This episode is sponsored by Clariti.
Welcome to episode 418 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Lauren Gray from Once Coupled.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Ann Baum. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Navigating the Changing Landscape of Technology in Food Blogging
Lauren is the Founder and Director of Development at Once Coupled, a small development agency that works with food bloggers and other online publishers. She also happens to be the Web Development Expert here at Food Blogger Pro and is truly an expert on all things themes, plugins, and WordPress.
And that’s exactly what Bjork and Lauren are chatting about in today’s podcast episode! They cover a lot of ground, from Site Editor and Block Editor to custom themes and technical debt.
If you’re curious about making changes to your website, updating your theme, or looking to add specific functionalities to your site, this is an interview you won’t want to miss!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- What Lauren does at Once Coupled and how they support food bloggers.
- How Once Coupled’s services and offerings have changed over the years to reflect the changing landscape of food blogging.
- What Site Editor in WordPress is, how it works, and how it changes things for publishers and developers.
- What WordPress Blocks (and the Block Editor) are.
- The pros and cons of using Site Editor vs. a custom theme right now.
- Lauren’s recommendations for how beginner food bloggers should progress through their website journey.
- What technical debt is, and why you need to keep it in mind when building your website.
- The purpose of, and future plans for, Once Coupled’s plugins company, Small Plugins.
- The functionality of the Dynamic Connector plugin from Small Plugins.
- Once Coupled
- The Food Blogger Pro Podcast Episode 122: Site Speed in a Mobile-First World with Lauren Gray
- Bill Erickson
- The Food Blogger Pro Podcast Episode 236: Themes – Performance-Focused Designs with Bill Erickson
- Genesis Theme
- iMark Interactive
- Media Wyse
- Small Plugins
- Get 70% off of Small Plugins plugins!
- Join the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook Group
About This Week’s Sponsor
We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!
With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.
Sign up for Clariti today to receive:
- Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
- 50% off your first month
- Optimization ideas for your site content
- An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
- And more!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com. And I’m going to give you a really specific example of how you can use Clariti if you sign up today. And that is post or page specific tracking of changes that you’re making. And you can use the notes area within Clariti to make a note anytime that you make a change. An example of when you’d want to do this, let’s say that you’re switching over some of your YouTube videos to be AdThrive or Mediavine video players. You want to make sure that you’re tracking to see when you look back three months later, the change or the impact that that had.
And personally, what we’ve noticed as we’ve worked on content is you forget. If you don’t have a system, if you’re not making a note of that somewhere, you’ll forget. And so within Clariti, there’s the ability to leave a note anytime that you’re making a change or improvement on a piece of content to allow you to go back and see how that change impacted things. There’s lots of other ways that you can use Clariti, but I thought it’d be helpful just to give a really specific example. If you want to see what those other ways are, you can go to clariti.com/food to get 50% off your first month. Again, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food to get 50% off of your first month. You can start taking notes on the changes you’re making and explore all the other features. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.
Emily Walker: Hey, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This is episode 418 of the podcast. And today, Bjork is chatting with Lauren Gray from the development agency, Once coupled. Lauren is the Founder and Director of Development at Once Coupled and is also the web development expert here at Food Blogger Pro. She is really, truly an expert in all things web development. We’re talking themes, custom themes, plugins, WordPress, site editor, block editor, all of it. Lauren really knows what she’s talking about, and she does a great job of talking about it in a way that is approachable to food bloggers of all levels.
During today’s interview, Bjork and Lauren are chatting about site editor and block editor on WordPress, whether or not you should invest in a custom theme, what technical debt is and why you need to keep it in mind as you’re growing your website. And Lauren’s recommendations for how beginner food bloggers should progress through their website journey. Lauren also chats a bit more about what Once Coupled does and how they support food bloggers and more about their new plugin company, Small Plugins. It’s a super informative episode as always, and no matter where you are in your blogging journey, I think you’ll get a ton out of it. So we’ll just let Bjork take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Lauren, we’ll come back to the podcast.
Lauren Gray: Thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s been like six years, so we’re due for an update here to hear what you’ve been up to, what you’ve been working on. It’s fun for me because we’ve been doing this long enough now where we’ve been able to have these connections to people who have been in the industry for a long time. You’re one of them. So for those who aren’t familiar, can you share a little bit about what you do and kind of what day-to-day looks like for you and your team?
Lauren Gray: Okay. Yeah, I can do that. I can’t believe it’s been six years for real. Yeah, so my pitch that I normally tell people, especially people in real life is I do web development for food bloggers. Just is so easy to the point and fun to share with people. But that has really been a lot more complex than that over the years. So six years ago, I’m pretty sure we spoke about speed, and then I feel like the requirements and technology around speed has moved so much that we really don’t do a lot with speed anymore. But it’s because there’ve been more and more solutions in the niche, which I’m so excited about. So we’ve focused a lot, we still do a lot with speed, but we do it within our custom themes. And that’s the main thing we focused on up until very recently was just doing custom themes and then working on trying to support those themes moving forward and just giving those clients that we’ve worked with a lot of one-on-one time with us.
So mostly we’ve been doing themes since we last spoke, and then recently we’re trying to get more into plugins that just kind of help everyone transition from what I think has been an era of custom themes into hopefully an era of more of the full site editing, the block editor, and I think maybe control of our own sites. And it’s kind of expanding. With custom themes, we’ve had to work with a small subset of people because of the pricing that goes with that. And now I’m hoping with plugins that we can work with a larger group of people and provide more solutions.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. It’s like with any business, there’s these evolutions that have to take place. And when you’ve been doing something for, we talked six years ago, but you’ve been doing this for even longer than that, especially in the world of technology, things advance, things change and the best service that we can offer often changes and evolves. So it’s cool to see you doing that. Your business is called Once Coupled, and the idea, you kind of hinted at it when you were talking about what you do, you build these custom themes, but then the idea of Once Coupled is, what is the bird that is once coupled? Like geese, they are together forever. But point being, that you’re not going to do a custom theme for somebody and then just kind of leave them. You’re going to walk with them and help them along the way. So I love that and how you tie it into the name.
You talked about the transition from how speed is really important, and that was something that you were really focusing on and helping people get sites that load fast. And like you mentioned, there’s some solutions now that help people do that without any custom development or accomplish a lot of that. But one of the things that you talked about was a transition into full site editing, we talked about blocks and how those words all within the context of WordPress. So can you talk about on a general shift that’s happening for those who aren’t technical, who don’t know the industry shifts, what’s actually happening in that world that has resulted in you pivoting with your business?
Lauren Gray: So I think there’s two things that come to mind for me when you’re asking that question. One is kind of how is the niche changing? And our response to that in a little piece. And then the second is the change in technology, and that is more specific to the full site editing and how we’re pivoting there a little bit. I think all of these changes over time, you mentioned just technology changes, and I think that that is so true. I love that in conjunction with that, as food blogging has become something that more and more people are interested in and that there is more revenue coming through it, that there have been more people that specialize in food blogs. And then we get all of these new products that are brought to our niche. So I feel like when I started, which was about 10 years ago now, there weren’t a lot of people that were like, “Oh, I specialize in food blogs.” I mean, I could name a few, but there weren’t that many and now there’s more and more people.
And what I thought was really cool was some people I followed outside of this niche kind of moved into this niche and now I get to work closer with them and I try not to fan girl. And I’m like, “Oh, hey, let’s just have a meeting and talk.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Lauren Gray: And so there’s really cool stuff like that. And I feel like because this niche is expanding, there’s so many new avenues people can go. So that’s really vague. But more specifically, Andrew at Nerdpress, I know you guys speak with him pretty often. He has been offering more speed related services and a lot of maintenance stuff that I love to connect my clients with him and say, “He’s providing something like this that’s really cool that you need.” And then Bill Erickson does a lot of custom themes similar to what we do, and depending on what people are looking for, budget, timeline, all of that stuff. I’m like, “Hey, here’s another, you don’t just have us as an option. There are these other developers.” Bill’s just the one I named, because I know you’ve worked with Bill. In fact, I think he was on a podcast with you recently.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I don’t know how recently, but he’s been on the podcast before.
Lauren Gray: Maybe it’s because I spoke with him recently. We were talking about the podcast, but it’s in my mind recently. But I just love that there’s more and more people that enter the niche, and that kind of expands what we can do. So the way I think that relates back to Once Coupled is that because there’s these people that are providing something that I think competes with me or does what I do better, I could be like, “Oh, cool, this person really specializes in this, and I can focus on what I feel like I really specialize in. Or I can explore something new.”
And so that kind of then brings me to the technology change that has led to full site editing, which is now known as just the site editor and the themes that go with that. And then I’m so excited to be able to explore those with my clients that I have and be able to take those … Kind of just explore that little piece of this wider niche in more detail is because I’m not like, “Oh, I have to hold your hand with speed, or I really need to do this type of custom theme, because there’s other people that are doing that.” And I really love that.
Bjork Ostrom: And it’s interesting …
Lauren Gray: Other people would be like, “Oh, there’s so much competition. Are you worried about it?” And I’m like, “No, those people are doing crazy cool things.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I think a great way to look at it and to be flexible in your thinking to say, okay, one way you could look at it is like competition. Another way you could look at it is the market is getting bigger, which allows more people to come in, which allows you to specialize in ways that you couldn’t before. It’s kind of like maybe 100 years ago, you wouldn’t have had people who had in the medical world, these specialties because there just wasn’t as much funding and people didn’t have as much disposable income to spend on medical. But now it’s like you have these extreme specialties as that world has advanced, but also as people have more money to spend in that world.
And similar in this, there’s an industry here and people make money from it. And so it allows for specialization in different niches. And I love your take on that to look at and say, “Yeah, you know what? These people are doing really good work. What does that allow me to do if they are going to take that on and be really good at that?” So from the client side, you could probably geek out for a long time on this idea of site-wide editing or the site editor. What does that actually mean for somebody who’s a publisher, a blogger? What change is happening in WordPress? And is that primarily for you as a developer and somebody who’s working with sites that allows you to do things differently? Or am I going to feel anything different as a blogger or a publisher?
Lauren Gray: I think it’s completely for publishers. It makes so many things harder for developers.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: So it’s totally for publishers. I think that it’s really exciting because what the site editor allows you to do is have full control over something that otherwise might have required a custom theme. I’m not saying that it’s perfectly easy, especially as it’s been out, and I feel like we’ve been working in it for four years, but it still often feels very new, there’s always brand new features to it. But I think that what excites me so much about site editing is that it makes it possible for people with all different types of budgets and all different levels of experience to create really engaging websites that can be really well branded. And at the same time, low cost. And I do say low cost, knowing that there is a time investment cost versus a monetary investment cost and that those are two different forms of costs. And so in some ways, you know, might have to put a lot of time into this, and that’s not going to be a fit for everyone.
But even my more advanced clients that have very custom sites, I’m looking at them and thinking, I think we could put you on a site editor and have all of this be very easy for you to build a team that makes it possible for you to create custom landing pages to edit your content, to just really highlight the important part of your content for your readers. So I feel like it just gives you so much control and almost a way that is kind of hard for me to explain because there’s so much you can do, that how do I focus on one thing that could be accomplished with this?
Bjork Ostrom: If I’m going to paint the picture to provide contrast, is it almost like, let’s say five years ago, you had a custom theme and you wanted a new page on that site. Usually people would go to the developer and say, “Here’s generally what I’m looking for. Can you build this?” Whereas with the site editor, it’s almost getting it more towards Squarespace or some of these web builders that are very consumer focused, where it’s somebody who does pottery, my dad, you want to create a pottery site, you can go in and kind of move things around and adjust things. Or Webflow is another one. Is WordPress kind of trying to move towards that direction? And then what you’re doing is standing in the middle and saying, “It’s not completely there yet. You want it to have some customization. So I’ll sit in the middle to get you to the point where you feel really good about it, but then allow you to do some of the page creation or tweaks or adjustments that you need to do.” Is that kind of what you’re getting at?
Lauren Gray: Almost. So I definitely think that it is WordPress working towards something that is a competitor with Squarespace and Wix and Webflow, and just anything that is more consumer-driven. I think that what we’ll see on the developer side is really more people moving into things like plugins or very specialized solutions, because so much is going to be available to be done by the consumer.
Now, to an extent, and this has been maybe the case with all page builder type things, is you’ll have people that specialize in it. So they’ll just have so much experience that them throwing together a page is just going to be infinitely faster than you trying to sit in there and figure out where do all these settings go? What can I and can’t I do? But I think that that introduces a new form of competition into all the whole WordPress kind of community, because you don’t have to be a developer, you don’t have to know code to do those things.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: I think the true development aspect is going to be more people moving into plugins. That stuff won’t have to exist in themes in most capacities.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. No, go ahead.
Lauren Gray: You still see builder themes. So when I say builder themes, I’m thinking Elementor or something like that where they had all their own blocks from years ago, and then WordPress implemented their own blocks, and now we have something kind of in between where people are extending the blocks, making core version of blocks that are more advanced. I still think that …
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what a block is for those who aren’t familiar?
Lauren Gray: Yes. Yeah. So if you’re using the classic editor, you haven’t seen any blocks probably. And if you’re using the classic editor, I think the closest thing would be to think of a widget, and it’s all kind of a self-contained thing. But blocks break it down into even smaller pieces. So your heading will now be considered a heading block. So if you write a title on your page like H2, why do we like this recipe, that is a block, the paragraph underneath it is a block. So every little piece is broken down into blocks, and then you can build them into larger blocks where you have a heading and a paragraph together and you group them into a group block, and then you can style that group. So it can be both really simple and a lot more complex.
Bjork Ostrom: But the basic idea is when you say classic editor, when you think back to WordPress, you kind of go in and it’s more comparable to a Microsoft Word or a Google Doc where you’re opening it up and it’s like, with all of this stuff …
Lauren Gray: You’re just typing in there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You’re typing and it’s all of this stuff is iterations of previous versions. And so with a website, they talk about above the fold, well, what does that mean? It’s when a newspaper was folded over, the most valuable part of it was above the fold, which is the first thing you see. So even language crosses over with websites like first we had a piece of paper, we had it, and we were writing on that piece of paper. And then they’re like, “Oh, let’s take that piece of paper and put it in a typewriter.” So then you typewrite, use a typewriter, and then it was like Microsoft Word comes out, or whatever there was before, there’s a different version before that I think Microsoft acquired, I don’t remember what it was called. And essentially it’s a piece of paper that you’re typing on like you would a typewriter, but it’s on a computer.
And in WordPress, it was that same thing where you open it up and it’s kind of like, oh, WordPress, even when you think of what it was, it was words. You read a bunch of these words. But as the internet evolved, there’s a lot more that’s happening within a site and it becomes a lot more modular. And it’s almost like building blocks. When I think of the word blocks, it’s like you have these parts of a post and a recipe post is maybe a great example of that because it’s like you have H2, so headers, that’s not the first header, but it’s H2. And then you have an FAQ area, that could be a block and paragraphs and the recipe itself.
And so you can start to see how this becomes more modular over time. And I think your example of the classic editor versus the block editor is a great one where it’s like, that’s another evolution that’s happened in the world of WordPress. And so what you’re saying is one of the evolutions that we’ll see is potentially as it becomes easier to do editing on your own for your site, that for somebody who has a development company like yourself, you were doing custom themes before, there’s a likelihood that it’s not as valuable to have a custom theme because it’s easier for people to create their own custom theme. And so what you were saying is some of those developers might start to develop some really cool functionality that would go into one of those blocks that allows you to do creative or cool things. Because what they’ve been doing previously potentially will be replaced by the site editor as people can kind of control that more on their own. Is that a really good, long synopsis of what you were saying?
Lauren Gray: Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. I think that we’ll still have developers that do custom themes, and I think there will be value in the forms of custom themes that are done through that, but that so many more people that don’t have a budget for our custom theme are going to be able to create something really close and on par with those custom themes.
Bjork Ostrom: Are we there right now, or is that in the future that will happen for WordPress?
Lauren Gray: I think we’re very, very close.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Lauren Gray: My biggest thing is that right now, the only thing I really see that’s stopping it from being, we’re there, is that it’s so difficult, in my opinion, to do a mobile friendly site and a desktop friendly site. So a custom theme is just going to have a better experience across both devices where I feel like a block theme right now, you’re either going to have a really good mobile site or a really good desktop site. But WordPress is focusing on this thing called intrinsic design where they’re trying not to have breakpoint or anything like that. So it’s very similar on both sides. And that is conceptually difficult for what food bloggers have been able to do in themes in the past.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you mean .. Intrinsic design, is that what you called it?
Lauren Gray: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Is the thought with that like, when you pull up a desktop version, it’s the general flow and look of it is going to be very similar to what the mobile version is, versus you pull up the desktop version, it’s like, oh, there’s like six icons and it’s different categories, and then you go to the mobile version and it kind of shifts and reorders. Are you saying the opinion of WordPress is that those should look similar? Desktop and mobile shouldn’t have this different design feel to it?
Lauren Gray: Well, I definitely wouldn’t try and speak for the opinion of WordPress.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Lauren Gray: I think maybe more accurately would be that where they want to start is with this intrinsic design where yes, things are very similar because they don’t want to have maybe … Okay, I feel really bad. I feel like I’m not allowed to speak on behalf of WordPress.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. No, this is … Yeah.
Lauren Gray: My understanding is that the settings as they exist now, they exist and there are no mobile versus tablet versus test desktop because they don’t see those different, again, I’m speaking on their behalf, those different devices just don’t have settings. There is really no standard mobile device, there’s no standard tablet device and there’s no standard desktop. So having something that represents that isn’t really accurate to the technology that we have these days. And the capabilities of trying to implement that is much more complex than probably where WordPress is ready to be.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: So there’s very much options for, you’re going to do it the same across all of them. And if you don’t want it the same across all of them, which we don’t really, because a lot of food bloggers work with large monitors where people are reading, yes, there are mobile, but there’s I think a large number compared to other niches of desktop users.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That makes sense.
Lauren Gray: And ads I know are big part of that. Putting a sidebar in a WordPress full site editing theme, block theme is actually really challenging. But for ad networks, you get a large amount of your income from the desktop sidebar, despite the small amount of traffic you have to desktop. So you have to figure that out.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s what I’m trying to get at is I’m curious, in your opinion, for somebody who isn’t super technical, how close are they going to get to where they want to be with the features that are available today versus saying, yeah, in three to four years maybe, you’ll be able to get in and really edit and get it to a point where you’re really proud of it? It’s interesting with something like WordPress, which has so much history and versus some of the more recent, like Webflow as an example, some of the more recent content management systems where they started with this design first mindset and, in my opinion, I haven’t used Webflow a lot. But are better for more of a portfolio type page where you’re a landscaping business and you want a beautiful website, great. Very different than a food site where you’re publishing two pieces of content and want to rank for SEO. That looks different, but it feels like it’s a hard thing for WordPress to evolve into because of the history that it has and that it’s so deeply anchored in.
So I guess the question is, it feels like there’s still this need for custom themes if you want it to look a certain way, operate a certain way, and my question is, do you feel like that’s accurate as of today?
Lauren Gray: Yes, absolutely. I mean, most of our clients, well, all of our clients right now, we’re still on custom themes. We’re working on a few clients that we’re going to do full site, completely block-based, no custom fields through ACF or anything like that for my techie listeners. But they’re just going to use a core block theme. And so we have a couple of people that are doing that, but most of our clients are still on custom themes. I mean, I spoke with Bill, he’s doing custom, and I think that for his clients, for a lot of people, that that makes the most sense. I wouldn’t try and convince any of Bill’s clients, “Hey, let’s do full site editing on your site.”
I think that there are a lot of blogs that would benefit from exploring this, especially if they’re not used to a custom theme, just like you won’t know what you’re missing. So I think there’s so much stuff that can be done, but you do have to give up some of the features that we really love that we know about because we’ve been there. I mean, like a desktop sidebar. If you haven’t been making money on a desktop sidebar and you’re just getting approved for ads, you don’t have a sidebar, put that in your content and keep living that. And I think ads are going to evolve and I think it’ll work out. But for people that are like, “Okay, you’re immediately going to lose revenue if you can’t get the sidebar to work perfectly.” Yeah, don’t switch to it right now. And I think there’s other things like that, just the idea of having two columns on mobile and then four columns on desktop just for some grid kind of featured posts, that’s not possible with core blocks right now. So missing that would feel pretty sad, I think for a lot of people.
Bjork Ostrom: And when you say core blocks, what do you mean by that?
Lauren Gray: If you just installed WordPress and didn’t install any plugins, the blocks that are available.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: So they have some pretty powerful things you can do with those blocks. So the blocks, like I mentioned, header, paragraph, but then there’s like column block, the road block, stack block, group block, query loop. Yeah, I’m getting a little bit nerdy right there. But a lot of those blocks can create really cool layouts that would not have been possible for someone without a custom theme to even have previously. So the idea that you can have that now I think is for a lot of people really cool. But if you already have an idea of what a food blog is and you want to stick with that, then switching to a block theme is going to feel totally limiting.
Bjork Ostrom: And when you say switching to a block theme, do you mean that there are certain themes? So we all understand themes. So you have WordPress. It’s kind of like you get WordPress and WordPress is kind of the engine of a car. Maybe there’s a frame around it. And then themes are all of the look and feel of that car. Let me know if this analogy breaks down at any point. And then plugins are all the aftermarket parts that you can put on it. So it’s like you have a cool muffler or you get rims on it. Nobody does that anymore. So the engine is WordPress, kind of the frame and the colors and the look and the feels, the theme and some of the functionality as well. And then the plugins are these pieces that you can put in after that allow it to do additional things. When you say a block theme, is it a different type of theme that you’re installing? Is there something functionally different about it within WordPress?
Lauren Gray: Yes. So a block theme fully integrates the site editor, which was for a period known as full site editing. And a classic theme does not. So a classic theme is what most people are used to using.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: Anyone that’s running Genesis is on a classic theme, and you can use blocks, but you only use them within a post or within a page. And if you want to use them beyond that, you’re getting to plugins that kind of are starting to bridge some gaps there. But if you’re using a block theme that takes full advantage of site editing, you have this whole new interface that lets you use blocks for your header, for your sidebar, for your footer.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Lauren Gray: You can create entire landing pages. You can decide if you want a category to … For anyone that can’t build their content on categories for SEO, because that’s not available for classic themes, there’s some sort of … They’ve had to create a page and then redirect their category to that page. You wouldn’t have to do that with a block theme because you can create a custom landing design for your category.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That makes sense.
Lauren Gray: And you’re not having to do these redirects or anything like that. So a lot of these hacks that we’ve kind of had to do, those aren’t necessary. Of course, there’s new hacks that we need to backwards maintain stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Always. There’s always hacks.
Lauren Gray: But disregard that.
Bjork Ostrom: So I think one of the things that it is helpful as we talk through it, because even for me, it’s unfamiliar territory as I’ve become less and less technical and involved in the day-to-day specifics through the years. So the block editing then allows you to … Or a block theme essentially unlocks what is similar to let’s say a Squarespace where you are, and for anybody who’s used Squarespace, the basic idea is you’re kind of operating with these well, blocks, I guess, for lack of a better word, where you’re kind of arranging, placing them, shifting things around, saying, “I want this here.” All within some kind of opinions on how the theme would operate.
But a block theme then, like you’re saying, would be like, oh, you go to a category page and you put it in a block there. And what it sounds like, and let me know if this is accurate, is that it allows for more flexibility in certain ways, but in other ways, there’s less flexibility. More flexibility for the non-technical user.
Lauren Gray: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: And that can be a really great thing until you get to the point where you’re like, “But I wanted to do this exact thing.” And then you’d be like, “Okay, you probably need a custom solution for that.”
Lauren Gray: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Lauren Gray: And even for a lot of that stuff, for a lot of those custom solutions now, that’s where I think plugins are becoming … We already had a lot of really cool plugins, but now plugins are becoming, they’re often creating blocks that can solve these solutions that you can plug in yourself or have a developer that understands this whole block ecosystem. And instead of them having to go custom create something, they’re able to pull down a plugin that gets them where they need to and then just implement that. So I think everything is just getting brought together a little bit more where developers, there can be different levels of developers that get you to the same place.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So let’s say I’m a blogger. I’m just starting out. Can you talk through in your vision as things are right now, it could be really rough, how would you recommend people progress through their site journey? So for us, when I think back, whatever it was, 13 years, we were on Tumblr and then we’re like, “Oh, this is a terrible solution for what we’re trying to do. We’re going to go to WordPress.” And it’s like we go to WordPress and we installed, I think it was Thesis theme. So that was really popular 10, 12 years ago. And then, so we’re using this theme and we’re kind of dropping our logo in and changing it a little bit, but essentially it looks like all the other themes out there. And then it’s like Genesis. That’s the theme that we try and use. Now Pinch of Yum is on a custom theme. And we paid a lot of money to go through the design process and get it custom developed.
But if you were to say the life of a blog, the life of a website right now from start to fully developed, if you’re just starting out, what would that look like? And then what are the steps along the way where you’d be like, okay, now you’re making a little bit of money, you can pay to upgrade in this way, would you have a general flow that you could walk through in terms of what that might look like and the stepping stones along the way?
Lauren Gray: Yeah, so I guess when you’re first starting out, you would just install WordPress. You’d get your domain set up, you’re hosting, install WordPress. It would come out of the box with a full site editing theme, so a block theme, and you would be able to create everything you want in there. Your header, sidebar, footer, well, I guess not your sidebar, because that’s not a core feature right now.
Bjork Ostrom: Wouldn’t be there.
Lauren Gray: But hopefully it’ll get there. So your header, your footer, but I wouldn’t, even, for most new food bloggers, I wouldn’t have them work on any of that. You just put in some content and then when you’re making some money, then I personally would probably always hire that sort of thing out. I wouldn’t want to do that myself, but you could, you could learn about it if you’re interested in it, and you could put your time into that, or you could hire someone. But even hiring someone, you wouldn’t necessarily have to hire a developer. You can hire anyone that has experience with just this new WordPress core functionality and have them come in and make small changes. And I think that that loop can happen so much more because of how modular everything becomes. So you’ve got some content, you’re like, “Okay, I want a custom logo.” You have someone design that, and then you have someone put it in or you put it in because that would be pretty easy. But you can do a lot of those really small things.
So I would say you’d start with whatever makes you feel happier with your site that makes you feel encouraged to want to work on it. And you’d start with some of those visual things, colors, some design assets, just moving things around to look a little more like you want it to. And then you do something like an SEO audit where they have a opinions on, “This is the user experience we want and these sort of areas, this is the data that we want to be able to be pulled in by Google, make sure that you have it on every page,” that sort of thing. And those little pieces, you wouldn’t … With a custom theme, I normally need to know what are the 12 things you definitely want me to get done? But with this modular block theme, now you can say, okay, tell me what priority to do these in. And then as you’re making money from your site saying, “Okay, now go in and add both published and updated dates to my site,” that sort of thing. Maybe that existed then.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. You could do it piece by piece as opposed to needing to do all of it at once. Where would you find somebody like that? Are you doing that type of work where it’s like somebody pays to have you, your team on a retainer for two hours a month, or is it going to some freelance site? Do you have recommendations on if somebody is, let’s say in the early stages, but they’re like, “I’m willing to invest in this a little bit in order to not feel like I’m banging my head against a wall, trying to figure out WordPress,” which we know as a recurring thing for creators, especially people who love recipe development, photography, that type of work to then get into WordPress and be like, “Now I need to figure out how to do the block editor to get a category in here?”
It’s three hours later and they’re like, “Actually, I don’t like doing this.” Whereas they probably do doing it, but just not that type of work, the creative type. How do you find those people and work with those people? And are you doing that kind of on a retainer basis, or if not, who would?
Lauren Gray: So we’re not currently doing that on a retainer basis. But I think this goes back to the beginning where I was talking about all the competition and the expansion of the niche. I feel like because this stuff is happening, the more people look for it, sure, the more it’ll be available because that competition will be introduced. So we don’t currently do full site editing like, small changes for people because we’re working on moving our kind of custom process into something like that. And then after that, I do envision that our team would be able to help with something like that. In the meantime, we’re basically working on some plugins that would help people do it on their own. We are working on our own kind of custom, but pre-made theme that we could work with people to … The idea with a lot of the block themes is that when you install it kind of sets itself up. So if there was actually something made for food bloggers that had a sidebar that worked, that would be amazing.
So we’re trying to make that happen so that people who want to try it don’t have to start from zero. They can actually get in there, play with it, decide whether they like it or not, and not need as many of these small changes because we know what food bloggers need. We’re trying to implement those out of the box. But I think it’ll kind of be just about asking people what they can do with it. I feel pretty confident that a lot of the developers that are already in this niche could help out with it, especially if they’re already doing a retainer for you. So not to promise that these developers will do it, but I feel like I’m sure that Nerdpress or iMark Interactive, that I’ve got a lot of clients that if they needed help, those developers would be able to do it. I personally, as a developer, I will say, I do get a lot of help off of Upwork, and there’s some people that have good experience that they’re advertising on Upwork and really decent hourly rates for that stuff.
I feel like you’ve got to feel kind of confident in hiring and managing to do something like that. But I personally like that … I feel like the block editor is a little bit easier to hire people on a service like that because you can see what you’re getting. You’re not like, “Oh, I hope the code in the backend is not crazy messy.” I can be like, “You don’t need to write any custom code. Just set up my blocks for me.” There’s no custom theme. You are drag and dropping in the backend, do not write any code. Then I can feel pretty confident. What I see is what I get.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. That’s great. And I think worth pointing out, you talk about that idea of hiring off Upwork, and then you’re going to need to manage to some degree and hire, figure out hiring. It’s kind of a decision that you have to make. Either you’re going to figure out how to do it on your own, and that’s going to be something that you own, or you’re going to figure out how to find good people and hire them and manage the project. And it is one or the other, and there’s not going to be a solution where somebody does it, and you don’t have to manage the project. It’s either you or it’s somebody else. And if it’s somebody else, you’re still going to have to be involved to observe and manage.
Lauren Gray: Yeah, to an extent.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, as you get into it, it’s worth …
Lauren Gray: I feel like there are. I mean, ours, our custom theme, you’re not really managing it because I’m managing it for you. If you’re doing something custom like that, but then you’re also paying the premium of that.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: So you’re paying for all my experience, my coding knowledge, my person, people knowledge, this much larger piece. Whereas if you’re willing to take on the management side of it, then you can go hire someone from Upwork who’s going to be less expensive. You just need to know how to tell them what you want. But I think with block editing, that’s just so much more achievable than with custom themes.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That makes sense. Totally.
Lauren Gray: So I’m still excited about it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. No, that makes sense. So let’s say you go through that process, you’re early on, you have this basic theme, you’re kind of you getting most of what you want, but not exactly. At what point would you go into that more like, “Hey, I want to take to this the next level and make it more custom?” Is it like you’re starting to earn some money or you really want to invest into your site? And at this point, would you still say, we’re going to do a custom theme as opposed to, would you be looking at essentially a custom theme or a custom block theme? Is that kind of the path right now?
Lauren Gray: So this has been a really confusing component for me too, actually, that kind of question of do you go custom theme? When you want something to happen, where do you go to make that happen anymore? And more and more often, my thought is a plugin, you get a plugin that does what you need and you drop that in. So it might be helpful if we had an example. I’m not sure if I can think of one off the bat, but I would say for a lot of things, I would personally as a developer, compromise on a lot of the development things to keep stuff as simple as possible. So to bring up another kind of technical word, we’re talking about technical debt. And if you do too many custom things, or you implement too many plugins or something like that, you just get where you have all this stuff that you’re trying to maintain and it gets more complicated.
So more and more, as I’ve done a lot of custom themes, I’ve worked with a lot of clients over the years. I have to maintain the technical debt that I have put myself into. I feel like I more and more often would encourage people to be as streamlined and simple as possible in their technology, to really focus on their content and the usability changes that aren’t super in depth. But if there is something that needs to happen. So actually I do have a good example. I had a client come to me. She said that I think Casey, sorry if I’m misremembering, but I’m pretty sure it was Casey was recommending that she have an …
Bjork Ostrom: For those who are unfamiliar, Casey Markee. Been on the podcast a lot.
Lauren Gray: Just name-dropping.
Bjork Ostrom: Search expert Media Wyse is the name of his company. It was a SEO recommendation.
Lauren Gray: Yes, that she have a table of contents towards the top of her post, but he wanted it to work in a really specific way. So he wanted this table of contents to show maybe the top three headers and then expand to show the rest of the headings after that. So have a way that the user would click on it to expand those to show more headings. But then of those headings to really make it useful for the user not to include the recipe headers like ingredients, instructions, just one header, recipe card, that type of thing really. Makes a lot of sense from a user experience standpoint but implementing that, nothing currently exists. So where do you do that?
Bjork Ostrom: You mean nothing currently exists as a plug-and-play like plugin that you could just use?
Lauren Gray: Yeah, you don’t just click a button and it works. Even if you wanted to try and make it work with blocks or whatever, it would be really hard to get that to kind of work the way you would expect it to. So X, Y, Z, custom functionality.
Bjork Ostrom: And you cut out there just a little bit. You said …
Lauren Gray: I think that I’ll go get a custom theme. Now you go say, I think maybe I’ll just have someone develop a plugin.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Okay. Yeah. And to fill that in, you cut out a little bit there essentially saying, no, all good, that you’re developing this, it’s custom development. And anytime you’re doing custom development, one of the things that you mentioned that I think is so true is this idea that you will forever have to support that.
Lauren Gray: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And that’s what technical debt is. It’s not debt in terms of money debt, but it’s debt in terms of this obligation that you have to previous technical things. And so an example would be if you … We come to Once Coupled and we’re like, “Any time that somebody gives a five star review, we want to have a smiley face pop on the screen and then it does a little dance, and we think that’ll be really cool.” And then it’s like, okay, that’s awesome. Let’s do it.
But then what happens is that’s now something you have to support and continually develop and test against new versions of WordPress. And obviously we’d never actually do that, but just for an extreme example of what technical debt looks like. And so what you’re saying is, and this is as an entrepreneur, as a creator, we have to make these decisions. What do we feel like is going to be helpful enough to the point where we’re willing to support it and continually evolve that piece of code or that plugin even versus not including it in service of simplicity or where’s that middle ground, where it’s something that gets there, but it’s not the full-fledged, 100% functionality that we’re wanting, but it’s good enough to get what we need to get? Does that feel accurate in terms of the decision making that goes into that process?
Lauren Gray: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: And so in the case of the table of contents, what did you end up doing?
Lauren Gray: So right now, that client that brought me the idea is having a developer custom do a solution for her. So now she’ll have a custom plugin on her site that she’ll need to forever maintain on her site, which should be fine. It’s in a plugin. But in the future, I think that really where that’ll go is creating a custom block that does this.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Lauren Gray: So when she inserts that block, instead of having a custom theme or as part of a custom theme, which I would say might have been done a few years ago as part of a custom theme, really that’s functionality. It goes on a plugin. But now I think instead of even just being a plugin that modifies an existing feature, it would become its own block.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Lauren Gray: And then I think that that gives some benefits in that it’s part of a plugin. So if you change your theme, this still exists, you still have this functionality that you need. And that’s always been the goal, but maybe not as easily achieved. But with blocks, because that’s like user inserted, it is a little more achievable now, in my opinion but it also makes it easier to replace in some ways. So going through and converting that to a new block in the future, if you decide that this one isn’t there, even if you just delete that plugin, that block just won’t load on the front end now. So you can easily strip out a bunch of content, hopefully intentionally by removing some support that you no longer want and just a piece of it because it’s a plugin.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Speaking of plugins, you’re starting to build a plugin’s business. This makes sense when you’re kind of thinking about where your head’s at and where you think things are going. So you have Once Coupled, which is working with kind of one-on-one basis creators, publishers in the food space, primarily, custom themes or maybe kind of evolving what that looks like, block themes. But then you’re also creating some of these lightweight, highly functional plugins at smallplugins.com. Can you talk a little bit about what the idea is with that, what you’re going to be focusing on at first and who it might be a fit for?
Lauren Gray: So as I get more and more excited about full site editing and block themes, that sort of thing, definitely looking at creating some plugins that are really targeted in what they’re trying to deliver. Sorry, I’ll back up. I shouldn’t get too technical there. I think that just having a really targeted goal will keep these plugins just really maintainable and easy for clients to decide whether they want them or not. So the goal with Small Plugins is to release, I think we have six planned that we want to do this year. And so we’re working on creating all of these plugins that are geared towards food bloggers, features we know that they need, features that we’ve done in our custom themes that really had to be part of the custom theme. But now with these block themes, this site editor, if I can bring this functionality to more people, then these features that people have wanted that they don’t want to get a custom theme, now it just becomes so much more attainable for them.
And so I think it’s not necessarily for a type of blogger that’s any particular place, because I think that you could be a more advanced blogger. And when I say advanced, I just mean more experience, you’ve done a lot more WordPress, and you just want to play with this, you want to be able to do this yourself. You haven’t done a custom theme because you maybe want that control because playing in WordPress is fun for you versus someone that’s newer to WordPress and they’ll only know the block theme. And being able to pop something in like this, I don’t think they’ll understand how much people used to be like, “Oh, I want that feature” and it be totally unattainable.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense.
Lauren Gray: And so I want to be able to introduce that to more people just in a further reaching way. I feel like Skylar at Feast has had a similar kind of approach or goal where he has his plugin that he’s trying to make more features available. And I love that he’s doing that. And I want to bring that to blocks now.
Bjork Ostrom: And so an example would be one of the plugins is Dynamic Connector. And so the little tagline for the first time ever, you can insert curated content into multiple posts and use logic to determine what displays site-wide. So idea being people are like, “I released the cookbook and I really want the cookbook promo to show up in all of my posts. How do I do that?” The idea with this is that you could use Dynamic Connector to more easily do that on your site without having to have somebody custom code it?
Lauren Gray: A little bit, yes. So we specifically did it, and we might market it front end this way, so they’ll probably be, we’ll call it a lot, category specific opt-ins.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Lauren Gray: Because I feel like that’s going to resonate a little bit better. The first one’s maybe what I will call it. But the goal really isn’t to insert content into all of your posts, but wherever you insert this block to be able to change the logic to display the most relevant information. So let’s say you do insert it into all of your posts instead of just being able to say like, “Okay, here’s my cookbook. Show that everywhere.” Now you could say, “Here are my dinners in a cookbook, and then here are my desserts in a cookbook.” And you don’t have to go into all of your dinner posts and insert the dinner cookbook and all of your dessert posts and insert the dessert cookbook.
You’ll have a management area where you can say, “If the category is dinner, insert this book. If the category is dessert, insert this other book.” And then you can do a fallback. If it doesn’t have any of those categories, show both. You can do whatever you want. So it has that level logic to it. And the goal is really to help people like display super curated content without having to do as much content editing. Yeah, I don’t think I really mentioned that I think there will be a lot of content editing that comes with this new block editor, but I think it’s a good thing, and I hope that this plugin reduces some of that kind of hassle.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally. So if people are interested in … Do you want to talk about what each one of those are and at what stage is Small Plugins at? Can people go and sign up and buy them? I mean, it looks like it. I know it’s still kind of … You have some more coming down the line. But can you talk about where things are at and what that looks like in terms of who might be a good fit for it and how they can find out more about it?
Lauren Gray: So Small Plugins does have a website. We exist, we’re in the wild, and we have two plugins that are available there, the one we just talked about. And then we have one called Category Labels, which is just very full site editing geared towards displaying specific categories, like a smaller subset. So we’ve got those two plugins available. We’re hoping to release four more in the coming months. And what we want to do for anyone listening to the podcast is offer a 70% off discount. So that’ll be included with the show notes on how you can take advantage of that. But that’ll be available on our website and you’ll be able to get access to the current plugins and then future plugins if you want to take advantage of that.
The plugin totally works, especially Dynamic Connector block/category specific opt-ins. And so it’s like we are using it on a couple of client sites. It’s ready to go out into the wild. We would really, really love for feedback on it, on what people want videos on, on how to use it or ideas or what are their questions. So if we can give and take, we would love to help people implement it in order to provide feedback and to get feedback.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.
Lauren Gray: But that’s completely available. And I think it’s going to be a game changer for a lot of people and in being able to specifically build your newsletter with very targeted opt-ins. So that was the initial intent for it. And it just is so much more powerful than that in what it can do.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s like an exact use case of something that we were talking about this morning, which is that exact scenario. How do we get more targeted with opt-ins on our different pages? And trying to make decisions around what that looks like and how do we do that. So I can see the need for it and how it would be really helpful. And then how about on the Once Coupled side, are you still working with clients? Can people follow up there? I’m guessing that’s still a business that’s a huge part of your day-to-day. What does that look like?
Lauren Gray: Yes, absolutely. So Once coupled, still doing custom themes, we do fewer, we try and book further out so that we can really do a lot with the clients that we’re working with. So we do book kind of far out, but we love to work on it. And anyone that is interested in doing full site editing, we really want to move to more block themes. So anyone that is that early adopter that wants to play with a block theme, we are looking at making really beautiful themes that are very integrated with CORE and growing with the WordPress community in this new direction. So we would love to work with anyone that is particularly interested in that kind of theme. And playing with that with us.
Right now, we’re doing just custom themes through Once Coupled and then retainers for our custom theme clients. And so in this case, when I say custom theme, I also mean these block themes that we’re doing now. But I think in the future, we’ll also do more content related stuff because I think that there will be a greater need for kind of removing the technical debt to go into this newer phase of WordPress. And that’ll be a lot of updating content. And so we’re looking at ways to work one-on-one with people who need a lot of content changes on their side as well to be able to better adopt block themes.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So cool. That’s awesome. It’s a lot and it’s great that people like you exist, Lauren, because there’s a lot of other people who don’t love doing this kind of stuff, and it’s a great resource to have. So thanks for coming and sharing about what you’re up to, but also sharing your insights in terms of where the industry’s going and what people can be doing, oncecoupled.com, smallplugins.com, we’ll link to them in the show notes. Thanks so much for coming on.
Lauren Gray: Yeah, absolutely.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thank you for tuning in. I wanted to let you know that we have an live Q&A coming up. We typically have a live Q&A every single month for our Food Blogger Pro community, for our Food Blogger pro members. And if you’re not a member or maybe you’re a new member of the community, maybe you don’t know what they are. So I wanted to give you a quick rundown on what you could expect from a live Q&A at Food Blogger Pro. So like I mentioned, we have one per month and in these live Q&As, we typically focus on a specific topic. So whether that be photography, SEO, WordPress, developing recipes, we kind of cover everything and anything on these live Q&As.
And then Bjork or sometimes Bjork and a guest and industry expert come on and answer all of our community’s questions live. So our community submits questions and then Bjork and whoever is joining him in that specific Q&A will answer the questions live, and all of our past live Q&As are available for all members. So they are just such a great time and we love being able to connect in a way that’s sort of face-to-face in a virtual setting. So if you’re interested in joining our next Q&A and you’re not already a member, be sure to head over to foodbloggerpro.com/join so you can learn a little bit more about the community and sign up there. And then if you are already a member of the community, hello, hello. We hope to see you at our next one soon, and you can head over to the live tab whenever you log into the site to get access and register for our next live Q&A. So thanks again for tuning into this episode of the podcast. We appreciate you so much and we’ll see you next time. Make it a great week.