What’s New in WordPress 5.5 (+ Screenshots and Tips)
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It’s that time again! WordPress 5.5 will be out today if everything goes as planned. I feel quite excited about this new version. I had the chance to be part of the magic that happened behind the scenes of this WordPress release as a mentor and I would love to share the most important WordPress 5.5 features and improvements that will soon come your way. Our customers will receive the new version shortly after its official release, as always depending on the individual settings in the WordPress auto-updater for each of their installations.
Easy Control of Plugins and Themes Automatic updates
Since WordPress 3.7 users have been able to turn on/off WordPress native auto-update for their plugins and themes through their wp-config file. Now with WordPress 5.5 turning on/off plugin and themes, auto-updates can be done much easier by clicking a link in the admin interface.
Most of the massive attacks on WordPress websites happen through outdated vulnerable plugins. That is why making the option for plugin auto-update so accessible to all users in the interface has the potential to greatly improve WordPress security.
To review the Plugins auto-update feature in WordPress 5.5 when it rolls out, go to “All Plugins”, and you will see a new column “Automatic Updates”. We highly recommend that you keep plugin auto-updates ON for all your plugins, as this is the easiest way to receive security updates as soon as possible and keep your site safe.
The SiteGround auto-updater also provides an option for plugin updates in its interface. We check for new versions of your plugins when we do core WordPress auto-updates and we do automatic backups of your WP installation right before the upgrade begins to guarantee a safe failover in case anything goes wrong. Choosing which plugin auto-update option to use is up to you: if you want to get your plugins updated as soon as a new version gets out, make sure you enable the new WordPress feature. It will work fine, regardless of the plugin auto-update setting in our own auto-updater. If you feel you better wait and get a backup before any update, you may rely only on our system.
Based on our experience, auto-updating themes can be a trickier process than auto-updating plugins. That is why we have not included such an option so far in SiteGround WordPress auto-updater. After all, changing something in the theme can change the outlook of your website and you may not want this to happen automatically without being pre-viewed by you.
Still, we believe it is a good idea to keep your themes up-to-date from a security point of view. The best way is to create a staging copy of your site when there is a theme update, check how your site with the updated theme there, and if everything is OK, update the theme on your production installation.
If you none-the-less want to switch on the themes auto-updates, you need to click on each theme you have installed and enable the option from the theme screen.
There are a lot of factors that determine the performance of your website. However, images are one of the main culprits when it comes to slow web pages. WordPress 5.5 introduces image Lazy loading as a default feature in the WordPress core. This is a great optimization that stops images from loading in bulk when you open a web page and load them gradually instead as you scroll through.
At SiteGround we have been big fans of Lazy Load for a long time. It is a feature we provide to our users through of SiteGround Optimizer plugin since 2018. Since we initially launched the Lazy Loading optimization we have been actively developing it adding support for iframes, videos, WooCommerce products, shortcodes, and much more. At this point, Lazy load options in the SiteGround Optimizer are more advanced than what is introduced in the WordPress core. That is why, for people that have Lazy load enabled through the SiteGround Optimizer, we will disable the native Lazy load.
Search engine optimization is always evolving and writing unique, useful content that responds to people’s search intents is still the main differentiator between websites that rank well and those that rank poorly.
However, on top of meaningful copywriting, you should also help your SEO standing by using some more technical tools, like XML Sitemaps for example. XML sitemaps make it easier for search engines to crawl all content elements included in your site and more likely for them to be indexed and shown in searches.
Starting with WordPress 5.5 you will be able to get an XML sitemap generated directly from your WordPress installation without relying on third-party plugins to achieve this.
This native option is great if you want a map that will list:
If you want a more complex sitemap, that includes images, news, and videos, you’ll still need to rely on a third party plugin but I think this is definitely a great option for website owners that don’t want to add plugins.
If you want to dig deeper into more practical SEO tips, check out our series of articles from guest author and SEO expert Rebecca Gill.
Gutenberg UI and functionality
The block editor got a major UI overhaul, as well. Eleven versions of the Gutenberg plugin have been merged into WordPress 5.5, bringing with them new functionality, speed improvements, and a changed UI.
New Block Editor UI
You will immediately notice how the modal bar that appears when you click into a block is bigger, with more contrast and more compact. The options are still there, and more!
New Block Patterns
You will be able to add block patterns, which are combinations of blocks commonly used together. Text and media, two or three buttons in a row, headers with text, you name it. This is a great way to save time when you write your blog posts and an encouragement to be more creative with your content design.
Inline Image Editing
During WordCamp Europe 2020 Online, Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress.org and Matias Ventura, one of the leading engineers of the Gutenberg project, gave a demo of this new feature. You can now zoom, crop, and rotate images directly into the block image. You can see it for yourself in the video recording of the conversation and think about how this can also speed up and improve your editorial workflow.
And much more
With eleven versions of Gutenberg going into WordPress 5.5 as you can imagine there are a lot more exciting features included. To see them all in detail, you can check out the release posts in the Core blog.
No WordPress major release would be complete without some Accessibility improvements and 5.5 is no different. In this release a number of changes were introduced, with these being the most notable:
- The first iteration of alternative view modes for list tables
- Link-list widgets can now be converted to HTML5 navigation blocks.
- Primary buttons actually look disabled when they are disabled
- Meta boxes can now be moved with the keyboard.
Pro Tips For Developers
There are a lot of changes under the hood as well, which will be especially interesting for our developer customers. Don’t forget to check the Field Guide with all the Dev Notes related to major changes. I would also recommend you sign up for the Core blog: it’s very active and it’s the best way to keep up to date with changes that might affect your code. The more time you have to test changes, the better… don’t wait for release day to discover that something broke.
Over to you
Have you tried some of the things mentioned above, maybe through the Beta Tester plugin or the Gutenberg plugin? Even if you haven’t tried anything yet, what are you excited and curious to try?