billy eckstineWordPress just introduced its latest release, WordPress 5.5. It’s nicknamed “Eckstine” in honor of Billy Eckstine, an American jazz and pop singer.

WordPress comes out with major updates a few times every year. These major updates offer new features and improve performance and security. Each time a new version is released, I like to send out an email with all the new features that might interest you.

Since version 5.5 is considered a major update (ie. not a minor security update), you might need to manually run an update on your WordPress sites. Or, your web hosting account may handle WordPress updates for you. (Not familiar with how to update your WordPress website? Check out my easy-to-follow step by step guide and video on “How to Update WordPress to the Latest Version”).

However, I recommend waiting several days before updating to WordPress 5.5. This gives all the plugin and theme developers time to do any updates on their end.

New Features of WordPress 5.5

wordpress 5.5

In WordPress 5.5, your site gets new power in three major areas: speed, search, and security.

The quote from wordpress.org above says it all. WordPress 5.5 brings significant improvements in these important areas. Here are the specifics:

Automatic Updates for Themes and Plugins

Keeping your themes and plugins up-to-date is an important task in maintaining your WordPress website. If you fail to update, you’re not taking advantage of the new features of your themes/plugins. More importantly, it might have a negative impact on your site performance and security.

Until now, you’ve had to manually update your themes and plugins. You’re probably doing on a regular basis by going into the WordPress admin panel’s “WordPress Updates” page or by using a WordPress site management tools.

Now, WordPress 5.5 gives you an option to automatically update themes and plugins! When you turn this setting on, you don’t need to lift a finger to run updates!

To turn this feature on for plugins, go to the Plugins page and click on “Enable auto-updates.”

plugin auto update

To auto-update themes, go to Appearance > Themes, select the theme, and click on “Enable auto-updates.”

how to auto update WordPress  themes

Keep in mind, updating themes and plugins can sometimes cause unexpected issues. Even if you turn on the automatic updates, I strongly recommend looking at your website often. And make sure you’re backing up your website on a regular basis, too!

Built-in XML Sitemaps for Search Engines

If you’re familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), you probably know it’s a good idea to have something called “sitemaps.” Sitemaps help search engines crawl through your website and index your pages/posts accordingly.

There are many plugins that will create a sitemap for your WordPress site. But now it’s part of the new capabilities of WordPress 5.5. WordPress will automatically generate a sitemap, including all public pages and posts. Of course, you have to have the “Discourage search engines from indexing the site” unchecked for this to work.

search engine visibility

Your main sitemap can be viewed by adding “wp-sitemap.xml” at the end of your URL (ex. yourwebsiteurl.com/wp-sitemap.xml), and from there, just follow the links shown to view sub-sitemaps.

wordpress 5.5 sitemaps

Plugins like Yoast SEO seem to continue providing their sitemaps with more features. So, if you already have sitemaps with those, I would keep using them.

Faster Site with Lazy Loading of Images

Having too many images (or images that are too large) can slow down your site’s loading time. Slow loading speed may mean losing your website visitors.

WordPress 5.5 introduces “lazy loading” of images to improve your page load speed. A browser normally downloads all images when a web page is loaded. However, with lazy loading, images get downloaded as they become visible on the browser screen!

Update Themes and Plugins via zip files

From time to time, you may need to update your theme or plugin by uploading a zip file. For example, you may be using a theme outside of the WordPress theme repository that can only be updated with a whole new theme zip file. Whether a theme or a plugin, having to upload a full zip file all over just to update could be a bit daunting and scary in some cases.

With WordPress 5.5, just upload a new version of the theme/plugin zip file (just like what you do when adding a brand-new theme/plugin with a zip file). WordPress automatically detects if the theme/plugin is already installed, shows you the comparison between the current version and the one you are uploading. Then, it asks if you want to replace the old one with the newly uploaded one.

wordpress 5.5 plugin upload

Block Editor and Other Improvements

WordPress 5.5 also includes quite a few improvements with its block editor.

While their block editor has come a long way since its introduction as the Gutenberg editor, I still don’t feel it’s compelling enough for me to switch over from the classic editor or other drag-and-drop type block editors, so I’m not going to comment on these in this blog post.

There are more features of WordPress 5.5, including improvements for developers. If you are interested, go here to learn more.

I think it’s fantastic that they’re making WordPress easier for its users to maintain. How about you? Which of these features do you like the most about WordPress 5.5?

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