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WordPress Gutenberg – What is it and why you should care

You’ve probably seen an icon pop up on your WordPress dashboard in recent weeks and wondered what the hell ‘Gutenberg’ is. Well, below I will attempt to shed some light on this and help you on your way to becoming a Gutenberg whizz by the end.

You’re probably familiar with the WordPress WYSIWYG editor as it’s most likely how you’ve been populating your website all this time. WYSIWYG stands for’ What You See Is What You Get’, which, in the case of WordPress, is not really true. It’s very basic and doesn’t really allow for creativity, however, it allows you to do very basic functions, like add text and images to your website.

The WYSIWYG has been around in its current form for many years and for users to add more advanced features onto sites, developers have had to use third-party plugins which can be hard to use and maintain. You often have to create custom shortcodes which can be difficult to remember and hard to use correctly, all of which require coding and are not freely available in this format.

Gutenberg, named after Johannes Gutenberg, who invented a printing press with movable type more than 500 years ago, is very much inspired by sites such as Medium and Squarespace. These offer a simple and easy-to-use interface, but also give you the ability to add more rich content onto your site and be more creative in your approach, such as tables, without much hassle.

Gutenberg is here to make WordPress more creative, yet still be simple and easy to use.

You’ll have a much cleaner editing experience and be able to use a lot more tools, helping to display your content exactly how you want it, within the confines of the design. Rather than just text, images and the odd shortcode in the content editor, everything is now in ‘blocks’ and these blocks offer much more.

Here you can see a wide variety of block options for you to choose from, and this all can be tweaked and customised to best suit your website.

Other features include word count, table of contents, spotlight (focus) mode, new code editor, document/block settings and more.

At this point you’re probably wondering ‘that’s great but, what does this mean for me and my website? Will Gutenberg break my website?’. The short answer is no.

Having done some preliminary testing myself, updating existing sites to the new editor is easy as Gutenberg just inserts all existing content as a ‘Classic Editor’ block. This is displayed alongside all the new blocks, so you can tweak and make changes as you see fit.  

Custom fields are placed underneath the Gutenberg editor, just as they usually are with the classic editor and continue to work uninterrupted.

However, if you have a site that is built with a third-party builder, such as Visual Composer, or heavily relies on custom fields, updating to Gutenberg might not be the right idea for the moment. At least, until it is understood how this will be interpreted through Gutenberg.

So, when can you get this update? Gutenberg will be included in WordPress with the release of version 5.0. Gutenberg has been out for the masses to trial for a couple months now, so the WordPress team have had lots of feedback on what works and what doesn’t, so I would expect it to be available pretty soon.

Do you have to update? You should most definitely update to the latest version of WordPress, providing you are proficient, (and you’ve made a backup first in case something goes awry) to have all the latest security patches and updates. For those we ask to not update, get in touch and we can sort this out for you – don’t press anything unless you are confident!

Overall, Gutenberg represents the future of content publication on WordPress and it will be interesting to see how it’s adopted and development going forward.