Advanced Custom Fields didn’t feel supported. WPMU DEV users almost divorced us. SmartCrawl brought us together again. This is a true WordPress “searching for SEO love” story…
Passionate doesn’t even begin to describe WordPress users.
I mean, I once blurted out to Matt Mullenweg (the co-founder of WordPress) that I’ve spent more time dreaming about WordPress than I’ve dreamed about my wife.
I did not expect, however, to come across a WordPress plugin that inspires so many passionate feelings in so many WordPress users, that we almost had a riot in our support forum.
Which plugin, you ask?
Advanced Custom Fields (or ACF).
Spend eight days a week searching online for any post, article, or discussion on WordPress advanced custom fields topics and you will see that WordPress users looooove ACF.
This Plugin Transforms Web Developers Into Hysterical Fans
See for yourself, it’s like Beatlemania, all over again:
I don’t want to make this post a long and winding road. To understand what happened between ACF users and our support team (it seems like it was only yesterday), we need to start with a quick WordPress custom field tutorial.
What Are Custom Fields? What Makes Them So Fab For WordPress Users?
WordPress custom fields extend the functionality of your posts and pages by letting you add, store, and display custom metadata on your WordPress site as additional content (metadata). This can be information about anything, like:
- Products (e.g. price, weight, color, size, etc.)
- Events (e.g. location, dates, start and end times, cost to register, etc.)
- Recipes (e.g. cooking type, cuisine type, ingredients, etc.)
- Travel Accommodation (e.g. ratings, reviews, location, main nearby attractions, etc.)
- Movies (e.g. directors, actors, running times, reviews, etc.)
For example, here are some custom fields you could add to a post for a site that does movie reviews:
How Do Custom Fields Work?
Custom fields are built into WordPress but do not display on your post and page editors by default.
You can view custom fields by ticking a checkbox in the ‘Screen Options’ tab (Classic Editor), or if using Gutenberg, by selecting ‘Custom Fields’ in More Options > Options > Advanced Panels section.
Why Use WordPress Custom Fields?
Why use custom fields for special content? Why not just add the content directly into your posts?
You could do this, but then if you decide to change or edit something, you’d have to search and change every post or page where you’ve added your special content.
WordPress custom fields can make a hard day’s night of content editing easier, but it’s not the ideal solution for the following reasons:
- Every time you create a new post or page that you want to add custom data to, you have to select the custom field and enter a value.
- You then need to add code to the templates you want your custom field(s) to display on.
Surely there’s got to be some other method that’s less helter-skelter than adding custom fields to WordPress manually.
Enter The Advanced Custom Fields Plugin
Advanced Custom Fields is a free plugin that lets you easily add custom fields to posts and pages without touching any template code.
It’s easy if you try because there are over a million active ACF installations on WordPress and over 100+ add-ons for it.
There’s no magical mystery to reaping the benefits of this plugin. Just install it as you would any other plugin, activate it, and you’re good to go.
Configuring and using the plugin is quite intuitive. You don’t even need a little help from your friends.
However, if you find yourself in times of trouble and need detailed tutorials on how to set up and use all of ACF’s functions, there is extensive documentation available on the ACF website.
One reason why so many users love ACF is that even the free version of the plugin is jam-packed with loads of different field types, functions, actions, and filters.
Once you’ve activated the plugin, the main menu will display a new ‘Custom Fields’ item. Go to ‘Field Groups’ and click on ‘Add New’ to create a new custom field.
Give your new field a name and configure your field settings. You can add many different fields to a group, and create many different field groups.
Advanced Custom Fields also offers a Pro version with extra fields and features, including tools that let you develop custom block types for Gutenberg.
Using Advanced Custom Fields
The Advanced Custom Fields plugin lets you easily add custom fields to WordPress while saving time and hassle messing with template code.
Let me quickly show you how to do this. For this example, I’ll use a WooCommerce-enabled site I’ve built to sell video training courses.
After building the site and setting up my store, I then installed the ACF plugin and created fields for the following information:
- Video course duration
- Product ID
- The number of video lessons included in each course.
Note that I have created each field in a separate field group as this will then allow me to place these fields separately wherever I like in my content.
Here is a screenshot showing the ‘Course Duration’ field settings:
I then used the ‘Rules’ setting to set the ‘Location’ of the field to display only on product pages, as shown below.
As you can see, I’ve set the custom fields to automatically display on all product pages only.
All I have to do now each time I add a new video course to my site is:
- Create a new product page
- Add the custom field shortcode to the content
- Enter values into the custom fields.
I can use the same custom fields in different sections of the product page. For example, you can see that I’ve used the ‘Course Duration’ shortcode in the main product description area above and in the short description section below.
After publishing the product page, whatever content I’ve added to the custom fields will display wherever I’ve added shortcodes.
For example, here is how custom content entered into the ‘Course Duration’ field appears in the main product information section of my video training site.
And here is how the content I’ve added to the short product description section displays on my site.
An even easier way to add new products to my site is to embed the custom field shortcodes into content templates.
Of course, if you want to add custom fields to your theme using code, you can easily do this too. The plugin’s own documentation section has tutorials and resources on how to display custom field values in your theme.
ACF Users and WPMU DEV Support Come Together
Now that you understand why so many WordPress users go absolutely wild for the Advanced Custom Fields plugin, let me explain why we almost had a riot here at WPMU DEV.
It all started when Benedikt, one of our members, posted the following request on our forum:
“I’m using the Advanced Custom Fields plugin in almost all of my projects. Sadly SmartCrawl does not support reading the ACF content fields. Is there any support planned?”
Before we knew it, other members started weighing in and letting us know that this was not ok.
Some even threatened to leave WPMU DEV and switch to using other SEO plugins unless we prioritized making SmartCrawl and ACF get along and become an adorable couple.
No Support For ACF? We Couldn’t Let It Be!
Good content inside custom fields is good content worth indexing in search engines.
Our members have every right to expect the best SEO plugin on the market to crawl all searchable and indexable content on their sites right?
Especially if they’re using a plugin like Advanced Custom Fields that millions of adoring fans and WordPress users love to scream and shout about.
When our members speak, we listen. And when many voices speak, we take action.
So, we’ve gone ahead and added ACF support to SmartCrawl.
SmartCrawl is our very own powerful SEO plugin for WordPress. It’s easy to set up (how can one-click setup get any easier?) and easy to configure. She will scan your content and help boost your rankings to drive more traffic to your site.
Before, SmartCrawl only looked at
the_content() output, which excluded custom fields. Thanks to the request by members from our wonderful WPMU DEV community, our team decided to improve SmartCrawl’s analysis engine.
SmartCrawl’s improved SEO analysis engine now controls which part of the page is used in the metabox SEO analysis. It also supports multiple strategies, so users can pick the strategy that best suits their needs from several different options.
These new changes allow SmartCrawl to analyze your content for SEO and readability, even if found inside a custom field.
This is great news for Advanced Custom Fields plugin users. SmartCrawl will take ACF fields into account for its SEO analysis not only from the body content but also from subheadings and custom fields.
SmartCrawl has also improved its robots.txt editor and sitemap generator to take these changes into account.
On that note…
Let’s See How SmartCrawl And ACF Play Together
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Once SmartCrawl has been installed and activated, select SmartCrawl > Settings from the main menu.
To get SmartCrawl to index all of your custom field content, all you have to do now is go to the General Settings screen and choose which engine you want to analyze your content.
Switch SmartCrawl’s SEO engine analysis to ‘Wide’ to process custom field data and that’s it! SmartCrawl will begin to crawl and index all the content in your custom fields.
SmartCrawl. It’s Getting Better All The Time
If you want to learn more about some of the great things we’ve got planned for the road ahead with SmartCrawl, visit our Roadmap. And if there’s a feature you absolutely need or want our plugins to support, don’t send a card or a letter, just let us know (the sooner the better).
Thank you to our member Benedikt for requesting this improvement. Also, Andy Crone (Lead Designer), Hassan Akhtar (Lead Developer), and Devendera Mishra (Q&A) from the SmartCrawl team for solving problems in this release that affect huge sites (including our own), adding highly requested features like robots.txt editor and split sitemaps, and for the analysis engine selector, which improves compatibility with custom setups and builders.