What Small Businesses Need to Know About the Gutenberg Update

There’s a change coming to WordPress making waves in the tech and marketing community. This change could have a bigger impact on small businesses than any update before.

Gutenberg is the name of a new text editor to be incorporated into WordPress early in 2018. It will completely replace the existing text editor experience. You’ll go from the experience pictured on the left to Gutenberg, pictured on the right.

The original text editor depends on a formatting toolbar, similar to those used by many familiar programs such as Microsoft Word and Outlook. Gutenberg shows these options only when you mouse over your text to interact with it. It’s really different. There are few ties to the original.

So far, this change has only stirred up the programmers and internet marketers nearest the Gutenberg project. But once it arrives, it will change how I train all our small business web design clients. So, I want to put our past clients on notice and invite everyone to pay closer attention to their own WordPress website, especially for the next few months.

Here’s what small businesses need to know in four segments:

  • Who Makes and Updates WordPress?
  • What is Gutenberg?
  • What Does the WordPress Community Say?
  • Will This Break My Website?

Who Makes and Updates WordPress?

WordPress is open source software. That means it’s a volunteer effort that anyone in the world can help with. However, there is a core development team that makes the big decisions. The core developers are technically volunteers, but many make WordPress their career by making websites, plugins and themes.

For more information about the WordPress open source project, visit wordpress.org.

What is Gutenberg?

The WordPress text editing experience has remained the same for years. It’s nothing fancy. Out of the box, it’s about as robust as your average email program for editing text. Just enough for effective blogging. Gutenberg is a software update that aims to reduce that and open up complex page layout design to blogging beginners and encourage everyone to include more video and pictures. Experienced users benefit from a faster experience with a lower learning curve.

The concept behind Gutenberg has to do with blocks of information. These specialized blocks are programmed to treat the content within in special ways. You can add quotes that are formatted automatically to look clean and professional. Embed YouTube videos with just the plain URL. Align text and images in interesting and complex ways without knowing any code. And everything can be moved around with simple directional arrows.

What Gutenberg Is Not

It’s not a WordPress theme. It does not make WordPress work like Squarespace, Wix or similar services. What you build in Gutenberg will look one way while you’re editing, and a different way when you view the published page (just like it does now). Right now, it’s not going to be a visual page builder like Divi Builder. It’s unclear to me if it will someday go there, but today it really changes your experience of writing with WordPress and not directly what your work ends up looking like.

What Does the WordPress Community Say?

Gutenberg is a big change, no doubt. And the global community of programmers, designers and marketers has spent all summer debating its merits. Critics are vocally challenging the WordPress core development team and the biggest company supporting WordPress (Automattic):

Sorry, but this looks and feels bad, and is a productivity drain. Hiding UI elements until you click on things is terribly confusing for some new people… you’ve just doubled the number of clicks I need to accomplish the exact same thing.

And you can go deeper into a huge well of concerns around a variety of additional topics. The more you read, the more scared you can choose to be. Even good reviews are qualified with a wait and see perspective:

I was super skeptical… However, I waited a few weeks and tried again and already saw a LOT of improvement and started to understand the overall “vision” more… I’m excited for the potential of where this will take WordPress!

It’s easy to read the hot-takes and wonder if WordPress is safe for small business. There’s a lot of people worried and plenty that are cautiously optimistic. But what will really happen on update day?

Will Gutenberg Break My Website?

When WordPress users update their sites to WordPress 5.0, there should be no substantial change to your existing content. At least, not that your visitors and customers can see. However, when you go to add a new blog post or edit an existing page, you’ll see the all-new Gutenberg writing experience.

For Divi Builder users and users of other similar page builder themes, it looks like you should be fine. If Gutenberg replaces the old text editor, that’s ok because you weren’t using it anyway. Of course, you should monitor your theme for software updates or reach out to your theme developer or web designer to see if they’re preparing a fresh update to make their theme compatible.

If it turns out your theme is not compatible, however, I think you’ll be fine. A recent comment by WordPress core development suggests a plugin will be available to bring the old text editor back.

What Will Roundpeg Do?

We’ve designed websites in WordPress for 8+ years. We won’t stop now. We believe WordPress is the right choice for small business owners committed to growth and to controlling their own websites without expensive, restrictive subscriptions. I’m not qualified to dive deep into the specifics of every single unresolved complaint out there. It seems many of the complaints concern issues WordPress fans think are still being ignored in favor of chasing more market shares.

I see that concern. And my brow is just as furrowed. But it’s furrowed because I’m watching closely. I think the WordPress team has a vision and future-focused leadership. 

Concerning broken WordPress themes: we build extensively with Divi Builder by Elegant Themes. And based on recent blog posts posted to the Elegant Themes website and my reading of commentary by other page builder theme developers, I think Divi Builder users will mostly ignore Gutenberg, at least to start. Divi Builder has already replaced most of the old text editor as its own custom solution. In the long run, Gutenberg may provide new opportunities for Divi to change and grow. But not immediately.

Roundpeg will continue with WordPress. We’ll continue with Divi Builder. We continue to urge all WordPress website owners to diligently update their website software to the latest version of WordPress as soon it becomes available. Gutenberg won’t change everything on day one or week six.

So don’t freak out. We’ll update our training procedures and provide opportunities to re-train anyone who asks. Until Gutenberg is released, keep writing. Keep an open mind. And always stay open to learning something new.