Page Builders are plugins for WordPress that allow you to drag and drop page layouts from scratch.
In the hands of a talented designer, a page builder plugin can produce beautiful, professional layouts. For everyone else, you’ll likely end up with tired, clichéd pages that look like a rejected Wix ad. Like any tool, making something great starts with an understanding of design—and years of experience.
While builder plugins can do an admirable job of hiding the code work from you, they will not make you a designer, nor will your pages look as stunning as their demos—unless you plan to shell out several thousand dollars to a decent photographer like they did. Sure, you can steal use trendy photos from UnSplash and Pexels. But that still won’t make you a designer.
The rest of this post is broken into three sections. You can read straight through or skip to the section you want:
- What All Builder Tools Lack
- 9 Popular Page Builder Plugins Graded
- Pros and Cons of Builder Tools
What All Builder Tools Lack
All the page builders in this article I have tried (except Make) on test projects for myself and twice for small clients. And I’ve had mixed results. My first comment on all of them is this: If you’re a designer or developer, don’t worry that page builders will take your job away. For many sites, yes, you can accomplish a lot in very little time. But if you pay close attention to what they offer and you’ll notice many critical features that are missing.
LACK OF FREQUENTLY REQUESTED PAGE ELEMENTS
The page layouts offered (usually home, landing page, about page, portfolio and blog) are fairly standard among the builders. The problem is, clients often need page elements that these builders should be able to do, but don’t. For example:
- Creating responsive tables: Or any tables. Nope.
- CRM integration: The best you’ll get here is MailChimp
- Integrating Google calendars: Or iCal, or Outlook. Can’t do it.
These are common requests from clients. When these page builders tout themselves as “complete website solutions” we must assume they can do some of these basic things. But they cannot.
YOU CAN HAVE THREE SERVICES. ONLY THREE.
If you look through every one of these builders, a three or four column “Our Services” row is standard and often includes unrelated icons that rotate or pulse on hover. Who. Cares. How many companies actually have exactly three or four services? And why do they only get one sentence to describe each one?
YOU CAN HAVE THREE PRICE TIERS. ONLY THREE.
Again, like the Our Services row, it’s nice that they offer a pricing row with a good, better, best model, but that’s only satisfactory for companies with subscription models. Got eight products with variations? Lots of luck.
Some of these builders were so fun and simple to use, I forgot how much I prefer hand-coding. A few were OK, but not compelling enough to be a permanent solution. Some of them left permanent scars that required therapy.
9 Popular Page Builder Plugins Graded:
- Beaver Builder (Killer App) A+ https://www.wpbeaverbuilder.com
- VelocityPage (Killer App) A+ https://velocitypage.com
- Make (Highly Recommended) A https://thethemefoundry.com/wordpress-themes/make/
- Themify Builder (Very Good) B+ https://themify.me/builder
- SiteOrigin Page Builder (Darn Good) B https://siteorigin.com/page-builder/
- Visual Composer (Good, but some bugs) B- http://codecanyon.net/item/visual-composer-page-builder-for-wordpress/242431
- Live Composer (Good, some bugs, slow at times) C+ http://livecomposerplugin.com
- Aqua Page Builder (Buggy enough to call an exterminator) C- https://wordpress.org/plugins/aqua-page-builder/
- WR Page Builder (Run Screaming) D https://wordpress.org/plugins/wr-pagebuilder/
Pros and Cons of Using Builder Tools
And now pros and cons. Consider these before shelling out cash on a builder and take the time to read the reviews.
- All are drag and drop. If you can’t code (or can, but lack the time), this can be a godsend as the resulting layouts are mobile-friendly, utilize the latest code standards and tend to play well in all major browsers (desktop and mobile).
- All builders have an assortment of modern animations and transitions. If you like annoying your visitors with h2 headlines that swoop in like Peregrine Falcons or portfolios that bounce like pogosticks—you’re in luck!
- You can create some really amazing layouts. On some of these builders, you can also save them as reusable templates for use on other site sections. It would be really cool if they allowed you to save templates offline for re-import into other domains you might need to work on.
- Many of these builders offer live preview states, meaning you can see the results live as soon as you save.
- Most of them produce decent responsive layoutsright out of the box, so to speak.
- Most builders save your history in case you deleted a row you just spend an hour tweaking.
- Your changes are saved even after removing the builder. But only on one—Beaver Builder, arguably the best builder out there. This is an amazing feature and other builders should follow BB’s lead on this.
- No need to install Font Awesome or Google Fonts as most of these builders have them as part of the plugin (or, at least, simple access to them).
- Quick and dirty sites. If you occasionally do cheap sites for family members or friends, a page builder might be a really good solution. Most of these builders have a low learning curve, although portfolio creation and maintenance is maddeningly inconsistent on some of these.
- Don’t expect pixel-perfect design. You’ll have a lot of unwanted whitespace that you will need to override with custom CSS. A lot. Whitespace as side margins looks nice, but let’s say you have a non-standard post. You have two paragraphs, then a thin divider line with an icon set into it, then an image. Not a big deal, right? Not so fast. Some of these builders (I’m looking at you, Visual Composer`) add so much white space between page elements that it looks like a mistake.
- Changes can take a long time to save. We’ve seen some of these tools take over five minutes to apply a simple text correction. Unless you have all day and a patient boss/client, this may be a deal breaker. Beaver Builder and VelocityPages are both near real time, so if you’ve chosen either of those two, this shouldn’t be an issue.
- Changes are often ignored. Or worse, discarded. I’ve heard reports of entire rows disappearing after something a mundane as a color change.
- Font Awesome and icon access can be buggy, slow and frustrating. Some of the builders (like Visual Composer) try to pull up the entire Font Awesome menu of icons all at once. This is slow and inefficient. Some offer a search field. A little better, but the icon isn’t highlighted in the search. You’re simply scrolled down to the rough area where it is. Annoying. Beaver Builder’s icons run quickly and also have a search that works!
- The good builders are not free. Expect to shell out between $39-$99 for a decent builder (such as Beaver Builder, Velocity Pages and Themify). Yes, there are some good free ones, like SiteOrigin’s Page Builder.
- The code is ugly. And we don’t mean it’s not formatted with pretty indents. It’s darn right scary code that is near-impossible for a beginner to intermediate developer to debug. Expect to see two to three screenfuls of hideous short-codes. If you care about the purity of your code, this can be a deal breaker.
- Page builders can cause your browser to (occasionally) freeze. Thankfully, you rarely lose changes and never lose data, but you will suffer downtime rebooting your browser and logging back in to WordPress.
- You may spend more time tweaking design than you would have had you coded it. Why? When the changes can be tweaked so easily, it’s tempting to keep playing with it and adding to your design. Suddenly that page you put together in ten minutes has sucked away four hours of your life.
- Global isn’t always global. I’ve tried applying global settings to some of these builders and then found those settings completely ignored. Visual Composer in particular, does this a lot.
- All but one are WYSIWYG. Beaver Builder is outstanding in that you are working live on the page. The other builders have you dragging named blocks into rows. Most use such subtly-colored rows and such tiny clickable regions (Fitts’s Law anyone?) that you will frequently click the wrong section—especially with nested rows. For as much as I complain about WR PageBuilder, it does have an excellent handle (’scuse the pun) on the usability of the rows with native look and feel, and generous clickable areas. They look like WordPress designed them. Compare theirs to Themify’s chintzy rows:
WR PageBuilder’s Editor:
Page builders are here to stay and they certainly have their place. I know I will continue to use them for clients with quick projects and small budgets. Make sure you read the reviews (not just the good reviews) and really try the demos on all of them before investing. They all have their strengths and styles and just because I had a poor experience with one, doesn’t mean it won’t feel right to you and meet your needs.
My favorite three are Beaver Builder, VelocityPage and Themify Builder (despite its tiny rows and usability issues). These three produced the strongest results for me in terms of design, stability, mobile friendliness and consistency of experience across platforms.