The Problem with Plugins
If you want to get readers for your blog, you need your site to appear high in the search results on Google (because that’s how most people find blogs on the internet). Google uses a variety of measures to decide whether your site is worth featuring – and one of the important ones is speed, i.e. how fast your site loads when someone visits.
And that’s the downside of plugins, because every time you add a plugin to your WordPress site, you slow it down. So it’s vitally important to be very selective about plugins and be scrupulous about maintaining them.
In a nutshell:
- Never use a plugin that’s not essential to the running of your site;
- Always disable plugins that don’t need to run constantly (e.g. optimising plugins, broken link checkers);
- Always delete plugins you don’t need, because even a disabled plugin can slow your site down slightly
What does this have to do with Jetpack? Everything! Let’s look at why.
The Upside of Jetpack
When I first discovered Jetpack, I was very excited.
Jetpack is a plugin that offers many of the features built into WordPress.com blogs, all in one package. By installing it, I could delete all these other plugins:
- Image widget
- Contact form
- Sharing buttons
- Google Analytics
- Mailchimp social comments (giving readers the ability to comment with their Facebook or Twitter login)
On top of that, Jetpack offered several other enhancements such as automatic sharing on Twitter and Facebook, shortcode embedding, off-site photo storage, and more.
Also, it enabled me to add my WordPress.org blog to the WordPress.com community, and I soon found I was getting visits and comments from that source. Not enough to matter, but it was nice to be part of a community again – blogging can be a solitary business!
It seemed like a no-brainer. Only one plugin to update instead of eight! So what’s the catch?
The Downside of Jetpack
You guessed it – speed.
I didn’t spot the obvious flaw in my thinking. I wasn’t replacing EIGHT plugins with ONE. Jetpack isn’t a single plugin – it’s multiple plugins, wrapped up in a bundle.
If I had truly replaced eight plugins with one, I should’ve seen a marked increase in speed, right? Well, I didn’t, because I had actually increased the number of plugins I was using (because I couldn’t resist activating some of the cool extra features that Jetpack offered).
It took me months to realize my mistake. What opened my eyes was the P3 Plugin Profiler. Yes, another plugin – but it’s not one you would leave on your dashboard permanently. Load it when you need it, test your site with it and see where your problems are, then delete it till next time you make changes.
Anyway, I was shocked when I used the Profiler, and discovered that plugins accounted for about 50% of my site’s load time – and Jetpack accounted for over a third of that!
I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, I know (a) the more plugins you use, the more you slow your site down and (b) even deactivated plugins can have a small effect. And there I was, seduced into activating some of Jetpack’s features that I didn’t absolutely need – and with a whole stack of deactivated features sitting there, with no way to remove them.
Conflicts and Downtime
While researching the pros and cons of Jetpack, I discovered two other snags.
One is that it requires a connection to WordPress.com. Like I said, I like that connection in a human sense – but if there are any problems with the link, which does happen from time to time, then it may break aspects of your site.
The other issue is conflicts. New modules are constantly being added to Jetpack. That’s nice in a way, but when a new module is added, it’s automatically activated – whether you want it or not. And that can cause unexpected conflicts with your existing plugins or your theme.
Here’s one example:
An example from my own experience: on one site I installed a script called phpBay which creates affiliate listings from eBay. One of Jetpack’s new modules conflicted with it and I didn’t notice, until someone on the phpBay forums reported it. Annoying, because that must have affected sales until I discovered the problem and deactivated that feature.
For the sake of balance, here is a review by fans of Jetpack:
Many of the positives they mention are, indeed, valid. For the non-technical person who doesn’t want the hassle of understanding and managing individual plugins, Jetpack offers a nice, simple interface and ease of use – plus the WordPress.com community, which is a real asset.
Speed is important. However, it’s also important to keep it in perspective! If you’re running a simple blog, you may find that Jetpack is the only plugin you need – and if it’s the only plugin you’re using, then your site may run fast enough to satisfy Google.
It’s a problem for many business sites because they may be using a range of other plugins for other functions, and the combined weight of all those plugins plus Jetpack would be too much.