Mastering Modern Site Creation With the Best Workflows in WordPress

By Rob Stinson

Workflow is crucial to the success of your projects, and high-quality tools that are specifically designed for WordPress development significantly improve your efficiency and productivity.

In this article, we’ll explore how builder and developer tools from WP Engine can work together to help streamline your workflow and make you more productive when it comes to developing WordPress sites.

I should note that this article is just a teaser of what you’ll get during my presentation at DE{CODE} 2024. I’m teaming up with Austin Wendt, Senior Product Manager for Local, for a complete walkthrough of these tools, from setting up your local development environment all the way to deploying your site. Along the way, we’ll also cover customizing your site with a block theme, expanding your content modeling beyond what WordPress offers, and optimizing your media and site emails. While most of our presentation will apply to any host, we’ll also look at post-deployment optimizations that are available with WP Engine, such as Smart Search and Smart Plugin Manager.

Presented by WP Engine, DE{CODE} 2024 is a free, 100% virtual event dedicated to WordPress development. Register here to see sessions on demand from DE{CODE} 2024, including the full version of Mastering Modern Site Creation With the Best Workflows in WordPress.

The Showcase Site

As an example, we’re going to create a WordPress site for an institute of higher, nay, the highest, education, “The Steve Irwin Center for Kids Who Can’t Wrestle Crocs Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.”

If you’ve ever built a site for a school or university, you already know there’s a lot going on. They often have hundreds of posts and pages, numerous custom post types, custom fields, and third-party integrations. Educational sites must also facilitate the creation and management of accounts, handle tremendous amounts of email, and typically host a staggering number of media files. Finally, all of this has to be easy to manage. This makes a school site a perfect example to demonstrate the power of these developer tools and show how they can work together to improve your workflow.

A screenshot of the example site for “The Steve Irwin Center for Kids Who Can’t Wrestle Crocs Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.”

Setting Up Your Local Environment

Local makes the process of building WordPress sites as simple as possible, while still giving you powerful configuration options. It’s completely free to use, and you’re not locked into hosting on WP Engine or Flywheel.

Creating a new WordPress site takes only seconds, with Local doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to spinning up the PHP server, updating host files, and installing the WordPress core files. Once you have the site built out, save it as a blueprint, and you can use Local to build new sites from that blueprint. This can save loads of time, especially if you have a lot of clients in a certain niche.

During our presentation at DE{CODE}, Austin will highlight some of the latest features in Local 8.3.1, including new and improved Local Connect, database-only pushes and pulls, enhancements to the MagicSync experience. Austin will be using the latest beta version during our presentation, so we may even get an early preview of features coming to the application soon!

Creating the Croc Wrestling College Site in Local.

Customize Your Site With Frost

Local gives us a WordPress site to work on, but it’s a pretty vanilla build. We’ll begin customizing our educational site by installing and activating the Frost theme by Brian Gardner.

During our presentation, Austin will highlight just a few Frost’s capabilities, such as preconfigured block patterns for calls to action, headers, footers, pages, posts, and much more. While they’re preconfigured, the patterns are also highly flexible, making Frost a great choice for our school site.

A few of the patterns available in the Frost theme.

Expand Your Content Modeling

Out of the box, WordPress is limited in the kinds of content you can display. We need to go deeper with our content, so we’re going to use Advanced Custom Fields. As a recent review said, “The limit of this plugin is imagination!”

Make sure to attend the presentation at DE{CODE} 2024 for more insight into exactly how we’re using ACF for our project, but I’ll discuss the basics here to show how ACF can help structure data for your projects and give your editors and content creators the access they need while leaving you in complete control.

Custom Post Types and Taxonomies

Custom fields often go hand in hand with custom post types. ACF 6.1 brought this functionality into the plugin for the first time, tightening up the user experience and improving the overall workflow.

I’ll show you how to create a new custom post type with ACF in just seconds. Creating a new custom post type can be simple as filling in a few fields and clicking Save Changes, while toggling on Advanced Configuration will you give you access to more granular configurations.

Creating a custom post type in ACF.

Custom Blocks

The capabilities of the WordPress block editor have grown significantly, but you’ll still often find situations where the core blocks don’t do exactly what you want them to. ACF makes it incredibly easy to build custom blocks. For more details on the blocks we built, make sure to check out this article. Even better, catch my other presentation at DE{CODE}, “Fine-tuning your site: Custom blocks with ACF”. I’ll be presenting with Liam Gladdy, a senior engineer on the ACF team, and together we’ll walk through the complete creation process for the blocks we’ve used.

ACF Blocks give you a great deal of control over what your editors and content creators can and cannot access, passing through only the options you want to make available.

If you want to dive in now, check out ACF’s tutorial on creating your first block.

Sitewide Options Pages

Options pages are a type of admin screen that allows you to manage site-wide settings and options in a central location. Site settings are a common application, but in this case, I’ve used the ACF Options Page feature to create a pencil banner to run on every page of the site.

ACF's Options Page UI.

Options pages have been part of ACF for quite some time, but ACF 6.2 introduced a UI to ease the creation process and improve workflow. I’ll go over how it works at DE{CODE} 2024, or you can see how it works right now with How to Create an Options Page.

Optimize Your WordPress Media and Email

When emails are critical, it’s usually a good idea to take that burden off of WordPress. WP Offload SES does that by setting up email sends through with Amazon SES, giving you deliverability, scalability, and reliability without laborious setup. In brief, WP Offload Ses makes the whole process beautifully simple.

At DE{CODE}, I’ll also show you how to optimize your WordPress site with WP Offload Media, increasing performance and improving the user experience by storing your media files in another location and serving them over a CDN.

Deploying Your WordPress Site

Austin will highlight two ways to deploy your site with Local at DE{CODE} 2024. The first is to use Local Connect, which dramatically streamlines the process of moving a site from your local environment to hosting on WP Engine or Flywheel. If you need to make changes after it goes live, it’s just as simple to pull a copy of the site down to your local environment again.

Local makes it very simple to deploy to those hosting providers, but you aren’t locked in. Your site is always yours, and you can take it wherever you want. Austin will show us how to fully export a site, with all its files and database, ready for you to import at your destination site.

Every host is different, so he won’t be able to recommend a precise process for your host, but when it comes to moving sites around the web, it’s hard to beat WP Migrate. During DE{CODE}, Austin will walk us through the process of pushing and pulling sites with WP Migrate, allowing you to deploy to any host.

Post-Deployment Optimizations

Your development workflow doesn’t stop with deployment. Capping off our presentation, I’ll show you how to use certain features of the WP Engine platform to ensure high performance and the best user experience.

Smart Plugin Manager is a fantastic tool to make sure plugin updates don’t break site functionality. You select the pages you want to test, and Smart Plugin Manager runs the update, takes screenshots so you can compare, and then rolls back the update if you find unacceptable changes.

There are a lot of things WordPress core does well, but the built-in search is not one of them. At DE{CODE}, I’ll show you how WP Engine’s Smart Search powers intuitive, typo-tolerant searches on your sites, without any coding on your part.

Finally, I’ll discuss a feature coming to WP Engine in the near future: Sandbox Sites. I can’t say too much yet, but it’s a way to create sites on WP Engine that don’t consume production-level resources. Make sure to get a sneak preview of this feature at DE{CODE} 2024.

Wrapping Up

The builder tools from WP Engine can greatly enhance your workflow and increase your productivity in developing WordPress websites. From setting up your local development environment all the way to deploying your site and beyond, these tools offer numerous benefits that streamline the process and allow you to focus on creating high-quality sites.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about these tools and their capabilities during DE{CODE} 2024. Register now to secure your spot and start improving your workflow.

About the Author

Rob Stinson

Rob Stinson is Lead Product Marketer for a swag of WP Engine's builder and developer tools. But don't let the term "marketer" scare you off! He's been writing code, building sites, and bootstrapping products - all in the WordPress space for about a decade. He's run his own agency, led at an enterprise/100+ team member agency, launched and sold plugin businesses, and now runs the marketing strategy for fan favorites Advanced Custom Fields, Local, WP Migrate, and more. A Southern-hemispherean, he loves nothing more than connecting and teaching folks about ways they can build better with WordPress.