Why I HATE Pagebuilders – WordPress Review

Hate is a strong word and I shouldn’t use it lightly. And in all actuality, I don’t even “hate” pagebuilders all that much, I simply hate how they’re used and the way they attempt to solve problems.

I’ll try not to offend anyone but most people don’t realize they’re not only non-coders, but also non-designers! They think the pagebuilder is the answer to have a great design and they’re wrong. 99.99% of the sites I see built with a pagebuilder look just as generic and amateurish as all the others. Seriously, it’s the same look over and over.

Let’s breakdown the shortcomings of pagebuilders and the mentality behind using them.

 

So why are pagebuilders so popular?

  1. WordPress users want to create their own designs. Part of this is for creative reasons (they just wanna do their own thing). The other part is they don’t want to pay for a premium theme, graphics designer, or coder.
  2. WordPress users want to have “cool” features. It used to be that you had to find different plugins for every little purpose. Want a calendar? Gotta find it. Want a countdown? Ask your friends for one. And so forth. But now you can just install one pagebuilder and get all the options in one place. One tool to rule them all!
  3. WordPress users want to change things themselves. They don’t want to pay a “professional” $50/hr to change one little piece of text or swap images. It sounds like extortion. They’re also terrified of the idea of being married to one design forever. The promise of flexibility is a sigh of relief.

These are all very legitimate points and ones that I personally agree as a non-designer and non-coder. I do want custom designs with all the cool features and the ability to change things myself. I even had to learn how to do it the old way (lots of code snippets, hack tutorials) and can now appreciate that there is a much newer way to go about it.

But while pagebuilders CAN be a useful development tool, many of their features are designed for the wrong reasons and for the wrong users.

 

What’s the problem with pagebuilders?

PROBLEM #1 – Pagebuilders don’t produce better designs.

This is a whole can of worms in itself. Great design is centered around the content. It’s about making YOUR CONTENT look good. It’s not about deciding what cool features you need to have on your site. Think of all the popular sites and mobile apps you use on a daily basis. Google, Gmail, Facebook, AirBnb, etc. You’re not looking at what colors and fonts they’re using. You’re looking at their content and enjoying the feel that the UI gives you.

Pagebuilders seem to ignore the first rule in design, which is CONTENT FIRST! Open up a pagebuilder and it doesn’t ask you for content, it asks you for what features you want to use and where. Then again, we shouldn’t be blaming the pagebuilder because it all depends on the user, not the tool. But nonetheless, pagebuilders seem to encourage this mindset of bringing home everything from the store, and then returning the items you don’t want to keep. You always end up with more crap this way and only wander further away from what’s essential. People forget that WordPress was popular in the first place because it was simple and clutter-free!

Pagebuilders don’t offer you anywhere near the design freedom that you would think they do. When it comes to traditional WordPress design BEFORE the age of pagebuilders: Coders and expert-users could do anything they want. Intermediate users were picking and customizing themes. And beginner users were stuck with stock themes. But now, can beginners install pagebuilders and set up themes that are just as good? NOPE! Beginner users will be just as lost (if not even more so). You’d be giving them access to the entire cockpit. Too much control and too little experience on how to use it.

There IS a nice medium. Give them a pre-built pagebuilder theme and let them work off of that. But will these pre-built pagebuilder themes look any better than other non-pagebuilder themes? Still NOPE! But that’s as good as it gets…they get the same design as a premium theme but with the convenience of a pagebuilder.

PROBLEM #2 – Pagebuilders conflict with other themes/plugins/caching.

This is a real complaint made by everyone (professionals and beginners alike). Pagebuilders cause a ton of compatibility issues. One pagebuilder can load 100-200 scripts (JS) and styles (CSS) that conflict with scripts and styles used by other plugins. So much for having all the “cool” features, right? What’s the point of adding features that cost you other important features? Every update feels a bit like Russian roulette and you’re never more than one setting change away from breaking your site.

I would even say that pagebuilders conflict with WordPress itself. Not a conflict in terms of coding and incompatibility, but a conflict in the sense of mindset. The way I see it, pagebuilders should either become more inline with native WordPress user-interface (and not look so much like a separate 3rd party control panel)… orrrr they could just become their own CMS altogether. Why not take over the entire process and make everything seamless? And all plugins could be built off the pagebuilder and there would be no more compatibility issues ever. Yeaup, I actually like that idea the more I think of it. Elementor and BeaverBuilder should just become their own CMS. Can be a WP-fork even.

Compatibility issues might be a thing if you’re running just a small blog. But what if you have a store, or conversion-tracking, membership functions, forum, and other complicated matters? It’s annoying to imagine that your DESIGN could actually get in the way of your website’s normal functions.

PROBLEM #3 – Pagebuilders slow down your site!

This is a mixed complaint with bits of truth from many angles. On a really fast server and well-designed site, pagebuilders will only slow your site down by about 100ms. But on a slow server and with poorly written code or complicated design, it can cost you an extra 10 seconds. The biggest kicker is that pagebuilders often conflict with caching plugins. And if you know anything about caching plugins, some of them are essential and can even do miracles. For a busy site, having a caching plugin can mean the difference between having to buy a bigger server (cost hundreds of dollars every month) or staying on a lean $50/month VPS.

So the question is…how important is page load to you? For a small business with very few website visitors, the difference of 1 or 2 seconds load time isn’t such a big deal. But for a professional business with thousands of daily visitors going, the difference of even 300 milliseconds is a huge and noticeable difference. I would personally avoid the pagebuilder if it cost me 200ms, caused conflicts, and hindered my caching ability.

PROBLEM #4 – Pagebuilders are inefficient templators!

When you really think about it, pagebuilders are basically there for only a few reasons: 1) divide content areas into multiple vertical sections (cards) or horizontal sections (columns), 2) add visual effects, or 3) customize headers and footers. That’s pretty much it! And what a wasteful way to add and color <divs>. For this reason, I’m not surprised WordPress has decided to make these key design functions native with Gutenberg.

PROBLEM# 5 – Pagebuilders are built for noobs!

This is probably one of the biggest offenses for me. BUILT FOR NOOBS, means BUILT FOR BEGINNERS. As a professional, we don’t want tools built for newbies. Don’t get me wrong. We love ease-of-use but we don’t love cluttered templates that feel cumbersome to get around. We don’t like using tools designed for people who don’t know what they’re doing. We don’t need “suggestions”. We just want an empty canvas so we can work. A lot of how professionals prefer their workspace is to have the freedom to organize things around their workflow.

 

What are the pros to pagebuilders?

BENEFIT #1 – They are powerful (no coding required).

Pagebuilders are lots of fun. Lots of power and freedom. Any beginner feels like they can do anything they want with a pagebuilder. No longer are beginners frustrated by not understanding code and having to pull out their hair to make tiny changes on their site. They are also pretty much your only resource if you don’t know how to code.

BENEFIT #2 – Easy template versioning.

Want to save multiple versions of templates? Want to undo/redo your template changes? Want to move templates from one site to another? It’s much easier with pagebuilders than with child themes.

BENEFIT #3 – Pagebuilders let you edit other themes.

One of the greatest benefits of pagebuilders is not so much to completely design your whole site from scratch but to edit another finished theme to suit your tastes. Sometimes, a finish theme is ALMOST there, or maybe all you needed was a custom sales page design where you can tweak certain elements. Pagebuilders are great for recycling designs.

 

Can pagebuilders be improved?

Absolutely! They are the future and here to stay. I think they should become more modular, with options to edit only parts of the design or even taking over the entire site. But it’s important for users to be able to choose. They should also load only the required scripts and styles. That would be the first area to start, decrease the conflicts and speed issues.

The next objective should be to integrate pagebuilders better with WordPress and design practices. Premium/paid themes are absolutely NOT on the same level as an actual professional custom-design made by an agency. Currently, pagebuilders don’t actually help “non-designers” to learn how to design, or even to think like a designer. And I think that’s the most important step for pagebuilders.

Pagebuilders could also be improved for agencies. It’s unfortunate but most pagebuilders are built with the beginner-market in mind. With gimmicky features and marketing that appeals to the masses. Agencies don’t need that. They have a stock theme or template and then change fonts, colors, and layouts all on one go. Maybe apply a few custom functions and design aesthetics based on the client needs and that’s it. Beginner users on the other hand, want every toy, color, and latest trendy animation option.

But what would I personally recommend?

If you’re just starting out, don’t know what you’re doing and don’t have a lot of time or money, pick a *CLEAN* premium theme and change the color and logo and that’s it. Or you can just do what most people do…which is fool around with a pagebuilder for months, stress out, break things, fix them, get sick of your ugly design and then still end up buying a premium theme.

If your business is established or you’re trying to make an impact in a crowded playing field, it’s time to get a professional professional. Either go with agency who will take care of it all, or outsource every step…first hire a designer, then hire a coder. Will cost you some money but the results are so much better than getting a generic theme or trying to design things yourself based on other generic websites. I honestly think pagebuilders have a long way to go before they’re truly ready for the high-end production level. They have too many drawbacks, and don’t allow you to design as beautifully/uniquely as you think they do.

What if you’re a professional designer/development agency?

This is honestly the only scenario where I would approve of a pagebuilder. Professional developers can use pagebuilders to quickly turn designs into functional websites. Pagebuilders are great for low-budget clients or those who insist on changing things by themselves. They’ll know exactly which functions and scripts to enable and which ones to leave off. They’ll also know how to organize things so users can edit or make changes quickly without having to “figure out” where things are. But as always, I always recommend hard-coded themes as the gold standard for maximum performance and compatibility. And if the client really needs, you can allow custom fields for them to make changes.

Still want to use a pagebuilder?  Here are my choices…

  • 1st place is BeaverBuilder (stable and caters more to developers, not noobs)
  • 2nd place is Site Origin (clean, clutter-free, very open-source vibe)
  • 3rd place is Oxygen (clean, fast, stable, developer-mentality)
  • 4th place is Brizy (upcoming pagebuilder that looks promising)
  • 5th place is Elementor (trendy features, trendy designs…but I don’t like the interface or how it caters to every noob desire)

I loved and agreed with many of the comments here: https://wpshout.com/wordpress-page-builder-review/

2 thoughts on “Why I HATE Pagebuilders – WordPress Review

    1. Hey Matt, thanks for showing me this! (One of the programmers on my slack group said it was cool when it first came out, nice UI compared to everyone else but the competition has caught up.) If I was to ever use one, my top picks are BeaverBuilder, SiteOrigin, Oxygen, Brizy. We’ll see if this one holds up in time!

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