Automattic’s free Jetpack plugin can be a little confusing to new users, but it offers some incredibly helpful features and by taking a little bit of time to set it up, you can vastly improve the experience visitors have when visiting your site — as well as making your life easier.
In this post I’ll run down five of the ways you can use Jetpack to boost your WordPress-powered site.
Before we get to that, though, I’ll walk you through Jetpack’s slightly confusing installation process. Whilst Jetpack largely acts just like any other WordPress plugin, in that you can install it straight from the plugin repository, it also acts unlike any WordPress plugin in that it insists you hook it up to a WordPress.com account and moans at you loudly until you let it.
Whether this is a acceptable behaviour for a plugin has come up for debate in the WordPress community a lot — with the general consensus being it’s not — but if you can get past the annoyances of intrusive banners, once you’ve installed the plugin you just need to hook it up to a WordPress.com account so that Jetpack can connect to WordPress.com’s servers in order to power some of its features.
If you’ve not already got a WordPress.com account, the huge banners will walk you through that process. With all that set up, we’re ready to look at some of Jetpack’s features.
1. WordPress.com Stats
The WordPress.com Stats plugin now exists as part of Jetpack, and remains one of Jetpack’s handiest features. As the title suggests, the WordPress.com Stats module brings the same visitor stats and analytics enjoyed by WordPress.com users to your self-hosted WordPress install.
At a glance in the Admin Bar and on the Stats page, you’ll enjoy analytics on who’s visiting your website, which pages they’re visiting and reading and how they got to your site in the first place. Where people have come to your site via search engines, you can see which terms they used to get there, something which you can use to better inform your SEO strategy.
The WordPress.com Stats module is by no means comprehensive, but it’s convenient and will serve most sites well. If you’re after something more comprehensive, Google Analytics will be the best tool for the job, and you can integrate the tracking code straight into your WPZOOM theme’s option panel by using the “Footer code” box, under Miscellaneous options.
2. Smart galleries
Bold and engaging imagery is essential for any blog or web-magazine, and one of the best ways you can keep readers engaged whilst they’re reading your posts is through using galleries and sliders. Your WPZOOM theme has got you covered on the slider front, through the WPZOOM slider shortcode, but you can take your content one step further and make use of Jetpack’s beautiful Tiled Galleries module.
You’ll need to activate Tiled Galleries separately; they’re not on by default as generation of the galleries is handled by WordPress.com’s servers, but you can do so from the Jetpack options page on your Dashboard. With Tiled Galleries activated, you’ll now notice that when you create a gallery in-post as you would do normally, via the Media Uploader, you’ll now see you have the option to choose how your galleries are displayed: tiles, squares and circles.
All three of the Jetpack-powered gallery options look good, but in practice, I’ve found that most galleries look best as tiles. The options are easily-changeable, though, so try them out and see what works for you. If you’re looking for a way to better engage your audience in your posts, though, this could well be what you’ve been waiting for.
3. Email subscriptions
So you’ve got your site running one of WPZOOM’s themes and you’re turning out content to get people coming back to your site time and again. But what if there was an easy way to just email readers your posts as they go out? Conveniently, there is! Jetpack’s Subscriptions module lets you create a widget which readers can use to opt-into receiving your posts via email.
WordPress.com handles everything, including verification and the actual sending out of emails, so you just need to drop the Subscriptions widget into any of your WPZOOM theme’s widgetised areas (which you can do from Appearance, Widgets) and wait for the subscriptions to roll in.
A common question with email subscriptions which contain the actual posts is whether by offering all of the content of your posts via email, you’re missing out on visits you would’ve otherwise had. The answer to that is very likely to be no. Full email subscriptions are no different to RSS feeds, and by essentially sending an RSS feed into inboxes, you’re creating a more effective way of getting people to read your content.
Sure, you’ll lose out on some visits you would have otherwise had, but a lot of the readers who grab your email subscription probably won’t otherwise read your content. Email subscriptions are a great option, and can go a long way to making sure your visitors keep coming back.
4. Custom CSS
Jetpack’s Custom CSS module is fantastic and if you’re trying to customise your site with CSS, it’s an incredibly easy way of doing so. We’ve got hugely extensive video tutorials in our Support Center on using custom.css and child themes to make modifications, but Jetpack makes that whole process a lot easier.
The reason why the Custom CSS module is so helpful is Jetpack is keeping your customisations external from your theme, meaning when you update your theme, you’re not going to accidentally over-write your customisations. Plus, the Jetpack CSS editor is well built, easy to use and will even try and correct any mistakes you’ve made, as well as warning you about any code which is theoretically correct but may cause trouble for you later on.
The Jetpack Custom CSS module is available from the WordPress Dashboard; just click on Appearance and then Edit CSS. If you’re making any changes to your CSS, it’s well worth making them via Jetpack.
5. Power your site with Photon
The final Jetpack module I’d like to look at is Photon. The Photon module is essentially a clever CDN, or “content delivery network” for all of the media in your posts. A content delivery network is a service which takes all of your media and then serves it from a bunch of servers around the world, dynamically choosing the one which will result in the fastest load time for any given visitor. This is typically the one physically closest to the visitor’s location.
Content delivery networks are great as they result in faster loading times and take load of your server (which is especially good if you’re using shared hosting), but Photon is especially great as it’s a) free and b) intelligent. Photon will ensure that your images never exceed the width your theme has space for, which is especially helpful if you switch to a new WordPress theme which has a narrower content area than your previous theme. It will also refuse to upscale images, meaning you don’t have poor quality images displaying on your site.
Like Titled Galleries, Photon isn’t on by default, but you can enable it like any other Jetpack module from the Jetpack options page. You more or less can’t go wrong with Photon; it makes your site faster and it may even make your site better as media is always displayed appropriately, so it’s well worth taking a look at.
Great design + great content + handy stuff
This post showcases just some of the “handy stuff” available as part of Jetpack, and we’d thoroughly recommend you take some time to check through the other features. Your WPZOOM theme provides the great design, you can plug in the great content and Jetpack provides the other little bits you need to get your site running as smoothly as possible.
Have you got Jetpack running on your site? Have you noticed the difference it makes? Let us know in the comments.