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:
- Visual Composer
- Divi Builder
- Beaver Builder
- WP Page Builder
- SiteOrigin Page Builder
- Themify Builder
- and many more
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 fulfil 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 without starting from scratch.
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 inline styles. This breaks the styling consistency of the website. This approach 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.