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 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.

7 Responses to Why WordPress Page Builders Suck

  1. 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!!!

  2. StephenB says:

    7. It’s a recipe for disaster for inexperienced end-users.

    Late to this party, but definately on board. Page builders just make me cringe. No way in hell would I build a website for a client with any of them. To me that’s negligent. Yes, Gutenberg is coming along nicely, and in time I would build sections of sites with it. I’d certainly be interested if you OS’d your block library. Eventually there will be enough out there to kill off many page builders. RIP.

    That being said I generally focus on complex / ecommerce sites with Woocommerce, so the template hierarchy & page overrides are king, as well as custom features.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  3. A lot of the statements you make about page builders are just wrong… or at least inadequate. As a result, I’m afraid you may be disregarding a very simple and powerful tool for developers of varying types.

    To preface, I’m a web developer who prefers raw code over anything. I started my career building Ruby on Rails apps. WordPress only came to me after opening up my business and having a demand. I frequently code HTML/CSS/JS/PHP and dabble elsewhere.

    Also, I use GTMetrix, Pingdom, and Google Page Insights to qualitatively assess performance with and without Page Builders.

    My takeway: A lot of page-builders are awful by design, and some are sloppy slow. But the good ones are absolutely suitable for achieving professional standard websites and can even offer an edge, while still allowing full coding freedom. Every page builder allows 100% customizations, so if you find yourself bogged down by a PageBuilder, chances are it’s time to research a new builder.

    Now, I will negate your claims in numerical order:

    1. Page Builders are overly complex: False….

    Bloat is very easy to remove from builders for even non-developers, often as simple as toggling a checklist. In a matter of minutes, you can cut out all the fat and the website will purr practically naked. Aside from a little extra HTML syntax the builders create, you have full control of bloat, scripts and CSS.

    Honestly, WordPress is “verly complex. But again, I prefer raw code… but that doesn’t pass off well to clients. Genesis is nonsense too, don’t even get me started on that fragmented mashup (:P).

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

    So does WordPress. Templates too. But so what? Just move the plugin with you… or rebuild the design using HTML/CSS. Builders use the same HTML/CSS any website uses. WordPress plugins also hold the same potential limitations. Also, alternatively providing your client with raw code can limit them worse.

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

    A developer is responsible for making good decisions. WordPress provides a million corner-cutting cheats and is guiltiest of them all. Falling victim to a PageBuilder’s suggested laziness would speak more to the developer credibility than to the quality of the page builder in question (my opinion).

    It’s also SUPER easy to set custom class and target elements with CSS properly.

    4. Page builders are slow and inefficient to work with:
    WordPress and WooCommerce are much slower. BeaverBuilder is very quick anytime I’ve built with it. (Stay away from Divi!) If your server can’t throttle WordPress with a quality modern page builder, there are likely other issues to address.

    The workflow Builders provide can greatly increase draft efforts and redesigns. I design/build using Page Builder exclusively – no more duplicated Photoshop efforts.

    Again, a properly configured page builder can and will perform flawlessly.

    5. Page builders add bloat and slow down a website.

    Wasn’t this mentioned already? The fat can be trimmed using standard practices. I reduced one Beaver Built website from 4MB to 750-900KB and achieved a load time under 1 second. Analytical page speed testing makes this pretty easy.

    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 has different quirks, bugs, capabilities and limitations.”

    The scenario where switching page builders creates harsh learning curve burdens to clients or developer is loosely founded. I spend over half of my time repairing websites other people built: Regardless of their approach or toolset, this learning curve is unavoidable. It’s not even a learning curve, it’s a “where’s this stuff hidden” curve.

    That said, developers all have a differing approach that requires at least some orientating. WordPress templates are really the biggest culprit of this non-standard confusion. Page Builders at least all operate with similar foundations and intent.

    I had fun with this… I hope it finds you well and is useful feedback. We own an eCommerce fitness studio with integrated scheduling I build using Beaver Builder. Page speed is fantastic (900KB size 1-2 second load with room for improvement since we recently added features and need to reoptimize): https://www.originhof.com/

  4. Clark says:

    Iliah Spector pretty much nailed this. When I was reading the article all the same thought were running through my mind.

    I suspect people who slam page builders like Beaver Builder and Elementor are coming from the glory days of backend builders, and they either simply have a hard time letting go while the rest of the world embraces, or they sell a product for a backend builder or have a blog about them.

    Either way, the reasons they come up with in favour of sticking to backend builders always sound somewhat desperate.

    My advice to the writer of the original post would be to let go, and start thinking of how they can ride this next wave.

  5. TW says:

    Iliah Spector’s post is basically a long and boring way for him to say “Beaver Builder seems pretty good, actually”.

  6. aidancurran says:

    Iliah Spector does make some valid points (at least valid for him) but about a year on from writing this I still hold my opinion on page builders. In that time I’ve worked some more with 3rd party page builders, particularly Elementor and WP Bakery and I’ve worked plenty with Gutenberg. I hate working on page builder sites and love working with Gutenberg. With the state of Gutenberg now I see no need for 3rd party page builders.

  7. Stimpy says:

    In my experience the client just edit phone numbers or address. If the client wants to edit advanced stuff than i use pagebuilders and say “good luck”. I like to write customXYZ-page.php for every page and use advanced custom fields for the client. Gutenberg is also ok with a plugin for rows/columns.

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