Developers love change. Making something “new” and “better” excites them. They are really excited that WordPress (WP) as we know it is going away.
But for small business owners, managers and personnel, change means lost productivity, expenses and a new learning curve. It will cost you time and/or money to make this transition.
And it is claimed that it will eventually be mandatory.
Hold on to your device because everything about creating content in WordPress is about to change — unless you opt out. Opting out is a current option, but for how long?
WP 4.9.8 is expected to be released on July 31, 2018 and will include the Gutenberg Callout encouraging people to install it and update.
Do NOT allow Gutenberg to go live until you read this because it may cause issues on your site. Test first!
This video from 7/10/18 has the latest information:
This is NOT a minor change they’re making. And once you migrate to the new layout, you cannot uninstall it. You would have to restore your original site from the backups.
Expect Delayed Support from Many Hosting Companies
Only 22% of all WordPress sites are running on the latest version. That means that many WordPress users probably rarely log in or never look at updates.
When Automattic sends the notification in a 4.9.x release with an invitation to install either the Gutenberg or the Classic Editor plugin, they won’t see it or may even ignore it. [These plugins are explained later in this content.]
Other sites that are on the latest version may have automated updates turned on and not see it. What this means is that the majority of WordPress users may not realize this huge change is coming.
When they wake up one day and their site has issues, their first point of contact is likely to be their hosting company, causing their support lines to become very busy.
Do Hosting Companies Know About Gutenberg?
How much hosting companies know about this change is going to vary widely. The largest hosts are aware it is coming, but how well they will have their support personnel trained to answer questions on it remains to be seen.
Even if they are all well-trained, the sheer volume of calls is going to impact wait time to speak with support.
Please share this information with everyone you know that uses WordPress so they’re prepared.
WordPress specific hosting companies including WpEngine, Synthesis and DreamPress are often actively involved in WordPress development so they are likely to be familiar with the upcoming changes.
For example, WordPress Developer Mika Epstein is an expert on htaccess and multi-site. She is a WordPress plugin review team representative who works on DreamPress for DreamHost.
She is actively involved in testing and evaluating plugin compatibility with Gutenberg. And she was kind enough to offer her insights and clarification used to create this article.
What If Your Hosting Company Is No Help?
You may find your hosting company has no idea why you are calling. First, try installing the Gutenberg plugins to opt-out.
If you still have issues, it could be a good time to consider moving to a WordPress-optimized hosting company or at least one more familiar with WordPress changes.
Some of the advantages of using a hosting company that is specifically designed to host WordPress only are:
- They are Faster. On average these companies are 30-40% faster than shared hosting partly due to improved caching.
- They have better firewalls. Because they only host WordPress, they can block many security issues immediately and close avenues not used by WordPress to keep out hackers.
- They have automated backups. Though these are also available on other managed hosting services.
- They offer other safeguards. Some limit which plugins can be used to reduce security and server load issues.
If you want to build a low maintenance WordPress site, follow these tips. Carefully vet any hosting companies you consider and note the age of the reviews and comparisons you read.
How to Vet Hosting Companies
Keep in mind that some companies offer large affiliate commissions which provide an incentive for writers to recommend them over their competitors. Those recommendations may or may not be based on actual results.
Beware of sites only recommending the top three hosting companies which also happen to pay the highest commissions.
Instead, seek out comparison sites that provide factual analysis or many reviews without affiliate links. Here is an example of a HostingFacts review based on testing speed and uptime.
Their thorough reviews make it easier to compare hosting plans and costs. Another excellent source for reviews is G2 crowd’s hosting section.
Switching hosting companies can be simple or complicated. Some offer free migration services while others charge to move your site.
If you have database or loading issues, paying can be worthwhile to resolve those problems at the same time. Evaluate how serious you are about your site.
Now could be a good time to go all-in with your site. Switch to https (if you haven’t already). And consider changing to the fastest, most secure hosting possible to fully grow your business.
Remember to ask whether https is included in the price or the hosting company charges an extra fee for it. Some are still charging while others include it.
What Is WordPress Gutenberg?
Gutenberg changes how you create blog posts and how they appear when published. The best way to understand is to actually see it.
Because Gutenberg has been continually changing to this point, this is the most recent demo as of now. Hopefully, it will still look similar when you see it.
WordPress Developer Will Patton explains that it is necessary to update WordPress because “as it is currently, it cannot take advantage of advances in modern browser features. The new Gutenberg editor works better and faster in the browser.”
WordPress Developers Need to Provide Guidance
Non-technical site owners are not going to know how to do any of the steps mentioned above. Developers may be inundated with calls about every site they have ever built.
Because it is unlikely you have the bandwidth to handle the questions you are going to get, you need a plan. First, create a post similar to this how to start a blog with step-by-step instructions, but specific to Gutenberg.
Even better, create video tutorials, courses, or ebooks. Use these to walk past clients through how to prepare for Gutenberg themselves or to educate them while they’re waiting for you to be able to assist.
If your past clients can watch on their phone while doing the action steps you provide, maybe they won’t need personal assistance. If you don’t have time to make your own, find videos others have made and share those.
Create your own walk-through how-tos using Screencast-o-matic. There is a forever free plan or upgrade to one of their very inexpensive premium plans for additional editing features.
Providing how-tos in text, audio and video can benefit your customers and past clients more than talking to them on the phone or via email. Protect your time by notifying them in advance so they are not caught unprepared.
Freelance Income Opportunities
Many small businesses and freelancers are not going to want to do the testing themselves. Developers with experience, hosting companies, and even students can create portfolios showing their experience and start pitching owners of WordPress sites.
Some site owners will only want someone to install the Gutenberg related plugins. You could help many site owners, doing a high volume for a low price that generates a nice income.
Randy A. Brown put Gutenberg into perspective: “The future of WordPress will not put developers and designers out of business.”
If you know developers who want to be ahead of the demand, they need to learn Gutenberg and React. Many developers will not be able to troubleshoot their own code because they won’t learn React.
Gutenberg Plugin Confusion
Sorting out the plugins related to Gutenberg is not easy. There are already 19 pages of plugins showing up on a search for Gutenberg in the official plugin repository.
But these three are the ones you need to consider:
- Classic Editor plugin: install this before Gutenberg goes live to stay on the existing editor.
- Gutenberg plugin: install this to test Gutenberg now before it is merged into the WordPress core.
- Gutenberg Ramp: “adds a settings screen where you can enable Gutenberg selectively (for specific post types). For even greater control, you can specify Gutenberg loading behavior in code. Ramp works with both the plugin version of Gutenberg, and the core version, providing a seamless transition.”
While there are many other plugins to disable or alter the behavior of Gutenberg and restore the classic editor, the plugins above are recommended by the WordPress plugin development team.
Use this post or the video below to understand how to use the Gutenberg Ramp plugin.
Why WordPress 5.0 May Break Your Site
The current plan is for WordPress 5.0 to default to Gutenberg automatically. There will be many shocked site owners who have auto-update turned on who wake up to broken sites when this happens.
Before 5.0 is released, it is important to have a current backup and the classic editor plugin installed on your site. It allows sites to revert to the existing editor.
Note that the information on this plugin currently says, “Warning: This is beta software, do not run on production sites!”
Gutenberg was originally expected to have already rolled out. As of now, a firm date for the release of 5.0 is not set. But the best estimate at this time is August, 2018.
Be Sure to Do This BEFORE 5.0 Rolls Out
Not everything in an existing WordPress installation is going to run on WordPress 5.0, code name Gutenberg. Before they roll out 5.0, each site’s configuration should be tested using the Gutenberg plugin which is already available.
They do NOT recommend installing it on a live site. It would be wise to install a test site on your computer’s hard drive or at a hosting company to use for testing.
Note that there is still a small chance that Gutenberg could run fine on a clone of your site, but cause an issue on the live site. This is because versions of PHP, MySQL or MariaDB, or HTTPS support could be different.
Non-technical business personnel, bloggers and freelancers may need to hire someone to deal with testing. Use these cloning instructions or the video below or pay someone else to do before 5.0 rolls out:
Once you have an identical copy of your site installed, carefully check to see what works and what doesn’t. This could be challenging because you may not know what to test.
Check to see if videos still work, images display properly, contact forms work, and anything in widgets appears. Read to the end for more advanced recommendations on how to deal with this major change.
Existing Themes Are Not Fully Compatible
Theme Forest themes will probably all be updated and work fine. They are helping their developers push through compatibility updates where needed. 50 of their themes are currently listed as ready.
Some WordPress theme frameworks have major work to do while others feel they are ready for the rollout. There are over 56 frameworks whose status is unknown.
Genesis is on top of the changes and feels their framework and themes will be ready.
StudioPress has no information about Gutenberg on their site. Chris Pearson responded:
“The only thing Thesis 2 will need is a Box that specializes in outputting content produced in the Gutenberg editor.
Thesis 2 will get whatever treatments end up being necessary; existing T2 Skin users may need to update their templates to “use” Gutenberg.”
Thesis 1 will not be updated. Sites running on Thesis 1 will need to stay on the old editor for now and make changes before it is phased out.
Elegant Themes is aware and has published multiple blog posts about Divi vs Gutenberg. This video explains how WordPress used to work and how Gutenberg is similar to builders like Divi:
What to Do if Your Existing Theme or Framework is Not Compatible
What if you are running Thesis 1 or any other framework or any other untested theme? Asked what site owners should do, Web developer and WordPress specialist Donna Cavalier told us:
“Leaving Thesis might be a huge deal, or it might be no big deal at all. If you’ve got a lot of custom code going on, you might want to rethink everything. Do you really need it all? Why? Would another approach be better?
Each use case will be different. Some will only need to change themes and make a few adjustments. Others may need a complete site overhaul.
Image source: Screen capture from above Envato video.
The best way to find out is to clone the site, change themes on the clone, and see what happens. That half-hour experiment is worth months of wondering.”
She offers additional advice in Gutenberg Will Confuse The Crap Out Of Almost Everyone.
Will Your Plugins Work with Gutenberg?
The Gutenberg compatibility chart shows that as of 7/23/18 an estimated 80.46% of the 55,433 plugins in the WordPress repository have not been tested to be compatible with Gutenberg.
Some popular plugins have announced they are ready:
- Contact Form 7 and Gravity Forms have Gutenberg blocks built.
- Caldera Forms is listed as ready.
- Yoast is working on compatibility.
According to Epstein, most plugins are not expected to have issues because they rarely modify the editor. She estimates only 15% of plugins will be affected.
This includes my own GrowMap anti-spambot plugin and the popular plugin CommentLuv. A cursory review showed they seem to be safe to continue using even though Andy Bailey, the developer of CommentLuv is not available to update them.
Epstein commented that they seemed well-coded, so even though they have not been updated, they post little security risk.
Gutenberg Impact on Ecommerce Platforms
Ecommerce platforms have complex challenges, complicated by changes the Gutenberg development team keeps making. But recently, a feature freeze was made so that third parties can work on compatibility.
Woocommerce has released a Gutenberg block as a plugin. Read about their solution here and search for “Wootenberg” to find future information on it.
Hopefully, other ecommerce solutions using WordPress will also provide migration paths.
Rush to Mobile Negatively Impacts PC Experience
How sites display on mobile devices is over-riding the optimum design for experiencing them on desktop and laptop. A 28″ monitor has a viewing space of about 24.5″ wide by 13.5″ tall.
Gutenberg removes sidebars. Sites will be one large viewing space. Give some consideration to what the optimum width will be and what your sites will look like on large PC monitors.
It can be difficult to read text that is very wide. So most likely, PC users will be viewing many sites that are a narrow strip down the middle of their monitor with nothing on either side.
What Happens to Old Content in Gutenberg?
When a site gets converted to Gutenberg, it attempts to break all the components up into blocks. But if it runs into an error, it will put the entire post or page into one block.
Sites running the Gutenberg Ramp plugin may have some post types running in the old editor and other post types using the new editor.
Never Volunteer to Be on the Bleeding Edge
We had a saying among IBM Customer Engineer (CE) computer technicians: do not volunteer to be on the bleeding edge. What that means is it is best to not test changes on your live site.
Wise CEs did not install new software on live systems until it had run for a while on other systems and the worst bugs were already fixed. Some systems (hospitals, police, fire, banking) were more critical than others.
This is good advice to remember for small businesses running WordPress, too. If your site generates income and downtime would cause serious financial implications, hold off for a while.
RECOMMENDATION: Install the Classic Editor plugin and wait until Gutenberg has been more thoroughly tested, bugs resolved, and themes and plugins have a chance to improve to match it.
Follow this advice especially if you have an ecommerce site. Apply change management strategies to minimize your risk.
Do your research first to find out if what manages ecommerce on your WordPress site is ready for Gutenberg.
It won’t hurt to stay on the old editor for at least several months. Some may choose to stay on it as long as that is possible.
Photo via Shutterstock