On August 11, 2020, WordPress released its second major release this year, version 5.5, named “Eckstine” after jazz/pop singer and swing bandleader Billy Eckstine. WordPress 5.5 is focused on enhancing speed, search and security, and is available for download via your WordPress dashboard or the WordPress website.
The version 5.5 visual editor has a refined look and feel, aimed at improving accessibility for a wider range of users. The 5.5 editor features improved borders and highlighting, a more obvious “Add new block” ( + ) button, and a new button for copying links in media screens and modal dialogs. As well, you can now use the keyboard to move meta boxes, and assistive devices can now read the instructions in the image editor, allowing users to edit image from their devices.
Increased Speed with Lazy Loading
While images can of course enhance the look of a website, when a large amount of images appears on a single page, this can drastically affect the speed of the page load. To address this, WordPress 5.5 adds a default “lazy load” feature for all sites. With a lazy load, the images do not load to the page until just before they are going to be scrolled into view, thereby decreasing the time that it takes to load the page.
The lazy load dramatically improves site speed and performance, reducing the use of bandwidth, server resources, and even electricity. On mobile devices, lazy loading can prevent browsers from loading files that are meant for other devices, which helps to manage data usage and preserve battery life. The lazy load feature is supported by all browsers except Safari.
Improved Search Rankings with Default XML Site Map
Site maps are a crucial part of WordPress SEO practices, and with version 5.5, WordPress now automatically publishes a default XML site map for every site. This file lists all of your website content in XML format, helping search engines easily find and index your site content, from the moment that you publish. This means that more users will find your site sooner, giving you a leg up on the competition.
It’s important to note that while the default site map is a useful and welcome new feature, it is somewhat limited in its functionality and features, so you may still want to use a site map or SEO plugin. If you already have such a plugin activated on your site, then it will automatically disable the default XML Site Map feature.
Auto-Updates for Increased Security
Where auto-updates for your themes and plugins have only been available through special configuration of WordPress or by installing a third-party plugin, WordPress 5.5 gives you this option by default. For companies that don’t have a technical team or someone with technical knowledge to apply the upgrades, this can be a useful feature that ensures that your site is as up-to-date as possible. Users can turn auto-updates on or off for each theme and plugin as appropriate, and users keen on manual updates can now just upload a ZIP file with the upgrade files.
Block Editor Improvements
WordPress version 5.5 improves the block experience with the introduction of an integrated block directory. Allowing you to automatically add a block type that isn’t already loaded to your site, the block directory is built into the WordPress editor, where WordPress suggests plugins that will allow you to automatically add different blocks to your site.
Version 5.5 also introduces block patterns, which build on the concept of reusable blocks and block groups. Block patterns are commonly used blocks that you can pre-configure for future use, and allows you to easily streamline the design across your website, maintaining a sense of consistency. You can also get additional block patterns from various themes and plugins.
While block navigation has been an issue for many WordPress users, version 5.5 makes it easier to select and move parent blocks and the elements within them. Blocks can now be dragged and dropped, a nice enhancement that will make things easier.
Another great addition to the block editor is the added ability to edit images from within the editor, right from the image block. While you can still perform basic editing via the media library, you can now crop, zoom, rotate or otherwise modify your images without even leaving the post editor.
Along with the many new and improved features for content editors, WordPress version 5.5 also includes various “under the hood” perks for developers.
WordPress 5.5 includes various enhancements aimed at improving site speed, search rankings, and security, and also features some great updates aimed at improving site accessibility for all users. As with every version since its introduction in 5.0, the block editor experience has evolved even further, making the editing experience easier for even the newest users.