a shelf of different color and different size boxes

WordPress is the leading content management system, beloved for its flexibility, customizability, and incredibly user-friendliness. One of WordPress’s core baked-in features that makes that high degree of customization possible is Custom Fields—something you’ve probably used without even knowing it. (Ever used the Yoast SEO plugin? That’s a custom field in action.) What you should know, however, is that this little function is capable of amazing things.

Here’s a look at how custom fields work and a few examples of ways WordPress developers have implemented for next-level WordPress development.

What Are Custom Fields?

If you’ve ever worked in a WordPress dashboard, you’re familiar with post and page editors. To add content to a post or page, you type it right into the text editor, format the text, add media, then hit publish. But to add specific, related information about that content to the post, there’s a separate tool: Custom Fields. These allow you to add in specific, pre-formatted fields to your post or page known as “metadata.”

What do we mean by metadata? Say you have a blog where you post recipes, and for each recipe post you’d like to include information like its source, when you tried it, how many times you’ve tried it, and how long it took to prepare. By creating custom fields, you can easily enter this information into a separate section, which both makes it easier to remember what to enter and ensures that block of information looks the same on each page. For clients who have lots of next-level requirements of their WordPress sites, it’s easy to see how coding in custom fields can make their life easier—especially when it comes to things like formatting consistency.

Below, a blank custom field. Note: You may not see this if it has been hidden in your dashboard’s Screen Options.

Below, adding a new custom field with name and value:

In the above image, that box you see found below the text editor on a post is known as a “metabox.” Add any custom field you want to the custom fields metabox—then, with some code added to your site’s functions.php file and template files, WordPress will include the field(s). Add a conditional statement to that custom field, and it won’t show up on the post if nothing’s entered into the field. Custom fields can be used to alter RSS feeds, sidebars (and other areas outside the loop, like footers and headers), and more.

What Are Advanced Custom Fields?

As you can see, the above “metabox” is pretty boilerplate and not super intuitive to your average user. Compared with a clearly labeled form that tells you what to enter, it leaves a little to be desired. Regular custom fields also limit you to inputting text, which is where the Advanced Custom Fields plugin comes in.

Advanced Custom Fields (and Advanced Custom Fields Pro) allow you to create a more user friendly UI, give you more flexibility with your data and functionality, and let you completely customize your dashboard with metaboxes. Rather than just text, use fields like images, radio buttons, interactive Google Maps, check boxes, and more. The sky’s the limit, and there are plenty of user-generated fields in addition to the 30+ that are included with the ACF plugin. It does all this through an API.

Whereas Custom Fields is an easy thing to implement in WordPress—it just requires some edits to theme files and the WordPress Loop—Advanced Custom Fields can require a bit more technical know-how. Even if you’re not a developer, knowing about Advanced Custom FIelds can be pivotal to creating the WordPress site of your dreams. You never know what unique, helpful functionality you might think up when you know what’s possible.

You’ll want to discuss your goals for your site with a WordPress developer to arrive at the best solution, but first here are a few ways Custom Fields and Advanced Custom Fields have been used to display data in a unique, user-friendly way.

1. Creating a simple Events Page solution.

In this case, the client wanted a page dedicated to upcoming events—somewhere visitors could go to see details like the time, date, location, topic, etc. It was decided that they didn’t require a solution as complex or bulky as an Events Calendar plugin because they hosted too few events to warrant a full calendar. The calendar would end up looking too empty, so they opted for a simple page where events could be entered and deleted once they were over.

The clients entering the event content weren’t very tech savvy, and there was concern that asking them to format the information for each post would lead to inconsistency. To make this easier for them, custom fields were created.

Using Advanced Custom Fields, the metabox was titled and individual titles were created for each field, making it easy for the the client to enter information the correct, preformatted information.

2. Adding related article links to posts.

An aggregated news site wanted the ability to group related articles outside of the default WordPress functionality. For each post (a republished news article), the site administrator wanted to be able to group previous articles related to that subject beneath it—but not as a full post thumbnail with excerpt, just a linked text title.

Below, you can see the thumbnail and text for a WordPress post, then below that, the related articles that are other posts within the site.

To do this, the developer used Advanced Custom Fields to create a box beneath the post text editor where similar articles could be searched and added. The search capability is a feature of Advanced Custom Fields Pro.

3. Customized portfolio page entries.

For this website, an architecture firm’s portfolio page was designed to include entries for each project that included photos and a list of attributes for each project.

  • Owner
  • Architect
  • Location
  • Project Size
  • Completion
  • Y/N LEED Certification

Below, what the published portfolio page looks like, with the bulleted data:

Below, the backend of how that works:

Advanced Custom Fields was the perfect solution to have that preformatted information look great on every page. It also made it easy to edit attributes globally, across every project, in the event that the client wanted to add or delete an attribute in the future. For example, if the client wanted to remove square footage from the list, the custom field could be deleted and the change applied globally, rather than having to go post-by-post to make the change. Overall, this makes the site more scalable and flexible, and easy to use.

4. Creating testimonial entries that can dynamically show up on different places in the site.

For the same site above, the client also wanted testimonials—quotations pertaining to each project—seen below the main project description and above the Project Info mentioned. They wanted testimonials that could display in a few different place: the homepage, the actual testimonials page, and dynamically called up on the project page it was related to.

These are just a few examples of how Custom Fields and Advanced Custom Fields can be used. If you have a functionality in mind for your WordPress site—simple, a step above, or pie in the sky complex—chances are it can be accomplished. Consult a skilled WordPress developer with your ideas and learn how to bring them to life today.

All examples provided courtesy Creative Visual Design.