Jetpack Stats is one of Automattic’s most popular offerings, providing analytics for over 14 million users on WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress sites with the Jetpack plugin. When our journey began, however, it also happened to be one of the most neglected products in our product lineup. Our wp-admin experience showed its age through its Web 2.0 aesthetic, and our WordPress.com interface was experiencing technical issues entangled with the architectural decisions we made over a decade prior. In September 2022, we kicked off a project to give our customers a much-improved experience; it was time to modernize Jetpack Stats.
Our team comprised six full-stack engineers and two designers from the Jetpack division. We hailed from around the globe: Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Taiwan, and the USA. In addition to our wide geographic spread, the team also brought a diverse range of technical experience: A couple of engineers had only recently graduated from our Developer Apprenticeship. (The program enables non-engineering Automatticians to shift into the engineering career track by apprenticing within an existing engineering team.) I capped off the other extreme for the team, having worked as an engineer for over a decade and six in Automattic. Our designers have also been long-tenured with Automattic; Jeff celebrated his nine-year mark this August, while Filipe will reach his eleven-year mark this October.
Engineering with Designers
Iterating technically on a product is inherently fraught with challenges: What’s the best way to technically scope a product issue? How can we evenly distribute the workload across the team? What’s the best way to enforce code quality without each of us becoming gatekeepers on pull requests?
The process becomes significantly more complicated when you throw design collaboration into the mix. Jeff, Filipe, and I nipped this problem in the bud by tightly integrating the design process with our engineering workflow. Instead of each side working in isolation, our development process directly involved designers during our pull request reviews. Conversely, our design process looped in engineers much earlier, soliciting gut checks and feasibility feedback far before a finished design specification.
We communicated extensively through internal blogs, Figma boards, Slack messages, and GitHub issues and pull requests. A neat side effect of all this: It enabled the rest of Automattic to follow our daily work, allowing us to gather feedback from colleagues with whom we would not usually have the chance to collaborate. I might not be writing this article if my colleague from the Data division, who had been closely following our work from afar, hadn’t prompted me for one!
As an engineering manager, I primarily focused on maintaining a smooth collaboration between our designers and engineers. I often translated agreed-upon design specifications into well-scoped engineering tasks for the team to hash out on the code base. When such agreements were scarce, I served as the tiebreaker in the name of pragmatism, usually opting for a solution we could quickly realize and iterate upon.
I reviewed nearly every pull request the team cranked out, providing appropriate technical guidance and fostering a ship-then-iterate mindset among our engineers. When practical, I also unblocked the team by quickly prototyping technically demanding features, such as new API endpoints that required novel aggregation of our analytics data (e.g., our new weekly highlights section).
Our highest priority is providing accurate and actionable insights for any WordPress site, while respecting visitors’ privacy. At the core of this priority is the ability to provide reliable page view metrics and anonymized unique visitor counts, which we use to surface ancillary insights like website referrers and visitor locations. These are at the heart of everything we do, and are integral to Jetpack Stats’ identity.
We’ve heard from our customers how important it is to know who is directing traffic to their site so they can better understand their site’s overall content strategy. We’ve also heard from customers who have used geographic insight from Jetpack Stats to target specific regions in their marketing campaigns, with great success.
Of all the features we created, our new page layout significantly improved the readability of Jetpack Stats. Our previous layout, pictured above, made it challenging for customers to quickly digest the page. Depending on the quantity/quality of your visitors, various sections of the page would grow or shrink in response. Our new grid-based layout carved out predefined areas on the page for these sections, giving each analytics module a dedicated place in our page’s information architecture.
We also added horizontal bar chart backgrounds for most analytics modules. This change makes it easy for users to quickly discern the magnitude of a data point in relation to its peers, making it easy to compare your site’s popularity between, say, the United States and Canada at a glance.
To address the challenges in modernizing the Jetpack Stats interface on wp-admin, we created a lightweight shell of our WordPress.com dashboard to power our new wp-admin analytics dashboard, complete with asynchronous module loading and deployed to a static asset host we control.
With the new Jetpack Stats dashboard on wp-admin, our Jetpack customers can reap the benefits of a modern analytics dashboard like the one WordPress.com customers already enjoy. Every improvement we’d made to the WordPress.com interface has now found its way into the wp-admin dashboard; our goal is to keep the wp-admin dashboard in lock-step with the WordPress.com dashboard.
Customers will get a lot out of this update, including country analytics, new heat map visualizations, and more.
The Present and The Future
Our modernization project, which began in September 2022, successfully launched in March 2023. We closely watched our product usage, solicited customer feedback, and conducted live video interviews with customers to measure our success. We’re happy to report our changes were very well-received!
Since modernizing Jetpack Stats in March, we’ve continued to ship iterative improvements, focusing on email subscriber stats, and using community outreach to identify remaining pain points in our product. Other analytics tools may exist today, but we’re proud that Jetpack Stats is an easy, surefire way to get insights specifically tailored to your WordPress site. From your personal photo blog to your company’s primary shopfront, we do our best to make site analytics easy.