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WordPress Releases a New Performance Plugin

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WordPress Releases a New Performance Plugin

WordPress announced the release of a plugin called the Performance Lab plugin. It was developed by the WordPress performance team that is designed to help WordPress sites speed up. The plugin gives publishers the opportunity to use new improvements now before they are included into the core of WordPress itself.

The WordPress performance team, consisting of WordPress core developers, developed the plugin in order to receive feedback on new features developed for inclusion into a future version of the WordPress core.

WordPress Performance Team

The WordPress Performance Team was created in November 2021 with the purpose of coordinating performance improvements within the WordPress core. The team is made up of WordPress developers, with some of the team members developers from Google and Yoast.

From their initial meetings they drew up a list of performance projects to work on and this plugin, called the Performance Lab Plugin, is one of the results from the performance team.

Performance Lab Plugin

The Performance Lab plugin provides access to improvements to WordPress that are designed to help publishers speed up their websites and also to diagnose issues that may be slowing their websites down.

The plugin itself is designed in a modular fashion so that publishers can pick and choose which improvements they want to use.

The new features in the plugin are intended to eventually make it into a future release of WordPress.

WordPress hopes that by releasing these new features early through a plugin that they can receive feedback on any potential issues.

New features are normally released as separate plugins.

WordPress decided to group all the new performance features into one plugin which will allow publishers to pick and choose which new features to enable from one central location, within a single plugin.

Performance Lab Plugin Modules

The new Performance Lab plugin has four modules.

The four plugin modules are:

  • WebP Uploads
    Converts newly uploaded JPEG files to the faster WebP format. The functionality is dependent on server support for WebP.
  • WebP Support
    This is a site health module that checks to see if the server supports WebP and shows a warning if WebP is not supported.
  • Persistent Object Cache Health Check
    A site health check module that may suggest the use of object caching. Object caching is a way to speed up the amount of time it takes for the site to respond, helps reduce the database load and speeds up the website for site visitors.
  • Audit Enqueued Assets (experimental)
    Provides an audit of CSS and JavaScript files enqueued on the home page. This helps to identify unnecessary CSS and JavaScrip files that might slow down a website.

Enqueued Assets Module is Experimental?

The Audit Enqueued Assets module is labeled as experimental. The developers chose to label it as experimental because the module itself will be improved.

The developers discussed this, with one developer noting on a discussion in the official Github page:

“To clarify, it’s not that there is a problem with the module, it’s more about that it doesn’t feel as polished yet, hence marking as “experimental” for this first release – as it sees more refinement over time, we could then mark it as non-experimental.”

He later followed up with this reason why it’s labeled as experimental:

“Indeed this wouldn’t break anyone’s site, but IMO the main point for marking this as experimental is that it’s still in an earlier stage of development compared to the other modules.

…e.g. we haven’t fully defined what the thresholds should be, and the approach to gathering the assets is known to be not yet reliable for certain environments.”

An example of the kind of improvement needed for this one module is to make it more useful by identifying which plugins or themes are bloating the website with unnecessary CSS and JavaScript files.

Should You Download the Plugin?

The plugin download page states that the plugin has been tested and should be okay to be used on a live production site.

While at least three of modules are not labeled experimental and all of them are considered stable and probably won’t break a site, the main purpose of the plugin is to provide publishers with the opportunity to provide feedback about the modules before they are integrated directly into the WordPress core.

In terms of stability, the official plugin page notes:

“…unless a module is explicitly marked as “experimental”, it has been tested and established to a degree where it should be okay to use in production.”

In terms of guarantees, it also says:

“Still, as with every plugin, you are doing so at your own risk.”

A best practice for WordPress websites is to add new plugins on a staging site first and test it there first before updating the main website.

Another best practice is to save a backup of the website before installing the plugin. The backup will make it easy to roll back the website to its original version should the plugin conflict unexpectedly with another plugin or theme.

The plugin delivers clear benefits that may help speed up your website. But it’s provided by the WordPress Performance Team as a way to receive feedback on brand new improvements that will eventually make it into the WordPress core.

WordPress provides a Performance Lab plugin support forum and a GitHub repository where feedback can be given to WordPress.

Citations

Read the Official WordPress Announcement

The Performance Lab plugin has been released

Visit the Performance Lab Plugin Download Page

Performance Lab

Visit the Official Performance Lab GitHub page

Performance Lab 1.0.0-beta.1




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Google Hints At Improving Site Rankings In Next Update

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Google Hints At Improving Site Rankings In Next Update

Google’s John Mueller says the Search team is “explicitly evaluating” how to reward sites that produce helpful, high-quality content when the next core update rolls out.

The comments came in response to a discussion on X about the impact of March’s core update and September’s helpful content update.

In a series of tweets, Mueller acknowledged the concerns, stating:

“I imagine for most sites strongly affected, the effects will be site-wide for the time being, and it will take until the next update to see similar strong effects (assuming the new state of the site is significantly better than before).”

He added:

“I can’t make any promises, but the team working on this is explicitly evaluating how sites can / will improve in Search for the next update. It would be great to show more users the content that folks have worked hard on, and where sites have taken helpfulness to heart.”

What Does This Mean For SEO Professionals & Site Owners?

Mueller’s comments confirm Google is aware of critiques about the March core update and is refining its ability to identify high-quality sites and reward them appropriately in the next core update.

For websites, clearly demonstrating an authentic commitment to producing helpful and high-quality content remains the best strategy for improving search performance under Google’s evolving systems.

The Aftermath Of Google’s Core Updates

Google’s algorithm updates, including the September “Helpful Content Update” and the March 2024 update, have far-reaching impacts on rankings across industries.

While some sites experienced surges in traffic, others faced substantial declines, with some reporting visibility losses of up to 90%.

As website owners implement changes to align with Google’s guidelines, many question whether their efforts will be rewarded.

There’s genuine concern about the potential for long-term or permanent demotions for affected sites.

Recovery Pathway Outlined, But Challenges Remain

In a previous statement, Mueller acknowledged the complexity of the recovery process, stating that:

“some things take much longer to be reassessed (sometimes months, at the moment), and some bigger effects require another update cycle.”

Mueller clarified that not all changes would require a new update cycle but cautioned that “stronger effects will require another update.”

While affirming that permanent changes are “not very useful in a dynamic world,” Mueller adds that “recovery” implies a return to previous levels, which may be unrealistic given evolving user expectations.

“It’s never ‘just-as-before’,” Mueller stated.

Improved Rankings On The Horizon?

Despite the challenges, Mueller has offered glimmers of hope for impacted sites, stating:

“Yes, sites can grow again after being affected by the ‘HCU’ (well, core update now). This isn’t permanent. It can take a lot of work, time, and perhaps update cycles, and/but a different – updated – site will be different in search too.”

He says the process may require “deep analysis to understand how to make a website relevant in a modern world, and significant work to implement those changes — assuming that it’s something that aligns with what the website even wants.”

Looking Ahead

Google’s search team is actively working on improving site rankings and addressing concerns with the next core update.

However, recovery requires patience, thorough analysis, and persistent effort.

The best way to spend your time until the next update is to remain consistent and produce the most exceptional content in your niche.


FAQ

How long does it generally take for a website to recover from the impact of a core update?

Recovery timelines can vary and depend on the extent and type of updates made to align with Google’s guidelines.

Google’s John Mueller noted that some changes might be reassessed quickly, while more substantial effects could take months and require additional update cycles.

Google acknowledges the complexity of the recovery process, indicating that significant improvements aligned with Google’s quality signals might be necessary for a more pronounced recovery.

What impact did the March and September updates have on websites, and what steps should site owners take?

The March and September updates had widespread effects on website rankings, with some sites experiencing traffic surges while others faced up to 90% visibility losses.

Publishing genuinely useful, high-quality content is key for website owners who want to bounce back from a ranking drop or maintain strong rankings. Stick to Google’s recommendations and adapt as they keep updating their systems.

To minimize future disruptions from algorithm changes, it’s a good idea to review your whole site thoroughly and build a content plan centered on what your users want and need.

Is it possible for sites affected by core updates to regain their previous ranking positions?

Sites can recover from the impact of core updates, but it requires significant effort and time.

Mueller suggested that recovery might happen over multiple update cycles and involves a deep analysis to align the site with current user expectations and modern search criteria.

While a return to previous levels isn’t guaranteed, sites can improve and grow by continually enhancing the quality and relevance of their content.


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Google Reveals Two New Web Crawlers

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Google Reveals Two New Web Crawlers

Google revealed details of two new crawlers that are optimized for scraping image and video content for “research and development” purposes. Although the documentation doesn’t explicitly say so, it’s presumed that there is no impact in ranking should publishers decide to block the new crawlers.

It should be noted that the data scraped by these crawlers are not explicitly for AI training data, that’s what the Google-Extended crawler is for.

GoogleOther Crawlers

The two new crawlers are versions of Google’s GoogleOther crawler that was launched in April 2023. The original GoogleOther crawler was also designated for use by Google product teams for research and development in what is described as one-off crawls, the description of which offers clues about what the new GoogleOther variants will be used for.

The purpose of the original GoogleOther crawler is officially described as:

“GoogleOther is the generic crawler that may be used by various product teams for fetching publicly accessible content from sites. For example, it may be used for one-off crawls for internal research and development.”

Two GoogleOther Variants

There are two new GoogleOther crawlers:

  • GoogleOther-Image
  • GoogleOther-Video

The new variants are for crawling binary data, which is data that’s not text. HTML data is generally referred to as text files, ASCII or Unicode files. If it can be viewed in a text file then it’s a text file/ASCII/Unicode file. Binary files are files that can’t be open in a text viewer app, files like image, audio, and video.

The new GoogleOther variants are for image and video content. Google lists user agent tokens for both of the new crawlers which can be used in a robots.txt for blocking the new crawlers.

1. GoogleOther-Image

User agent tokens:

  • GoogleOther-Image
  • GoogleOther

Full user agent string:

GoogleOther-Image/1.0

2. GoogleOther-Video

User agent tokens:

  • GoogleOther-Video
  • GoogleOther

Full user agent string:

GoogleOther-Video/1.0

Newly Updated GoogleOther User Agent Strings

Google also updated the GoogleOther user agent strings for the regular GoogleOther crawler. For blocking purposes you can continue using the same user agent token as before (GoogleOther). The new Users Agent Strings are just the data sent to servers to identify the full description of the crawlers, in particular the technology used. In this case the technology used is Chrome, with the model number periodically updated to reflect which version is used (W.X.Y.Z is a Chrome version number placeholder in the example listed below)

The full list of GoogleOther user agent strings:

  • Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/W.X.Y.Z Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; GoogleOther)
  • Mozilla/5.0 AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko; compatible; GoogleOther) Chrome/W.X.Y.Z Safari/537.36

GoogleOther Family Of Bots

These new bots may from time to time show up in your server logs and this information will help in identifying them as genuine Google crawlers and will help publishers who may want to opt out of having their images and videos scraped for research and development purposes.

Read the updated Google crawler documentation

GoogleOther-Image

GoogleOther-Video

Featured Image by Shutterstock/ColorMaker

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ChatGPT To Surface Reddit Content Via Partnership With OpenAI

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ChatGPT artificial intelligence chatbot app on smartphone screen with large shadow giving the feeling of floating on top of the background. White background.

Reddit partners with OpenAI to integrate content into ChatGPT.

  • Reddit and OpenAI announce a partnership.
  • Reddit content will be used in ChatGPT.
  • Concerns about accuracy of Reddit user-generated content.

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