Thanks to the efforts of over 800 credited developers, the new WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine” has just been released, sporting some exciting new features. The new blocks editor, released in WordPress 5.0, now boasts a new feature called Block Patterns. These are prebuilt templates of layouts created using blocks, like having a theme inside your theme. Publishing attractive and engaging posts and pages has never been easier. But that’s not all. The WordPress team has trumpeted this release’s focus in three important areas: security, speed, and search.

Is your site up to date? I mean, even up to WordPress 5.0? Are your plugins all at their latest version? How about your themes? If you have the right themes and plugins installed, they are being actively developed. As new vulnerabilities in the languages and frameworks used on the World Wide Web are being discovered regularly, patches and updates are released to keep your site safe. If you don’t have someone dedicated to maintaining your site, it’s possible you could be several versions behind, leaving your site vulnerable. Well now, in WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine”, you have the option to configure your themes and plugins to update automatically.

Now, take this awesome news with a grain of salt. If you’re running a simple blog site with only a few plugins, then this auto-update option is fantastic. But there’s no substitute for the human touch, as they say. For functionally rich sites with a large number of plugins installed, automatically updating a live site can potentially lead to unforeseen issues. In the past, we’ve seen a single plugin update take down a whole site. Fortunately, there is a quick fix involving logging in to your server, navigating to the site files, drilling your way down into the plugins directory… you know what? If you’re running such a site, you really just need to hire a human to back it up, test the updates and then deploy to live. But for those of you with a blog or portfolio website, automatic updates is a great new feature.

The other two important areas are speed and search. Edging your web presence to the top of search engine results is a never-ending battle, and the rules of the game keep changing. The WordPress team is on top of it with new lazy-loading images and XML sitemap support. The lazy-loading images feature means that an image that doesn’t immediately appear within the view of your browser window will not be downloaded until you scroll to it. This means your pages load faster, and your search engine score goes up. Add to that the built-in XML sitemap support, and newly launched WordPress sites become instantly search engine friendly.

Of course, there is a slew of other important updates under the hood, like new Dashicons and some improved developer features. WordPress 5.5 is certainly a significant release, and we look forward to testing it out and deploying it to our own sites. If you’ve not updated in a while, now is the time to save a backup and give it a whirl. If that sounds terrifying, we can help.