WordPress has just updated to version 5.5. 

It includes lots of minor changes, and several important ones that are worth noting.

In keeping with their history of naming updates after jazz musicians, WordPress version 5.5 is known as “Eckstine,” after jazz singer Billy Eckstine. (Don’t know who he is? I didn’t either, but he’s a great singer and apparently plays the trumpet as well. Here’s a little clip for you. . .)

Billy Eckstine

Here are a few of the major changes that are now part of WordPress.

Faster Page Load Times

“Lazy load” is a way of loading images as they’re about to show up on the page or post, as the viewer scrolls. It speeds of load times, which provides a better UX (user experience) for your readers and makes Google happy, too.

Until now, you needed a plugin to make lazy load happen. Now it’s just part of WordPress. So If you’ve not added any plugins for lazy loading, you should see an improvement to page load speeds.

However, if you are using a plugin like Lazy Load, or if you’re hosting on Siteground and have lazy load enabled in their SG Optimizer plugin, you may want to keep them. That’s because they may offer a more advanced functionality.

Test your page load time in at Pingdom or GTMetrix with your current setup. Check image-rich pages, and also pages with embedded videos.

Then disable the plugin and test again. Use whichever method gets you better results.

XML Sitemap to Help with SEO

Again, many of you may have installed a plugin to generate an XML sitemap. Yoast SEO and Google XML Sitemaps are two of the better ones.

If you’re happy with those plugins, go ahead and keep them as they’ll do a more complete job. But if you’ve been lacking a sitemap until now, you should see a traffic boost from the sitemap that’s now built into WordPress 5.5.

Security: Automatic Plugin and Theme Updates

First, let me say that if you’re not updating your plugins and themes on a regular schedule, you’re creating security vulnerabilities.

Auto-updating is a great idea, but it can be a double-edged sword.

That’s because, if it’s happening behind the scenes, you may not be aware if your site gets messed up during the process. Plugins are notorious for not playing well with each other, and theme updates can sometimes break things as well.

If you know yourself well enough to know you’re never going to do your WordPress site housekeeping by updating plugins, themes, and WordPress itself on a regular basis, auto-updates could save you from some security issues. Just be aware they’re not 100% trouble free. . .

WordPress 5.5 gives you granular controls to specify what should (and shouldn’t) be on the auto-update list.

Block Editor Changes

Of course, there are additions and changes within the block editor as well.

The first thing you’ll notice is purely visual — the icons displayed in the top toolbar, and in the controls for individual blocks, look different. They’re still in the same places, and they perform the same functions, they just have a different look.

Block Directory

Now, when you click the add block plus sign, you’ll see something different.

new WordPress 5.5 blocks menu

You’ll first see a few of your most used blocks. To see more, click the Browse all link at the bottom. That will open up a sidebar on the left.

Notice you have three tabs: Blocks, Patterns, and Reusable.

new WordPress 5.5 Blocks list

As you scroll down, you’ll see block categories, but they’re not all the ones you’re used to — they now include:

  • Text
  • Media
  • Design
  • Widgets
  • Embeds
  • Additional Blocks added by plugins

You can add your Most Used blocks back by going to the 3-button menu at the very top of the page, and then selecting Options.

new WordPress 5.5 block options

Click the Pattern tab to see styles and layouts for buttons, columns, galleries, and more.

In the Reusable tab, you’ll find all the reusable blocks you’ve created.

Inline Image Editing

This version of WordPress adds tools to let you do some basic cropping, rotating, and zooming your images directly from the editing block.

Preview Button

Here’s another change you’ll notice quickly.

When you click the Preview button, you’ll see a small popup. It gives you the choice of previewing on a desktop, tablet, or phone simulator, and there’s also a choice to open it in a new tab.

New WordPress 5.5 preview settings

While this would be very helpful, I’ve not been able to get it to work. Documentation from WordPress says it currently only works on large screens, so I’m not sure what the issue is.

Of course, there are lots more changes that you’ll never notice because they’re behind the scenes. These are the important ones for now.

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