WordPress Gutenberg Guide: How to Build Your Next Site With the Revolutionary Editor

Depending on how plugged in you are to the WordPress community, you may or may not already be familiar with the upcoming WordPress Gutenberg editor. The Gutenberg editor has stirred up all kinds of discussion on both sides of the aisle. But this post is not trying to weigh in on that debate…

Instead, this post recognizes the inevitability of Gutenberg and aims to provide you with a comprehensive resource on how to use the WordPress Gutenberg editor on your site so that you can continue to churn out awesome content when Gutenberg goes public.

Whether this is the first time you’re hearing about the WordPress Gutenberg editor or you’re already somewhat familiar with it, this post will help you learn how you can use the new editor to build layouts for your WordPress content.

What is Gutenberg?

In a nutshell, Gutenberg is the upcoming replacement to the WordPress TinyMCE editor (the current WYSIWYG text editor where you write your posts and pages).

As a quick refresher, here’s what the WordPress TinyMCE editor looks like:

original wordpress tinymce editor

And here’s what things look like in the new WordPress Gutenberg editor:

new wordpress gutenberg editor

It’s more than an aesthetic update, though. Gutenberg is going to completely change the editing experience by moving to a block-based approach to content (more on exactly what blocks are in a second!).

While the current focus is on content creation, the eventual goal is to have Gutenberg “go beyond the post into page templates and ultimately, full site customization.”

That means eventually you’ll be able to build your whole site using Gutenberg, including landing pages and other important content.

When will Gutenberg be a part of WordPress?

Gutenberg will not officially become a part of the WordPress core until the next major release – WordPress 5.0.

Currently, WordPress 5.0 is tentatively scheduled for November 19, 2018. With that being said, the team has built in some flexibility to those dates. If testing takes longer than expected, it could be pushed until November 27, 2018. And if that’s still not enough time, the release date will be further pushed back to January 22, 2019 to avoid releasing it over the holidays.

 
Until then, you can still install and use the WordPress Gutenberg editor right now via a plugin.

Because Gutenberg is still technically in beta, we don’t recommend that you do this on a live site, though.

How the WordPress Gutenberg editor works

A second ago, I told you that Gutenberg is a block-based editor. It was kind of rude to leave you hanging because, if you’re like most people, you might not know what that means.

So here’s block-based editing 101:

Essentially, Gutenberg replaces the single edit field of the current WordPress TinyMCE editor with lots of individual “blocks”.

These blocks then allow you to build more complex designs than those allowed in the current WordPress editor.

So what’s a block?

Well, a block can be pretty much anything. For example, you can have blocks for:

  • Regular text
  • Images
  • Video embeds
  • Buttons
  • Widgets (yes, those same widgets you use in your sidebar)
  • Tables
  • Etc.

And what’s neat is that developers will be able to create their own third-party blocks that you can access via plugins for even more flexibility.

Each block is its own entity that you can manipulate on an individual basis. For example, here’s a quick Gutenberg post that contains three blocks:

  • 2 text blocks
  • 1 image block

Watch how easily I can rearrange those blocks just by dragging and dropping them:

Gutenberg drag and drop

And because each block is “separate”, you can also add things like custom backgrounds just for specific blocks.

In general, it gives you more flexibility and in-depth control.

So Gutenberg is a page builder then, right?

Ehh, not quite. At least not in its current form.

Gutenberg is going to make it a lot easier to style regular content like blog posts or standard pages, but it’s not a 1:1 substitute for page builders in its current form.

Just on a surface level, Gutenberg already lacks two essential things:

  • Flexible columns, though there is a basic column block and some third-party developers have created interesteing blocks.
  • True drag and drop – the newer version of Gutenberg lets you rearrange blocks with drag and drop, but it’s still not free-form like most page builders.

With that being said, Gutenberg is poised to eliminate the need for page builders for most “standard” content, and it also creates a single unified method for creating more complex post layouts in WordPress.

But when it comes to building more complex pages, like a landing page, you’re probably going to appreciate the greater flexibility offered by page builders (at least during Gutenberg’s initial release).

For example, in our comparison between Elementor vs Divi Builder vs Beaver Builder, you can see how the top page builders offer things like:

  • Free-form drag and drop editing
  • True multi-column support where you can create any number of columns to drag individual elements into
  • Tons of premade templates
  • Advanced styling options, with spots for custom margins/padding and lots more
  • Responsive design settings

Gutenberg might get there someday. But at least in its initial release form, page builders will still give you the flexibility to design more complicated standalone pages.

How to install Gutenberg on your site

Ready to see how Gutenberg works?

Like I said, Gutenberg will replace the default WordPress editor in WordPress 5.0. But for now, your only option to play around with it is to install the Gutenberg plugin.

Remember, though – Gutenberg is still in beta, so we definitely do not recommend that you install it on a live website.

Here’s how to install the Gutenberg plugin … though, it’s a fairly standard process:

  • Go to Plugins → Add New
  • Search for “Gutenberg”
  • Click Install Now
  • Wait for the Install Now button to change to Activate
  • Click Activate

Once you activate the plugin, your site will automatically use the Gutenberg editor when you go to Posts → Add New:

gutenberg editor

Use a Gutenberg theme for the best results

While Gutenberg is designed to work with any WordPress theme (just like the WordPress editor), choosing a theme that specifically offers Gutenberg compatibility will offer some very real benefits.

First, themes can offer built-in styling for the Gutenberg blocks. Better yet, themes can actually load these styles inside the editor. That means you can see the real styling for your blocks as you build your content for a better WYSIWYG experience (see a basic version of this in action here)

Gutenberg themes will also be able to offer pre-made templates comprised of various blocks so that all you need to do is plug your content into the existing blocks and hit Publish.

We’re now seeing some people start to release Gutenberg-ready themes. Some good options you can play around with are:

Building your first layout with the WordPress Gutenberg editor

Ok – now that you have Gutenberg installed, let’s dig into the meat of this article. Below, I’ll show you how to actually use the new WordPress Gutenberg editor to build a complete page layout.

That way, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when WordPress 5.0 drops.

A quick tour of the Gutenberg interface

Before you start adding some blocks, let’s go over a quick run-down of the elements of the main Gutenberg interface:

wordpress gutenberg editor interface explained

  • (A) – lets you add new blocks.
  • (B) – undo/redo buttons
  • (C) – gives you access to document settings, covering things like categories & tags, featured images, etc. This is similar to the current sidebar in the WordPress editor
  • (D) – when you have an individual block selected, this gives you access to settings that are specific to that block
  • (E) – lets you access a live preview of your post or publish/update your post
  • (F) – once you add some blocks, this is where you’ll actually work with your post’s content

Adding blocks to Gutenberg

As I discussed in the intro, you’ll use separate “blocks” to build your layouts with Gutenberg.

To add a new block, all you need to do is click the +Plus icon and select the type of content you want to add:
adding a new block
In the example above, I showed you how to add a basic paragraph block. But Gutenberg actually includes a ton of different blocks, divided into different sections:
types of blocks
At the top, you see a list of your Most Used blocks. But if you scroll down, you’ll also see sections for Common Blocks, Formatting, Layout Elements, Widgets, and Embeds:
types of blocks
  • Inline Elements – only contains one block for an inline image.
  • Common Blocks – contains basic building blocks like images, paragraphs (regular text), headings, quotes, etc.
  • Formatting – let you add more formatted content like pull quotes, tables, or the classic WordPress text editor
  • Layout Elements– let you split text into two columns, include buttons, separators, or the “More” tag
  • Widgets – let you add shortcodes, latest posts, or categories. It’s even possible to display sidebar widgets right in Gutenberg.
  • Embeds – help you embed content from external sources like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and more.

Building a basic layout with Gutenberg

Let’s start off simple. Say you just want to build a basic blog post layout that includes:

  • Regular text
  • An image
  • A quote
  • An embedded YouTube video

Here’s how you’d do it with Gutenberg:

First, you’d write your entire post in the editor. Or, if you’re like me and prefer to write in Google Docs, you can paste it all in and then Gutenberg will automatically convert it to blocks.

Adding the non-text blocks

Now that your content is split into blocks, you can hover over the spot where you want to insert your first image and click the plus icon. That will create a break. Then, click the plus icon again to insert the image block:

image block
This will allow you to insert an image block, from which you can upload or select images in a similar manner to the current WordPress editor:
insert image
Once you select your image, you should see it right there in your page layout:
inline image
Next, hover over the spot where you want to insert the pull quote and use the same approach to insert another block. You can either search for “quote” or go to the Common Blocks section:
insert quote
Then, you’ll see your new pull quote block. To create your quote, all you need to do is click into the block and type:
enter quote
To insert a YouTube video, you can add a new YouTube block from the Embeds tab. To insert a video, all you need to do is enter the URL and click Embed:
youtube block

Optional – creating different columns

Want to get even more creative? Gutenberg now includes an experimental columns feature that lets you quickly create multiple columns. All you need to do is add the Columns (Beta) block from the Layout Elements section. Then, you can insert other blocks inside it:

Gutenberg columns
Once you’re finished, all you need to do is click the Publish button:
publish post
And you’ll have your formatted blog post on the front-end.

How to customize individual Gutenberg blocks

Because the WordPress Gutenberg editor includes a ton of different blocks, I can’t show you how to use each individual block.

But I can give you a basic framework that applies to all blocks.

Basically, you control the content in the actual body of the editor:
editing a block
For basic text styling and alignment, you can use the menu bar that appears when you hover over a block:
styling a block
And for more advanced styling, you’ll usually style the block in the Block settings tab.

To access that tab, select the block you want to edit and browse to the Block tab:

customizing a block

How to rearrange individual Gutenberg blocks

To rearrange blocks, you have two options. You can use the Up or Down arrow when hovering over a block to move the block in that respective direction:

move gutenberg blocks
Or, you can drag and drop blocks. To activate the drag and drop functionality, you’ll need to hover your mouse over the six dots between the up and down arrows
Gutenberg drag and drop

Putting it all together

Once you pick up the flow of how things work with Gutenberg, it’s fairly painless and intuitive.

At first, you might experience some growing pains and struggle to perform basic actions that you’ve taken for granted.

But once you get the hang of things – you should be cruising through building layouts. And with the more advanced blocks that Gutenberg comes with, you’ll have more flexibility than the TinyMCE WordPress Editor.

Some neat, but more advanced, Gutenberg tricks

As you become more acquainted with the WordPress Gutenberg editor, you might find some of these tricks to be time-savers.

Quick-create a new block with typing

Above, I showed you how to create blocks using the insert button. But to save time, you can actually create blocks by simply typing this syntax:

/BLOCK-NAME

An auto suggest box will appear to help you find the relevant block.

For example, here’s how to create an image block with just your keyboard:

Pretty convenient and a big time-saver!

block shortcut

Edit source code directly

At any point, you can edit the source code for your entire post by clicking on the three dots in the top-right and selecting Code Editor:

editing code in gutenberg

Activate full-screen mode, fixed toolbar, etc.

Gutenberg includes a few different modes that let you change the editing experience. You can:

  • Add a fixed toolbar like the TinyMCE editor
  • Go full-screen
  • Put a “spotlight” on the active block

To use these “Views”, click on the three dots icon in the top-right corner.

Gutenberg views

Use Gutenberg keyboard shortcuts to save time

Beyond standard formatting shortcuts, Gutenberg has a number of dedicated keyboard shortcuts that can help you:

  • Insert new blocks above or below the selected block
  • Delete a block
  • Duplicate a block
  • Etc.

To open the full list of keyboard shortcuts, use the Shift + Alt + H shortcut.

Gutenberg keyboard shortcuts

Create reusable block templates

If you have a specific collection/arrangement of blocks that you need to reuse in multiple spots, you can save a group of blocks as a reusable template. You’ll be able to name your template. Then, you can insert it just like you would a regular block.

To create your template:

  • Select the blocks that you want to include
  • Click the three dots icon
  • Select Add to Reusable blocks
Gutenberg reusable block templates

Extend Gutenberg with plugins

If you want to get fancy, you can now find plenty of Gutenberg extension plugins that add their own blocks. Stackable is a good option to get you started, and you can find lots more at WordPress.org:

Gutenberg plugins

What happens to all of your old content?

Before I finish things out, let me quickly cover what will happen to all of your old content once WordPress 5.0 ships.

Don’t worry – it won’t disappear! But the experience is a little bit different:

When you activate the Gutenberg Editor on a site that has existing content built with the original TinyMCE editor, Gutenberg will put all of your old content into a single Classic block. This Classic block is basically the TinyMCE editor…but embedded in Gutenberg.

Gutenberg classic block

To work with your old content, you can either:

  • Leave it in the Classic block and edit it just like you would with the old WordPress editor
  • Use the three dots icon and select Convert to Blocks. That will break everything into individual blocks. Then, you can work with your content just as if you’d originally created it with Gutenberg.

Convert to blocks

Gutenberg is the future

While Gutenberg has its detractors, it’s still coming in WordPress 5.0.

For most casual users, it will, after some growing pains, bring a more flexible content creation experience.

Non-developers will be able to intuitively craft more complex layouts with extra elements like buttons, content embeds, and lots more. And that will, hopefully, help WordPress to continue to grow.

Until WordPress 5.0 ships, you can play around with the WordPress Gutenberg editor by installing the plugin. And if you’d like to keep on top of the latest Gutenberg updates, you can follow along with the #gutenberg tag at Make WordPress Core.

Now, we’d love to hear from you. I’m sure many of you have strong thoughts on Gutenberg – so let us know about it in the comments!

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%: