A designer friend discovered a new website creation tool. It claimed to be super-easy to use. Just drag and drop. See results right away. No coding. What’s not to like about that?
She built her new website and worked hard to make the site exactly as she wanted. Then she launched it.
That’s when the makers of the website creation tool proudly announced version 2.0. All new, from the ground up. Even better. More features. Easier to use.
Just one hitch. A minor one. Hardly worth mentioning: There was no way to migrate a website built in the old version. That was bad. What made it really bad was that version 1 would shut down in a few months.
My friend’s new website suddenly had the lifespan of a mayfly. Pretty, but destined to disappear.
Let’s face it, it’s quite a task to build a website — one that works well for you, is aligned with your business, and effectively connects with your ideal audience. Doing all that well takes time and effort. So, of course, we count on our new website serving us well for a long time to come.
If you’ve had your website for several years, you now have lots of content created over that long time. It definitely would be disastrous to one fine day find out what powers the website has been end-of-lifed.
So how can we avoid ending up like my friend, with a new, but dead-on-arrival, website? Or with an existing website that can no longer be updated?
The 2 Key Components of Future-Proofing
It starts before we build anything on a new website and involves 2 key components:
- Adopting a future-proofing mindset
- Future-proofing the technology
It’s tempting to view future-proofing a website as a done-and-forget it action. Because it’s an ongoing process. As much mindset as technology.
First, let’s look at developing a future-proofing mindset. Then it will be easier to consider the tech impact of future-proofing.
1. Adopting a Future-Proofing Mindset
Web technology is constantly changing, as are best practices and security concerns.
If we don’t understand (and accept that), at some point any new website will be outdated. Obsolete. Probably sooner rather than later.
WordPress introduced a new blog post editor in 2018. A major upgrade that changed how we approached writing and posting new content.
Many website owners were upset. They didn’t want to change how they edited post content. Not that they liked the old editor. But they had found ways to work with it. It was familiar. They might even use plugins to improve the editing experience.
Now here was something new. A major change that upset existing workflows. It didn’t help that the first iteration still lacked some refinement.
Others, like me, switched to the new block editor early and found that it truly speeded up posting. Plus it really was easier to work with.
In this change WordPress gave us a choice: Adopt early or later, either is okay. They even told us we had several years before they’d shut down the old editor. The only choice that is not okay, is to never adopt.
Being aware of new developments and recognizing when they affect our WordPress websites
Years ago we designed websites for computer screens. The biggest arguments were about what size computer screen. Designers fretted about pixel-perfect alignment.
Those few people who insisted on visiting websites from their mobile phones were content with dumbed-down mobile versions of websites. But most website owners didn’t worry about mobile browsing.
Today 2/3 of all web browsing is from mobile devices. Google now bases their SEO ranking on how a website shows up on mobile devices. It’s no longer okay to have a dumbed-down website for mobile visitors. Or to ignore them by having a desktop-only website.
Yet I still regularly see websites that are desktop-only. Clearly some website owners haven’t gotten the message. They persist with websites that are not future-proofed. Gradually slipping into oblivion.
A future-proofing mindset means paying attention to changes in the online world and recognizing when it’s the right time to adapt and adopt. Often when we do, we find that the new way is clearly better and we really would never want to go back to the old ways.
What we don’t want to happen is to one day find out that functionality we relied on has been obsoleted, turned off and now my website doesn’t work anymore. Which of course hurts the business relying on that website bringing in customers.
Fortunately, when a change is announced, there is often a planned a transition time until full implementation. We have time to learn how to master the new approach. We may even be able to approach a major change with a hybrid approach, combining the best of 2 worlds and takes some pressure off today while ensuring that we’ll be ready for the future.
Tips for developing a future-proofing mindset
- Become friends with your website — it’s an integral part of your business.
- Stay up-to-date with WordPress developments on the official Make WordPress blog.
- Be curious and explore how changes in the online world can help your business grow.
- Be open to change.
2. Future-Proofing the Technology of WordPress
Choose wisely, we must
It might be tempting to go for that brand-new website builder that has every bell-and-whistle imaginable. But will it be around for years to come?
WordPress has been with us for since 2003! All that time, updates and new versions have been released regularly.
However, WordPress is just one part of the puzzle. There are three main components we’ll need to consider:
- Theme — controls what the website looks like and much of the functionality
- Page Builder — makes design, layout and editing easier
- Plugins — add specific functionalities and integrations
Together these components form the technical base of a website and must be regularly updated to ensure full functionality and keep the website safe and secure.
Let’s look how to future-proof each component of WordPress.
WordPress started as a blogging solution. Then folks like me concluded that managing content for the entire website in a database would make life easier. It wasn’t long before WordPress grew into a great tool for powering entire websites.
If you could look at the very first version of WordPress core next to the current one, they would seem a world apart. Yet there has never once been a time when a new version was incompatible with older sites.
For example, in 2018 when WordPress released a new editing experience (block editor) for posts, they outlined a roadmap for several years, so we could all see where development was going. Nobody was being left behind. Yes, some features (like the old editor) will eventually be turned off, but there is ample time to upgrade.
For instance, once I started using the new block editor for my blogs, old posts just showed up in a classic block. For site visitors, nothing changed.
I can leave those classic block posts as is. Or turn them into blocks and get all the benefits of the new editor with one click.
That’s future-proofing at work.
In Spring 2022, WordPress took the next step by releasing full site editing. You can now use blocks to add and edit content anywhere on the website and do much layout and design that formerly could only happen through hands-on coding or in a page builder. Again, it’s your choice to start using this new feature right now or take some time to learn more about it.
This gradual roll-out of features and backward compatibility builds confidence that WordPress will continue to be a great website platform for years to come.
Tips for Future-Proofing WordPress Core
- Stay up-to-date with WordPress developments on the official Make WordPress blog.
- Be aware of the changes included in each new version of WordPress.
- Embrace the block editor.
Once upon a time there were themes for just about every kind of site that could be imagined. They came with pre-made layouts and places to drop in content. You wanted to change the look of the website, you got a new theme.
Since the theme is at the heart of a website (2nd only to WordPress), we have to select carefully. If you switch to another theme, the entire design and layout of your website will go away. Yes, the content is still there, but you’ll have lots of work in the new theme to get things to show up where you want them to.
Fortunately, the days of those specialized, fill-in-the-blanks themes are gone. Today, a future-proof theme is really a framework that lets you create the site you want.
In 2021, I switched to using the Kadence Theme for all my website development work. It’s very lightweight and extremely customizable. You can start with a blank canvas. Or choose from a library of starter sites. Except you’re not limited to an entire starter site. Like one page? Pick that. How about just a row or an element of a starter design? Copy it to your own site and insert your content.
The result is a site that’s truly yours.
Kadence is built for block editing and comes with a library of blocks, letting you easily create even complex layouts. And customize them to your heart’s content.
In many ways, Kadence gave us full site editing with blocks before WordPress officially turned on the feature.
In fact, Kadence does a lot of things with blocks that I used to need a page builder for. That’s of course the ultimate promise of full site editing: Everything done with blocks and no need for page builders.
At the same time Kadence plays nice with page builders. Which means I can choose on a page by page basis to create with Kadence blocks or use a page builder. I have even built pages where part of the layout comes from a page builder and part from Kadence blocks or elements. Everything seamless to the website visitor.
Kadence is fairly new on the market, but is aggressively developed and I expect it to be around for a long time to come.
Tips for Future-Proofing Themes
- Make sure your theme is being actively developed alongside the latest developments in WordPress core
- Select/switch to a theme that is specifically ready for full site editing and block editing
Page builders have been with us for quite a while. They help us customize page design and layout without having to write code. Plus you can see the layout and design you’re creating as you go.
However, the future of WordPress is now full site editing, where you use blocks to build not just posts, but for content everywhere on the site. That means eventually, page builders won’t be needed.
How soon that day comes varies for each of us. There’s definitely a learning curve for full site editing. Because full site editing is new, it’s still rough around the edges. Controls can be confusing or lacking (meaning I’d have to add custom styling [CSS] or code to get the look I want).
For those reasons, the safe approach for now (in 2022) is to still use a page builder. Because we’re used to how they work.
It is, however, important to select the right page builder.
Some page builders are shortcode-based. Meaning if you were to turn off the page builder, there would be no content on the page. Just some shortcodes. Actual content is hidden inside the database and will stay there, unless you are a database geek and know how to extract it.
A better choice is a page builder that places actual content on the page, along with code needed for styling/layout. If you remove the page builder, everything is still on the page. While it won’t display as when the page builder was active, you can access the content and work with it.
All page builders add code to the website, increasing load time. But some page builders add a lot more code than others.
For future-proofing, select a page builder that is lightweight and that doesn’t rely on shortcodes for everything. Then content is still accessible if you were to remove the page builder one day. Or if that page builder were to become defunct.
Note that there is no direct migration path from page builder formatted content to full site editing. Or from one page builder to another page builder. But at least the content is still on the page.
My choice is BeaverBuilder. It adds less weight than many competitors and it doesn’t rely on shortcodes.
BeaverBuilder can also be used on a page by page basis. Meaning you only use it for pages where you need it. A website I recently built has 49 pages and about half use BeaverBuilder, while the others don’t (block editing).
As a rule, I also don’t use the page builder at all for blog posts. Because block editing lets me handle content there with much less added code weight.
Tips for Future-Proofing Page Builders
- Select a page builder that is light weight and that doesn’t rely on shortcodes for content placement. Then content is still accessible if the page builder is removed or becomes defunct.
- To further future-proof your website, start now to learn how to build pages using blocks instead of a page builder. Remember, it’s a page-by-page choice.
WordPress websites rely on plugins for a wide range of different purposes. Security, backup, adding specific functionalities, integrations with other services. Even page builders are plugins. And extended features of your theme could come in plugin form.
Plugins may be the hardest area to future-proof. Why? Because many plugin developers don’t publish roadmaps. And sometimes even plugins that have been around for a long time suddenly go away.
Fortunately, there are usually several options for plugins to provide a particular functionality. So we can switch to using an alternative.
Tips for Future-Proofing Plugins
- On your website, make certain to update plugins regularly and remove any unused ones.
- From time to time also review the plugins on your site and make sure you really still need them. Don’t let a plugin hang around just because it’s always been there.
- Invest in premium plugins with active development and support.
Ready for the Future?
WordPress is a great platform to build your website on. One that has been with us for years and will be there for the long haul.
With a future-proofing mindset and care in selecting the tech, a WordPress website built today will still work next year or five years from now. Because there is a real path forward.
I have a couple websites originally built with WordPress in 2010. Everything about them has been updated multiple times. Today they run the latest version of WordPress. There was never a time that WordPress came out with a new version that didn’t include a way to upgrade older websites. Even when block editing came along, it didn’t mess anything up.
That’s how flexible and future-ready WordPress is. When applying best practices and keeping a future-focused mindset, we can rest assured that today’s website will be around for tomorrow and beyond.
Claes Jonasson is a web designer, creative and writer at Claes Jonasson Design. In addition to working with clients 1:1, he also teaches online courses. He’s passionate about creating great user experiences on- and offline and has worked in media “since he could hold a pen. Along the way he’s also found himself doing a variety of other things, like working as a longshoreman and driving military tanks. Outside of work, Claes writes short stories and longer fiction. He likes hiking (time to reflect), riding trains (like coast to coast across the USA), reading books, and listening to podcasts. Plus spending time with his family.