Why WordPress Page Builders Suck

Why WordPress Page Builders Suck

In the context of WordPress, page builders are plugins (add-ons) that provide an alternative interface for creating and laying out web pages. The idea behind them is to make working with content a more visual, drag and drop type of experience. Page builders have exploded in popularity since the first page builder, Visual Composer, was released in 2011. These days popular page builders include:

Page builders are primarily aimed at DIYers who want to build their own websites but don’t have the HTML & CSS coding skills to create web page layouts with raw code. They certainly can fulfill a need in this area, if used wisely. I have worked with a few of the more popular page builders for some of my projects. Also, I have taken over maintenance of websites that have been built with page builders. From my experiences so far, I have concluded that page builders are not a good solution for me or my clients. As a website developer I find them inefficient. I do not think they are a good fit for my clients either as they are overly complex for managing their website content. And, as for the websites created with them, they add bloat and impact performance. Here are six reasons why page builders are problematic:

1. Page Builders are Overly Complex

Page builders purport to be to be intuitive, easy to use, ‘drag and drop’ interfaces for creating web pages. From my experience, this is far from the truth. They come loaded with a myriad of different elements, often multiple elements for creating the same or similar types of output. Each element can come with multiple screens of configuration options that control content, layout options and styling options. There can be a quite steep learning curve in getting familiar with each different page builder’s way of doing things. The large number of elements, most of which will not be used by any one website, get in the way of the elements that are actually needed. Same with all the configuration options on each element; most are not needed for any one website but you have to scan through all of them to find the ones you actually need.

2. Page builders lock you in with their own unique non-standardised code

Once you build a page with a page builder you are stuck with it. You cannot revert to editing the page natively in WordPress. There is no standardisation between page builders. They each have their own way of doing things and generate their own unique output so you cannot switch to a different page builder.

3. Page Builders encourage bad practices of in-line styling of individual elements

This is a big one. A decent web developer will understand how to construct style-sheets in a way that promotes consistency, re-usability and efficiency. Page builders tend to do the opposite. Each element comes with multiple styling options that result in sloppy output full of in-line styles, breaks the styling consistency of the website. This can be an absolute nightmare if you want to make site-wide styling changes. You may end up having to edit each page individually in multiple places. (I’ve been there with some websites that I’ve inherited.) In a way, page builders take us back to the bad old days of pre-historic WISIWIG editors such as Microsoft Front Page that produced horrendously bloated and inconsistent code that was difficult to manage.

4. Page builders are slow and inefficient to work with

I manage some websites that use page builders and when I have to make content updates, I find that it takes me much longer than it would for similar updates on sites that do not use page builders. There are two main reasons. Firstly the page builders take additional time to load and to save changes. Secondly there are often multiple clicks, extra page loads or dialogue box opens, tab switches, etc to get to what you need to change. Sometimes finding the right place within the myriad of elements and element options can add time to the task. The combination of these factors make content editing tedious and painfully slow.

5. Page builders add bloat and slow down a website

In addition to slowing down the back-end of the website and the content editing process, page builders also slow down the front end of the website. They add numerous files such as stylesheets, scripts, font files, etc., that can add significantly to the load time for a web page. Most of these additional resources are not even used. They are there to support all the possible widgets and options that the page builder provides.

6. Non-standard ways to work with content

A page builder replaces the standard WordPress way of editing content with a totally different interface and a different process. Each page builder developer has their own ideas about the best way to work with content. Each page builder has different quirks, bugs, capabilities and limitations. Even if you are familiar with one page builder, there is usually a significant learning curve if you move to working with a different page builder. Looking for lists of page builders I’m finding lists of more than 20 different page builders for WordPress! Imagine someone working for a business that has been trained in managing their WordPress website. Then if they move on to managing a different WordPress website that uses a different page builder, they have to be trained all over again in how to work with it.

So there you have it, six major problems with page builders. Fortunately there is actually a solution to this page builder mess. It’s called Gutenberg. Gutenberg is WordPress’s revolutionary new approach to managing content that became part of the WordPress core as of version 5.0. But that’s a topic for a another post.

5 Responses to Why WordPress Page Builders Suck

  1. Oznog says:

    Hi Stellar,

    It’s also my point of view !

    « The large number of elements, most of which will not be used by any one website, get in the way of the elements that are actually needed ».

    There is so much useless gadget that we forget the most important like structured data, lost in all possibilities…. In my younger days it was said that if we did not need automation for now, we will probably never need! My observation is the same as yours. Page Builders are for the webmaster, not for the editors …

  2. Binh WP says:

    Hi Stellar,

    Thank you for this great post. I totally agree with you about these 6 points. But what I’m really looking for is a conclusion:

    What do we do for better GUI experience, fastest editing, fastest rendering… with pre-made blocks like Woocommerce product carousal, slider, blog grid, etc…

    Would Gutenberg be the answer. Or do you have other recommendations?

    Thank you!

    • aidancurran says:

      Hi Binh, It depends on the ability of who is building the website. If that person has basic web coding skills – html & css, then I believe Gutenberg along with a block building tool such as Lazy Blocks is the answer. An experienced PHP developer can code their own blocks without any block building tools (but may prefer the short-cut that the block building tools provide, as I do). For some people (especially DIY people), the page builders are still a valid option. My hope is that the page builders will standardise their output around Gutenberg so that one could switch between page builders and Gutenberg. I love Gutenberg but it is not for everyone, it requires a little bit of technical knowledge to set up (to build custom blocks to suit the needs of the website). My business is to build websites for clients and the websites I build with Gutenberg are much easier for them to understand and manage because I can tailor the page editing interface exactly for their needs – no extra options that they don’t need to confuse them or give them the opportunity to mess things up! If I provided them with a page builder interface such as WP Bakery, Beaver Builder, etc., it would be very confusing for the majority of my clients, and also very slow to make updates. If I build custom Gutenberg blocks to suit their website needs, I can document those blocks for them, hide the standard blocks that they don’t need, and they are not overloaded with a huge number of options that do not need (and that can also allow them to mess up their web pages).

  3. Ben says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes to all of this. I work for a company that pumps out websites built with Elementor and the pitch is “they are SO easy to work with one once they’ve been built!!” which is an absolute lie, almost every single client has issues and comes back to the company to make minor content changes because they don’t want to learn how to use such a convoluted tool and I do not blame them at all. I work in the custom development end of the business and thankfully don’t work with these sites regularly but occasionally I have to, and when I do it’s always a hassle and I can’t help but think it’d be easier to just code everything up than fart around with these dumb tools. I love the idea of lazy blocks, I never knew that existed.. will definitely be exploring that! Great post!!!

  4. aidancurran says:

    Good to hear your experience because I often feel I’m in the minority with my assessment of page builders and wonder if I’m just missing something! Yes Lazy blocks is cool. As a developer it takes more effort initially but the great thing is that you can tune the editing UI down to just what the client needs and include labels and instructions that makes it intuitive for the client. And now that I’ve put the effort in on a few sites I now have a small library of custom blocks that I can reuse on other sites.

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