About 10 years ago, I became aware of a relatively simple “blogging” platform that entered the open source scene. That software was WordPress. It seemed to be a lot easier to use than other content management systems (CMS) we were customizing at the time, so we gave it a go. At first, I poo pooed the notion of blogging as I thought it was trendy marketing speak for things that already existed such as web pages with comment sections (think Guestbook) and forums. Even the name sounded like a strange drinking game played in the basements of bawdy fraternity houses. Boy was I wrong.
Blogging is truly the cornerstone of content marketing and is here to stay. WordPress was so good we started building entire websites on it and have been doing so to this day. So, what’s the big deal with the release of WordPress 5.0? First, a short lesson in versioning. The current release of WordPress is 4.9.8. The first number “4” represents a major release, which is oftentimes a complete rewrite of the software. The second number “9” represents a major feature addition and the third number “8” usually represents a bug fixes or very small improvements. So, as you have probably gathered, WordPress 5.0 is a big deal. While not a complete rewrite, it will radically change the way you are used to posting articles and web pages. The last major release (4.0) was over four years ago!
The folks at WordPress have cleverly codenamed this release as Gutenberg. This name provides a big clue as to what this upgrade is all about. Named after the inventor of the printing press, WordPress 5.0’s most dramatic changes have everything to do with the text editor, which you can kiss goodbye. I have never been a fan of the text editor except for the simplest blog posts and webpages. If you listen closely, you can hear the shouts of “Hooray!” from designers and content editors worldwide. 😉 For the past 3 years or so, we’ve been using plugins such as Yellow Pencil and WPBakery (formerly Visual Composer) to create modern layouts that were more advanced and conducive to our clients’ expectations. While I don’t know if Gutenberg will replace all of the features these plugins provide, I’m hoping it will, but I have my doubts. For example, WordPress has a built-in visual editor (Appearance > Customize) that we never use, and I don’t know anybody else who uses it. As we start upgrading the sites we have under management, starting with ours, I will post our trials and tribulations here.
If you’re the management type and have said, “I don’t care how it works, just make it work!” then you can stop reading now. If you’re interested in what Gutenberg looks like and how the editor is changing, then read on. The biggest concept to understand is the one of “blocks”. WordPress 5.0 introduces this concept, which has existed for many years in another CMS called Drupal. The concept is really quite simple: with the new Gutenberg editor, you can add multiple types of media while editing a WordPress post or page, and then arrange the layout of the content directly within the editor using blocks. Blocks include:
- Paragraph – Adds basic paragraph text.
- List – Adds a bulleted or numbered list.
- Image – Insert an image to make a visual statement.
- Heading – Adds heading text (h2, h3, h4, h5, 56) to introduce new sections and organize content to help visitors (and search engines) understand the structure of your content.
- Quote – Give quoted text visual emphasis.
- Cover – Add an image or video with a text overlay — great for headers.
- Gallery – Display multiple images in a rich gallery.
- Audio – Embed a simple audio player.
- File – Add a link to a downloadable file.
- Video – Embed a video from your media library or upload a new one.
- Classic – Use the classic WordPress editor. Yes, you will have the option to use the old editor.
- Pullquote – Give special visual emphasis to a quote from your text.
- Table – Insert a table. Perfect for sharing charts and data.
- Verse – Insert poetry. Use special spacing formats. Or quote song lyrics.
- Code – Display code snippets that respect your spacing and tabs.
- Custom HTML – Add custom HTML code and preview it as you edit.
- Preformatted – Add text that respects your spacing and tabs, and also allows styling.
Layout Element Blocks
- Columns – Add a block that displays content in multiple columns, then add whatever content blocks you’d like. Button – Prompt visitors to take action with a custom button.
- Media & Text – Set media and words side-by-side for a richer layout.
- More – Want to show only an excerpt of this post on your homepage? Use this block to define where you want the separation.
- Page Break – Separate your content into a multi-page experience.
- Separator – Create a break between ideas or sections with a horizontal separator.
- Spacer – Add white space between blocks and customize its height.
- Shortcode – Insert additional custom elements with a WordPress shortcode. Archives – Display a monthly archive of your posts.
- Categories – Display a list of all categories.
- Latest Comments – Display a list of your most recent comments.
- Latest Posts – Display a list of your most recent posts.
- And many, many more.
To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade
If you think you can get away with not having to upgrade your WordPress installation to 5.0, think again. While you might be able to put it off for 6 to 8 months, eventually your site will need the upgrade for security patches once 4.9.8 is no longer supported. One thing that is super important is to make sure that the theme and plugins your site uses will be compatible with WordPress 5.0. It is tough for some developers to keep up with major changes like this, so beware. Two major plugins, Woocommerce and Yoast SEO, are ready-to-go with many others to come. One saving grace is, if you want or need to keep the Classic Editor, it is available for download.
That’s it for now. We’ll keep you posted on what we learn as we attempt to upgrade a few hundred WordPress sites over the coming months. If you want to know more, be sure to review these resources that I used to write this article.
- The Gutenberg WordPress Editor: 10 Things You Need to Know
- WordPress: What is Gutenberg?
- WordPress Codex