Why Block-Based Themes Are the Future of WordPress

block-based themes
Photo: cmarix.com

Block-based themes are quickly becoming the talk of WordPress users everywhere. Many say they are the future. Some argue that they’re the present. One thing that most people seem to agree on is that block-based themes are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Most people, though, are left asking one simple question: What are block-based WordPress themes.

For all the talk about block-based WordPress themes, few people are focusing on trying to explain them. By that, we don’t just mean telling you what one is; we mean explaining why this is something you should be keeping your eye on.

That’s what we’re here to do today. Join us as we break down what a block-based theme is, why you should care about one, and how they may help you build and grow better websites.

What Are Block-Based Themes?

WordPress does a brilliant job of explaining what a block-based theme is in pretty simple terms:

“A block-based theme is a WordPress theme with templates entirely composed of blocks so that in addition to the post content of the different post types (pages, posts, …), the block editor can also be used to edit all areas of the site: headers, footers, sidebars, etc.”

To expand on that, a block-based theme is one where every (or nearly every) aspect of your website is contained in a block. That means your content, your headline, your site title, your banners, your ads, etc.

The idea is that interacting with any of those elements will mean interacting with a block designed to contain that element. In other words, you’ll be jumping from block to block in order to edit any part of your website.

How are Block-Based Themes Different From Traditional Themes?

There are a couple of significant differences to consider when looking at these two types of themes.

The first is that traditional WordPress themes are based on PHP files. PHP files are plain-text files that utilize PHP code. Not only is all your WordPress database information stored in this plain code, but it often interacts with your site via this coding.

Traditional WordPress themes have made those interactions easier through fields. For instance, there’s a field for content, one for your headline, etc. However, whenever you want to make more substantial alterations to your website, you typically have to utilize HTML-based coding. For example, formatting changes to your banner are done through coding alterations. The same is true of certain media embeds.

Where a block-based theme differs is that it doesn’t necessarily treat your site like one large sheet of coding. It instead converts elements of your website as a block template. That is to say that sections of your website are identified and separated by blocks. Their functionality is also separated by blocks which you can directly interact with.

This brings us to the other big difference between traditional WordPress themes and block-based themes: interaction.

Block-based themes would theoretically allow you to directly interact with every element of your website directly via blocks. You’d click on a block, be presented with a series of available options, and choose whatever additions or alterations you want to make. They compartmentalize the elements of your website as opposed to requiring you to decipher and identify each area through code.

Is a Block-Based Theme the Same As Block Editing?

To answer this question, we should first talk about what we mean by block editing.

As you may have noticed, the latest WordPress updates allow you to edit and alter your content through blocks. WordPress refers to these options as block editors and classic editors.

With a block editor, every paragraph (or input break) creates a new block. Text blocks can be altered via a menu which offers various inputs. There are also different kinds of blocks you can utilize. For instance, a media block would allow you to upload an image directly using that block space rather than relying on a toolbar or widget. An embed block lets you embed a Tweet, livestream, or other media directly without needing to hop into the code to insert it directly.

Clearly, then, block-based themes already exist, right? Well, that’s not exactly the case.

The hope is that block-based themes will allow you to perform what is called “full-site editing.” Right now, block editing is pretty much limited to the content in your posts. That is to say that you can use block editing with anything within the content field of your post.

Where we’re heading (maybe) is a world where every aspect of your site will utilize a similar format. If you want to change the positioning of your site title, you’ll do so via a block. If you want to move your ads and sections around, you’ll do so via a block. Think of it as a more advanced version of drag-and-drop editing where the drag-and-drop can be more easily implemented after you’ve published your site.

In other words, take your existing block editor WordPress site and apply that format to your entire website design. That’s the idea of full-site editing.

What Are The Advantages of Block-Based Themes?

We’ve talked about it somewhat before, but the big advantage of block-based themes is accessibility.

Currently, block-based editing lets us more easily create content for an online world. Blocks grant us access to features which were previously locked behind coding walls. That means that you either had to know the coding or rely on workarounds to utilize certain functions. That’s also why WordPress supported or created a variety of widgets, add-ons, and other tools designed to offer those functions in as straightforward of a way as possible.

Full-site block editing could eliminate so much of that clutter. A paragraph block will allow you to easily access everything you can do with that paragraph. A headline block will reveal all headline possibilities. Most importantly, the simplicity of drag-and-drop themes will be carried over to post-publishing design and editing. Even better, you’ll enjoy the simplicity of that design style without having to suffer a loss in functionality. It’s just an easier way to convey all of the things you can already do with WordPress. It will also reveal features that were previously not possible or simply difficult to access.

A block-based theme also alleviates much of the burden on a theme’s backend. By eliminating unnecessary coding clutter, such themes could enjoy much-improved response times. They’d also be easier to alter and navigate, which could allow you to more easily keep up with important trends. Not only would that make design changes much quicker, but it could greatly improve your SEO and general optimization.

Finally, we’ve got to talk about looks. Right now, some of the best looking themes are complicated, expensive, and sometimes they’re custom created which means they can’t legally be replicated. It takes a lot of work to create and maintain a great looking WordPress theme.

Theoretically, block-based themes change that dynamic. Because you’d be able to dynamically interact with every element of your website, it becomes much easier to create a website that is exactly as you envision it. There would be far fewer instances of needing to enter code and hope for the best.

Block-based themes are dynamic, accessible, and technologically advanced. By nearly every metric we use to measure the viability of new ideas, they very much appear to be the future.

What Are the Disadvantages of Block-Based Themes?

If “accessibility” sums up the advantages of block-based themes, then “doubt” sums up the disadvantages.

At the moment, there are a lot of questions that remain regarding block-based themes. The biggest issue right now is that the technology is still in its infancy. Even simpler examples that don’t feature extensive full-site editing features are relatively untested.

That means that early users are also testers. The block-based themes community is not as large as their traditional theme counterpart. They also don’t have as much of a knowledge base to work with.This means that many people are on the same boat in terms of figuring things out. That’s somewhat exciting, but it does mean that some users are hesitant to commit fully to the concept.

It’s also abundantly clear that this entire concept is still in its infancy. By that, we mean that what you can do with block-based themes now is nothing compared to what you’re going to be able to do with them in five years. The general thought is that block-based themes will almost certainly be objectively better than their traditional counterparts. At the moment, though, the biggest selling point of them is the unique advantages they offer. There are still some things that traditional themes can do which block-based themes cannot.

The biggest disadvantage to block-based themes at the moment, though, are your available options. There are not a ton of block-based themes on the market at the moment. The good news is that there are some great ones out there, but in terms of sheer numbers, traditional themes still obviously dominate the market.

Finally, we’ve got to talk about looks once more. As we said, block-based themes have the potential to look amazing. However, some are concerned that their accessibility could lead to website designs that are too similar. Our belief is that this is only really a problem right now as we don’t have many examples of this concept to work with. As such, many themes and designs look like their counterparts. This is something to consider, though, as the uniqueness of your block-based theme may be based on what you bring into it.

Should I Switch to a Block-Based Theme?

This really is the big question at the moment. To be honest, there is not an easy answer.

Generally speaking, we highly advise anyone starting a new website to switch to a block-based theme. They’re clearly going to be the future, and it’s best to learn them now. On top of that, they really do offer so many advantages in their early state. They’re especially prized by those who don’t really want to learn the ins and outs of complicated WordPress systems.

Swapping your website to a block-based theme is another story. That’s a potentially long and complicated process. We certainly trust the potential of block-based themes, but only you can answer whether such a swap is worth it to you at this early juncture.

The other thing to consider on that front is the aforementioned WordPress update based on the Gutenberg technology. That lets you enjoy the benefits of block-based editing without having to make a full conversion. It’s possible that you’d be able to easily update your website to such a theme without having to sacrifice too much time or effort.

To summarize, all website operators need to be aware of the innovations and potential of block-based themes. Just be sure to research how such a swap could affect you.

In Conclusion: Block-Based Themes Are The Next Big Thing

DVD technology existed when people were still using VCRs. 4K was around for years before it became a standard. 5G technology is readily available now, but many people don’t have access to it.

There comes a tipping point with new technology where it’s obvious that it will be the wave of the future. However, for whatever reasons, it just might not be ready for prime time quite yet. This is when the so-called early adopters jump in and start figuring out the technology ahead of the rest of us.

It’s pretty clear to everyone in the WordPress community that block-based themes are the future. WordPress’s latest updates which incorporate block-based editing reveals as much. The winds of change are blowing in that direction.

We can’t definitively tell you whether a block-based theme is right for your website at this moment. What we can tell you is that by studying, following, and even implementing block-based themes where possible is an incredibly smart move at the moment. The sooner you catch on to this emerging trend, the better off you’ll be in a year.

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