Adoption of PHP Version 7 is growing, especially for WordPress web development. Whether you have an old or new website, now is a good time to consider upgrading for better site performance and better SEO rankings. In this article, we’ll look at what PHP 7 is, what it does for your site, and also talk about some associated issues, like plugin compatibility, mobile indexing, and Google Speed Test.
What Is PHP 7
The acronym PHP used to stand for Personal Home Page tools, but now stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor — it’s a bit confusing.
What PHP does is much simpler. It’s a general-use scripting language that works great for a variety of web server needs. The way PHP functions make it especially well suited for security needs, allowing database access and handling of other sensitive information online.
PHP’s characteristics have made it hugely popular. 80% of the web is powered by PHP, including top-tier websites like Facebook, Wikipedia, and WordPress.com.
Why the Shift to PHP 7 Now
The first version of PHP debuted in the 90s, the newest, Version 7, was released in 2015. Up till now, it’s been a slow rollout for Version 7, and 90% of PHP sites still run on PHP 5.x, the previous stable version. (Version 6 didn’t catch on.) However, the shift to PHP 7 is now accelerating.
With market share domination of over 27% of the internet, WordPress changes have a way of rippling across the web, and WordPress is switching to PHP 7. At the end of last year, WordPress.com, software designer Automattic’s plug-and-play website builder, switched all of its hobby users over to PHP 7.
That hasn’t happened yet for WordPress.org sites, that is, professional-level self-hosted WordPress sites like this one. However, by mid-2017, WordPress.org will recommend that WordPress users transition their sites from PHP 5.6 to 7.0.
What PHP 7 Does for Your Site
Out of the gate, the biggest advantage for PHP 7 is speed. For sites running PHP 5, a switch to PHP 7 will:
- Increase site speed by up to 300%.
- Improve memory consumption by 50%.
- Serve up to 3x as many requests per second.
This is happy news for your website, for your users, and for Google SEO. Research shows even one extra second of load time can hurt conversions by 7%. Google, too, considers speed a prime factor for SERPs ranking, especially for mobile sites. Speaking of mobile, Google’s push for mobile-friendly indexing will also be helped by the switch. So the performance boost PHP 7 gives your business site makes upgrading now a smart move for most.
When Not to Switch to PHP 7
On the flip side, there is one big caution for site owners considering making the switch. PHP 7 is not backwards compatible, meaning if some part of your site breaks, reverting to PHP 5.6 isn’t an option.
This is mostly an issue for plugins. Outdated plugins may not work with PHP 7. To ensure a smooth transition, plugins need to be updated and checked for compatibility, with a tool like WP Engine’s Compatibility Checker, before upgrading.
Upgrading to PHP 7 is elective for the time being, but at some point, older versions will be phased out. The case for upgrading now is not only about boosting site performance, but also seizing the opportunity to move in front of the competition, innovation-wise.
For many websites, this upgrade will be nothing more than a few clicks. But for custom builds, the process gets more involved. You may want to take the opportunity to run a Google Speed Test to see where you are now. You can use the data to help win over stakeholders about the switch, too. You’ll also want to test your plugins for compatibility and upgrade them as needed. Once you’re ready, upgrade to PHP 7 to reap the benefits.