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If there’s a downside to WordPress’ widespread popularity, it’s that at times it has resulted in a lot of cookie-cutter websites. Choosing a unique and flexible theme is a great start if you want to avoid creating a site that looks like everyone else’s. However, there’s one additional tool you may need.
We’re talking about ‘page builder’ plugins – solutions for your WordPress site that offer a high level of customization potential. Page builders let you create content using an intuitive drag-and-drop system, so you have near-total control over layout and features. Fortunately, there are a lot of options to choose from.
This is not a comparison of page builder plugins. In this post, we’ll talk about why you might need a page builder tool for your website. Then we’ll explore the five most important criteria to consider when selecting a plugin. Let’s get to work!
Why You Might Need a Page Builder Plugin for WordPress
WordPress has made its name as both a beginner-friendly and a highly-flexible platform. It’s easy to pick up and learn, yet offers endless possibilities for customization.
However, the core platform itself is quite streamlined, and doesn’t contain a large feature set. Instead, when it comes to building a unique and fully-functioning site, you have two basic options:
- Make your own custom development and design changes to the software.
- Customize your site using a hand-picked selection of themes and plugins.
For most newcomers without development experience, the first option is out of reach initially. That means you’ll be dependent on your chosen theme and plugins for shaping your site’s appearance and functionality.
The right theme can do a lot to make your site stand out visually. Still, there are limits to the choices available in any particular option. Plus, you still run the risk of ending up with a site that looks a lot like all the others that were built using the same theme.
That’s where page builders come into the picture. These highly-popular plugins provide you with access to a drag-and-drop system for building pages, posts, and other content. This gives you a very high level of control over how your site is laid out, what it looks like, and what features it contains – with no development or design knowledge required.
Unless you’re building a very basic site (such as a personal blog or portfolio), it’s worth strongly considering picking up a page builder tool. This is especially relevant if your site will be connected with your business, as it will be vital that it reflects your company’s style and target audience.
It’s worth noting that WordPress’ developers recently added a page builder-style feature to the core platform – the Block Editor (formerly known as Gutenberg). This may be all you need if your requirements and ambitions are relatively simple. The Block Editor lacks many of the core features and options available in other popular solutions, however, so it’s still worth seeing what else is out there.
How to Choose a Page Builder Plugin (5 Key Criteria)
Page builders have been around for a while, so you have many choices. A lot of WordPress users will swear by their favorite tool, which can make the decision challenging.
At the same time, it’s vital to pick a solution you’ll be happy with over the long term. Switching from one page builder to another can be tricky, since each one has different features. It may be hard to make your old and new content look similar, unless you reformat all your existing content in the new page builder by hand.
With that in mind, we’re going to help you make an informed choice by walking you through the five most important criteria you’ll want to consider. By keeping these key factors in mind, you’ll be in a good position to pick the right tool for your site.
1. Number of Elements
We mentioned earlier that page builders work using a drag-and-drop system. In practice, this means that you start with a template or a blank page, and fill it up with pre-built pieces of content from the page builder’s library:
These pieces go by many names – such as ‘elements’, ‘blocks’, ‘widgets’, and ‘modules’. Whatever the terminology, each one is designed to add a specific type of content to your page. So if you want to include a text paragraph, for example, you might drag the ‘text’ element onto your page and start typing.
Other common elements include:
- Images, videos, and other media
- Headings and lists
- Progress bars and counters
- Social media icons
Of course, most page builders offer far more than just a few elements. What’s important is to look for one that provides a large library, and covers the bases when it comes to both standard features (text and images) and more complex functionality.
Some page builders even include larger pre-built pieces of content, which may go by other names. In Elementor, for instance, you can use ‘blocks’ to include entire page sections made up of multiple elements. These make building out your pages a lot faster, and they can still be customized to suit your needs.
2. Layout Options
Remember earlier, when we mentioned that the new WordPress Block Editor has some limitations? One of those is in its potential (or lack thereof) for creating complex page layouts. After all, it’s not just important how many elements your page builder offers – it also matters how much flexibility it provides when it comes to arranging those elements on the page.
In the Block Editor, you’re largely constrained to placing elements above and below each other:
There is a basic feature for building columns, but it’s still under development. Fortunately, most other popular page builders on the market are more generous when it comes to designing content layouts. The aforementioned Elementor lets you arrange your pages into multiple columns and rows by default:
Apart from that, they very recently introduced a feature never before seen in WordPress – Flexible Layout. You can read on about how they have implemented position absolute, position fixed, side-by-side widgets, flexbox distribution and more in their announcement post.
The interfaces for these kinds of page builders can be a little more confusing at first, and will take some getting used to. However, if you want total freedom to build out your pages to look exactly as you’d like, that learning curve may be worth your time.
3. Customization Potential
As we’ve seen so far, a quality page builder will offer a large library of both simple and complex elements, and will let you arrange those elements on the page however you’d like. There’s one more piece to this puzzle, however – customizing the elements once they’ve been placed.
Just about any page builder (including the Block Editor) will offer unique settings for each element type. You’ll generally access this through a menu that opens when you place, click on, or hover over an element:
The options on hand will depend on what the element does. For instance, a paragraph element might enable you to change the text color and size, alter the font family, and add a drop case. On the other hand, a button element may include options for changing the button’s size and shape, and for adding borders and animations.
Generally speaking, the more options on offer, the better. This will enable you to create pages that look completely unique to your site. What’s more, the customization shouldn’t stop within each element. You should also be able to tweak your layouts – such as by changing the width and height of each piece of content, and adjusting the border spaces in between:
While you can learn a lot about a page builder’s library and layout options from reading through its feature list and documentation, with this criterion it’s best to do a little hands-on experimenting. Most page builders offer a free version – so try installing each plugin on a test site and playing around with it in order to see if it has the flexibility you need.
It’s a common misconception that simply installing a lot of plugins on your WordPress site will slow it down. This isn’t necessarily true. Having many plugins can increase your chances for a sluggish site, but it’s not sheer numbers that matter – it’s quality.
In other words, some plugins are ‘heavier’ than others. They contain more features and more code, and thus put more of a strain on your site’s performance. This matters, because slow pages drive away visitors, and can even hurt your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Unfortunately, page builder plugins tend to be on the weighty side. This is a natural consequence of how complex they are, and how much ‘stuff’ they come with (pre-built elements, demos, templates, etc). Therefore, you’ll want to make sure your chosen page builder isn’t going to negatively affect your site’s performance in any significant way.
A good place to start is by checking out the reviews for each page builder you’re considering. This should give you some insight into whether other users found its performance lacking. You can also find comprehensive comparisons on the performance impact of the most popular tools.
Finally, you can even run your own tests. Simply install a given page builder on a test site, build a page with it, and test that page’s speed using a site like Pingdom Tools:
For best results, you’ll want to do this on a staging copy of your live site (if you have one), and make sure all the other plugins you use are also installed.
Last but certainly not least, we come to the most practical consideration. There’s a good chance price will play a role in your page builder decision, so it’s best to take a look at your budget and balance it with your needs before settling on a tool.
The majority of popular WordPress page builders work on a ‘freemium’ model. That means there’s a base version you can use for free, with limited features. If you want access to the complete functionality, you’ll need to pay for a premium license.
When considering the price of a page builder, you’ll want to look for answers to a few key questions:
- What are the differences between the free and premium versions? Will you have everything you need on the free tier, or are you likely to require the complete feature set?
- What is the cost of a premium license? In addition, while most premium plugins require a one-time payment, that will only come with six months or a year of support and updates. Therefore, will you need to factor in this cost on a yearly basis in order to keep the plugin running?
- Along with the page builder itself, what types of ‘extras’ will you get? Many page builders come bundled with additional features like themes or other plugins. Of course, that’s only a benefit if you see yourself using the extras in question.
The nice thing about a freemium model is that you can always try out the free version first, to make sure you like the tool’s interface and options. We’d suggest experimenting with a variety of popular page builders, before settling on (and potentially paying for) your favorite.
If you’re not a developer or designer, but you want to create a WordPress site that looks truly unique, a page builder is usually your best option. With the right tool, you can build pages and posts to meet your specific requirements, without the need for any technical know-how.
Finding WordPress page builder plugins isn’t hard. However, making the best choice for your site can be tricky. To do so, you’ll want to consider each plugin’s:
- Number of elements
- Layout options
- Customization potential
We currently use and recommend Elementor. We found that it met our needs in terms of feature-set and simplicity-of-use, without doing much to the site’s performance. They’re also adding amazing new features every few weeks, which is exciting.
What page builder are you using to customize your website, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and let us know why you chose that one (or none at all).