WordPress 5.5 is a major update. It has over 450 improvements and bug fixes. These are the major changes you should know about in plain English.
Perhaps the most exciting change to WordPress is the addition of native lazy loading. Native means that the feature is built-in.
Lazy loading makes your site perform faster.
What makes this feature great is that you don’t have to do anything. It sets itself and your site is faster.
Lazy loading is a method for postponing the download of images and videos that aren’t on screen or needed.
This means that everything else that a web page can be used by a site visitor faster. The reason is because the browser doesn’t have to wait for everything to download.
As a site visitor scrolls down the page, the images and videos are downloaded when the visitor needs it.
Fast loading web pages are associated with more ad revenue and more sales.
Native lazy loading is an beneficial upgrade for WordPress publishers.
Theme and Plugin Auto-update
WordPress is introducing a feature that will automatically update all themes and plugins.
This is an important feature because some updates are critical for preventing hacking attacks.
Hackers often are able to hijack a site because of out of date plugins and themes.
This new feature will prevent that kind of event from happening. This will help keep a site hacker-free.
Auto-update is useful for sites that don’t change very much and don’t use a lot of plugins.
There are edge cases where a plugin update might introduce unwanted issues. That’s why some publishers prefer to manually choose which plugins to update and when.
It’s sometimes safer to manually update plugins for critical patches and wait longer before choosing feature-upgrade updates.
WordPress theme and plugin auto-update is turned off by default. Publishers need to enable it in order to take advantage of this feature.
That said, this is a feature that many publishers will find useful, particularly small business owners that have a generally static site with not too many plugins.
WordPress Site Maps
Site maps are a map of a website. A website map helps search engines discover new web pages to rank.
A site map allows a publisher to tell the search engines where all their web pages are, particularly new web pages.
WordPress will introduce built-in site maps. This means users will not need a third party plugin to generate a site map.
That said, the site map feature has arguably some major limitations. The most important feature that is missing is image site maps.
An image site map is a map of all the images on a web site. Images help Google understand what a web page is about. Images can sometimes rank in the search results.
Thus, being able to tell Google where all the images are is important.
This function could be considered helpful but with caveats.
Older Browsers No Longer Supported
Support for Internet Explorer 6 through 9 will be dropped in WordPress 5.5. The benefit of this is less code and arguably a leaner and faster performing website.
Outdated CSS Styles Removed
WordPress removed CSS styling code that is specific for IE 6 – 8 from WordPress 5.5.
Most users on the web do not use these older browsers. On my sites, most visitors with IE 6 – 8 tend to be malicious bots pretending to be using those browsers.
Real site visitors don’t tend to use outdated browsers. So this is a welcome change that will make the style sheet a little smaller and thus faster to download.
Masonry-layout Support for Old Browsers Removed
The second deprecation has to do with WordPress’ masonry layout library. It will drop support for IE 8 and 9.
Users who wish to still support older browsers should take due notice of this change and make the appropriate code changes in order to keep supporting older browsers.
WordPress 5.5 Installs a Way to Check Plugins
WordPress has a way to check if a plugin is rogue and to halt it from being updated.
According to the WordPress documentation:
“The new auto-update UI is great, but it would benefit from having a way to remotely disable the auto-update for a plugin/theme.”
WordPress 5.5 is a major update that introduces a great many useful features that will make the site perform faster and help WordPress publishers better achieve their goals.
Publishers may want to consider enabling the auto-update feature if it is appropriate for their circumstance.