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In 2020, WordPress released several major updates aligned with its focus on full-site editing. Looking at the company’s progress in January, it seems there are no signs of slowing down in 2021. 

Discover the latest happenings in the world of WordPress, such as:

  • The release of Gutenberg 9.7
  • Gutenberg 9.6 Introduces Drag-and-Drop Content Blocks
  • Gutenberg 9.7 Improves on Block-Building User Experience
  • All in One SEO plugin backlash
  • The new owner of the WordPress Events Calendar
  • Launch of WordPress educational platform
  • Updates from the State of the Word keynote

Gutenberg 9.7 Brings Welcome Improvements to User Experience

Gutenberg 9.7 was released on Jan. 6, 2021, tight on the heels of version 9.6, released two weeks prior. 

Version 9.6 introduced the ability to drag and drop content blocks onto the post canvas. In version 9.7, the team also added drag-and-drop functionality to block patterns.

The Gutenberg team shipped several refreshing improvements to the block-building editor in addition to drag-and-drop block patterns. 

Block variations received an update that shows variation details on the user interface. In other words, the team replaced each variation’s generic names and icons with the corresponding platform information.

The team also updated reusable blocks, a feature that previously appeared on the back burner. Reusable blocks now use a streamlined saving method, and the team plans to continue improving this feature.

Gutenberg 9.6 Introduces Drag-and-Drop Content Blocks

Drag-and-drop content blocks were the hallmark new feature of Gutenberg 9.6. This functionality allows users to drag blocks from the inserter panel directly onto the canvas. 

This update is likely a response to a growing number of comments from users who wanted a drag-and-drop editor. Furthermore, the new feature aligns with their goal of making it easier for anyone to create a WordPress website. 

Gutenberg 9.6 also enabled the use of vertical layouts in the button block and rearranged the popover menu for buttons. Now the link icon is more closely aligned with the actual button.

Gutenberg 9.7 Improves on Block-Building User Experience

The Gutenberg team released version 9.7 right on the heels of version 9.6. The latest version includes several improvements to the user experience and expands the functionality of drag-and-drop content blocks.

Drag-and-Drop Block Patterns 

When Gutenberg developers released drag-and-drop content blocks in version 9.6, users could not use the new function with block patterns. The team remedied this in version 9.7 

Drag-and-drop placement can now be used with content blocks and block patterns. 

Improvements to Reusable Blocks

WordPress users have long had access to reusable blocks as an easy way to create and save custom block formats. 

The Gutenberg team had forgotten about reusable blocks while they worked on full-site editing (FSE) themes and block patterns.

However, several essential user interfaces (UI) improvements to the reusable blocks were included with Gutenberg 9.7. 

In particular, users can drag paragraphs outside a reusable block and place them elsewhere on the canvas. 

The team also removed the edit/save button on the reusable block. The blocks now save when the entire page is saved. Moving block patterns to the multi-entity save flow helps solidify a more seamless editing experience for WordPress users.

The release notes indicate that developers plan to continue iterating on the code for reusable blocks to make further improvements.

Improved Block Variations Experience

WordPress users can use the block variation application programming interface (API) to create a standard block and use it as the foundation for similar versions. 

Block variations are commonly used for embedded content or links to social media platforms. 

In the latest Gutenberg update, the editor now matches the variable information on the blocks around the interface. 

For example, let’s say you add a social media icon block and enter your Twitter profile information. When you add the Twitter URL, the Twitter icon now appears on the right-hand side of the page in the “block” menu along with the title “Twitter.” 

Likewise, the breadcrumbs at the bottom of the interface will display the name of the social media platform you’re linking.

Experimenting With Custom Templates and FSE Themes

Gutenberg has been redefining the website design process by moving over from widgets to a block-based FSE approach. 

WordPress and Gutenberg teams’ main obstacles include bridging the gap between a widgets-based editor and an FSE editor as they release more functions. 

In Gutenberg 9.7, the team takes one step closer to ensuring the full functionality of FSE themes. Developers currently have an experiment running that enables using “custom templates” with FSE themes.

Since FSE themes use HTML, the process for adding custom templates in FSE themes is different than the approach used in classic themes. 

Developers need to add custom files such as custom.html to the block-templates folder. Second, they must add a custom template property to the theme.json root level.

Once custom templates are added, they’ll appear in the sidebar’s template picker.

Last year the WordPress team reached several milestones on the road to full site editing. However, this also meant frequent changes and bug fixes for WordPress users. 

With Gutenberg 9.7, the team finally has some breathing room to focus on creating a seamless user experience. In 2021, we expected to see more significant changes, particularly involving the FSE editor and themes. 

All-in-One SEO Plugin Faces User Backlash

All in One SEO is a popular WordPress search engine optimization (SEO) plugin. The plugin has over two million active installations and empowers users to set up advanced WordPress SEO features.

At the beginning of January, user reviews and reports indicated that the plugin developers enabled automatic updates for all users.

Previously, the plugin required user consent to update. Unfortunately, many websites experienced strange behavior and outages after the first major automatic update. 

With automatic updates enabled, WordPress users can’t back up their websites in case something goes wrong during the update. 

Related: Check out the Best WordPress Plugins

All-in-One SEO users flocked to Twitter and reviewed sites to express their displeasure with issues caused by the automatic update. 

If your WordPress website has been negatively affected by this automatic update, you can look for answers in this support thread.

Events Calendar Has New Owner Liquid Web

More than 800,000 WordPress users use The Events Calendar plugin on their websites. The plugin was created by the digital agency Modern Tribe. 

In early 2021, Liquid Web purchased The Events Calendar plugin from Modern Tribe. Additionally, Liquid Web provides managed hosting services for WordPress users.

The acquisition will help Liquid Web establish itself further as a hosting provider for eCommerce publishers. In particular, it can help support businesses that rely on tickets and event sales.

The Events Calendar company will remain independent under the Liquid Web umbrella. Liquid Web confirms users will not experience any changes due to the acquisition.

WordPress Launches User Education Platform

On Dec. 21, 2020, WordPress.com launched WPCourses.com. The new website serves as an online education platform for WordPress users. 

The platform launched with two courses: Blogging for Beginners and Podcasting for Beginners. Each class is taught by WordPress experts and is available as a subscription. 

WordPress Courses were launched after the company saw high engagement in its educational webinars in 2020. The team plans to expand its customer education content further. 

Experimenting With Custom Templates and FSE Themes

Gutenberg has been redefining the website design process by moving from widgets to a block-based FSE approach. 

WordPress and Gutenberg teams’ main obstacles include bridging the gap between a widgets-based editor and an FSE editor as they release more functions. 

In Gutenberg 9.7, the team takes one step closer to ensuring the full functionality of FSE themes. Developers have an experiment running that enables using “custom templates” with FSE themes.

Since FSE themes use HTML, the process for adding custom templates in FSE themes is different than the approach used in classic themes. 

Developers need to add custom files such as custom.html to the block-templates folder. Second, they must add a custom Templates property to the theme.json root level.

Once custom templates are added, they’ll appear in the sidebar’s template picker. 

State of the Word Keynote Speech Highlights Future of Full Site Editing

WordPress CEO Matt Mullenweg delivered his annual State of the Word keynote speech on Dec. 4, 2020. 

He began by recapping WordPress’s steady progress, despite unexpected obstacles presented by the global pandemic. 

WordPress stayed true to its roadmap and kept a steady pace in 2020, shipping three significant releases. Block-based editing continued to improve with the addition of revolutionary features such as block patterns. 

The team also released a new default theme, and WordPress saw the introduction of the first block-based themes.

The speech included a demo of the Site Editor beta, highlighting new theme editing functionality and several new content blocks in the works. 

The WordPress team remains committed to its vision of block-based website building. In 2021, the team can focus on perfecting many of the major features introduced in 2020. 

WordPress users can expect a continuation of frequent updates, iterations, and experiments. The good news is user experience seems to be a priority for the team in 2021.

Visit Bluehost today to learn more about how you can get assistance with all of your web hosting needs. From our popular WordPress hosting plans to comprehensive Managed WordPress hosting plans, we’ve got you covered.

Tiffani is the Content and Social Marketing Manager for the Bluehost brand. She has a passion for creating engaging content, SEO and social media!

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