WordPress “Performance Team” Releases Performance Lab Plugin

With heavy support from Google and Yoast, the performance team unleashes a decent set of beta features.

a speedometer with a very high number

When the WordPress core performance team was announced last fall, general excitement was heightened with a sense of mystery. Website “performance” could refer to almost anything, from how fast the PHP code executes to how snappily the React-based Block Editor runs. Or it could refer to the types of database optimizations many developers have long dreamed of (how large is your postmeta table these days?).

When you consider that WordPress handles both the backend content management system as well as the actual content of your website, the focus for performance gains could be endless. However, because the team at Yoast was a big driver in this initiative, most casual observers were pinning their hopes on some front-end performance enhancements, features that might specifically appease the fickle Google gods that came down from the mountain-top clutching the Core Web Vitals etched into stone.

This past week, the performance team released their first round of beta features in the Performance Lab plugin. Overall, this first release does not disappoint. The few banner features, all added with the hopes of one day being drafted to the big leagues of WordPress core, touch some of the most common issues – JavaScript and CSS loading, WebP images, and object caching. The team behind the plugin has made it clear that the goal is not to compete with other optimization or compression plugins. This does not make your site faster by modifying the output of your theme or plugins, say by compressing your stylesheets or generating static HTML files. Instead, the plugin mostly focuses on the underlying toolsets, such as enabling WebP images, and providing useful information to users.

The Performance Lab plugin also makes extensive use of the WordPress Site Health screen, located in the Tools menu. If you’re unfamiliar with the Site Health screen, you’re not alone. This relatively new addition to WordPress (introduced in 5.2) is a collection of deep diagnostics and overall feedback on important parts of your site, like checking version numbers and environment settings. It was only recently (5.8) that developers have even had access to the Site Health screen.

Personally, I’d love to see a lot more plugins take advantage of the Site Health screen. Not surprisingly, the Yoast team so far has been one of the few plugins I’ve seen showing interesting audits that help improve your SEO health. The Performance Lab plugin adds a few new checks to Site Health including, for example, some that measure the amount of CSS and JavaScript enqueued on your site’s homepage. The plugin also adds a persistent object cache check.

For an initial release only five months into the project, you can count this as tremendous progress. Future goals include further development of WebP support, JavaScript enhancements throughout WordPress, and more measurement tools that give the types of pagespeed insights many of us are used to reviewing.

To be clear, what often makes the difference in a feature project like this is how much it aligns with the goals of major stakeholders. In this case, with a lot of support from Google and Yoast, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing this much action on this feature project when compared to many of the other priorities in WordPress. This is clearly a set of tools that will benefit the WordPress ecosystem as a whole; it’s just lucky for most of us that they seem to benefit Google as well.

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Brian is the Technology Director at Understrap and Howard Development & Consulting. Located in Southern California, Brian is a former college instructor and full-stack developer who brings his unique academic perspective to Understrap Academy. Brian is a graduate of California State Polytechnic University Pomona and California State University Fullerton. His work has included projects for Harvard University, The World Bank, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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