Page builders have enjoyed great popularity for years. The reasons for this are clear. After all, page builders have some advantages. But the disadvantages of Elementor, Visual Composer and Co. are often completely ignored.
It's almost impossible to imagine a WordPress world without page builders. In the feature arms race of the big WordPress theme makers, providing a page builder is almost a given.
However, I myself am torn about the use of such little helpers. Through my work, I've not only been able to test some of the most famous page builders inside and out, I've also need to solve many customer problems associated with such tools.
A so-called page builder usually comes in the form of a WordPress plugin. It is a kind of "construction kit" for the content of your website. You can drag and drop individual elements to the desired position and fill them with your own content. Typical elements include not just text boxes or images sliders but also portfolio elements or even entire blog views. Such page builders served as the model for the new Gutenberg editor and therefore share similarities with it in terms of handling and functionality.
Almost every WordPress user will surely know at least one page builder. The market is highly competitive and is dominated by a few big names. Many website operators see a "website building kit" as indispensable.
Some well-known names include:
WPBakery Page Builder
The WPBakery Page Builder (formerly Visual Composer) is one of the most common page builders in the WordPress world. You can purchase the plugin on Codecanyon. In many cases the WPBakery Page Builder is included in numerous WordPress premium themes. According to the makers of the plugin, WPBakery Page Builder is used on more than two million WordPress websites.
A license to use the plugin on one website costs a one-time fee of 64 USD. Future updates are included in this price.
This is where things get a bit confusing. Under the name Visual Composer you can still find a modular system for WordPress websites. But it doesn't have much in common with the former page builder of the same name. While with WPBakery Page Builder you can only edit the content area of your WordPress website, Visual Composer lets you edit the entire website – including header and footer.
The developer attracts customers with a free version of the WordPress plugin. Premium features are available for an annual fee of 59 USD.
Elementor is supported by numerous WordPress fans as the new star among the page builders. And indeed, the downloads of the WordPress plugin are rising at rocket speed, especially since 2019. Users single out the intuitive operation for praise in contrast to WPBakery Page Builder.
The developer tells of over 3 million active installations in over 180 different countries. This even puts the plugin ahead of the former front runner WPBakery. You can start off with a free plan. More features are available from 49 USD a year.
The page builder with the beaver as mascot has nothing to fear either, even if it is a little less well known than the other plugins. The developer claims the plugin has over one million active installations.
The range of functions is similar to other page builders. Starting at 99 USD, updates of BeaverBuilder plugin are included for one year.
Of course, the reasons why WordPress builders are so popular are manifold. I've summarized some of the arguments for these tools below.
Page builder plugins like Elementor are suitable for advanced WordPress users as well as absolute beginners. Thanks to the simple handling and self-explanatory features, it's very easy to create WordPress website according to your own wishes. Background knowledge in HTML, CSS or even PHP isn't required as long as you stick to the provided features.
You don't need to use an external service provider to make changes to your website and can implement any changes yourself quickly and easily. This is a huge advantage, especially for inexperienced users.
Page builders truly are multi-functional tools. Even the simplest WordPress template can be turned into a real multitalent using a page builder. Once installed, the user has almost unlimited possibilities to build their own website. The developers of Elementor provide over 300 ready-made templates, for example, for you to customize and fill with your own content.
As you can see, page builders offer nearly everything that both WordPress beginners and advanced users want. Without any additional plugins, you can create simple company websites, modern blogs and stylish portfolio sites in just a few clicks.
As mentioned, the simplicity and wide range of functions of WordPress page builders allow you to create a high-quality website in the shortest possible time. In many cases, where previously a freelancer or even a whole web design agency would have been needed, all it takes to build said website is a WordPress theme with a page builder and some time.
Thanks the WordPress page builders, those previously denied a modern website with a competitive range of functions due to financial constraints now have a suitable solution. The difference in price between using a page builder plugin and hiring an external developer for an individual solution are obvious.
Besides the three main advantages mentioned above, WordPress page builders also carry some significant disadvantages, many of which I've personally encountered through my work.
As we've already learned, creating an attractive WordPress website without much background knowledge is easy thanks to the popular page builders. The operation of a website still requires expertise and necessary prior knowledge, however. A website can not only be destroyed with a few wrong clicks, in the worst case scenario sensitive data, e.g. customer data from an online shop, is also at risk.
It's precisely this simplicity that has lead to more and more self-proclaimed web designers offering their services on the market. With the help of page builders, they can create good looking websites without knowing much about what's going on in the background. For potential customers, it's becoming more difficult to find competent service providers with the necessary know-how.
Of course, any WordPress plugin is at risk of potential risk security holes that hackers can exploit. Because of the widespread use of page builders, these are also an attractive target. This is also apparent in the change logs of such plugins where you can regularly see that not only bugs but also critical security vulnerabilities have been fixed.
It's important to remember that page builders included in a WordPress theme from marketplaces such as ThemeForest usually don't receive direct updates from the developer. This means the developer of the WordPress theme is responsible for ensuring customers also receive the latest version of the page builder in a timely manner.
Vulnerability in WPBakery Page Builder
The harm that a vulnerability within a page builder can cause became apparent in October 2015. The probably best known WordPress page builder at this time Visual Composer (today: WPBakery) contained several serious security vulnerabilities. This allowed attackers to gain control of websites.
The problem was that although the developer quickly closed the security hole, many template developers who'd used the page builder as the basis for their theme and thus included it for free within the package either took a long time to update the page builder or simply didn't bother updating it at all.
Especially in times of mobile internet and the boom in page speed optimization, even laypeople realize this is bad news for a website's performance. Page builders almost inevitably increase the load time of your websites.
The developers of the most popular drag and drop builders try to solve the performance problem with various tricks and settings but the page speed of a simple WordPress theme without any additional plugin can't be met. If you rely on a well-known page builder, you'll soon find yourself forced to overcome its disadvantages by installing even more plugins to optimize your website speed (or by switching to more powerful WordPress hosting).
One of the biggest problems with page bulders only crops up when you want to move away from using one. If you deactivate your builder plugin, you're simply left with a big pile of chaos. For example, after uninstalling WPBakery Page Builder you're left with lot of cryptic shortcodes that plugin use to create previous designs. If the plugin is missing, WordPress can't interpret these shortcodes and all the content needs to be rescued manually.
During my work as WordPress freelancer, I've witnessed many cases where website operators suddenly had a lot of work on their hands because of this. Once you've decided on one WordPress page builder, you can expect to invest a lot of time if you later want to move to a different one or transfer your WordPress theme without the use of a page builder.
Fortunately, some developers have recognized this problem: For example, Elementor leaves behind clean, readable code, even after uninstalling the plugin.
Without doubt, the developers behind Visual Composer, Elementor and the like have created really useful plugins. It's never been easier to design a professional website with a huge range of functions, even without much expertise. The websites look good, are generally competitive and can be easily be edited by beginners.
But we can't simply ignore the drawbacks of drag-and-drop page builders. In addition choosing the right WordPress theme you should also consider the pros and cons of such plugins before building your whole website with one. Ideally, you should consult an experienced WordPress user and not solely rely on a page builder plugin.
Personally, I usually try to avoid using drag-and-drop builders. I rely on my own developments for my projects, not only to satisfy my personal demands in terms of functionality but also to achieve the best possible results in performance.
Photos: Burst | Pexels, Jungwoo Hong | Unsplash