One of the last major visible updates to WordPress introduced Gutenberg, the new visual block editor. The growth of visual editing tools like Wix, SquareSpace, and Elementor highlighted the age and ineffectiveness of the default WYSWIG editor, and the WordPress team knew it had to adapt.
Gutenberg will have it’s fifth birthday later this year, and the block editor has come a long way. We think it’s a great tool for building WordPress websites.
It also still has a long way to go. The ultimate vision for WordPress is full site editing, which opens up the block system to the entire site, allowing users to build entire themes using block-based component systems.
What is Full Site Editing?
Full Site Editing is a system that extends the block editor to parts of the site theme, allowing users to create block-based single and archive templates, headers, footers, sidebars, and more. These elements are traditionally the domain of WordPress themes, and in many ways still are. Even though Full Site Editing allows direct customization of these new areas, the feature requires a compatible theme to work correctly. Since the feature is still relatively new, there are not many themes that support it yet.
Still, the promise of giving the user more manageable and standardized control over theme customizations is exciting. The block editor has become a staple of our development work and made it easier for our clients to manage their site content on their own. The performance benefits it has over comparable plugins like Elementor, WP Bakery, and others gives it a huge edge.
What Does This Mean for Themes?
Without more hands-on experience using a theme that takes advantage of Full Site Editing, it’s hard to say what the future holds for the new feature. Here at Watermelon, we still prefer to use the GeneratePress theme to build custom websites. Early on, GeneratePress focused on integrating the block editor into the theme and over the years it has incorporated into other areas of it’s extended functionality.
The Elements system that is included in the GeneratePress Pro plugin features delivers on a lot of the promises of Full Site Editing already. We can use this system to create custom archive and single post templates using Gutenberg blocks, and dynamically include things like post titles, author names, and dates into the content. We can also create custom block layouts and include them as parts of templates using theme hooks, all through the WordPress dashboard. Knowing exactly which hook to use to build the desired layout is probably still over most WordPress users’ heads, but the fact that this is all possible through the WordPress backend is a huge step on its own.
Personally, I find the most frustrating part of customizing almost any website to be the navigation, and that’s even as a developer. I still find most theme navigation settings clunky and awkward, and feel like I can never get them exactly the way I want them using the theme or customizer options. I can’t say that introducing the Block editor into the navigation area would solve that problem, but at the very least it would standardize things a bit further. Being able to copy a group of blocks that act as a navigation and paste them to a different site or switch to a different theme sounds like a promising step forward.
What is the Future of WordPress?
WordPress has made a lot of changes in reaction to its emerging all-in-one website building solution competitors. Overall, they appear to be good. The initial hesitation and opposition to the block editor seems to be unfounded. And even though WordPress’ growth has been slowing, it still dwarfs its competitors when it comes to total market share of the internet; over 40% of websites (and over 60% of websites using an identifiable CMS) use WordPress.
If WordPress continues to make deliberate changes to improve to experience for the majority of its users (not just developers) and empower them to be more effective at using the tool, I think it’s safe to look forward to the future of WordPress.