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The three different types of WordPress CMS

WordPress is rolling out one of its biggest updates yet, called "Gutenberg". Here's how it compares to other styles of WordPress content management systems.

Digital agency staff working together and just smashing it tbh
Blue Pixel Top Left
Posted by Jon
18 January 2019

WordPress remains one of the most popular website content management systems in the world, and with good reason. It's open source, so you don't have to pay for any licenses to use it, and it's incredibly easy to use day-to-day. Much, much (much) better than Joomla.

However, while just about anyone can build a simple personal WordPress site, it does require a bit of technical knowledge to get started that you may need to follow a tutorial for.

Building a more complicated website up to the task of serving as a marketing, lead gen and sales tool for a business with a wide range of products or services, is even more of a challenge.

Type 1: Template CMS

A traditional WordPress site uses page templates. Everything that uses the same template will look pretty much the same, aside from the text and images you fill the template with.

For a long time, this was fine. Websites used to be a lot simpler, with less varied types of content. Having two or three templates was usually enough to cover everything you'd need.

However, as websites and the way we use them have developed, there's been a greater need for flexibility – something that templates don't really allow. Creating an entirely new template just to be able to add in a slightly different feature (as we used to do in the past, when our clients' content requirements would grow beyond the constraints of their original designs) is time-consuming, requires some technical knowledge, and can make the back end of your site a bit of a mess.

This is why an increasing number of people are turning to website building tools such as Wix, which allow you to drag and drop elements around your screen to quickly build a website with no technical knowledge at all, where every page can be different.

Type 2: Drag and Drop CMS

Although many developers don't like to admit it, Wix has come a long way since it first came onto the scene. It used to build websites entirely in Flash, which earned it its bad reputation. It now supports HTML5 and can be used to make a perfectly nice, functional website.

The growing popularity of tools like these have clearly placed some pressure on WordPress to provide a similar experience that allows people to build websites that meet the web design standards of 2019, without the need for any coding knowledge. This is where Gutenberg comes in.

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What is the WordPress Gutenberg editor?

Gutenberg is WordPress's version of a drag-and-drop Wix-style interface. It will still require a similar level of technical knowledge to set up the site and style it up with your desired colours and fonts – particularly if you don't want to use an out-of-the-box theme – but it will make it a lot easier to build completely bespoke, multimedia-heavy pages and blog posts in a website. There's a demo – go and try it out.

Long before this was announced, there were attempts to provide something similar made by third parties, such as WPBakery. These are commonly called "pagebuilders" and are a distinctly mixed bag – they work, but they're not as flexible as they like you to believe, and it can be time-consuming to build up a page. It can also be frustrating when something doesn't quite look the same once published as it did in the editor, and often requires a bit of the coding knowledge the visual interface is meant to replace to fill the gaps.

This is an issue we've been working with for a while now, pre-Gutenberg – delivering flexibility without the frustration.

Type 3: Somewhere in the middle

We've moved away from templates in our CMS, towards a more bespoke pagebuilder-style system – but solely in the back-end.

We design and build a number of different, highly flexible blocks that can be added to any page, in any combination. They're also already built to work in both mobile and desktop. Additional blocks can be added by our dev team with far greater ease than creating a new template.

These elements can quickly be filled in, without the need to set styles for each individual item or nudge them around the page until they're perfect. They can be re-ordered with a simple click and drag.

It's less visual than Gutenberg, but it is a lot quicker, and much more focused – ideal if you're regularly adding a lot of content, or need to change details on a lot of pages. We do feel that it provides the best of both worlds.

So, are we using Gutenberg?

We're looking into it, testing things out. We don't think it's quite ready yet – there are still too many issues for us to feel confident recommending it as the way forward for a client. This is pretty common for any open source software that is still being developed, to be honest. It would be a mistake to rush in without being sure it can deliver the experience our clients need.

But it does open up some really exciting possibilities, so get in touch if it's something you'd like to discuss!

Perfect Website Brief


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