to WordPress.com
- And from there, you'll decide which features you want active…
This entire process won't even take you a minute for steps 1-5. If you have to create an account for step six, that could take a minute or so, and then time you spend is based on which and how many features you activate in the plugin.
If you do use it, here's my recommendation to you
By now, hopefully you have figured out if it's right for you. But I would do you a disservice if I didn't make one final suggestion or recommendation to you. Because all those features are powerful but also a bit overwhelming. Like I said, more than 30+ features.
So if you do use Jetpack, I highly recommend that you spend a bit of the money you saved by getting all those features for free. It's not a lot of money. But it is money well spent.
Because maybe the worst thing you can do is use Jetpack poorly. Think you're protected but you haven't activated it. Or missed out on social sharing because you didn't configure it right.
Trust me when I tell you this is the best $24 you'll ever spend if you activate Jetpack on your WordPress site.