Page builders… some people love them; they just make it so easy to create your page layout, just the way you want it. Other people hate page builders, viewing them as a cheat or blaming them for slowing down a site with bloated code.
Truth is, page builders are a tool. And like any other tool, finding the right one for the job and how you use it is what really matters.
I love the way they let me create page layouts easily. But more than that, I love that they give my clients the freedom to take full ownership of their site once I’ve built it.
If they want to change out a background image, add new sections to a page, or create a whole new page with a fancy layout, they have the option to that without needing to know or learn any code – or call on me to do the coding (obviously I’m happy to do the work for them, but I think it’s important to give them the choice).
And with the popularity of site builders like Wix, Squarespace or Weebly, many people expect a WordPress site to have the same kind of drag and drop, visual design tools. So installing a page builder on their website is a no-brainer.
Even WordPress itself has got in on the action with the new Gutenberg block editor. While that’s not strictly speaking a full page builder, it does work in a similar way, like a halfway point between the classic editor and a page builder.
So if you’ve decided to try it, which page builder should you use?
Some page builders are plugins, like WPBakery or Beaver Builder, while others are built into themes, like Divi. There are many options to choose from and although the basic drag and drop principle is the same, each option has its own specific quirks and features.
Over the years I’ve tried out many page builder options and today I’ll take you through the options I’ve tested.
Any links marked with an asterisk (*) are affiliate links, which means if you buy through them I might get a small commission (that will probably be spent on pretty fonts). This is at no extra cost to you and I only share products and services that I use and love.
Beaver Builder is one of the most popular options, used by sites like WP Engine. It has a free version, available in the WordPress plugin directory, plus a premium version with extra features.
BB lets you edit your site on the front end, so you can instantly see how your layout looks. (The front end of your site is what the public sees, while the back end is your WordPress dashboard.) It’s easy to add rows and columns, then add content modules like text, images, video and more to each column. And if you change your mind, you can drag your content, or entire columns or rows around to change your layout.
One feature of BB that I really love is that you can save preset colours in the colour picker. That means you don’t need to keep checking the right hex code for your brand colours, great for keeping your branding consistent:
Beaver Builder Lite, the free version, is a great option for getting started. It’s lightweight, offering you only the essential features – HTML, Photo, Text Editor, Audio, Video, and Sidebar – so it doesn’t bloat your site with loads of things that you’ll probably never use.
One addition that could be handy is a button module, but that’s not essential; I use Genesis themes so turning a text a link into a button is as quick and simple as adding class=“button” to it. There are also many plugins, both free and premium, you can add on to give you extra features or design options.
With the premium version there are loads more features, like buttons, contact forms, social icons, pricing tables, photo galleries and slideshows, testimonials, and much more. Plus you can save modules, rows or even whole pages as templates to reuse the layout and speed up the process of creating your site. That’s so handy if you have pieces of content that you want to reuse across multiple pages, like a call to action row or for making sure things like your buttons are styled consistently – instead of creating a new button each time and editing all the settings, you just use your template button and edit the text and link.
The premium version* has 3 options, ranging from Standard, which just gives you the Beaver Builder plugin plus access to templates and support, to the Agency option, which also includes things like the Beaver Builder Theme (that’s a framework theme giving you even more customisation options for your site’s design) and white labelling. The Standard version costs $99 and it’s a yearly subscription, so you need to renew your license to continue getting updates and support for the plugin, but they do offer a 40% discount for renewals. I find the cost totally worth it just for the ability to create templates; I’ve saved so much time with that feature.
Beaver Builder is one of the better options when it comes to changing tools. Many page builders use shortcodes to create your layouts, and if you deactivate the plugin your content is surrounded by loads of shortcodes that you need to clean up. BB doesn’t work that way though. I use BB Standard on my other website, Fox + Finch, and as you can see, when the plugin is deactivated the layout is a little less pretty but there’s no mess of shortcodes to clean up.
- Easy to use front-end builder
- Free version available
- Works with just about any theme and you can switch themes easily
- Doesn’t use shortcodes so your content is clean if you deactivate the plugin
- Free and premium add-ons are available to give you extra features
- Higher initial cost (premium version)
- License needs to be renewed each year to keep access to updates and support
You might also like: Essential plugins for your WordPress site
WPBakery Page Builder is another of the most popular options: according to their website 4,300,000+ people are using it!
This is a plugin which can be bought by itself, plus countless themes on Themeforest come with the plugin already integrated. When it comes bundled with a theme like that, you often get extra features, content elements that the developer has styled specifically to go with that theme, but if you switch themes you’d lose those extra features. And as you wouldn’t have a separate license for the plugin, you’re dependent on the theme author for updates and support. But you can always buy a license for the plugin if you want direct support from WPBakery.
You can switch themes with minimal hassle, even if your copy of WPBakery came bundled with a theme – you just need to buy a new, separate license for the plugin to use it with your new theme. And unless you used a whole bunch of custom content elements, you shouldn’t need to rework your page layouts much, or sometimes even at all.
WPBakery has a front end editor too, though I mostly use the back end editor; that’s more about personal preference than one editor being easier to use than the other. It’s nice that you have the option though.
Just like with Beaver Builder, your content is split into rows and columns. Content elements, like text, images, video etc are dropped into place and you can drag elements, columns and rows around. You can create templates too, but it’s slightly less intuitive than with BB. The option to save a whole layout as a template is pretty obvious but the option to save just a row is rather hidden.
There’s no free version but WPBakery do have a demo you can try out. The plugin costs $45 direct from WPBakery, which includes 6 months of support, plus you can pay extra to extend the support period. But on the plus side there’s no renewal fee to access plugin updates – so if you don’t need to contact the support team, it’s just a one-time fee.
The only real downside I see with WPBakery Page Builder – and a lot of people criticise it for this – is that it’s based on shortcodes, so deactivating it or switching to a different page builder would be a hassle. This site uses the plugin and as you can see, when it’s deactivated the layout is a total mess:
(Yes, that’s a sneak peak of a new version of this site that I’m working on!)
WPBakery Page Builder:
- Choose between front end and back end builders
- Works with almost any theme & you can switch themes easily
- Lower initial cost
- License doesn’t need to be renewed to get plugin updates
- Free and premium add-ons are available to give you extra features
- No free version
- License needs to be extended to keep access to support
- Based on shortcodes so your content is messy after deactivation
Hey! If you’d like to learn more about using WPBakery Page Builder, check out my eBook, WP Superstar, which contains a guide to using WPBakery, plus loads more time saving WordPress tips and tricks.
Full disclosure, I’ve only built one site with Divi but I’m not sure I would do it again. It was… ok. There wasn’t a huge learning curve but I just didn’t find it as good as either Beaver Builder or WPBakery. Maybe it was unfamiliarity, but some things I find easy with those options were just that little bit harder or clunkier with Divi.
Divi is a theme and page builder plugin combined, although you can get the plugin on its own if you don’t want to use the Divi theme. I used the Divi theme and page builder combined, so my thoughts will be based on that.
On the plus side, mostly it was easy to use. The one thing that kept frustrating me was video backgrounds; the site called for a lot of image and video backgrounds and getting that to work all the time took quite a bit of trial and error. Whereas with my usual tools, I’m used to a bit less trial and error to get things just so.
Divi also uses a front end builder so you can instantly see what your page will look like. And like the other two options, you can create templates to speed up your workflow. Divi has some nifty design features, like animations, hover effects and shape dividers on rows, so your page doesn’t have to be a series of straight-edged boxes – though it is rather tempting to get carried away playing around with these!
Pricing-wise, Divi is also available on a yearly license. $89 per year gets you access to the entire range of Elegant Themes products, but that includes 24/7 support and you can use the products on as many sites as you like. If you prefer a one-time fee option, there’s a lifetime access package. But that obviously costs a lot more so you would need to be committed to the Elegant Themes range.
Divi has a load of raving fans who swear by it, but others say that it’s bloated and can slow down a site because of all the features (not all of which are essential, really). And as the theme and plugin are tied together switching themes could be tricky – unless you were able to change to the stand-alone plugin and use a different theme with that (I haven’t tried it but logically, that should work, right?).
- Easy to use (mostly) front end builder
- Wide variety of content modules and design options
- License fee includes access to other themes and products
- Yearly subscription or hefty one-time fee needed
- Page builder and theme are tied together so switching could be tricky
Custom builders built into themes
Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of themes that have their own custom page builder tool built right into them. Some were really easy to use, others not so much. X Theme, I’m looking at you; it’s a hugely popular theme but I found the builder clunky and not at all intuitive so I wouldn’t use it again.
While I don’t mind learning to use a new tool, ultimately I prefer not to use these built-in page builders.
When the page builder is integrated right into the theme, and specific to that one theme (or at least only the themes by that one theme developer), you’re tied in. Changing your theme means you need to recreate all your content with a new page builder, which makes refreshing your site’s design a real hassle.
If your page builder is separate from your theme though, you should be able to switch themes to give your site a new look with minimal hassle. Instead of rebuilding entire pages, you might just need a few tweaks here and there to make sure any CSS styling applied by the page builder fits with your new theme.
For years WPBakery was my favourite page builder, but since discovering Beaver Builder that plugin has taken over the number one slot. It’s now my go to tool, as the lightweight, front end editor seems to be easier for my clients to get to grips with.
If you’d like to test some options before committing to one builder, I’d recommend starting with Beaver Builder Lite, since you can install it on your own site (or create a staging WordPress site to use as a testing area). But both WPBakery and Divi have demos you can play around with before you decide to buy.
Never miss a post
Sign up for actionable WordPress tips and advice, plus exclusive tips and offers, just for subscribers.