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New Homepage, Cloudways Acquired, WebP on Hold ?️ September 2022 WordPress News w/ CodeinWP

WP-Optimize alleged to artificially boost its optimization scores

If you’ve ever dug into WordPress performance optimization, you’ve probably noticed a really annoying trend:

A lot of users, especially on the more casual end of things, care more about their sites’ “optimization scores” than they do about their sites’ actual performance.

Sure, their site might load in under one second for all visitors, but they only got a 79 in their speed test tool, so clearly something is wrong.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that some WordPress performance plugins would go out of their way to boost performance scores in any way possible.

This leads me to this tweet from Gijo Varghese, who makes the popular FlyingPress optimization plugin, as well as a number of free optimization tools.

In the tweet, Gijo alleges that the popular WP-Optimize plugin is detecting popular speed testing tools and not serving JavaScript to those tools, thereby artificially boosting performance when tested (even though the JavaScript would still be served to human visitors).

WP-Optimize is a comprehensive WordPress performance plugin that was acquired by the same team behind UpdraftPlus.

If true, this would harken back to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, where Volkswagen was artificially lowering emissions but only when being tested. In the real world, emissions were up to 40X higher.

In a response to inquiries from WP Tavern, David Anderson of UpdraftPlus said that the code was added as part of including code from a fork of the Fast Velocity Minify plugin and that the code hadn’t been touched since initially merging it into the WP-Optimize plugin.

David said that he’s tasked the team’s lead JavaScript developer with investigating the code and, if it is indeed only there to game speed test tools, it will be removed.

Overall, I’ve been a happy user of UpdraftPlus for a long time, so I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt that there wasn’t anything intentionally sinister going on. Still, it shouldn’t have happened.

Either way, this is a good reminder that, when it comes to WordPress performance, you should always focus on the actual experiences of your human visitors, rather than nebulous optimization “scores.”

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