Content for Custom WordPress Themes

Penned on the 25th of October in the year 2021. It was a Monday.

You're looking at the front-end of my website: it's the visitor-facing version that's meant to give you information about me and what I do. But to enter all that information, there's also a back-end, hidden behind a login screen, where I entered the content you're reading now.

All About Adding Content

At it’s core, WordPress is just a CMS, or Content Management System. There are a wide variety of CMS options to choose from, but all of them seek to solve one problem: making it easy for non-developers to edit content on their sites.

Within the WordPress CMS, there are a variety of content editing tools available, and I primarily use one of two popular options that work best for the quality of work I do. Either option leads to the same front-end experience for visitors, but both have different advantages for back-end content entry for you, the site’s owner. Though both are good, it’s helpful to pick the right fit for your website based on the project’s requirements and, more importantly, your content editing preferences.

TL;DR

Here’s a quick video I created for a client to address the two options I typically offer.

Not an Option: Page Builders

Before getting into the two options I recommend, I should first mention an option I don’t recommend: WordPress page builders. There are lots to choose from—WPBakery, Elementor, Divi—but I’ve found they’re all slow, bloated, complicated tools to employ. And maybe worse from my perspective as a custom WordPress theme developer, I find these tools severely restrict what I’m able to build, so I’m able to “sorta” match the designs and functionality you’re wanting, but not exactly. I’m happy to work on sites that are already built using page builders since I don’t typically need to add significant customizations at that point, but when I’m starting fresh developing a new website, I reach for one of the following two tools instead.

Option #1: The Advanced Custom Fields Plugin

My first choice is usually the ACF plugin, because it gives me the highest level of control for custom website development, is the quickest to build on, and gives my clients the easiest content editing experience. ACF is an immensely popular, highly-rated plugin used by many custom theme developers.

The ACF plugin essentially lets me create a sort of web form in the back-end of WordPress that you can enter content into. Each piece of content gets stored separately in the database, so I can easily grab any piece of content I’d like and style it however I want to. Since within WordPress I’m letting the ACF plugin create the forms that you’ll enter content into, I spend almost all my time building the experience visitors who see your site will encounter rather working on the content editor—that saves a lot of time, which in turn reduces costs. And since you’re managing your content through the simple form fields ACF provides, I’m able to do most of the styling and layout automatically, saving you time, too. That way, you don’t need to worry about adding the right spacing or font treatments consistently across the site on your own: I handle all that through the code, making content entry simple and consistent.

But, since ACF uses forms for content entry, the back-end of WordPress where you enter content looks quite a bit different from the front-end that visitors see. That can make it a little more confusing to envision what a content change will look like on the site (although with a little experimenting it’s always possible to figure out). And while some clients find it great to have a simple, consistent interface to enter content into, others want more control, even if it means they need to work harder and with more complex tools to enter content onto their website.

Option #2: The WordPress Block Editor (Gutenberg)

My second choice is built right into WordPress: the block editor (often referred to as Gutenberg). The block editor makes it easier to see how content will look during editing, gives you a lot of control in customizing how the content looks, and is easier to add features to later without a developer’s assistance.

One of the biggest advantages of the block editor is that as you enter content, you can immediately see what it will actually look like to visitors who see your site, which is a lot less complicated than using a basic web form like ACF does. Most content blocks in the editor also come with a large number of customization options, so you can reuse the same block in a lot of different ways—this provides a significant amount of visual flexibility, so you can customize the site beyond just the features I initially built based on what existed in the website’s original designs. And while with ACF it’s possible to have me or another developer add new features to a website after launch, with the block editor there are plugins you can install to add new blocks without needing to hire a developer.

Of course, many of those plugins don’t match the style of the site very well, so I tend to see clients coming back for me to develop new features anyway. And since I need to build both the back-end editor experience and the front-end, visitor-facing side of the website, it takes me longer—not quite double, but still significant. And because it offers so many styling options for most blocks, some clients will be annoyed by how much time they must spend to tweaking things that would be easily automated with ACF.

So, Which One?

Which option’s the best for your custom WordPress theme? It depends on what you’re after: simple, easy-to-use form fields that are more efficient to build and easier to get consistent-looking content out of, or a more visually-accurate editor that offers more complex and flexible customization options? Either way, if you have me build it, it’s gonna be epic!

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