Now that the WordPress Gutenberg editor has become a viable option for building sites, agencies are starting to transition from page builders to get back to “plain WordPress.” We spoke with 15 agencies to understand the shift.
After two years on the market, Gutenberg is overcoming its rough start and reputation as a half-baked product. Now, it’s proving itself as a solid foundation for building WordPress sites, and agencies are starting to notice.
Who we interviewed
Fifteen agencies reached out to help us understand what led them to transition from page builders to the Gutenberg block editor.
All of the agencies we interviewed have been building WordPress sites for many years (even decades) and range in size from 1-60 employees. They work in a variety of industries such as non-profit, cybersecurity, real estate, hospitality, retail, publishing, and more and have experience building eCommerce sites, directories, membership sites, learning management systems, and everything in between.
All of the interviewees used to use Elementor, Beaver Builder, Visual Composer, Muffin Builder and Divi but now use Gutenberg to build their sites, usually partnered with the Gutenberg-based plugin Toolset.
The challenges agencies have with page builders
For many years, agencies have relied on the drag-and-drop functionality and styling options that come with page builders. So why did the agencies we interviewed abandon them?
Speed and performance
It’s true, page builders make it easy to create beautiful designs, but often that comes at the expense of site performance. With Google’s announcement that they will be making site performance a bigger SEO ranking factor starting this June, this is more important than ever.
It’s no secret that page builders add extra, often unnecessary code to your site, but what may be surprising is how much this can actually slow your site. In a recent article, author Kyle Van Deusen saw his Google’s PageSpeed Insights score increase from 46 to 94 by switching from one popular page builder to Gutenberg.
Our interviewees reported improvements in page and site speed, leaner pages, and less of a need for so many plugins which has resulted in better SEO rankings and faster sites.
Christophe Keppens, who creates sites using Kadence Blocks or Toolset (including dynam-IT) is pleased with the performance of the sites he builds with Gutenberg:
Dependency on 3rd party code
Because page builders are such a core part of building a site, any issue with a page builder can create huge problems. Some agencies cited issues like these as wake-up calls to reduce their reliance on 3rd party solutions.
“After taking over a few sites that were using different page builders, spending a lot of time to sort out the mess, I was very suspicious of anything that was not clean WordPress,” says Stina Deurell, who created the site Deep Adaptation Guidance using GeneratePress theme and Toolset.
Christophe Keppens adds, “As many others, I also had some issues [after a page builder’s] release. That’s when I decided I wanted to eliminate the dependency on 3rd parties as much as possible. At the same time, I discovered Kadence Theme and Kadence Blocks. Also 3rd party, but much closer to the WordPress core system. So, I tried rebuilding one of my sites and it went rather well.”
Steep learning curves with clients
If clients want to edit their content or take over the maintenance of their site, it can be difficult for them to learn a whole new interface on top of learning how to use WordPress. With Gutenberg, however, they only need to learn one.
Joe Watts created a site for non-profit organization Cawaco using Genesis Framework theme, Genesis Blocks, and Toolset. “Gutenberg started making sense to me when I looked into how much easier it was for clients to use. They like pages that are pages—where they can edit the page and actually make changes to it…[Clients are] much happier. They feel like it has given them some additional controls over their websites.”
John Fleming used Blocksy theme, Stackable Blocks, and Toolset to create a site for author Lily Morton:
Difficult to create a dynamic site
Though page builders are starting to add some dynamic capabilities, some require other plugins, add-on solutions, or custom programming to create fully dynamic sites. Only Toolset and Crocoblock allow you to both create custom content like fields and taxonomies and display them dynamically across your site.
Dawson Barber of Total Local Online Marketing (built with Astra and Toolset) is one interviewee who has found it quicker to build dynamic sites with Gutenberg:
Dragan who built the site TreeRay with WoodMart and Toolset says, “By using Gutenberg to build my sites, I solved the custom coding problem – instead of using custom code, I just add a block and then focus on my content.”
Toolset even adds dynamic functionality to other 3rd party block plugins, which John Fleming says “is a game changer for us.”
How using Gutenberg works for agencies and their clients
All of the agencies reported that clients are just as happy with their sites built with Gutenberg, and they feel that they have more control and understanding of their sites.
This can be especially useful if you only want to deliver a project, not maintain it. This is the case for Marijke Metz who built Metz Design using GeneratePress and Toolset.
“All of our clients are really happy with their Gutenberg-based sites,” adds Dawson Barber, “particularly those that want to occasionally update some content on their own (they didn’t like the editing experience with frontend page builders).”
Stina Deurell similarly shares, “Depending on [the client’s] computer maturity they range from liking the look of [the site], to love to be able to make a new View themselves.”
The remaining pain points in Gutenberg and how agencies deal with them
Gutenberg still has some areas of improvement. In our interviews, agencies reported some similar issues they struggle with when working with Gutenberg. Overall, they reported these issues as being more annoyances than stoppers.
- They want default styling per site for blocks and images.
- Abundance of available blocks through different plugins is overwhelming – hoping for the ability to turn off blocks clients won’t use.
- Working with global and reusable blocks is not intuitive yet.
- They want more animation options.
- It’s difficult to create designs that differ from the theme’s default styling.
Joe Watts and Marijke Metz both struggle with Gutenberg giving clients too many options:
- Joe says, “The wonderful and vast number of blocks is both a blessing and a curse. It can be overwhelming to clients when they are presented with dozens and dozens of options for each block. Turning off the blocks you know your clients won’t need, will help them love Gutenberg even more. There are some I never use. There are some I use a lot.”
- Marijka also adds, “[Clients] are easily overflowed with all the possibilities and don’t know where to look to solve their problem.”
Dragan found solutions to his problems with Toolset: “The challenges that still remain with Gutenberg are creating designs that differ from my theme’s default styling, i.e. having full control over styles to design templates for custom post types and archive pages. To overcome these challenges I use Toolset plugins (Blocks, Types, Forms and Access) to add custom post types to my sites and display them as I choose.”
Agencies have found a better site-building solution with Gutenberg
Overall, the agencies we spoke to were very happy with their switch to Gutenberg and the added possibilities and functionality Toolset adds.
Geoff Smith, who built the coupon site Blippr using GeneratePress and Toolset says, “Other blocks are limited in what they can do, but using Toolset custom post types and dynamic blocks I was able to build a pretty complex site that has a lot of different content being pulled in and updated on a regular basis. I think [building a site with blocks] is one of the only ways to build larger sites on WordPress, otherwise you are going to be doing custom development (have fun with that!). Toolset has made it easy for us to do things in days that would have taken us weeks before.”
“[Gutenberg is] now our first choice for building WordPress websites, so much so that, even though we’d redone our agency website [to switch from one page builder to another] in the last year, we decided to rebuild our agency website from scratch using Gutenberg and Toolset. We’re extremely pleased with our agency website rebuild,” says Dawson Barber. “All in all, we’re really happy that we embraced Gutenberg and look forward to new features from Gutenberg as well as the Toolset team.”
What is your experience with Gutenberg?
Would you make the switch from page builders to Gutenberg, or have you already? What’s your number one concern about moving to Gutenberg? Let us know in the comments!
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