What is the Right Page Builder Plugin for Your WordPress Site?
November 26, 2019
One of the most popular plugins being used today is Elementor. This page builder plugin currently has over over 3 million installations. But Elementor is far from the only game in town. The WordPress space is flooded with options when it comes to page builders.
You could use Beaver Builder. Or Divi. Or Site Origin. Or Thrive Architect. Right now there are over 15 different plugins for WordPress to choose from that offer some kind of page building or drag-and-drop interface for constructing site layouts. The list of choices is growing by the month.
What makes these page builders different?
The companies involved with all of these page builders would disagree but it’s our opinion that the differences between these products aren’t that dramatic. In terms of features, these plugins generally match each other in functionality. The two big separators between them all are in their pricing and just how much they rely on a specific theme to work.
You can get started with Elementor or Beaver Builder for free which helps explain their popularity. They can each be extended with paid add-ons and features but, out of the box, each has zero cost and are compatible with practically every WordPress theme.
Other page builders have an up front fee to get started. You get support and updates, which is typical in the WordPress plugin ecosystem, and you can swap out your theme at will and for the most part everything will continue to work as you have it built.
Some page builders come bundled with a premium theme or subscription theme service. Divi is a popular example that uses this model. You get access to Divi by subscribing to the Elegant Themes subscription theme service for a yearly fee.
Years ago several major WordPress theme sellers saw where the market was headed and built their own page builder plugins. Now we have a series of segmented service markets to the point that some people call themselves “Divi Developers” instead of “WordPress developers.”
Which Page Builder Do We Think is the Best?
At Link Software we think asking which page builder is the best is actually a trick question. The right answer to us is that you shouldn’t be using a page builder plugin at all. We don’t use page builders for any new client designs and suggest clients with sites already using one consider changing.
Here’s a recent example of why we feel this way:
We took on a small job for someone with a WordPress website that was built with one of the popular page builder and theme combos. The site needed a few minor changes but nothing significant. It should have been a job that took a matter of minutes.
The bloat and interface bugs that came with the installed page builder turned a five minute task into an hour long series of frustrating content rebuilds. In the end we had to totally reconstruct several portions of the site from scratch because the page builder simply lost the content.
Build What You Need, Don’t Pay for Features You’ll Never Use
Page builders naturally just get in the way. They have to try and be all things, to all situations, in order to capture the largest amount of customers possible. The problem is that by giving everyone the same giant amount of options you inevitably create clutter and interface bloat for people who only need a small subset of the options available to them.
Using the example above, a properly built theme would have made the above job so simple that the website’s owners could have done it themselves for free. There are plenty of ways to build attractive, functional WordPress themes from scratch. These themes are easy for clients to use and don’t cause unnecessary support and maintenance costs after the fact.
The Elements for Success Already Exist
WordPress is a great publishing platform for websites of all shapes and sizes. The theme system is easily extendable and the use of features like custom post types makes it possible to use WordPress as a true content management system. It should never take navigating multiple menus and drilling down through several layers of templates in a page builder plugin just to change a phone number in a footer.
As WordPress shifts itself away from the Classic Editor of old and into the new world of the Block Editor the need for page builders is changing. Web design firms and developers are now able to use the power of the new editor and blocks, driven by user content created in the back end through custom post types, to create dynamic layouts.
All of this can be done without the added cruft and bloat that naturally comes from page builders made with the intent of creating the same results.
Why rely on a third-party plugin that is trying to be all things to all people when a skilled WordPress developer can create the same functionality while maintaining a separation of content and design? These sites will be simpler to maintain behind-the-scenes to administrators and load faster and be easier for visitors to browse.
Save Yourself From Vendor Lock In
When your WordPress site is built with a page builder like Elementor or Divi you are committing your site to a set in stone way of working. Your content is directly tied to its layout when you use a page builder. If you decide in the future that you aren’t happy with your page builder the transition to a new one, or back to the basic editor again, is going to be complicated.
If you want to update your site’s appearance with a new theme you have to consider how that impacts your content. Existing posts constructed in your page builder are going to have to come with you into the new design. The complexity of your page builder plugin, in terms of code bloat or layout, is automatically attached to your new design. You are trapped.
Extracting that content out of your page builder and into more traditional post structure is going to be complicated and costly. On the other hand, posts and pages created in the Classic or Block Editor are going to transition into new designs much easier.
The Page Builder Audience
So who are page builders for? They certainly have their place in the WordPress ecosystem but it’s rarely with people who are placed in charge of maintaining a website after it has gone live.
The target audience for page builder plugins right now are design firms and marketing agencies. These groups are doing quite well for themselves building websites on top of popular themes and page builders. A $99 premium WordPress theme, combined with a page builder plugin and a few paid add-ons, is a great foundation for non-technical companies to bid on and win projects from clients.
Page builders are a common way for consultancies to quickly turnaround website projects without having technical staff on hand. They leverage their expertise in visual arts, copywriting and marketing against their lack of development knowledge or awareness. The result is a completed website that typically suffers with slow loading times and a complicated editing experience that leaves client’s helpless after the site has launched.
Your WordPress Site Should Work For You, Not Your Design Agency
Page builders are products that seem great on the surface. You’ll be told that it will give you so much power and control of your content. What won’t be sold to you is the downsides and the learning curve that will come along with those supposed benefits.
WordPress is ready out of the box now to give you the power and flexibility you need. Additional plugins should be used sparingly for speed, simplicity and even security concerns. If you want to get your company’s WordPress-powered site heading in a new direction please contact us for more information on how Link Software can help.