Posted by Richard in Website Design

Gutenberg: What Every WordPress Website Owner Needs to Know

WordPress unlocks a number of fantastic advantages for business owners serving a multitude of industry sectors. The WordPress website isn’t after all what it used to be, with the plethora of features and plugins now available. With the right web design, development and back up WordPress websites provide a modern, intuitive web experience for those with varying levels of knowledge.

As well as giving webmasters the tools they need to update their company image and extend the functionality on offer to browsing potential customers, WordPress sites are particularly user friendly, a quality that Google and other search engines simply love. As a result, WordPress websites tend to rank more easily (that is, if content is structured well and updated frequently) than static websites. In addition to this, their web design impacts content marketing activities directly. Google loves WordPress so much that they’ve even recommended WordPress via a now difficult to find YouTube video and this lengthy Google Search article. The WordPress website that browsers, businesses and Google loves however is changing… introducing the new Gutenberg editor.

As the world’s most popular content management system (CMS) perhaps you’re wondering just why steps are being taken to alter what is obviously a well-regarded way of working on the web. The introduction of the new Gutenberg editor is set to shake things up, and critics and ourselves are not entirely clear on whether the step will be a good or a bad thing just yet. Gutenberg is currently available as a plugin (a plugin that has received both positive and negative press to leave onlookers even more confused) prior to its launch as part of WordPress 5.0. This launch will see the integration of Gutenberg into the core of WordPress, making use of the editor non-negotiable. So what is Gutenberg? And how will the editor change the WordPress experience that many adore so much?

What exactly is Gutenberg?

Named after renowned printer and publisher Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (Johannes Gutenberg for short), Gutenberg has a number of objectives that would of course be alien to the 15th century figure who introduced the printing press to Europe. The Gutenberg editor’s primary aim is to provide a more user-friendly method of creating content (much like Johannes Gutenberg), this time online, and more specifically via WordPress websites. The Gutenberg editor will marry the front and back end of WordPress websites to ensure the content creation and upload process more closely resembles its front end appearance. The move will see WordPress website owners gain clarity regarding how the finished article will look, without having to interrupt the development process by updating and previewing the page. Instead the website will be able to be accurately viewed whilst it’s being created.

But WordPress already has a visual editor, right? WordPress’ existing editor may be visual, yet users still have to call on short codes and HTML to make changes to their website in text mode. The current visual editor that you may be familiar with on your own WordPress website does give you the means to format content, providing easier use for editors with limited WordPress knowledge through buttons and without complex short codes and HTML. WordPress’ current visual editor however has limited functionality, particularly when compared with other modern editors. With Gutenberg, WordPress will deliver a simple way to produce rich content, a route that doesn’t hamper creativity or functionality.

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Whilst WordPress’ visual editor has just one input box, the Gutenberg editor divides the page into individual blocks, each of which can be assigned its own unique set of features. The use of individual boxes is designed to make content easier to edit, manage and format. Many modern editors use a similar system, but the use of this kind of system within WordPress is an entirely new thing.

When will Gutenberg be available?

The release of the Gutenberg editor is imminent, with the final 5.0 version expected to be released at some point this year. But it has been a long old road for the new editor. The development of Gutenberg has been planned across three stages with a variety of versions released since Automattic Founder and Lead Developer Matt Mullenweg announced the project at WordCamp US 2016. The first stage of development began back in June 2017, with the release of Gutenberg 0.1. With a focus on improving the post writing experience, an emphasis that has somewhat snowballed to affect the entire structure of WordPress websites. The months that followed saw the addition and improvement of countless new features across its 0.2 – 0.3 (released June 2017), 0.4 – 0.6 (July 2017), 0.7 – 1.0 (August 2017), 1.1 – 1.2 (September 2017), and 1.3 (October 2017) versions.

The 1.4 version, released in early October 2017, featured a number of updates. As well as a new reusable dropdown being added, the update saw partial URLs in link input become an option, initialisation actions merged and fix scroll reordering introduced. Gutenberg 1.5 followed shortly after with the release making more minor tweaks to existing features to fix issues. The New Year saw the release of Gutenberg 2.0, complete with a changelog that was approximately half a mile long! Thankfully this version brought to light a number of improvements, solving the accessibility, keyboard navigation, and drag and drop issues that many experienced in previous versions. For a complete description of the changes undertaken, please read Developer Matias Ventura’s What’s New in Gutenberg?

The plugin available today (as of early March 2018) is version 2.3. This plugin has already accumulated over 7,000 active installs since its release 7 days ago. However, for every 5-star review, the plugin has garnered a 1-star review with a smattering of 2 to 4 star reviews in between. Ratings that don’t sit well with many users as the date for the final release draws nearer. A definite date for Gutenberg’s final release has unfortunately not been made public yet, so we can’t help you with that one! One thing is for certain though, the release of Gutenberg 5.0 won’t happen until every member of the team working on it agrees that it’s ready.

Why isn’t the WordPress community welcoming it?

Needless to say the latest version (2.3) of the Gutenberg plugin hasn’t been greeted with open arms by many members of the WordPress community. To say it’s received mixed reviews is an understatement, but the mixture of positive and negative experiences gives a diverse and confusing insight into how WordPress website owners who are yet to try Gutenberg may find it. The user-friendly, updated features are the factors people are celebrating the most. Many members of the ever growing CMS community are predicting that the editor is the future of WordPress as a result. Some however don’t see what the fuss is all about, with many commenting that the features included may be good but there’s simply not enough of them.

Promising and revolutionary are both words we’d use to describe Gutenberg however. Whilst it’s easy to tear features apart, it is important to remember that the editor is still under development. The plugins we’re privy to are not ready for production sites and should be being used as a marker for checking compatibility and fixing bugs.

Should I go ahead and install Gutenberg?

The latest version of Gutenberg is now available (I think we mentioned that!), but the question is should you go ahead and install it? With the core 5.0 update coming later this year, getting used to the features now, before you have no choice in the matter, is recommended. The 2.3 plugin requires WordPress version 4.9 and the Gutenberg editor is as easy to install as any other plugin. Download the latest plugin (which may not be 2.3 depending on when you’re reading this article) from the WordPress Plugin Repository. You can also go to the Add Plugins section of your website’s WordPress dashboard to find the most up-to-date Gutenberg editor. Just search for ‘Gutenberg’ in the task bar, hit ‘Install Now’ and once installed, hit ‘Activate’. As you’ll see after activation, Gutenberg doesn’t replace the visual editor already apart of WordPress due to Gutenberg only being available in testing mode. As a plugin you have to select Gutenberg, which you’ll find underneath your posts on individual post pages or as an option on your ‘All Posts’ page.

Seeing Gutenberg for the first time, after becoming used to the visual editor found on all WordPress websites, may be a bit of a shock. Once you do sift through the editor however you’ll discover a distraction free way of writing. Gutenberg does have some similarities when compared to WordPress’ visual editor, which may be comforting for users. Upon start up you will see the familiar blog outline and formatting options, but these will disappear as soon as you begin typing. Don’t panic, this is meant to happen. As well as providing a less convoluted space for writing posts, Gutenberg makes it easier to create content on the go as the editor looks and functions great on smaller screens too. Don’t have enough space to create your masterpiece? Select ‘Post Settings’ in the top right hand side of the screen to remove the right hand sidebar and extend your space.

You’ll find further options at the bottom of the editor. For instance, the ‘+’ button adds new blocks to the editor, allowing you to customise your block with a text, galley, list, table or image block. Customisation doesn’t end there; after selecting the most fitting format, you can select further options. For example, if you select an image format, you’ll be able to insert, edit, resize and align. Whichever block type you choose, all blocks are easy to move, whilst a simple pop-up lets you keep track of the number of blocks on the page and the word count across these blocks.

Like WordPress’ classic editor, with Gutenberg you have the option to switch from visual to text and back again. You’ll find this option in the top left hand corner of the editor. Like the visual mode, you’ll be able to add blocks, this time with HTML code. With Live HTML blocks however there’s little need to switch between visual and text mode. The Live HTML block option is a cool, new feature that lets you preview HTML code from within the block, meaning there’s no need to switch between visual and text modes to see what your page will look like. Gutenberg also offers plenty of anchor and table of contents support, embed options, cover text features and autocomplete abilities. The addition of buttons is also made easy with Gutenberg. Until Gutenberg, the insertion of buttons within pages had to be done via HTML code or third party plugins. Gutenberg has a built-in option for adding buttons, such as calls to action, which can be undone or redone as you see fit.

What’s great and not so great about Gutenberg?

We’ve used this article to explain just some of the primary features of Gutenberg, but it is important to understand that this really is just the tip of the iceberg. The list of the features available via its latest 2.3 plugin are endless, and with a number of versions to come, this list will only grow bigger and bigger. Gutenberg is still under development so as you can imagine, the list of negatives and areas of improvement far outweighs the positives. The absence of markdown and column support in WordPress is a biggie, while many users have commented that the Gutenberg editor is simply too hard to learn. Keeping formatting when the need for copying and pasting outside content is also out of the question with the current version of Gutenberg, and there’s a whole other, massive question mark over backward compatibility.

Gutenberg will no doubt be the mover and shaker that it is expected to be, it’s already created quite a stir within the WordPress community. With its new block based experience, distraction free interface, greater range of media embeds, excellent flexibility, and ease of use on desktop and mobile, there are plenty of positives that make the impending introduction of Gutenberg 5.0 exciting, innovative and game changing for the better.

For more simple WordPress tips for beginners please read our essential guide.

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