Upgrading to PHP 7.2 - Why it's vital for your WordPress website

upgrading to php 7.2If you've been working in  your WordPress dashboard recently (and I know you all have been), you might have seen red alerts and notices about upgrading to PHP 7.2 by the end of 2018. Upgrade, schmupgrade, amiright? Nope, not this time. Upgrading to PHP 7.2 is a must-do. Read on for why.

What is PHP, anyway?

PHP is the code that WordPress websites are built on, and its acronym origin story is actually entertaining: In the beginning it meant Personal Home Page Tools, but now stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, according to WhatIs.com. Personally, I think the original name made more sense. If you have a WordPress home page, your site starts and ends with PHP code.

Why do I need to update it?

Because the PHP your site is running may be dying, quite literally. And dead, unsupported software is like swiss cheese for malware, hacks, link hijacking and worse. WordPress sites on PHP 5.6 run about half as fast as sites running PHP 7.2. And come Dec. 31, 2018, PHP 5.6 will enter End of Support. This is a tech term that literally means, "we're not going to support that code anymore." It get slapped on code languages when updates are so substantial, and patch such significant holes that running (and supporting) the former version becomes counterintuitive.

A faster site? Sweet!

While upgrading may be a pain you didn't plan for this month, the good news is that if you're in the need-to-do-it boat (i.e. if your site is running PHP 5.6 still), your WordPress site will enjoy significant speed improvements. According to my preferred host, WPEngine, most sites in testing "experienced up to 40% faster page speed, as well as greater memory efficiency, upon upgrade." WPEngine feels so strongly about it that they'll force upgrade or boot sites off of their server who don't comply by March 2019.

Get serious about upgrading to PHP 7.2 today

Not sure which version of PHP your site is running right now? Ask your developer, ask your hosting company, or look in your hosting control panel. If it's PHP 5.6 - act now, do not delay. If your WordPress site is running PHP 7 but not yet PHP 7.2, you have some time, but you need a plan. Reach out if you need help, don't wait until it's too late.

How to pick the best plugins for your WordPress site

How to pick WP plugins

The best WP plugins can provide a magical experience - add features and functions to your WordPress site with just the click of a button.

And the WordPress plugin repository offers a seemingly endless treasure trove of options to extend your WordPress website and create a better experience for your users. Need help setting up your SEO? There’s a plugin for that. Want to feed your latest Instagram posts into your footer? Just search for a plugins, install and activate, right? Well, not so fast.

Not all WP plugins are healthy for your WordPress site, and too many "junky" plugins can really slow things down (beware the yucky WP plugin bloat). It's important to pick your WP plugins wisely, because some can really hurt your site. They're snippets of code authored by strangers, after all. The open source community that created and grew WordPress is largely wonderful, but it does require a roadmap.

Here’s a handy checklist to help you pick the best plugin for your WordPress site:

  1. Has it been tested with the current version of WordPress? Or at least, the version your site is running? How to tell what WordPress version your site is running

  2. When was the plugin last updated? If it’s been more than 4 months or so, that might be a sign no one is manning the controls or keeping it up-to-date.

  3. How many support tickets are there? Has the plugin developer been replying? It’s always wisest to choose plugins that clearly have a team behind them, paying attention to the ever-changing security and code landscape.

  4. Does it have a good star rating? Plugins in the WordPress plugin repository are rated, just like restaurants on Yelp. Click through to read the issues reported by the best and worst reviewers just like you might before buying an Amazon mattress.

  5. Can it be accomplished without a plugin? The fastest sites are the leanest, and the web loves speed. Your site visitors are giving you 15 seconds, max. They don’t want to wait for a splashy graphics show with music - they just want you and what you have to offer.

  6. Will I remember to keep it up-to-date? Because nothing is more dangerous to the health of your WordPress website than an out-of-date plugin. Skipping updates leaves the back door open to hacks and other threats. Adopt a system or reach out for help, we’re here for you

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WP 5.0: Understanding Gutenberg

WordPress Gutenberg No, we’re not talking about centuries-old printing presses. Gutenberg, the new WordPress page editing format, is coming, and it promises to live up to its name. It's different than TinyMCE, the WP editor we're all used to. We break down the differences here.

The goal of Gutenberg

WordPress is the most flexible web publishing  platform ever, and developer skill for it is plentiful. However, that flexibility comes at a price. To make the most out of content layout and styling, at least basic familiarity with the rudiments of code (HTML and CSS) is required. This is an inherent limitation of TinyMCE, the name of the current WordPress content editor. Gutenberg is attempting to address that exact issue:  to allow publishers and editors with no code familiarity to create more sophisticated layouts and styling for their content.
“It’s great that so many people think WordPress is the best way to get their ideas on the web, and it’s easy to unlock the power of WordPress if you know how to write code — but not everyone does. And now, you won’t need to.” —Project Gutenberg
Gutenberg groups content into different types of blocks which can be controlled and styled independently, relative to other content. It gives users a level of granular control previously unavailable, but still presents a unified experience. That means, at least in theory, that you won’t need special formatting elements (such as widgets and embeds) to get your content to look “just right.”

Further reading

What is WordPress 5.0 and why is it important?

WordPress 5.0WordPress 5.0 will change the way we update support websites, but with a lot more creative possibilities. More than just a milestone release, Gutenberg (the name of the new 5.0 version of WordPress) represents major multiple shifts, rather than just updates. Initially scheduled to release in May 2018, the release date was pushed back, and we don’t yet know the exact date. Here at WPSS we remain vigilant, while we also contribute to the community-driven development cycle.

Today’s content editor - it’s changing

TinyMCE is a free-to-use “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) HTML content editor. Although used by other web platforms like Joomla, Drupal, Blogger, it is best known as the long-time content editor for Wordpress. As the current version of Wordpress, TinyMCE’s output is highly integrated into various Wordpress functions, making it a key component of the whole platform.

Blocks - they’re coming

TinyMCE, the current WordPress editor is an open text window. It’s always been a wonderful blank canvas for writing, but when it comes to building posts and pages with images, multimedia, etc., it is not always intuitive. Here are the current features of the current WordPress editor:
  • Media library/HTML for images, multimedia and approved files.
  • Pasted links for embeds.
  • Shortcodes for specialized assets from plugins.
  • Featured images for the image at the top of a post or page.
  • Excerpts for subheads.
  • Widgets for content on the side of a page.
Instead, with Gutenberg, you create blocks for your content. Do you need to display a paragraph of text?  Create a block for it! Do you want to show your latest Twitter post? There’s a block for that, too. You get the picture. Your theme can even include custom blocks authored just for you, and made available in Gutenberg, whenever you need it. Right now, Gutenberg already has a large number of different types of blocks and 30+ embeds. Publishing is still quite a simple matter. But it’s easier to understand when you’re hands-on.

Compatibility

This is the most controversial part, in our opinion. The majority of the community is in agreement that Gutenberg is a bold step away from what’s currently in place. A smaller, yet still significant portion of that community also agrees that it’s not completely mature. As far as we can see, it’s coming—mature or not. Therefore we recommend that for now we leave our existing sites at 4.9, the most recent prior release. For new sites, let’s jump on 5.0 and start building with it. The only way we can become proficient at it is to actually use it. That way, we are ahead of the curve and can use it with confidence without sacrificing the stability for our existing customers.

Deployment

While our developers at WPSuperService are at the forefront of Wordpress 5.0, Gutenberg and other related updates, we do not intend to deploy these updates to live websites immediately. While we have the greatest confidence in the quality of software released by Wordpress.org, we expect the first few months after this release to present many questions. Our intention is to keep ourselves intimately familiar with all the intricacies of this milestone update, experimenting and practicing with internal projects so we can continue to work at the same reliability and usefulness standards that our clients depend upon. When we are positive that major bugs and issues have been shaken out, we will begin to cautiously rolling out the update to our clients’ website/s.

How will it affect my site/s?

This update will affect a significant portion of the Wordpress workflow that you may be used to at this point. So before we update your site, we will guide you through a simple preview.  And if you feel comfortable with the new workflow and the many benefits of Gutenberg, we’ll proceed with the update. Change is good!

Backups and restoring to old version

All of the sites we host are backed up daily, as part of our regular operating procedure. Prior to updating your site to WP 5.0, we will take a real-time backup of it. If any issues come up that cannot be fixed through our troubleshooting methods, we will be able to restore your site to its most recent working state.

Will it break my site?

Due to the number of critically important components of the platform that are affected by this update, there is a high likelihood that websites built on a WordPress version more than two milestones in the past (December 2009 or earlier) will break in a way that cannot be fixed by simple troubleshooting methods. Because of this, we’ll do all updating on a staging or development environment away from your live website. This means that we can implement the update, run tests, and make necessary changes without affecting the functionality of your live website. We will provide you with secure and exclusive access to this test environment.  You can try it out and share feedback, so the live site has everything it needs.

Ready to switch - or just thinking about it? Contact us today.

Further reading

Here are some great references about WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg. Dig in!

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is HERE

  GDPR for WordPress

At WPSuperService, we take data protection very seriously. We have spent many hours researching the regulations and updating our websites to comply with the GDPR and protect our customers' data before the law took effect on May 25.

We strongly recommend your site comply as well.

Does my site need to comply?

If you collect or use personal data (emails, names, addresses, etc.), or if the software your site uses does, your website needs to be in compliance with the GDPR. Whether you expect site visitors who are EU residents or not.

How can I tell if my site collects data?

Do you have Google Analytics tracking traffic to your site? Do you have a contact form or newsletter signup on your site? Does your site have surveys or ask people to submit their email address? If you answered yes to any of the above, your site collects data.

GOOD NEWS!

  • WPSuperService is expert at ensuring compliance on WordPress sites and is ready to help with a handy GDPR for WordPress service. Just $295/site for all of our hosted maintenance plan clients
  • All other WordPress site owners, get the same service for $595/site
Find out More

Not sure still if you need to take the plunge?

We love this helpful article on why non-compliance can end up costing you more: Everything you need to know about GDPR Got Questions? Contact kate@wpsuperservice.com