A lot has been said about page builders, especially in the WordPress industry. They are a very polarizing type of tool– people either love them or avoid using them at all, preferring other ways to design their website.
But there is also a lot of misinformation on the topic of page builders, mostly because they have evolved a lot over time. A page building tool created over 4 years ago simply cannot be compared to a more modern one on equal terms.
While WordPress page builders started out as somewhat primitive tools, nowadays they are a critical element of any website that markets itself heavily. That’s why today, I am hoping to create some constructive discussion and shed some light about the real-world usage of page builders.
The myths of WordPress page builders
Drag and drop page builders are very sophisticated tools. They have a lot of moving parts, and need to perform pretty advanced tasks under the hood. In fact, most WordPress page builders are meant for advanced users that have complex needs.
Having said that, there are a number of myths surrounding page builders that persist to this day. And if you are considering using a builder to create your website, you should be aware of them as well.
Most of these myths might have stood true a long time ago, but things are different now. In most cases, they are simply not true anymore or at least merit some explaining.
Let’s dive in.
Myth #1: Page builder content is slow to load
First and foremost, a page builder does not necessarily slow down your WordPress website. In fact, some page builders are lightning fast, and capable of loading intricate designs very quickly.
When looking at load times in WordPress page builders, there is one big factor at play: The way content is structured in the page builder.
When someone visits your website, the page builder has to retrieve all the content you’ve created and render it on the browser. And the format that the content is stored in can have various advantages and disadvantages.
For example, take a look at Visual Composer. Since it works by using shortcodes, it needs to parse them every time a page is loaded. The problem is that shortcode parsing is a very processor-intensive operation, and rendering large pages can take a relatively long time. Having to go through hundreds of shortcode tags takes processor time and can impose a big load on the server.
But here’s the thing: not all page builders use shortcodes.
By contrast, take a look at Forge. Forge uses post metadata (a serialized metadata array, for those who understand programming) to store the content of a page, and does not have to parse any shortcodes, at all. This makes it substantially faster because all your content is stored in a way that makes reading it very simple. This can go to the point that server load is almost negligible when measuring load times.
Here is a speed test of the Forge website’s homepage, which is entirely using the plugin itself:
But wait. There’s one more thing.
While some page builders might be faster than others, their loading times can all become irrelevant because of another powerful factor: page-level caching.
If you use a high-quality caching plugin such as WP Rocket, then the load times of your page builder become meaningless– mostly because of the nature of page-level caching. Here is a really good article that explains what page cache is.
In other words, page builders that do not rely on shortcode parsing can be pretty fast. But if you use a caching plugin, speed becomes pointless and your site will load quickly.
Myth #2: Page builders are bloated and slow down your website
By definition, page builders are complex plugins. When you work with them, a lot of stuff needs to happen to create a fully functional drag & drop interface.
However, the fact that they are big does not mean they are slow.
For instance, take a look at WooCommerce. It is an incredibly complex and heavy plugin, but the online shop you can create with it is still fast. The same logic applies to page builders– even though they have a lot of files and are very complex, they are not necessarily slow, as long as their code is optimized.
A WordPress plugin can be coded in many different ways, and that also affects its overall performance. Even the simplest plugin can take a real toll on your server’s resources if it’s badly coded.
One clear example of this is P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). It is a relatively small plugin– however, the kind of tasks it performs (logging and benchmarking) are a huge drain on server resources. In fact, the plugin itself recommends using it only for brief periods of testing!
Keeping Things Light
When it comes to optimization, there are a number of things a plugin must do well to stay lightweight. Most of these are under-the-hood improvements, but they are noticeable enough to make a difference on your website:
- Load CSS stylesheets only when necessary
- Avoid using slow algorithms that are processor-intensive
- Avoid loading large images or resources
- Use WordPress hooks sparingly
- Be conservative to maximize compatibility with other plugins
As long as a WordPress plugin is properly coded, the impact on your website should be fairly small. This includes page builders, so don’t let anyone convince you of otherwise.
Myth #3: Page builders are bad because they leave a mess
In part, it’s true that page builders can leave messy code on your WordPress website when you deactivate them. Since they are by nature a means to create content, once you disable a page builder plugin you will lose the means to work with that same content.
However, this is also a myth in the sense that it applies to every single WordPress plugin out there.
Take a look at any of the most popular contact form plugins, and you will see the same thing happening. Once you deactivate Contact Form 7, any form shortcodes you have in your pages will stop working. And you won’t be able to work with your forms, either.
The takeaway is that almost every WordPress plugin will alter your site in a way that only that same plugin can. For example, the following elements are designed to work ONLY with their respective plugins:
- WordPress SEO title and description tags
- bbPress forums and topics
- WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads products
And the list could go on and on.
Therefore, when working with a plugin that creates content, expect to be locked-in with that same plugin if you want to keep all that content.
Myth #4: Page builders hurt your SEO
SEO is important. It helps you rank better in search engines like Google, which in turn is what brings you traffic and more sales. And it is often said that page builders are bad for SEO, because the markup they leave is not optimized.
But that’s simply not true.
The fact is that most of the time, almost the level of SEO optimization will depend on how you, the designer, use the page builder.
A lot of page builders provide plenty of semantic markup– for instance, Forge allows you to choose the HTML tags for heading elements, so that you can tailor your on-page SEO to your needs.
But the main point is that SEO is a lot more dependent on the actual content of your website. If you want to rank well, you need to use the right keywords, and create compelling pages that people love to read.
In other words, SEO is all about creating great content.
Page builders are a great tool that help you accomplish that– you can use them to produce highly attractive content that keeps users glued to the screen. But the heading tags that you use or the semantic markup of the page are just a bonus. The thing that will make a difference is the actual content and keywords that you have chosen.
Actual Facts About WordPress Page Builders
As you can see, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding the use of page builders.
They started out as unoptimized, rudimentary tools that were very cumbersome to use. But as time passes, these same tools become more refined and polished. Even WordPress itself is victim of this– its true potential only started to develop around version 3.0!
With that being said, there are some actual facts surrounding page builders that you should be aware of. After all, they are tools that might benefit some users, but they’re not for absolutely everyone.
They do have a learning curve
One of the things that’s actually true about page builders is that they can be hard for the average user. After all, with flexibility there is always some degree of added complexity.
Still, the same occurs with any working tool. If you take a look at Photoshop, you will see it has a huge amount of options– a beginner needs a lot of time just to get used to the interface. But Photoshop also helps you achieve a lot more than Microsoft Paint.
Page builders are tools meant for creating advanced layouts, and sometimes that means having to invest some time into learning how it works. However, the end result can be very rewarding.
They are not the ultimate tool
Currently, page builders are the most advanced way of designing a WordPress website. They offer the greatest amount of flexibility, and are arguably the most complex of all the tools
But that does not mean that page builders are always the right option.
In fact, some projects might be better off using a simpler alternative, such as a predesigned WordPress theme. The trade-off there is flexibility in exchange for simplicty: while one of these themes might not be as multipurpose as a full-blown drag & drop solution, it will be easier to manage in the long run.
The key here is to plan beforehand, and act accordingly: what does your new project actually need? Will you actually change the layout multiple times? Will you make use of A/B testing?
Designers will always create better websites
While it’s true that the aim of page builders is to facilitate web design, they do not instantly turn you into a professional designer.
There is a lot more to designing a website than just drag & drop. There’s color theory, image composition, usability, and many more things that only a professional designer knows how to execute properly. Most of the attractive demo content you see in a page builder theme is actually hard to replicate.
Then there’s also the acummulated experience. Designers spend a lot of time polishing their craft and working with design projects of all kinds. All of that helps them become even better at what they do. So while a page builder is a great tool to create a website in a lot less time, the result will always be better when a professional designer uses it.
But don’t panic! Nowadays most page builders give you the option of using premade layouts and templates— which are professionally designed. So even if you might not be able to produce a masterpiece from scratch, you can still create a great site effortlessly.
Do you need to use a page builder?
In short, page builders are great tools for creating custom websites.
They have their own drawbacks and advantages, just like working classic WordPress themes also have their own set of rules. Because of that, the best you can do is give page builders like Forge a try and see if they are a good fit for your next project.
Have you used a page builder already? What did you think of the experience?