Marketing: How to upgrade to the new WordPress 5.5

Upgrading to the new Wordpress 5.5 might seem like a simple click of the button, but website owners should consider the pitfalls before jumping in.
Summary

WordPress 5.5 is now available for public use, ready for website owners to update to the latest version of the popular worldwide open source CMS platform. The latest update has key improvements for speed, seo and security plus 157 enhancements or feature requests and 307 bug fixes implemented. WordPress has more than 24 million installations around the world making it the most popular content management system being used to create websites, blogs and eCommerce stores (Ref ISITWP). 

While the platform is free to use there are some critical areas that have to be considered if you are thinking about upgrading to the new WordPress 5.5.

What is new in WordPress 5.5?

The three areas that have changed in WordPress 5.5 are speed, seo and website security.

How to upgrade to the new WordPress 5.5 with automatic updates

 

1. AUTO UPDATES FOR PLUGINS AND THEMES IN WORDPRESS

When most WordPress sites are attacked it is either via easy to guess passwords or hackers exploit old versions of plugins being used on the website. In the past some plugins like Rank Math could be automatically updated if the feature was enabled in the settings and since WordPress 3.7 you could also turn on/off the auto-update of plugins and themes by changing the wp-config file. 

Although, with the release of WordPress 5.5 auto-updates can be done much easier by clicking a link in the admin interface. The WordPress 5.5 update will give you the option to choose auto updates from the Plugin sub menu in the Dashboard rather than editing files or other settings.

A new column will be added where you can select which of your Plugins can have an auto-update applied to ensure you receive the latest security updates and keep your site as safe as possible. There is an additional option to auto update your Theme as well, although for many website owners this will be problematic if customisations have been made to the theme. An update may remove these depending on how the implementation has been done. Changes to your Theme can completely alter how your website looks including page or post layouts.

2. SPEED IMPROVEMENTS IN WORDPRESS 5.5

There are actually quite a lot of different factors that determine the speed performance of your WordPress website. However, images are one of the main culprits when it comes sites that have lots of slow web pages. Typically I advise my clients to aim for images that are 100Kb or less as a general rule of thumb, although I have seen many examples where photos are being uploaded which are 1,500Kb or larger. All WordPress sites they create thumbnails of the main image so you could end up with 10 or more files created.

The new WordPress 5.5 introduces a new feature called ‘image Lazy loading’ as a default in the its core. This is a great speed optimisation tactic that can stop every single image loading when someone first opens a web page, instead it is done gradually. This isn’t as simple as it seems though because other elements like iFrames, videos or even WooCommerce products should be treated this way too, but they won’t be managed with this feature.

 

3. SEO IMPROVEMENTS IN WORDPRESS 5.5

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a constantly evolving area that starts with writing unique, useful content that is in response to people’s search intents. Today, with billions of websites & businesses fighting for attention it is still the main differentiator between websites that rank well and those that rank poorly.

Beyond a written piece of information on a website page or blog post is whether or not the structure of that page and the site has been done correctly to be understood by a Google Search. In WordPress 5.5 it has introduced the ability to create an XML Sitemap which makes it easier for search engines to crawl, or read, all the content on your website site. This can improve your chances of having your website indexed to be shown in searches without without relying on third-party plugins to achieve this.

The new native option will add these items to an XML Sitemap;

    • Pages
    • Posts
    • Categories
    • Tags
    • Users
 

Although if you need to also include things like images, news, videos or even more in depth Schema Mark Up then you will still need to use third party plugins.

 

OTHER CHANGES TO WORDPRESS 5.5

For most WordPress users the most obvious changes will be the three areas mentioned above. From a WordPress website developer perspective it is important to understand there have been another 157 enhancements or feature requests and 307 bug fixes implemented which means code changes that will require updates to most websites or different approaches to how things are created. 

Some of these highlights include;

    1. The modal bar – The Gutenberg plugin has been updated with new functionality, speed improvements and user interface. The modal bar is now bigger and easier to read.

       

    2. 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.

       

    3. Block directory – There is a new block directory created that makes it easier to find the block you need that is built into the editor and you can install new block types to your site without leaving the editor.

       

    4. Inline Image Editing – You can now zoom, crop and rotate images directly into the block image which can help improve post or page editorial workflows. Although if you are using a Page Builder like Elementor, Beaver Builder or Visual Composer this may be irrelevant.

       

    5. Accessibility improvements – such as;
      • Alternative view modes for list tables.
      • Link-list widgets that can now be converted to HTML5 navigation blocks.
      • Primary buttons will actually look disabled when they are disabled
      • Meta boxes can now be moved with the keyboard.
 
 
 
 
You can read more about the WordPress 5.5 Eckstine public announcement here
 
There is a detailed field guide that outlines more of the details to the 300+ changes to WordPress 5.5 changes here
 

Is an upgrade to WordPress 5.5 going to deliver business value?

Too many business owners don’t know if their website is even working effectively for them.

Is using a free website builder a good idea?

I conducted a website audit for a commercial photographer and helped him realise his website wasn't being found for the search term 'photographer'

 

Yes, a real life example of a business that had an incredible representation of work with stunning photography but all their leads were coming from an existing client base. While business is doing well this might be a sustainable approach, but it means the owner is missing out on opportunities to be found by potential new clients. 

 

There can obviously be some benefits to upgrading to WordPress 5.5, especially in relation to improving website security. Although, as a business owner you could take the opportunity to review your website performance to understand if it is actually even performing before money or time is spent on upgrades.

 

 

Most business owners might ask their IT Support person or website designer to make the changes as part of their regular maintenance, but you could engage a marketing consultant or digital marketing specialist to give you the data analysis from Google Analytics, Google Search Console or even your Google My Business account to help identify gaps and opportunities.

 

Addressing basic seo gaps, improving website speed, adding new content or improving technical errors can go a long way to improving your ability to be found online, well before you need to do other upgrades.

Check these items before deciding to upgrade to WordPress 5.5?

It’s important to take a few moments to understand what is needed for an upgrade.

Do you have a back up of your website?

Website hosts will have different options available when it comes to back ups. Some will charge you to create a back up, others will let you do a manual back up and companies like Siteground on their premium plans will include automatic back ups. It is important to know what you have available just in case there are changes made to your website that need to be reversed.

Should you update your Theme?

You should check with your website developer to see what method was used to create the Theme for your WordPress site. In some cases this may have been custom coded and in other situations it may be either a free or purchased Theme that was used. In either case you have to find out what, if any, customisations were done to the Theme that could be lost if you performed an update to it. It would be important to make sure the Theme you are using is compatible with WordPress 5.5.

Should you update your Plugins?

We are all used to updating apps on our mobile phones which are in fixed and controlled eco systems. The difference with updating plugins for WordPress is that the whole eco system is open source meaning there can be millions of variations in how each plugin works or interacts with WordPress or even other plugins. It potentially means that updating your Plugins may cause errors to occur on the website in unexpected ways or even the way the plugin itself works. It would be important to make sure the Plugins are compatible with WordPress 5.5.

Will lazy loading images fix your WordPress website speed?

The new lazy loading of images in WordPress 5.5 won't be the magic cure to improve your website speed. It might help slightly, but website speed can be effected by the quality of your website host, the WordPress Theme you are using, how many plugins your site has, what speed caching has been set up, if you are using a content delivery network service & many other factors. That is before you consider the quantity, size & formats of the images being used on the site or page layouts.

Can an XML sitemap improve my SEO results?

Having an XML sitemap for your website is just one small step in order to be found by the search engines to improve seo results. Whether that sitemap has relevant information, if your pages have been set up correctly for seo or whether any of your content is even relevant is a completely separate area entirely. You have to also consider that on the surface the new WordPress 5.5 sitemap will only capture basic information vs the very detailed elements that seo plugins like Rank Math can manage when configuring sitemaps. If you are already using some type of SEO plugin, the WordPress 5.5 update might override it's settings and cause all kinds of seo issues.

Do you know what to do if an update goes wrong?

If you decide to upgrade to WordPress 5.5 you need to have a contingency plan in case things go wrong so that you can restore your website. Depending on the scenario it might be correcting the Theme, making adjustments to Plugins or restoring a back up of your site.

Where to get help upgrading to WordPress 5.5

La Lente is a local marketing consultant that can help with a WordPress website.

 

I am a local marketing consultant that can help you with your WordPress website to help you understand your current seo performance, positioning against competitors and more. Uniquely, I combine my marketing experience to

 

 

Our marketing consultant service helps business owners from all types of industries with small business marketing for products or services. We act as like a marketing agency to;

  • Create marketing campaigns
  • Create new website designs
  • Help with online marketing or search marketing
  • Develop your digital and social media channels
  • Improve your seo strategies to maximise your online exposure on search engines
 

 

We specialise in digital marketing with a personalised 1 on 1 approach that doesn’t outsource work & where you get to deal directly with a marketing expert that has 20 years experience and a proven track record. 

 

Take a look at some of our real life marketing case studies or practical marketing advice below.

Paul D'Ambra
Paul D'Ambra

I can re-energise your small business using 20+ years of marketing experience. I deliver impact to small business marketing strategies that deliver sales, profit and market share growth. I bridge the gap at the intersection between marketing, operations, sales, data analysis and execution with over 80 written recommendations for proof.