In last week's article, the upcoming (but as yet unscheduled) updates to the WordPress website building platform were discussed. While this will certainly be a big deal once more information about the update is released, the only thing that website owners and marketers can do for the moment is look at the new content editor WordPress will have. So this week, we'll be getting to know the good, the great and the "going to take some getting used to" elements of Gutenberg.
The Gutenberg content editor is currently available as a plugin for anyone running WordPress 4.8 or higher. Essentially, this is a large open-beta stage for what will become a centerpiece of the WordPress 5.0 launch. Using this opportunity to find bugs, glitches and interface improvements is a good move for WordPress. The Gutenberg plugin has little over 20,000 active installs with over 290,000 total downloads and just a 2.5 out of 5-star rating. Clearly, some fine tuning will be necessary before they release WordPress 5.0 with Gutenberg as the default editor.
Gutenberg is an attempt to address what is considered by some to be WordPress's greatest strength and weakness: it's simplistic content editor. One of the best things about using WordPress for a small business website is that the owner doesn't need to know a lot about coding to create new pages. Anyone who's used a word document editing program in the past 20 years could easily create a post or page in WordPress. This meant that web developers could create a site and then hand the keys to the business owners.
The downside of this simplicity is that many blogs that used the WordPress platform had very similar looking post pages. It was possible to create more dynamic pages, but that required a combination of html, css, shortcodes, plugins and custom scripts to make everything work. Gutenberg uses block elements so it's easier to stick in custom content, change layouts, and more without having to leave the basic editor and requires fewer plugins. And there are fewer worries that a website could change one small thing that breaks the alignment of everything else on the page.
The problem for many when it comes to Gutenberg is that it's looks and functions differently than the TinyMCE editor that many have become accustomed to seeing in word editing software. The features are still there, but they've been moved around in the design. And the block elements adds a few extra steps to placing content that weren't required in the past. However, this is necessary so it's easy to move around elements of the page design later.
WordPress acknowledges the fact that it will take time to get used to the changes, but once people start using them, they will see the benefits for themselves.
"What we're trying to do is shift it so that you only have to learn about blocks once and once you learn about the image block, that can be in a post, in a sidebar, in a page, in a custom post type, and it will work exactly the same way," explained WordPress founder Matt Mullenberg. "Whatever is integrated with it, let's say a plugin that brings in your Google Photos or your Dropbox, that will now work everywhere, too."
For people who have been using the advanced WordPress editor plugins, many of the "new" features of Gutenberg are features from premium plugins that web designers have been using to create more dynamic pages for years. So for some people, the switch to Gutenberg won't be so drastic. And thankfully, there will be an option to continue using the classic editor once WordPress 5.0 goes online. Check out this article to see some side by side screen comparisons of the two editors.
For now, WordPress website owners should download the Gutenberg plugin from WordPress. When installed on a the current build of WordPress, it gives designers the option to switch between the classic and the Gutenberg version of the page. So it's easy to switch back and forth if the need arises. Using the plugin in now also gives designers a chance to help guide development of the plugin.
There's a lot to love about the Gutenberg and with so much time between now and the eventual launch of WordPress 5.0, web designers and website owners have time to get to know the new system. As with any change to a system, it will take time to retrain employees and there will be hiccups and growing pains. But the benefits greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Being able to create content that is more eye-catching can bring in new readers to a blog or encourage more people to buy products from a website.
For some ideas of ways you can change your web pages to be more appealing (that you can use to test the Gutenberg editor), check out this recent article about reaching household decision makers.