Over the last few years, I’ve seen a rise in the use of page builders on WordPress websites.
This is because website owners want to be able to create their own websites without needing to hire a web designer and/or a web developer. And web designers want to be able to create websites for their clients without needing to learn how to code or outsource the development to a web developer.
In fact, even WordPress itself is slowly transitioning the way it works to become more like “drag and drop” website builders such as Squarespace and Wix.
But while page builders definitely have their advantages, they can also be problematic. They can be intimidating to use, limiting and they can have a negative impact on the performance of your website.
In this post, I’m going to explain what a page builder is and what the two different types of page builders are. I’ll then go on to discuss the pros and cons of using page builders on your WordPress website.
What is a page builder?
Firstly, what is a page builder?
A page builder is a tool that allows you to easily build your WordPress website, and/or pages and posts usually using a “drag and drop” based editor.
Page builders eliminate the need to write any code making it possible for non-developers to build their own website using the WordPress CMS.
Are frameworks the same as page builders?
Frameworks aren’t necessarily the same as page builders.
A framework is essentially a WordPress theme that provides a base for creating your own WordPress theme. And while you can find frameworks that include page builder functionality (such as Gantry), not all of them do.
Let’s take Genesis for example. Genesis is perhaps one of the best known WordPress frameworks, but this doesn’t include any page builder functionality. If you create a theme using Genesis as a base you do need to know how to code.
The 2 types of page builders
There are two types of page builders:
Page builder themes
Page builder themes are WordPress themes that are completely built around the page builder functionality. They allow you to build the entire website using drag and drop functionality, and give you more flexibility than a standard pre-made theme.
Page builder themes tend to be used by website owners who want to set up their own website, or web designers who don’t know how to code, don’t enjoy coding or don’t want to outsource the development work.
One of the best known examples of a page builder theme is the Divi theme.
As a web developer who specialises in WordPress theme development, I don’t use page builder themes at all. This is is partly because they defeat the purpose of my job, but it’s mainly for the reasons discussed in the cons section of this post.
Page builder plugins
Page builders plugins add page building functionality to your existing WordPress theme, so there’s no need to install a whole new theme.
Not all themes are compatible with all page builder plugins, so it’s always important to do your research before investing in a theme and a page builder plugin. If you’re not sure, ask the theme developer.
As a web developer, I do use page builder plugins from time to time, but it really depends on the client and their needs.
For example, if I have a client that I know is going to want to set up their own pages and change around layout of their pages often, and I know they are comfortable using a page builder, then I will use one on their website.
Examples of page builder plugins include Beaver Builder, Elementor and Visual Composer.
Pros of page builders
So, what are the advantage of using a page builder theme or plugin?
You don’t need to know how to code to build a website
The main reason why website owners and web designers choose to use page builders is because you don’t need to know how to code to be able to build a website on WordPress.
While I love coding, I know it’s not for everyone, and it takes a long time to learn how to develop a WordPress theme. So page builder plugins provide an easy way to set up a WordPress theme and customise it to your needs without needing to touch a single line of code.
They give your clients more flexibility
If you are a web designer or developer then building a website using a page builder can give your client more flexibility.
If you have a client who likes to change things around often and create their own pages, a page builder can be a great solution to this. You can set up blocks or modules for them and they can play around with them to their hearts content!
You can set up a website much quicker
Building a WordPress theme from scratch takes time, and decent WordPress developers are often booked out several months in advance. So, if you need to get a website up and running in a shorter space of time a page builder might be the best solution.
You’ll still need to put some time into learning how the page builder works, either by reading the documentation that comes with it, watching some Youtube videos or just playing around with it yourself, but even if you factor in the time required to do this, it can be quicker than waiting for a developer.
Cons of page builders
Now let’s move on to the cons. And yes, there’s a lot more than the pros…
They can be overwhelming to use
When it comes to websites, it is possible to give people too much control and too many options, and I believe this one of the major downfalls of page builders.
From personal experience, I’ve found that some website owners are so overwhelmed and intimidated by their page builder that they don’t want to use it at all for fear of making a mistake.
These website owners then end up hiring someone else to edit their website for them, and in my eyes, that defeats the purpose of using a page builder in the first place.
There is more to go wrong
Again, because page builders come with so many different options, there is more to go wrong.
I’ve seen so many website owners mess up the design of their website or deleted something important when trying to use their page builder, and this can be a massive confidence knock. It can deter website owners from using their page builder again and it can even result in them hiring someone more experienced to resolve the issue.
They contain a lot of excess code
More flexibility and customizability means more code.
Page builder themes and plugins tend to be quite bulky and contain a lot of code. When a browser loads your website, it will have to pull in all of this code, and the more code it has to pull in, the longer your website will take to load.
If you do choose to use a page builder, make sure the one you choose is well optimised for speed, because a slow website is really going to harm your website’s position in search results.
You may need more code to override the existing code
The main reason I don’t use page builder themes as a developer is that I find them to be really limiting and I can’t create a website that looks exactly the like the design that has been provided to me by the web designer without having to use more code.
Writing code to override existing code is time-consuming and it doesn’t result in a great quality website. It may look good on the front-end, but it’s usually absolute chaos behind the scenes!
Useless code and shortcodes get left behind when you stop using them
There may come a point when, after using a page builder for some time, you might want to remove it, whether that be to change to a different page builder or not use one at all.
One thing to be aware of once you stop using a page builder is the mess it can leave behind. It’s likely that your pages and posts will contain leftover code and shortcodes that you’ll want to remove; especially because broken shortcodes will be displayed on the front-end of your website to your visitors.
And unfortunately, there’s no easy way to remove these pieces of code or shortcodes, so you’re going to have to go through each post or page and remove them manually.
Some general advice on using page builders…
So you’ve decided to use a page builder on your WordPress website?
- Don’t use more than one page builder at a time – They will slow down your website and you’ll be lucky if they don’t cause some sort of conflict on your website.
- Always create and use a child theme – If you don’t use a child theme and you make changes to the code of the page builder theme, you’ll lose these changes when you update the theme.
- If you’re a web designer, consider your client – If you feel like your client isn’t going to feel comfortable using a page builder, maybe opt for an alternative method.
- Do your research – Make sure you choose a page builder theme or plugin that has all of the functionality you require and make sure it’s not going to have a negative impact on the performance of your website.
- Make a backup before you install one – This advice is applicable whenever you install a new theme or plugin on your WordPress website, but especially when installing a page builder. If you install a page builder theme or plugin and something breaks, at least you’ve got a recent backup to fall back on.
- Really consider if WordPress is the right platform for you or your client – This might seem weird to hear from a WordPress developer, but WordPress isn’t for everyone and it might not be the platform for you or your client. If you want the ability to build a website using a drag and drop builder, you should consider specific website builder platforms like Squarespace or Wix.
What about the WordPress block editor?
I can’t end this post without talking about the WordPress block editor!
As I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, WordPress is slowly changing the way it works to become even more user friendly and to compete with the likes of Squarespace and Wix.
At the end of 2018, WordPress introduced the block editor which allows you to use blocks to easily create pages and posts. There’s a paragraph block, a heading block, an image block, a column block, and so many more.
As I write this post in 2020, the WordPress block editor is still very new and basic, and it can’t really compete with the more established page builder themes and plugins mentioned in this post, but I do believe it will do someday. And at that point, it may even completely eliminate the need to use 3rd party page builder themes and plugins.
Ready to ditch the page builders?
Love designing websites but hate the development side of bringing a website to life? Fed up of feeling restricted by page builders? Want to provide higher quality website to your clients?
I specialise in turning website designs into fully-functional WordPress themes. Not only will I create a website that looks exactly like your designs, I’ll also make sure it’s optimised for search engines, loads quickly, and that is easy for your client to maintain and update.
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