It has been just over two years since the Gutenberg team released the WordPress Block Editor in the WordPress core. There was a lot of controversy when it was released about whether it should be included directly in the WordPress platform or left as a stand-alone plugin. Many who supported including it as a core platform felt that it was still too immature. Many people who had developed effective workflows using the Classic Editor or, especially, leading page builders like Elementor, Beaver Builder, DIVI and others felt like the block editor would never be as capable as their current tool of choice.
Page Builders led the way
At Outcome Labs, we had been building sites for ourselves and for clients since 2008. We adopted the DIVI theme with it’s visual “page builder” in 2014. While DIVI had been a very effective tool for us, we had an increasing level of concern about performance, content portability, and the “design-centric” focus of new DIVI features. In 2018, we evaluated and added some alternatives to our toolkit and workflows including Beaver Builder. We also started to experiment with “Gutenberg”, the block-based editor that was being developed to be included in the WordPress core platform.
Time for a change to blocks?
After the WordPress Block Editor was released as a core platform feature in December 2018 as part of WordPress 5.0, we began a process to see if we could adopt it as our primary tool for building WordPress sites. One of the things we felt would be a critical success factor in using the block editor was selecting a theme that would effectively support it. After evaluating several leading themes, we decided to use Astra. It was very fast, had a good feature set, and was very compatible with the Block Editor. The Brainforce team had even built their own block library.
We converted some of our personal sites to really learn the Block Editor and identify any issues and limitations. We evaluated how well some of our reference platform plugins like LearnDash, Yoast and WPForms would adopt a block-based approach rather than shortcodes, We also used these projects to evaluate the growing marketplace of third-party block libraries. While these early projects let us understand the current limitations of the Block Editor, we felt that it was mature enough to use on many projects and would, ultimately, be the de facto way to create and maintain WordPress-based websites.
Developing a block-based workflow
We launched projects to convert our company sites to the WordPress Block Editor in the Spring of 2019. We also updated our reference theme and plugin toolset and our workflows to optimize the use of the Block Editor. We established a new sandbox environment to evaluate new capabilities in the Block Editor as they were released as part of the Gutenberg plugin. We also extended our research to identify both best-practices and issues when working with the Block Editor.
During the second half of 2019, we launched our first Block Editor-based development project for a client. While there were some limitations of the Block Editor we had to work around, we were able to deliver the site the client needed on time and on budget. We continued to evolve our toolset and workflows to get the most leverage with the Block Editor. One of the key editions to our toolset last year was the Blocksy theme from the Creative Themes team. If you haven’t looked at Blocksy yet, we strongly recommend you do.
Blocks go mainstream
We have continued to actively research the direction of the Block Editor as it is being developed by the Gutenberg team. We have also continued to research how others in the WordPress community are using or plan to use the Block Editor.
One of the areas where the Block Editor has gained lots of traction on Page Builders is performance. A recent article on WordPress Tavern, “Gutenberg’s Faster Performance Is Eroding Page Builders’ Dominance” highlighted feedback from respected members of the WordPress community comparing the performance of page-builder sites to block editor sites. One of these was a post titled “Damn. Gutenberg Smokes Elementor” in which Kyle Van Deusen published benchmarks from his experience building a simple landing page using Elementor and then Gutenberg. These observations fit with our experience at Outcome Labs.
Another person we follow here at Outcome Labs is Chris Lema. Chris is a very well-regarded developer, writer, speaker and coach in the WordPress community. Just this past week, Chris published a post about converting his personal blog to the Block Editor using the Blocksy theme. This article is also worth a read.
So what’s in your toolset?
Here at Outcome Labs, we actively work with our clients on the long-term strategy for their sites. Many of these sites use a commercial page builder and meet the client’s needs today very well. We are not advising or pushing them to convert just to get to the “latest thing.” We are recommending that they evaluate their business needs and consider a migration if that will provide capabilities they need.
What about you? Are you using a page builder? Have you migrated to the Block Editor? If you are considering using the Block Editor and think you need some help, please get in touch and tell us how we could help you.