How to Use the New WordPress Block Editor – Your WordPress Gutenberg Guide
As of WordPress 5.0’s release on December 6, 2018, WordPress has a new default content editor. Called the WordPress Gutenberg editor while in development, “Gutenberg” is now just the “WordPress editor” or “block editor” if you want to be more specific.
The new block editor brings with it a completely different approach to content creation in the form of blocks (hence the name…). And in this post, you’re going to learn exactly how to use those blocks, and the new editor’s other features, to create content at your WordPress site.
Whether or not you’ve updated your site to WordPress 5.0 yet, keep reading to learn how to use the new Gutenberg block editor to build content and layouts at your site.
What is Gutenberg?
Gutenberg is the project name for the new WordPress block editor, which replaced the WordPress TinyMCE editor as the default WordPress editor in WordPress 5.0.
While Gutenberg was the official name while the editor was under development, it’s now just “the WordPress block editor” or “the WordPress editor” because it’s officially part of the core software. As such, you’ll often see me refer to it as the “block editor” in this post, rather than “Gutenberg”.
As a quick refresher, here’s what the old WordPress TinyMCE editor looked like. This editor is now called the classic editor:
And here’s what things look like in the new WordPress block editor, AKA Gutenberg:
It’s more than an aesthetic update, though. Gutenberg completely changes 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 the Gutenberg block editor “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 blocks, including landing pages and other important content.
Is Gutenberg a part of WordPress?
Gutenberg was officially released as part of WordPress 5.0 on December 6, 2018. If you’ve updated your site to WordPress 5.0, you should now see the new block editor by default.
However, because of the magnitude of the release, some managed WordPress hosts have opted not to update peoples’ sites right away. For that reason, there’s a chance your site might not be running WordPress 5.0 yet. In that case, it’s up to you whether you want to update or not (though you shouldn’t wait too long for performance and security reasons).
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 old classic WordPress editor.
So what’s a block?
Well, a block can be pretty much anything. For example, you can have blocks for:
- Regular text
- Video embeds
- Widgets (yes, those same widgets you use in your sidebar)
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:
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 interesting 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, the Gutenberg block editor 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 pre-made templates
- Advanced styling options, with spots for custom margins/padding and lots more
- Responsive design settings
The new block editor 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.
Do you have to use the new block editor? Can you keep the previous WordPress editor?
No, you do not have to use the new block editor and yes, you can keep using the previous WordPress editor. To deactivate the Gutenberg block editor and return your site to the classic editor after upgrading to WordPress 5.0, you can use the official Classic Editor plugin.
Read our guide on how to disable the Gutenberg block editor to learn more.
Do you need a special theme to use the new Gutenberg block editor?
Because it’s now the default WordPress editor, the block editor is built to work with any WordPress theme. However, choosing a theme that specifically offers Gutenberg compatibility will offer some very real benefits.
First, themes can offer built-in styling for all those new 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.
Additionally, there are some other small benefits like full-width image alignments. So – you can use whatever theme you want, but it is worth double checking to make sure that your theme’s developer is planning to add support.
If you just want to use a theme for testing, all of these themes have support for the new block editor:
- Neve – Neve is our new theme that’s specifically built to work with the Gutenberg block editor.
- Zakra – a nice lightweight option from ThemeGrill.
- Hestia Lite – a flexible theme that follows material design principles.
For more options, check out our collection of the best Gutenberg-compatible WordPress themes.
Building your first layout with the Gutenberg WordPress block editor
Assuming you’re using WordPress 5.0 and the new block editor, you’re ready to dig into the meat of this article. Below, I’ll show you how to actually use the new WordPress Gutenberg block editor to build a complete page layout.
That way, you’ll be ready to get the most from WordPress 5.0 and the new editor.
A quick tour of the WordPress block editor interface
Before you start adding some blocks, let’s go over a quick run-down of the elements of the main block editor interface:
- (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 new blocks
As I discussed in the intro, you’ll use separate “blocks” to build your layouts with the new editor.
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:
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:
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:
- 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.
- Reusable – once you get the hang of things, you can save groups of blocks as reusable templates and have them appear here. This area won’t appear until you save your first reusable template, which we’ll show you how to do later on in this post.
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:
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:
Once you select your image, you should see it right there in your page layout:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Once you’re finished, all you need to do is click the Publish button:
And you’ll have your formatted blog post on the front-end.
How to customize individual 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:
For basic text styling and alignment, you can use the menu bar that appears when you hover over 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:
How to rearrange individual 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:
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
Putting it all together
Once you pick up the flow of how things work with the new block editor, 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 block 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:
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!
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:
Activate full-screen mode, fixed toolbar, etc.
The new block editor 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.
Use Gutenberg keyboard shortcuts to save time
Beyond standard formatting shortcuts, the block editor 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
To open the full list of keyboard shortcuts, use the Shift + Alt + H shortcut.
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
Extend the block editor with plugins
If you want to get fancy, you can now find plenty of Gutenberg extension plugins that add their own blocks.
Otter Blocks is a good option to get you started. It gives you additional blocks for things like pricing, testimonials, Google Maps, sharing icons, “click to tweet” buttons, and more.
Control clutter with Block Manager
The new editor adds a lot of blocks, especially if you’re using some of those block plugins we mentioned above. This can make things a little cluttered and slow you down. If there are some blocks you never plan to use, you can use the Block Manager to disable them.
To use the Block Manager:
- Click the three dots icon in the top-right corner
- Select Block Manager
- Use the checkboxes to disable blocks as needed
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 you update to WordPress 5.0 (if you haven’t already).
Don’t worry – it won’t disappear! But the experience is a little bit different:
When you update your site to WordPress 5.0, and you have existing content built with the original TinyMCE editor, the block editor will put all of your old content into a single Classic block. This Classic block is basically the TinyMCE editor…but embedded inside the new block editor.
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 the Gutenberg block editor.
What’s next for the Gutenberg block editor?
While the block editor is now officially part of the core (thanks to the release of WordPress 5.0), the WordPress team is far from finished with the Gutenberg project.
Currently, the core team is working on having the block editor replace WordPress widgets, as well as letting you create navigation menus with blocks.
While these features are not here quite yet, they’re on the way. For that reason, it will pay to start learning the block editor interface ASAP!
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.
Now, we’d love to hear from you. I’m sure many of you have strong thoughts on the new Gutenberg block editor – 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%:
Layout, presentation, and editing by Karol K.
My Dad was a Creative Director all his life. I spent my youth working in the agency, and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. All those experiences made me into a thinker, dreamer and doer that specializes in integrated branding, marketing, digital and public relations services. I feel my key value to clients is the ability to turn creative concepts into analytically driven marketing plans and tools with greater stopping power & relevance, leading to greater results.
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