Should You Use Gutenberg on Existing WordPress Websites?

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With the impending release of WordPress 5.0, the new Gutenberg editor will make its way onto millions of websites. It’s a big change in how content is created, stored and managed. Not to mention the potential compatibility issues that could crop up with some themes and plugins.

As the new editor prepares for full release, we should note that the “Classic” Editor will remain available as a plugin. Activating it will enable site owners to use it in conjunction with Gutenberg or bypass it completely.

Because the Classic Editor affords us a second path, it’s worth considering whether or not to take it. Gutenberg represents a big shift in how WordPress operates. The question becomes, is it really worth utilizing the new editor on an existing site, or is it better to stick with the tried-and-true Classic version?

To answer that question, there are several factors to consider. So, before you take the plunge and switch to Gutenberg, here are a few items you’ll want to think about.

The Past and Future of Your Content

The content on your existing website, along with the way you manage it, has already been established. Odds are that your pages and blog posts follow a specific format that was created long before Gutenberg came onto the scene.

With that in mind, consider whether or not you want to change things to reflect the new capabilities Gutenberg brings. For instance, you might have interest in refactoring your existing content to utilize features like full-width images or multi-column layouts.

However, sites that are heavy in content may require a lot of work to bring up to speed. It might consist of going through every piece of content and laying it out in the new block-based format. Gutenberg can automatically convert legacy posts to blocks, though you’re ultimately the one who will need integrate any customizations.

The other option would be to perhaps refactor some existing content, while focusing more on using Gutenberg for new items. In this case, maybe a few key pages could be formatted with the new editor. Then, all future blog posts would also be block-based.

Gutenberg shouldn’t harm or break any existing content, so you can use it in conjunction with the Classic Editor to format just the content you choose.

WordPress new post menu.

Is Your Site Customized?

When you built your website, you may very well have set things up to take advantage of the Classic Editor. Or, perhaps you used custom fields or a page builder plugin to allow for more complex layouts, etc.

If your site already sports custom methods for creating content, switching to Gutenberg could lead to some issues. Turning off a page builder, for example, may break custom layouts that were created with it. That again means refactoring everything to use the new editor.

Some page builder plugins are pledging Gutenberg compatibility and custom fields will still work as they always have. Even so, it may make sense to just stick with your current setup.

If you do decide to go with Gutenberg, make sure to test everything in a staging environment beforehand. You won’t want to encounter any unpleasant surprises on a production site.

Code editor

Workflow and Client Education

Gutenberg is a fairly intuitive tool, but it still has a learning curve. Think of a busy news site that has multiple authors. They probably have an existing content creation and editorial process. Throwing a completely different type of editor into mix could hurt efficiency in the short term.

Likewise, even a small brochure-style website can run into some detours. If your client is typically the one who manages content, they may also struggle to adapt to a different workflow. Blog posts that previously took just a few minutes could take significantly longer to create.

This is where web designers need to step in and provide a crash course on using Gutenberg. It can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has a basic understanding of how things work. The other potential bright side (for you) is that educating clients can result in some extra revenue.

Still, the adaptation content creators will need to make isn’t going to be seamless – even with education. Thus, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of using Gutenberg against those of keeping things as-is.

Sign that reads "New Skills Training".

Time for a Redesign?

Because Gutenberg presents such a fundamental change to using WordPress, you may lean towards holding off on implementing it on your existing site. However, if your site is also due for a redesign, it might offer the perfect opportunity to knock both items off of your to-do list.

Since this new tool is the future of the platform, optimizing your redesign to utilize it makes plenty of sense. It provides you with the chance to refactor content and educate clients. Even better is that you can implement these changes on a staging environment. This allows you to experiment and identify any pain points.

When the new site launches, you can be confident that everything is working as it should. Clients will have an understanding of their new workflow and the website will be better prepared for the future.

Making the Right Decision

Deciding whether or not to enable Gutenberg on your existing website takes some serious thought. In the end, it’s about whether or not the switch is going to benefit your particular site. If you’re really keen on the flexibility the editor offers, then it may be worth your while to use it right from the get-go.

However, there are situations where rolling with the changes may not be ideal. If content creation on your site is highly-customized or a change to your workflow isn’t in your plans, using the Classic Editor for the time being could be your best bet.

The Classic Editor plugin should be supported for “years to come”, meaning that you don’t have to rush into anything when it comes to Gutenberg. Knowing this, you may consider a plan to start fresh and utilize Gutenberg on both new and newly redesigned websites.

Regardless, it all comes down to making the right choice for your specific situation. Thankfully, WordPress enables us to easily go in either direction.

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