You may or may not have heard but one of the largest and most significant changes to WordPress is right around the corner. WordPress 5 ships this week and includes many significant changes to the editing experience and compatibility.
Up to now, the editing experience of WordPress has been, erm, a little dull and restrictive. A standard installation of WordPress would provide you with a simple What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor with a number of controls for bringing in media to a page or post. With this single editor, most sites would dump this content in a single column on the site and that's about as exciting as it got. This is why it's so obvious to tell sites that are built with WordPress, as the editing experience (out of the box with no customisation) was pretty restrictive.
In recent years, developers have built their own page editors that allow people to design and build their pages using blocks of content and imaginative layouts. By far the most prolific of these editors is Visual Site Builder by WPBakery.
The rise of these visual page builders for WordPress has forced the hand of the development team behind WordPress and now they've built their own. They've called this new editor Gutenberg.
So what's the issue?
In version 5, WordPress enables Gutenberg on every page and post by default. Gutenberg will become the default editor everywhere. Whilst this isn't a problem in itself, it can cause issues and headaches if your site uses other plugins to enhance the editing experience and those plugins haven't been updated to work with Gutenberg. WordPress thrives because of the open-source community behind it that build and release plugins to further enhance the software but not every developer will be ready for Gutenberg when it ships this week.
For those that don't want to use the new editing experience, you can re-enable the old style editor (aptly named Classic Editor) by installing the Classic Editor plugin.
Should I update?
That's the million dollar question and annoyingly the answer is "it depends". If your site doesn't use any additional plugins to enhance the editing experience then you should be okay, BUT we would highly recommend installing a clone of your site somewhere and testing the update BEFORE you put it live. From the conversations we've seen online, this version of WordPress is a little rushed and as a result it might be worth waiting until the planned patches in January to ensure you update to a product that works well.
If your site does use additional plugins that appear when you're editing pages I would do some research and see if their recent release notes mention how compatible they are with Gutenberg. You can look at the latest release notes for a plugin by logging in to your WordPress site and navigating to Plugins > Installed Plugins and then looking for plugins that show there are updates available. If there's an update available, you can click the "View version x details" link to see the release notes, like below:
We'll be starting to upgrade the sites we run from January, to allow for the dust to settle a little and to give the plugin developers more time to prepare.
Can you check how "Gutenberg-friendly" our site is?
We can, yes. If you are happy to let us login to your WordPress site we can take a look and see if there's any obvious issues with updating to version 5. For most sites this will most likely entail us cloning your site and setting up a staging site elsewhere to ensure it all works so sadly this does come at a cost of £60 + VAT. We'll report back to you with any potential issues and will advise if you're all clear to upgrade. For more information or to book your site in, feel free to call us on 0333 090 3630, drop us a note to [email protected] or chat to us in the bottom right of this window.