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Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) Review - Why It's the Best for WordPress

Custom fields are essential for every website - they help you create personalized information that improves user experience and makes input more manageable. Need a real estate site? What about a list of travel destinations?
Updated November 2, 2023
ACF plugin
ACF plugin

Custom fields can extend your site’s functionality and improve user experience. 

For instance, custom fields can help you store personalized information and make it easily accessible to your users. They also make your input more manageable. 

But while WordPress provides a built-in feature for creating custom fields, it's not always the easiest to use, especially if you're not into coding.

That’s why many turn to third-party plugins. One of the popular ones we’ve found is ACF (Advanced Custom Fields).    

In this review, we’ll discuss some of the best features of this plugin and how you can use it to add custom fields to your site. We’ll also show you some of the popular ACF alternatives and their advantages over ACF.

What are Custom Fields?

Custom fields, at its core, allow you to input additional details that are not part of a standard page or post format. Technically, they are called metadata. 

For example, you’re creating a real estate website. For every property you upload, you want to add the location, square footage, number of bedrooms, amenities, and pricing. 

Now, adding these details within the main content of the post won’t be as efficient. It doesn’t allow for easy sorting, filtering, or searching, And it would be a tedious process to add and display them on the front-end one by one.

But with custom fields, you can add these specific details easily. You can structure your data in a way that’s both organized and accessible to your site visitors.

In our experience, custom fields are often created with custom post types. Going back to our real estate website example, you can add a custom post type for ‘Properties.’ Then, each property will contain all the custom fields for the location, amenities, pricing, etc.

WordPress comes with a native option to add custom fields. But it’s pretty basic. It also requires some coding knowledge, making it less friendly for beginners. That’s where plugins like ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) come in.

With ACF, you can create custom fields and have them dynamically displayed on the front-end. Instead of hours of coding, you only need to spend a few minutes to add custom fields to your posts.

Advanced Custom Fields Power Features

ACF is a popular tool for both beginner and advanced users for several reasons. Let’s delve into some of its best features.

1) Creating Custom Post Types and Taxonomies

ACF allows you to create custom post types beyond WordPress’s default posts and pages. And for each content type, you can add more than 35 different types of fields, including images, texts, dates, numbers, emails, and links. This feature is very important for creating unique content categories, like a portfolio or product listing.

To create a custom post type, simply go to ACF > Post Types, and then click the ‘Add new’ button. Enter the required details, like the plural label, singular label, and post type. Once you save it, you’ll see the new post type added on your left sidebar.

adding ACF post types

Note: Older versions of ACF don't support custom post types, and you’ll need to use other plugins like CPT UI to create them. But since the release of ACF 6.1, you can now create custom post types directly within the plugin.

2) Adding Custom Fields

Each page or post in WordPress comes with its own metadata. This includes the post date and time, post categories or tags, and author’s name. But in many cases, these default fields are not enough. 

ACF is specially designed to address this gap. 

To add custom fields, just click ACF > Fields Groups from the left side of your WordPress admin area. Enter a field group name. Click ‘Add Field’ and, under the general tab, select a field type. Then, fill in the required fields like the field label and field name.

adding ACF custom fields

Save the changes. Click the ‘Add Field’ button to add more fields.

Once you’re done, scroll down to the bottom of the page and set the location rules. Here, you’re going to select which post types you want your custom fields to appear. And, that’s it!

3) Adding Custom Taxonomies

Taxonomies allow you to organize and categorize your content in any way you want. 

WordPress comes with built-in taxonomies like tags and categories, but just like post types, they might not suit your site’s unique requirements. You’ll need to add taxonomies not supported by WordPress out of the box.

For example, if you have a tutorial website, you might want to classify your content as ‘Beginner,’ ‘Intermediate,’ or ‘Advanced.’

To add taxonomies, click ACF > Taxonomies and then ‘Add New.’ Fill in the fields, such as the plural label, singular label, and taxonomy key (optional). Then, select a post type where you want to apply this custom taxonomy.

adding ACF taxonomies

Note that you can also enable the ‘Hierarchical’ toggle button if you want to add ‘children’ under this term.

4) Conditional Logic

The ‘Conditional Logic’ in ACF allows you to hide or display certain fields based on the values of other fields. We find this feature very useful, especially if you have lots of custom fields. You don’t want to overwhelm your users. Adding conditional logic ensures that your site visitors can only see the relevant fields based on their current selections.

Conditional logic can be set under the settings tab when you create a field group.   

adding ACF conditional logic

5) Integration with Themes and Other Plugins

Another great feature of ACF is its compatibility with other tools and plugins. You can integrate hundreds of third-party plugins to handle data from your custom fields.

For example, using website builders like Oxygen and Breakdance allows you to dynamically display custom fields within your layouts.

You can also integrate plugins for media elements, forms, e-commerce, and search or filtering. The possibilities are endless. We truly consider these features essential to creating a more dynamic, organized, and user-centric website.

Comparing ACF With Other Tools

Looking for alternatives? We have listed below some of the other great options you can try: 

Pods

Pods plugin

Pros:

  • It’s free
  • Works well with popular third-party plugins
  • Allows you to add custom SQL queries
  • Offers flexibility and control in implementing relationships between content types
  • Supports bi-directional relationships between content types

Cons:

  • Might not be friendly for beginners
  • Might affect your site’s performance if not set up correctly 
  • Features are overkill for sites with minimal custom fields or post types

The main advantage of Pods over ACF is the way it implements relationships between post types. 

With Pods, you can add:

  • One-to-one relationships
  • One-to-many relationships
  • Many-to-many relationships

For example, if you have custom post types for ‘Movies’ and ‘Actors,’ you can have a movie with many actors, or an actor associated with several other movies. 

Another great feature of Pods is that it supports bi-directional fields. This allows you to relate one custom post type to another. For example, if you add an actor to a movie, the movie will automatically show up in that actor's list of films. Conversely, if you remove an actor from a movie, that movie will be removed from the actor's list of films.     

ACF supports relationships between post types at some level, but it’s not as flexible as Pods. So if you’re looking for greater flexibility and control over your content structure and relationships, then Pods can be a great option. 

Meta Box

Meta Box plugin

Pros:

  • Access to the PHP codes
  • Organize meta boxes and add layouts on the backend
  • Supports a large variety of field types
  • Supports a variety of objects like Gutenberg blocks, taxonomy terms, posts, and many others

Cons:

  • Steep learning curve
  • Not compatible with menu items and widgets
  • Documentation is not friendly for beginners

Meta Box has almost the same features as ACF. 

But unlike ACF, the core plugin is free and open-source. Experienced developers love its code-centric approach because it allows deep customizations.

Another great thing about Meta Box is that it provides a library of free and paid add-ons. You don’t need to install the entire package - just select the functionality you want. 

Meta Box also offers an intuitive drag-and-drop interface for creating and managing custom fields. If you’re a non-coder, we recommend getting this premium add-on to speed up your development time.

Example Applications of ACF

ACF works well with most website builders, including Breakdance. Integrate it into your next projects to build professional, user-friendly websites without coding. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1) Real-Estate Website

Property listings require a unique set of details. Using ACF, you can design a platform where each property can dynamically display details like the location, price, amenities, and image.

real-estate website

2) Booking Website

A successful booking platform requires a solid user experience. ACF can help you design a page where users can easily select a date, location, service type, and service provider. 

booking website

3) Travel Website

With ACF, you can create a travel and tour site that offers easy navigation to trip details. You can also add stunning images and display them dynamically based on the user’s option.

travel website

4) Photography Website

Photography sites should display not just photos but also galleries that tell the story behind every shot. Using ACF, simply add a custom post to organize your photos. Then, add custom fields to detail aspects like gallery, description, price, and location.

photography website

Advanced Custom Fields Pricing

  • Free forever: $0, limited features
  • Personal: $49 per year, access to all PRO features, unlimited updates for 1 website
  • Freelancer: $149 per year, access to all PRO features, unlimited updates for 10 websites
  • Agency: $249 per year, access to all PRO features, unlimited updates for unlimited websites

Wrapping It Up

ACF takes away the stress of adding custom fields using PHP, especially if you’re building a large, complex website. 

Truly, we couldn’t imagine our workflow without this plugin.

With this knowledge, you can now unlock WordPress’s potential to build 100% custom websites. Pair it with powerful page builders like Breakdance and you won't have to resort to endless lines of custom code. 

The question is, what are you going to build with ACF?

Please share them in the comments below - we’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!

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Written by Christy Cañete
Christy Cañete is a software engineer who's passionate about front-end web design. Not only can she code, but she writes too! She loves breaking down technical topics into super easy tutorials. If you're looking to learn without the jargon, she's your go-to.
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