Once upon a time, I was a hoarder. Not unlike the average Florida homeowner type, who fills their living room with every newspaper ever printed since 1937, has a front lawn filled with car tires, rusting appliances, old furniture, and pink flamingos. I was actually worse.
I was a plugin hoarder.
What is a Plugin?
Plugins are either a godsend or a nightmare. A plugin can be a small, simple program, or a fairly complex one, depending on its role. Basically, think of WordPress, the blogging platform as Windows or Mac OS. Plugins are add-on programs, like Picasa or Skype on your computer, that add functionality to WordPress.
The Problem with Plugins
Plugins in and of themselves are not the problem. It’s when you start adding them for their “coolness” or for – usually unnecessary features.
Pretty much anyone can develop and program a plugin to give away for free or sell it. The problem is that plugin quality can vary tremendously. Some developers don’t always test their plugins to make sure they play nice with other plugins. Many don’t even bother updating them for months, which can leave your site riddled with security vulnerabilities – an open door for hackers – or cause instability issues, when they haven’t been updated and tested against new versions of WordPress .
Too many plugins on your site and page loading times will climb up. Nothing makes a new visitor leave your site faster than having to wait an extra second for a page to load. Yeah, we’re finicky like that.
Plugins also increment your site’s server load. Think back to a time when you’ve had too many programs open in your computer, causing it to freeze up like Han Solo on carbonite. Too many active plugins running amok will do that to your server. In fact, if your WordPress installation is overloading the server on your host, your blog will be shut down faster than a sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
This happened to me last year, when my blog was shut down by my host. I spent days in a frantic cat and mouse game, trying to figure out which plugin was freezing up the server. Eventually, I gave up and decided to finally – Finally! – take things seriously and go pro with the site.
I completely gutted my WordPress installation and moved from a cobbled-together-with-bubble-gum-and-rubber-band free WordPress Franken-theme to the more robust and stable Genesis Framework. I also streamlined my plugin collection down to the essentials. I’m delighted to report I haven’t had server problems since then.
Why You Need the Jetpack Plugin
Which brings me to today’s Tech Corner post. I’ll share with you the one plugin I consider a must have: the Jetpack plugin. This plugin is firmly planted on the “godsend” column. Not only is it well designed and frequently updated, but it has a ton of features that will allow you to get rid of many other smaller plugins that do essentially the same thing Jetpack does.
This is a two-part series – yeah, it’s that feature packed. The first part will cover Jetpack’s installation, initial setup, and three cool features that will make your life easier right away. Let’s get started.
Installing Jetpack is pretty straightforward. Just go to your WordPress plugin repository and look for Jetpack. You can also download it and install it from Jetpack’s own website, but that’s just adding unnecessary extra steps. Install it and activate it.
Now, this second step is not strictly necessary, but you’ll need to do it if you want to use some of Jetpack’s features. You’ll need to create an account at WordPress.com, which is free. You can create your account from within Jetpack, once the plugin is activated, but I find it’s easier if one creates the account first and enter the information when requested.
The first three options displayed by Jetpack are displayed below:
Publicize: Allows you immediately and automatically post any published post to your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tumbler accounts.
When you click the “Configure” button, it will allow you to connect any accounts you have (Facebook and Twitter in my case) to Jetpack. You’ll also have the option to add Sharing buttons, which will allow your readers to share your post on their social medial networks.
I don’t like to overload people with every single options, so I stick to the social networks I participate in, which are Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. I also add the option to e-mail post, in case someone just wants to send the post to only one friend in particular. I’ve also added Pocket, which is an excellent app for saving articles to read later on a mobile device.
WordPress.com Stats: Lets you have access to your site’s stats right from your dashboard.
This one does what the name says. It gives you a breakdown by day, week, or month of where your visitors are coming from, what posts are most popular, search engine terms (which words they used to find your site on Google, etc), and what links they clicked on.
Make sure that registered viewer boxes are unchecked in the configuration options, as you don’t want your own visits to the site to skew the numbers.
Notifications: It gives you status updates about how many likes a particular post has received and whether you have received comments on a specific post.
This option I don’t nearly use as much, since I can see notifications right from the Dashboard when I log in. Useful if you’re not in the Dashboard page, I guess.
So that’s it for now, as this post has gotten a lot longer than I planned.
Do you use Jetpack?
Would you recommend another plugin instead?