Not long ago someone posted a comment on my site. It went something like this. “Is Jetpack bad for SEO? After activating Photon, my images have been dropped from Google’s search results!”
Having read a variety of content around the Internet that Jetpack’s Photon and Related Posts modules are bad for SEO, I decided to find out for myself. Right now I’m a little concerned.
Is Jetpack Bad For SEO? It Just Might Be
Images Not Using Photon
I decided to check my own images (on this website), to see if they were indexed in Google’s search results. First I searched for images that are not using Jetpack’s Photon module. I tried finding the following image:
I used the image’s alternative text (optimize database link WordPress sidebar) to search Google’s image database and there it was–the first result. I have Photon turned off on my website currently so this image is not being served from the WordPress CDN.
Great! Some of my images are being indexed by Google properly.
Is Photon Deactivated Or Isn’t It?
Even with Photon disabled, Jetpack’s Tiled Galleries module still uses Photon. In other words, even with Photon deactivated, if you’re using the Tiled Galleries module, your images are being served from the Photon CDN.
As Miracle Max would say,
It just so happens that the folks at WordPress mean MOSTLY deactivated. There’s a big difference between mostly deactivated and all deactivated. Mostly deactivated is slightly activated.
Images Using Photon
I then tried finding one of my images that is using Jetpack’s Photon module. I used Google to search for the following image:
I used the alternative text for the image (little girl on beach looking out at the waves) for my search. I didn’t see any hits for my image in the first couple pages of results. So I put the phrase inside of quotation marks. This tells Google to only return results that match that exact phrase. I found a thumbnail of the image but not the full-sized image.
In other words, the image is not indexed in Google. The thumbnail I found is obviously indexed in Google but that thumbnail is not being served from the WordPress CDN (it’s not using Photon). It’s starting to appear that using this particular Jetpack module is indeed bad for SEO.
I searched for a variety of other my Photon-enabled images in Google and discovered that consistently, the images using Photon were not being indexed in Google.
Here’s the pattern I’m seeing. Images using Photon or images using Tiled Galleries are not being indexed by Google. Images that are not using Photon or Tiled Galleries are being indexed by Google.
This is troubling. We (as website owners) use alternative text for accessibility purposes, but also to give users another way to find us. We use our images to improve our website’s SEO!
If our images are not being indexed by Google and we want those images indexed, we have to change something. And if the use of Photon (or Tiled Galleries) is causing our images to not be indexed, the solution is to stop using Photon and Tiled Galleries.
Support Ticket To WordPress
I sent a support request to WordPress on May 15 asking why my images using Photon are not being indexed by Google. In answer to my question about why my Photon-enabled images aren’t showing up in Google, I got the following response.
I have raised this concern with our Jetpack developers for a second look. The findings so far are that Google can see the links when running the code/url containing the Tiled Gallery through Google’s structured data test tool. That’s as much as we have been able to look into it at this time; I’ll get back to you as soon as I receive updates.
I thought the response was a bit vague so I sent another email asking for something more specific. I will update this article when I get a response.
Photon Caches Your Images Forever
No cache invalidations – currently the images are cached ‘forever.’ If you want to refresh an image you will need to change the name of the image.
I pulled that quote straight from the Jetpack Photon support page. I’m not sure what it really means. Does it mean that we can never delete our images from the WordPress servers? Does it mean we give WordPress full ownership of our images?
If you sell your images you should be very wary of using Photon. If I were a photographer selling my images, I wouldn’t want them cached “forever” on someone else’s servers.
Another Support Ticket To WordPress
I sent another support ticket to the good folks over at WordPress asking them what it meant that the images are cached “forever.” I asked if that meant we were giving ownership of the images to WordPress. I also asked if the images were ever deleted. Here is the answer I received.
We do not claim ownership of any images handled by our Photon CDN. However we don’t have a function to clear all cached images on a site – see here:
That conversation on Github reveals that there is no way to delete the images from Photon’s cache unless it is done manually. But it appears that if you need certain images deleted from Photon’s cache, the Jetpack support team will be happy to do it for you (read this conversation).
Photon Has Some Weird Glitches
Sometimes images in my tiled galleries just appear as an “X.” They simply don’t show up. I’m not sure why this happens. If I re-upload the image with a different filename it fixes the issue. But why do some images using Jetpack’s Tiled Galleries module randomly disappear? I have no idea.
Photon Cons Summarized
- If you use Photon, your images probably won’t be indexed in Google’s search results. If your images aren’t indexed in Google’s database, that’s bad for your website’s SEO.
- If you use Photon, your images will be cached “forever” on WordPress servers. If you want to retain complete control of your own images you shouldn’t use Photon.
- Images utilizing Photon may randomly disappear and need re-uploading with a new name.
So Why Do Folks Use Photon?
Website owners use Photon because it speeds up delivery of images on their website. Free use of a CDN (content delivery network) is a pretty attractive feature. Every website owner wants a fast website.
The Tiled Galleries module, which uses Photon (whether Photon is activated or not), displays images in a variety of very attractive galleries (tiled mosaic, tiled columns, circles). The edges of the tiled mosaic and tiled columns are flush, a nice touch which many masonry plugins can’t seem to master. And it’s free.
But most folks using Photon don’t think about any possible consequences. They simply see that they can use a CDN without paying for it, and that they can easily display their images in a variety of beautiful ways.
I enjoy using Jetpack’s Tiled Galleries. The galleries are extremely easy to set up and use. And they look quite nice. But if my images can’t be found in Google’s search results and if I’m giving my images to WordPress, then those features start looking significantly less attractive.
Jetpack’s Related Posts Module Might Be Bad For SEO Too
I’ve also read that another of Jetpack’s modules, Related Posts, might be bad for SEO as well. The module nofollows the automatically generated related posts links.
- On WordPress.com, we track clicks on the Related Posts so that we can improve the algorithm used to find related posts. By using nofollow, we prevent crawlers from affecting the algorithm.
- We also use nofollow to dissociate the related posts from the current page. Since Related Posts are automatically generated, the nofollow should prevent the module links from affecting SEO on either page. We try to make sure that the module doesn’t hurt your SEO, just in case unrelated posts would appear in the module.
I don’t fully understand the ramifications of using nofollow on internal links, but apparently the current recommendation is to avoid using nofollow on internal links because it’s bad for SEO.
Jetpack’s engineers are currently considering changing the related posts links to dofollow by default. This tells me that they’re not sure whether using nofollow is bad for SEO or not. Personally, I’m leaving the Related Posts module off until they sort it all out.
Jetpack Is Still Worth It
I really like Jetpack’s Tiled Galleries paired with Jetpack’s Carousel and Photon modules. The modules are easy to set up and the galleries and full-screen slideshows look beautiful on a desktop or a mobile device. Using all these features costs nothing. Images loaded from the WordPress.com servers load fast. But if these Jetpack features are bad for my website’s SEO, then it’s time to find an alternative.
I also really like the Related Posts module. It works straight out of the box with no extra load on your website (unlike most other related posts plugins which can really slow down your website). But again, if it’s bad for my website’s SEO, it’s got to go.
Jetpack has a variety of other modules which still make it well worth the install. The following modules provide very useful functionality and they’re completely free:
- Contact Form (integrates with Akismet)
- Custom CSS (allows you to edit your site’s CSS without creating a child theme)
- Enhanced Distribution (automatically shares your site’s content with search engines)
- Extra Sidebar Widgets (gives you additional widgets)
- Protect (free brute force protection)
- Publicize (automatic sharing of posts to connected social media sites)
- Sharing (stylistic sharing buttons for your pages and posts)
- Site Stats (free site stats with no load on your website)
- Subscriptions (free subscription service so folks can subscribe to your blog and to your comment conversations)
- Widget Visibility (exclude widgets from certain pages)
There are many other modules within Jetpack that are fun to experiment with as well. Also, Jetpack is created by Automattic, the folks behind WordPress. So you have to figure it’s a well-coded plugin that will work perfectly within the WordPress framework.
Alternatives for Photon, Tiled Galleries and Related Posts
Cloudflare is a free CDN that anyone can use. I use it on all my websites. It’s a bit of a pain to set up but it’s well worth it in the long run. With Cloudflare, your site will run faster and be more secure. You can always upgrade to unlock additional security and speed features as well.
There are many other CDNs to choose from, but Cloudflare is the only one I know of that has a totally free offering.
Tiled Galleries Alternatives
I can’t really find a viable alternative to Jetpack’s Tiled Galleries, although I do like this simple plugin that extends the functionality of the built-in WordPress gallery. However, it has no additional gallery display options (no circles, tiled columns, etc.) and it does not have flush edges. The tops and sides of the galleries are flush, but the bottom of the gallery is not. See these screenshots.
It is, however, a great upgrade from the very ugly standard WordPress galleries.
Related Posts Alternatives
I don’t recommend any related posts plugins. I think Jetpack’s alternative is the best because it’s free, works like it should and doesn’t add any bloat to your WordPress website. And that’s the problem with most related posts plugins. Bloat. Some web hosts even restrict use of such plugins on their servers. I’m not convinced this module causes SEO problems, but until I know for sure, I will leave it deactivated.