Is Gutenberg Going to Break Your WordPress Site?

Johannes Gutenberg working at word press saying whoops whilst at a desktop computer

Right about now, half of you are trying to prepare yourselves for Gutenberg and the other half of you are asking, “What in the world is Gutenberg?”

Whether you’ve heard about Gutenberg or not, it’s looming on the horizon and is the source of many heated debates and controversies. Is it the change that’s going to launch WordPress into the future or will it permanently divide the WordPress community? We’ll have to wait on that answer, but we do have answers to some of your other burning questions right now.

Gutenberg WordPress Editor

What is Gutenberg?

WordPress is in the process of reinventing the entire editing experience. The project to create a new WordPress editor has been underway for over a year. This project, named “Gutenberg”, is being heralded as the biggest transition in WordPress history. The new Gutenberg editor is slated to be rolled out in the next major release of WordPress (version 5.0) later this year.

Why does the editor need to change?

Let’s go over some quick basic history to address this question.  WordPress was created back in 2003, when two bloggers decided to expand off of a popular blogging platform that had been discontinued. It wasn’t until 2010 that WordPress shifted towards being a CMS. That shift fueled more people to use WordPress as a CMS for their website, not just for blogging, and WordPress quickly became the most popular CMS on Earth.

When WordPress opened the doors to go beyond blogging, it became a developer’s paradise. The customization options allow for making almost any type of website you can imagine. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy for the average end user to create or manage their website. Out of the box, WordPress provides solid content control, but little in the way of layout control.

TinyMCE - The classic WordPress editor.

TinyMCE – The classic WordPress editor.

What can be done about layout control?

With people swarming to WordPress like fish during feeding time at the Koi pond, there is a huge demand to meet the needs of these users who want a website that’ more than a blog. Often times they will invest in plugins and developers to create a more dynamic experience for them. However, there is still a growing desire to be able to post content and control layouts without the dependency of relying on developers or an overload of plugins.

Users want to be able to edit their sites on the front end with simple drag and drop editors. They are looking for feature rich WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) experiences. This demand has given rise to the Page Builder market. Major builders like Beaver Builder and Elementor are extremely popular among users.

Furthermore, other platforms like Wix and Squarespace that allow users to easily create websites in a page builder type atmosphere are really gaining traction for answering this demand. WordPress recognizes that this is what users want and will come to expect. Their answer is Gutenberg. According to WordPress.org, “The all-encompassing goal of Gutenberg is to create a post and page building experience that makes it easy to create rich post layouts.”

What does Gutenberg do?

You’re probably used to the text editor that comes standard in WordPress. It’s a rich text editor that lets you style your text like a word processor. You also have the ability to add media and – if you’re brave enough – enter your own code. Soon we’ll be able to reach beyond the range of the good ole TinyMCE editor as the Gutenberg editor takes over.

Editing in Gutenberg is an entirely different experience. The editor is block based so instead of just writing content you can build your layout as well. That means you’ll be building your post or page by stacking blocks kind of like stacking layers on a cake. There are different types of blocks available for use to build your layout.

For example, you have blocks to do standard things you’re used to like paragraphs, images, galleries, and lists. The text based blocks (like paragraphs) actually use the TinyMCE for an editor, so you’ll have no problem easing into those. However, you’ll also see a few new features that will probably take some experimenting time to figure out how to use. Cover Image can give you a row with a full screen width image background to work with and Table helps you build HTML tables.

Layout blocks include things like spacers, separators, and buttons. Also, you’ll have the ability to add widgets as blocks and you’ll even have access to some blocks to easily embed media from sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Imgur.

With Gutenberg, you break the confines of the single TinyMCE text window and can build a layout for your page using the new drag and drop editor. If you’re ready to see all Gutenberg has to offer, head over to WordPress.org to try the Gutenberg demo.

Blocks in Gutenberg

Blocks in Gutenberg

Will Gutenberg replace my Page Builder?

No. While the new editor update brings some great new functionality to the WordPress core, it’s a long way off from being a full-fledged page builder. If you’re already using a great page builder like Beaver Builder, you’re unlikely to be impressed by the capability of Gutenberg.

Gutenberg is still early in its creation and will continue to evolve. As it stands today, there are several things lacking in terms of satisfying a true page builder craving. First of all, Gutenberg is not a front end editor. It’s replacing the current page/post editor that you access through the dashboard. There is no front end editing in sight so far. Secondly, blocks are horizontal containers that stack on top of each other. This doesn’t work well for those seeking true flexibility in their layouts. Gutenberg does have a ‘column’ feature in beta, but as of right now there is no core ability to put blocks side by side.

Why is Gutenberg controversial?

There is a lot of talk around the Gutenberg project and not everyone is a fan. While it definitely addresses an existing need, some have questioned whether or not this need is widespread enough to build it into the WordPress core. Some argue that it’s best to leave this type of functionality up to Page Builders and not force it onto all users.  There are many opinions and views circulating around. Many issues go back to the fundamental questions of whether WordPress should refocus on being a blogging platform or move full steam ahead into becoming a better CMS. Some seem to think that ultimately users want both.  How you feel about Gutenberg will probably depend on how you use WordPress and why.

One thing that has consistently made this project controversial is the massive scope of functionality change. Theme and plugin developers are a bit on edge regarding compatibility. Most major developers have already made their themes and plugins Gutenberg compatible, but as it’s an ongoing project there are sure to be bugs along the way.

Will Gutenberg break my site?

Chances are that Gutenberg won’t cause many major issues for basic WordPress sites. However, sites with a lot of custom features may be a different story. Any plugin or theme that uses custom meta boxes or has customized the classic post editor will experience problems unless they update to Gutenberg friendly code. If you use custom post types, you’ll also want to do some testing before converting or contact a developer for assistance.

What can I do to prepare my site?

We hope that you’re making daily backups of your site anyway, but if not, this is definitely the time to start. You’re going to want to make sure you have the option of reverting in case of disaster. After you ensure that you have adequate backups of your site (files and database), you can begin to do some testing. Ideally, it would be best to clone your site or use a staging environment if available. Install the Gutenberg plugin on your site or test site. Make sure that you test the new editor with all of your different content types. View the front end pages to see if the pages are having problems.

The Gutenberg plugin should give you a good idea of the upcoming changes. It will also allow you to see if your theme and plugins are compatible. You can visit plugin developers’ sites to see if they have posted updates in regards to Gutenberg. For example, Beaver Builder frequently puts out blog posts about their Gutenberg compatibility.

We do not recommend upgrading to version 5 when it releases unless you have thoroughly tested your site with the Gutenberg plugin. If you are setup to receive automatic WordPress updates, you might want to disable that feature at this time so you have manual control. Also, make sure you keep your theme and plugins up to date using the newest stable releases.

Gutenberg is going to make lots of waves – that’s for sure. We are eager to see where Gutenberg takes us. This has the opportunity to be an amazing direction for WordPress to delve into.

This can be very exciting and scary at the same time. If you’re lost or unsure what you should do, reach out and get some advice or help from a professional. As developers, we know that every major improvement comes with some bumps and bugs. We can help you navigate this new Gutenberg world!

Stephanie Rawson

Stephanie has 15 years of self-taught HTML and web design experience along with an associates degree in Information Technology from Colorado Tech. Her previous experience in eCommerce and customer service gives her a unique insight into what clients and their customers are looking for. Outside of work, Stephanie is active in Christian ministry and loves geeky hobbies.

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