WordPress 5.0 Gutenberg & The (Eventual) Death of the Page Builder

If you work with websites at all (and you haven’t been living under a rock), chances are you’ve heard about WordPress block editor or “Gutenberg” editor. It’s hotly anticipated arrival is making waves and has sparked a great deal of discussion about the everyday page builder tools we use to create content for the web.

What is Gutenberg?

Named after Johannes Gutenberg who revolutionized printing with the invention of the printing press, the Gutenberg editor aims to (kind of) revolutionize the way users publish on the web.

The Gutenberg editor is a new way to create content on WordPress websites. Replacing the classic WYSIWYG editor, the new editor, which comes packaged with WordPress 5.0+, empowers writers and content creators with an intuitive visual tool for building posts and pages. While we’ve been experimenting with Gutenberg behind the scenes for a few months, this post is our first public post using the new tools.

If you’re curious about the new user experience, you can try it for yourself right now for free on wordpress.org (but please come back afterwards):

The new editor breaks down content creation into a manageable “blocks” of text like paragraphs, headers, code and blockquotes or multimedia like images, video embeds, audio files. Additional blocks allow users to create enhanced layouts with columns, full-width cover images or embedded widgets.

Why a New Editor?

A native, visual editing experience in WordPress was necessary for the same reason page builders have boomed over the past few years. Website users of our generation have grown accustomed to more than movable type—they expect immersive experiences—and the classic editor made working with multimedia a nightmare.

The Reign of Page Builders

The past few years have seen an enormous surge in the usage of WordPress as a content management system (CMS)—it is said to run about 30% of the entire web and over 60% of the CMS market. With that market comes a huge opportunity for third-party providers to step-in wherever the native open source software is lacking.

Clever developers, spotting content creators’ desire to have better control over their design, met this need with a number of premium page builder plugins.

Page builders or page-builder themes like Divi, Visual Composer, Enfold or Avada, have dominated this space. Page builders typically operate on a subscription model with licenses starting around $60-$90 per year (or more), and add make it easy for users create vibrant layouts quickly and efficiently.

We’ve been working with Elegant Themes‘ Divi page builder for several years, and our clients and editors love it. The visual builder enables content creators to use a drag-and-drop platform to create beautiful, interactive experiences in minutes—experiences that would take hours for a developer to code up in php.

Even now, page builders are way out in advance of Gutenberg, offering many more options for modules, design customization and layouts. But this trend will not likely last forever.

Challenges for Page Builders

The threats Gutenberg poses to paid-subscription page builders are many:

1. Gutenberg is Automatically Installed

Probably the most obvious challenge is that the new block-based editor is installed in WordPress 5.0+ automatically, and set up as the default method for new content creation.

What this means is that new users will have a lot more features out of the box and require more persuasion to switch over to a page builder.

It also provides a big incentive to third-party plugin developers to begin integration with Gutenberg. Why try to create modules for a dozen different page builders when you can create direct ties to a page builder pre-installed for 100% of your customers? The new editor lets plugin developers offer blocks to embed their content anywhere the users want to place it on the page.

Theme developers will likewise begin creating themes specifically tailored for use with Gutenberg. Users will naturally gravitate towards simpler solutions that don’t require installing extra plugins to make it work.

2. Gutenberg doesn’t leave a mess when you move to a new theme or export content.

No escape….

If you’ve ever tried to leave a page builder, you’ve probably seen something like the image above.

In order to operate, page builders leave massive amounts of [shortcode] in your database. What this means is that when you want to change your WordPress theme or export your page data, you have to go through each page (or use software) to remove all of the extra code.

The new blocks editor will (eventually) be compatible with any WordPress theme, so you can change your WordPress theme without having to worry about going to each post and page to clean up old shortcode.

Gutenberg was designed with portability in mind, which makes moving to a new theme, backwards compatibility, and exporting content much easier.

3. Page builders are expensive

The majority of page builders come with a hefty monthly price tag that most developers and content creators will be happy to be rid of. And it’s not just a one-time cost. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. $60+ per site per year could mean hundreds (or thousands for agencies) saved every year.

4. The Gutenberg editor is easily extended

Anticipating the arrival of WordPress 5.0 for months, developers have already released dozens of plugins with additional custom blocks for Gutenberg for any purpose imaginable: testimonials, blog-feed grids, profiles, accordions, toggles, pricing tables, etc. Atomic Blocks and Stackable already have thousands of installs.

What users and developers are unsatisfied with in the native editor, they can extend with free, lightweight plugins or write their own custom blocks.

5. Gutenberg is Just Getting Started

During its birthweek, WordPress 5.0’s Gutenberg editor still has a lot of limitations:

  • No front-end editor (yet)
  • UI can be clunky from time to time
  • Very limited options and awkward execution for columns

But the current features of the blocks-based editor are only the beginning. As the open-source project hurtles forwards, we can expect them to have the kinks ironed out and new features to be released on a monthly basis.

So Should You Quit Using Page Builders?

While the future prospects for page builders as they stand is a little grim, they still have a huge foothold in the market, and the world of software development moves really fast. We can probably expect the minds that developed these tools to continue to innovate and bring out new products that leverage the power of Gutenberg blocks.

The new editor has a long way to go before it can completely replace page builders, and for many business applications, it can’t compare to the reliability of tried and tested tools.

As third-party developers create more tools for the Gutenberg editor, I think we can expect a gradual departure from page editors, but that may be months or likely years away. For the time being, whether it’s a Gutenberg-optimized custom theme or a page-builder theme, we recommend continuing to use the best tools available for the job.

Shameless Plug

If you need help deciding whether a page builder or WordPress’ Gutenberg block editor is right for your next project, feel free to get in touch. Our web development and design experts would love to hear your story.

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