Embracing WordPress Page Builders

I’ve been building websites for quite a long time now. I wasn’t there at the very beginning, but I’ve witnessed many changes to the industry since 2004. My very first site used regular old HTML, but I built it by slicing up a Photoshop document and the markup was hideous. A lot has changed since then and many techniques, standards, and opinions have come and gone. This post will discuss a more recent change (page builders) and the road I’ve taken to finally start embracing them. We’ve been using a page builder for nearly three years now, let’s talk about the why, the good, and the bad.

What’s wrong with page builders? Why is this even a discussion?

Since the beginning any tool that offered an easier way to build a site (whether it be a WYSIWYG editor like Dreamweaver or an app like iWeb) invariably output crap code. Bloated code. Unreadable, unmaintainable, unfixable code. And for designers like me who grew up in an age where clean code and standardization was a religion, these tools were the devil. WordPress has offered us a way to build sites through maintainable templates, editing code directly in a text editor. The recent rise of page builders has brought back all the bad memories and the truth that drag + drop = crap. I know I’m not the only web developer who feels this way.

Okay so what has changed? Are WordPress page builders great now?

WordPress page builders still output overly enthusiastic code, so no they are not great. Even the page builder that we now use (Beaver Builder) outputs markup that we used to call divitis – divs within divs within divs. Within divs. And most of them load every javascript library they come with wether the page needs it or not.

But… they do allow a skilled designer the ability to quickly create rich, complex layouts without having to mark up every single container and element. Complex pages that once took many hours to construct and organize can now be laid out in much less time, and the content remains editable in an easy to understand interface.

We were reluctant at first, but now fully embrace using a page builder

In the years before we starting using Beaver Builder it was clear that we needed to move towards and easier and more efficient way to build a site with complex layouts. We also needed to ensure the content was editable by the site owner – why use a CMS like WordPress if it’s cumbersome to manage content? For a long time we solved that issue with the use of a plugin called Advanced Custom Fields – which allowed us to create content areas in the site editor, that would flow content into carefully crafted page templates. It was complex and time consuming – but worked very well.

As page builders became ever more popular, we continued to resist. Systems like Visual Composer were so over bloated we felt the tradeoff in ease of use was not worth overhead it puts on a website. But over time it was clear that we needed to make some kind of change.

That’s when I read a post by Pippin Williams titled WordPress Page builder plugins: a critical review.

The blog post that changed my mind

That post by Pippin is a well written, well researched review of most of the page builder plugins at the time. He was one of the first trusted developers to take an honest look at these systems without the usual immediate dismissal most of us used. He tested and ranked each one for usability and other factors, and concluded that not all page builders are inherently bad.

Beaver Builder wins the day

One of the three plugins that Pippin could recommend was Beaver Builder. I took a look at all three and this was the one that stood out as the best. The interface was intuitive and the code and had pretty good performance. The decision to build a client site on a new system is something I take very seriously. Locking a customer into a system that we might not continue to use caries the potential for support overhead, so we decided to use it on a smaller side project at first.

The project went very well, the client was (and still is) very happy, and I’m glad that we made a solid choice at the beginning. Supporting Beaver Builder for both our customers and our Cinch customers has been a breeze.

We’re three years in now on using Beaver Builder and overall we’re very happy with the decision. It’s allowed us to make sites in an efficient, cost-effective manner for our clients. Given the downward price pressure from site builders like Squarespace, being cost effective in what we do is critical. I hope to write more about Beaver Builder in the future.

What about Gutenberg?

Gutenberg (WordPress’ new improved content editor) is a being developed and improved at a fantastic pace. I’m very excited for where it’s headed and I embrace the change. Each release brings new features and enhancements and it’s been very fun to watch the project grow.

We incorporate Gutenberg in all of our projects, and as it expands we will continue to rely on it more over Beaver Builder. Currently we’re using it 100% over BB for creating and displaying blog posts… But for now, it’s not nearly as robust as full page-layout creator as BB is.

I do think the day will come when Gutenberg fully replaces the need for page builders, including Beaver Builder. Until then we will continue to rely on the awesome power, flexibility, and usability that BB affords.

Questions? Comments?

Leave a comment below if you have questions or concerns. Happy to chat more about our use of page builders in general, or specifically about Beaver Builder.

unsplash-logoDominik Scythe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ready for a refreshing experience on your next website design?