What was once a niche blogging system that started 15 years ago is now the biggest content management system on the entire internet. Thanks to a raft of usability improvements and enhancements to the core functionality, it’s now an industry standard. WordPress is now used in over 60% of websites that use a CMS, and comprises over 30% of all websites on the internet.
Big changes are happening to WordPress at the moment, and the advent of WordPress 5.1 offers some fundamental reworkings of how the system behaves behind the scenes. Website creators and administrators need to know some of the most important developments.
WordPress 5.0 introduced a new way of composing content. It uses the Gutenberg text editor by default, which treats content a little bit differently from how many WordPress users would be used to.
Gutenberg allows users to add blocks of content to a page or post by dragging and dropping content types onto the editing area. Some people who have used “page builder” systems may be familiar with the premise, but this is the first time it’s been part of the default WordPress package.
Why is this a big deal? Because now it’s easier than ever to mix text, video, images and anything else you can imagine on the one page. You can also add different design elements quickly, such as polls, maps, infographics or pre-defined graphic components that are part of the currently selected theme. It really changes the WordPress editor from being about editing text to editing text and website design at the same time. This is the biggest usability upgrade to WordPress since the platformed transformed from a blogging service to an all-encompassing content management system.
This increased functionality comes at a technical cost. WordPress 5.1 requires PHP version 5.6, and that will increase to PHP 7.0 come December 2019.
If you don’t know what PHP is, chances are you don’t deal with your own web hosting. In that case, check with your hosting provider that they are using an updated version of PHP.
There’s many advantages to using PHP 5.6 and above. For one thing, it provides an extra layer of security to your website. It also has many performance benefits, as most WordPress sites run much faster when using the server it’s hosted on is using the latest PHP version. As site performance and shaving crucial seconds off load times is something that is vital for search engine optimisation, getting a free speed upgrade simply by upgrading your PHP version is a no-brainer. Just check that your site plugins and theme are compatible, first.
The White Screen of Death
Windows users may be all-too familiar with the Blue Screen of Death. It’s Microsoft’s way of saying “your computer has completely crashed, sorry about that, but hopefully this technical information will help explain why it’s happened”.
WordPress 5.1’s White Screen of Death is a similar concept. It presents technical information of what is happening to the site when a major crash has occurred, and most importantly, still allows administrators to log into the WordPress backend to make the necessary fixes. Previously, if a WordPress site had a major problem you would need to FTP into the server and make any necessary changes to site plugins or themes by hand. This is going to be a major time-saver.
Other Miscellaneous Changes
There’s a heap of other little changes occurring “under the hood” that offer quality of improvements for veteran WordPress users.
Gutenberg, the new text editor, is now coming to Widgets. These little areas of custom-code that you see on sites (for example, an item that’s on sale in an ecommerce site can have its own widget on the front page) have traditionally only offered a little bit of functionality but can now have extra types of content embedded in them.
There’s a new Metadata Table system in place where you can enter extra information about your website content. This will aid major search engines to discover what your site is about and ranking them accordingly in their results.
Additionally, new RestAPI frameworks have been implemented in the CMS, which gives developers better tools to connect third-party systems to the site content. This is especially useful for ecommerce sites that need to talk to external inventory or accounting systems.
Should You Upgrade?
With a wealth of changes to offer, WordPress 5.1 is an enticing package. As always, we recommend making a secure backup of your existing site before upgrading, and checking that any third-party plugins work before rolling out the upgrade to a public-facing site.
At iFactory we have a team of web developers who are ready to help you upgrade to the latest and greatest content management systems. Contact iFactory today to find out how we can help make your website the best it can be.