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WordPress 5.2 – How Important is a Perfect 100% Site Health Check Score?

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7 May 2019 saw the release of WordPress 5.2, nicknamed “Jaco” after jazz musician Jaco Pastorius.  While this latest major release saw the introduction of several new features, including enhanced protection against PHP errors (a.k.a. white screen of death) and improvements to the block editor, it is the introduction of Site Health Check that has both WordPress developers and users talking.

Site health check was first introduced in the latest major release, WordPress 5.1, but 5.2 – the combined effort of 327 volunteer developers – has fleshed out the new features in great detail.  Users now have access to a wealth of information and checks to identify and fix fatal errors and configuration issues.

In particular, users can now access the site’s health score, giving the WordPress site a score out of 100 to measure its performance in a number of areas.  The introduction of a score has been a controversial topic, with many developers arguing that the quest for a perfect score of 100 may not be the best use of resources.

This is particularly pertinent given that developers can add, remove, and change the criteria upon which the site health score is based.  This means that, while conscientious developers may be doing their best work to get their client’s site to a very respectable score of 90, unsuspecting clients could easily be duped by the promise of a perfect score of 100 by unscrupulous developers who know how to remove certain tests that would otherwise have brought the score down.

Similarly, some developers have predicted that the WordPress market will soon be inundated with plug-ins and paid services that claim to help WordPress site owners achieve a perfect score by implementing simple fixes that could have been done for free, fixing issues that don’t actually exist, or removing checks altogether to artificially inflate the score.

Understanding Your Site Health Status

Once you’ve updated to WordPress 5.2, you can access a wealth of information about your site’s health status by clicking on “Tools”, then “Site Health”, and then “Status”.

The status of your WordPress site is determined by taking your site through a range of performance and security checks.  The different checks are classified as critical, recommended, or good, with each test weighted according to its level of importance.  Poor performance in a critical check will cause a much greater hit to your site health score than a recommended check, for example.

Not only does your site receive a score for each check, but you will also notice a list of action items with detailed instructions and links to relevant areas of your backend, allowing you to fix any identified issues.

Achieving the Elusive Perfect 100 Score

By introducing a score out of 100, WordPress seems to be encouraging people to aim for an elusive perfect score of 100.  However, as many developers are now arguing, provided you take steps to fix any identified critical issues, it is not necessary to achieve a perfect score to have a secure and fully functioning WordPress site.  But while developers may understand this, it may be a different story altogether trying to explain this to a client, who may feel that their developer is not doing their best work if the site isn’t achieving a perfect score at all times.

How, then, is this score calculated, and what are the most important steps that need to be taken to improve a WordPress site’s score?

Update WordPress

Updating WordPress is as simple as clicking a button when notified to do so, but you may be surprised how many WordPress developers and users alike do not take the time to update WordPress as new changes become available.  An outdated version of WordPress is not only dangerous to your site’s performance and security, but it will also cause a significant hit to your site health score.

Update your PHP Version

PHP, the programming language behind the majority of WordPress features, tends to update almost as frequently as WordPress itself. Keeping your PHP version up-to-date is of great importance because not all versions of PHP receive automatic security updates.

Keep Debug Mode Off

Debugging tools can be incredibly useful to help developers understand problems with a WordPress site from time to time.  However, it is equally important to turn off debug mode when a site is live, as hackers can easily take advantage of a debugging tool on a live site and access an enormous amount of information about the site itself.

Update Plug-ins and Themes

It’s fair to say that the majority of WordPress sites are running significantly more free WordPress plug-ins and tools than they actually need.  Given the wealth of tools and plug-ins available, it is understandable that developers and users will install free WordPress plug-ins and tools from time to time to check if they may be of any use.  However, any tools and plug-ins not being used should be removed, and those that are being used should be kept up-to-date at all times.

The same holds true for themes.  Uninstall any themes that you may have tried in the past but are not currently running, except for the default Twenty Nineteen theme.  It’s important to keep this theme available in case you need to troubleshoot your regular theme, but apart from that, remove any other themes you’re not using.

One quick note, however: if you’re running a child theme, you will also need to keep the relevant parent theme active.  To find out if your current theme is a child theme, click “Appearance”, “Themes”, then on your active theme. You will then see the information relevant to your theme, including whether it is a child theme.  Accidentally removing a parent theme from your current child theme could be disastrous.

*What are your thoughts on the features introduced in WordPress 5.2?  Do you think that introducing a site health score is a helpful feature or one that could potentially be abused?  We’d love to hear what you think. If you have any questions about these new WordPress features and how they might affect premium WordPress themes and free WordPress plug-ins and tools, feel free to contact us today.

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