What You See is What You Get, Maybe…

In my last post I mentioned that big changes were coming in 2019. To no one’s surprise the Block Editor, aka Gutenberg, was introduced as the default editor for all new WordPress.com websites and in March 2019 the ability to switch back to the Classic Editor was removed from themes that fully support the new Block Editor. In principle that’s not a bad thing since those themes depend on and demonstrate the Block Editor‘s abilities.

New Site Creation after Gutenberg:

Prior to the introduction of the Block Editor on WordPress.com, you could choose between a variety of themes at site creation and themes were recommended depending on what you answered about your site’s content. The current new site creation flow offers 4 child-themes of Twenty-Nineteen with different “styles”, Modern, Sophisticated, Professional or Calm and demo content applied depending on your set-up choices. (*See note below) What appears as your site’s homepage, either a posts/blog page or a static front page, depends on your choice at “What kind of Site are you building.” With the exception of Blog, all other site creation options display a static front page as the homepage.

Glossary:

  • Homepage: Either a Static Front Page or the Posts page that displays at your site’s primary address, be that mysite.wordpress.com or mysite.com, if your site has a custom domain.
  • Static Front Page: A Page of static content.
  • Posts Page: A page automatically generated by the WordPress software that displays your blog posts either in full or excerpted, in reverse chronological order.

Most first-time users of WordPress.com may not understand the difference between a static front page and the posts page nor is it immediately apparent that when a site uses a static front page as its homepage, edits to the site’s homepage are made in the Page Editor.

To assist you in setting up your new site, after site creation you’ll land in a “checklist” in your dashboard and the first item in the checklist is “Update your homepage.” Clicking “Try it” opens your homepage in the Page Editor. This makes sense when your site’s homepage is a static front page, but with a Blog… even I’m not sure what I’m editing here. And it isn’t very clear where to write a new blog post since when exiting the Editor, you land in the Pages dashboard.

If you check your theme’s showcase page for set up assistance, or switch to an entirely different theme after creating your new site, you may discover that your theme displays quite differently than it appears on the theme’s showcase page. Each of the new Block Editor ready themes comes with a detailed description of how you can recreate the look of the theme’s demo homepage, but it certainly is confusing and not just a little bit frustrating!

Changes to your site as a whole, like adding a custom or social menu, changing a site’s homepage, adding widgets to a footer or sidebar or uploading a site logo are currently still made in the Customizer, but some widgets are already available to be added to your Pages via Blocks, specifically Archives Block, Categories Block, Latest Comments Block and Latest Posts Block. (Technically you could also add these blocks to posts, but it may be confusing to your site visitors.)

*NOTE: Even as I was writing this post, a message appeared on the showcase pages for these 4 Twenty-Nineteen child themes that the theme would soon be retired and to choose another one. Meanwhile these same themes are still offered during new site creation.

The short version of all this is that the Block Editor dust is far from being settled. A dizzying number of new blocks are being added and, depending on your site plan, you may have additional blocks available to you through plugins.

Personally, I’ve switched to the Block Editor only recently and so far I can’t say I’m enjoying the experience. Creating content is much “fussier,” with far too much trial and error and on two occasions I’ve lost post content if I’ve used the Media and Text Block. After saving a draft and exiting the Editor, when reopening the post for editing, I’m greeted with an error message.

Image available, text content gone. Maybe someday I’ll learn to love the bomb

Missing Features in the Block Editor

With the change to the Block Editor, one of the more interesting features of the Business plan was removed, the ability to add Post or Page Meta Descriptions directly in the Editor.

In the Classic Editor
After enabling the Block Editor

I asked Support whether the meta description field will be added to the Block Editor interface and was advised there’s no timeline for this and was recommended to install an SEO plugin. Make of that what you will.

Also missing from the Editor interface is Sharing, where you can write an excerpt specifically to Publicize to social media. For whatever reason, this option only appears in the pre-publish checklist sidebar once you are ready to publish or schedule your post. (The “Excerpt” in the Block Editor interface acts like a regular excerpt, and so may display on your site’s Posts page, if your theme supports it, and in search engine results. Very different to Publicize, which is only posted to your connected Social Media.)

Where’s my .wordpress.com?

In 2016, Automattic, WordPress.com’s parent company, secured the right to oversee and operate the sale and registration of the .blog top level domain (TLD). Then in November 2018 WordPress.com began offering an expanded choice of free .blog subdomain sites in order to widen the pool of available free site addresses. (You can see the full list of available free .blog subdomains in the WordPress.com blog announcement.)

The general reaction from users trying to register a new WordPress.com site was confusion, as most people are familiar with and prefer the .wordpress.com subdomain. Following a number of forum posts by baffled users trying to create a new site with the .wordpress.com subdomain without success, it looks like .wordpress.com addresses are once again available for registration, if you can come up with a unique address that hasn’t already been registered and/or deleted. Regardless, .blog subdomains are still available and you can create some clever and interesting addresses. When creating a new site just add the yoursite.subdomain.blog of your choice at the step “Give Your Blog an Address.”

So long Blogger Plan, We hardly knew you:

Introduced at the end of March 2019 and retired in August, the now-defunct Blogger plan offered a lower-budget alternative to the Personal plan upgrade and gave users the two most-asked-for WordPress.com features: additional storage space for media (static images and audio) and the removal of ads. However, the Blogger plan also had two limitations: support via email only and the ability to register or map a .blog custom domain name exclusively. If you already owned a .com or other TLD, it was not possible to use it with a site on the Blogger plan. The Personal plan eliminates those limitations.

More Retired Themes

In addition to the Twenty-Nineteen child themes mentioned above, Affinity and Goran have already been retired, while Elegant Business, Dara, Pique, Shoreditch and Edin (and although it seems unlikely, possibly Twenty Seventeen as well) are soon to join them. If those themes are activated on your WordPress.com website, you can continue to use them. To learn more about retired themes, check out my extensive article at “My Theme’s been retired! Now what?”

I will again end this catch-up post with a caveat that the above is correct as of this post’s publication. Changes are inevitable.

Featured Photo by John T on Unsplash

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