Pippin Williamson Shakes Up Page Builder Plugins with Critical Review

photo credit: ruudgreven DSC_0012 - (license)
photo credit: ruudgreven DSC_0012(license)

Pippin Williamson has published a comprehensive review of some of the most popular WordPress page builder plugins. The post has received more than 90 comments and is already inspiring changes across the page builder plugin market. Williamson, a prolific plugin developer and mentor to many others, is one of the most authoritative voices in the community on the topic of plugins, which has caused this post to be well-received.

The idea started with a Twitter rant where Williamson collectively slammed popular page builder plugins for their “subpar user experiences” and compatibility problems they cause for other plugins. After realizing he had never truly used any of these plugins, he decided it would only be fair to try them and give a full review.

Williamson’s review is written from the perspective of a developer who supports a large number of plugins and routinely deals with plugin conflicts caused by page builder plugins.

“The page builder ecosystem is a wild west right now and is in a gold rush,” Williamson said. “A lot of different players are building their own versions and many are reaping good rewards for their efforts…What the page builder industry is severely lacking is standardization.”

Williamson compared the current state of the page builder ecosystem to that of the commercial themes industry a few years ago before theme developers agreed on the standards that now guide their products. His critical review examines each plugin’s usability, UI, content “lock in,” and whether the plugin interferes with filters, such as the_content, that might cause incompatibility with other plugins.

Page Builder Plugin Authors Are Responding with Updates to their Plugins

Many of the plugin authors whose page builders were included in the review were quick to respond and are already working on changes based on Williamson’s feedback.

I spoke with Ben Pines, CMO at Elementor, a newer page builder plugin included in the 13 reviewed. After just three months on WordPress.org, Elementor is active on more than 10,000 WordPress sites. The plugin’s contributors continue to add new features to the free version and Pines said they hope to release a commercial version in the next two months.

“We release new features and bug fixes on a weekly basis, based on our user feedback, so of course we take Pippin’s feedback seriously,” Pines said. “We have addressed the only two issues he critiqued us about, and will release an update next week that will address how shortcodes and widgets load scripts on Elementor.”

Brix Builder, a GPL-licensed commercial plugin, was criticized in the review for major compatibility issues: restricting other plugins’ ability to utilize the_content filter and shortcode enclosures not working across builder elements. Apart from these and a few other issues with the plugin’s UI, Williamson ranked the plugin near the top of the list in terms of usability.

Brix co-creator Simone Maranzana was quick to respond in the comments that their team has already fixed some of the issues Williamson pointed out and they are working on the others.

“Concerning the other issues you mentioned, we are going to release an update to our plugin tomorrow that will add support for shortcode enclosures,” Maranzana said.

“Also, we’ve corrected how we hook into the_content for display: this way, other plugins will be able to hook either before or after the content generated by Brix, just like they’d do normally.”

I spoke with Matt Medeiros, whose Conductor plugin was included among the page builders Williamson reviewed. He said his team has never considered Conductor to be a page builder similar to others on the list, as the plugin focuses on giving users control over their content displays without framing a fully-designed layout.

“We wanted customers to easily stack types of content, display custom fields, and drag-and-drop blocks of that content around a page, not design a layout,” Medeiros said. “Since we launched we’ve had over 500 customers using it, and Pippin’s findings are something we’ve always struggled with — finding people who want to shape their content displays, but not buy a full page builder.”

Medeiros said his team will be acting on this feedback in the coming months with the launch of a new website that better communicates the purpose of the plugin, differentiating it from more traditional page builders. They are also working on making their flagship Baton theme support Beaver Builder layouts, as Medeiros said they do not intend to compete in the page builder space.

Beaver Builder, one of the most popular plugins reviewed, does not support multisite in its standard license, something Williamson only discovered after installing it.

“I’m entirely fine with limiting the number of domains the plugin is activated on but this limitation should not affect my ability to use a core WordPress feature,” Williamson said.

Robby McCullough, co-founder of Beaver Builder, was quick to respond to the feedback on the multisite settings and said the team will reconsider its decision to restrict the feature.

Page Builder Sandwich, a commercial plugin that has a free version on WordPress.org with more than 6,000 active installs, was criticized in Williamson’s review for the “rainbow of unnecessary colors” used in its interface. This issue plus a few editor glitches prevented the plugin from being listed among his favorites.

Benjamin Intal, the plugin’s creator, said that his team is working on toning down the colors used in the interface so that it’s not such a jarring experience.

“I agree with you regarding the interface, it does need some toning down,” Intal said. “We’ve been rethinking the interface for the past couple of weeks on how we can improve the user experience. We are revamping it, and the colors are now being adjusted to be more subtle.”

Williamson Finds 3 Page Builder Plugins Worthy of Recommendation

Williamson concluded the review by selecting three favorites, which he said he could happily recommend to his customers: Tailor, Pootle Page Builder, and Beaver Builder. As he is not an affiliate with any of the plugins and has stated multiple times that he has no interest in creating his own page builder, his selections were based solely on the criteria he identified before testing.

One important aspect of the plugins Williamson did not take into account was licensing, which he said was “not relevant for the review or the vast majority of end users.” The license may not be something users care about but it certainly can impact their ability to fork the plugin or improve upon it if the company abandons it or goes out of business.

I spoke with Luke Beck, founder of ThemeFusion, which packages its Fusion Builder plugin with Avada, one of the most widely used WordPress themes. His team was not immediately available to answer questions pertaining to the review, although we will update if we receive comments from them.

Beck was hesitant to answer whether Fusion Builder is 100% GPL and directed me to ThemeForest, which lists Avada as split GPL. Avada’s creators also require users to purchase multiple licenses when using the theme on WordPress multisite. Visual Composer, another plugin included in the review, shares the same kind of split licensing. It only offers the PHP under GPL, restricting the Javascript, CSS, and images. Putting part of the product under a proprietary license severely restricts users’ freedoms and should be disclosed as part of any future reviews.

All three plugins that won out are 100% GPL and two out of the three have fewer than 4,000 active installs. This demonstrates that high quality WordPress plugins may not always be widely known and the size of the user base is not always an indication of the plugin’s code quality.

After receiving several comments about other page builder plugins not included in the review, Williamson said he may try to do a second set of reviews. Despite not being especially fond of these types of plugins, he recognizes the demand for page builders and their usefulness to the community.

Williamson’s critical review is a powerful example of the change that can be precipitated by one highly-regarded expert offering constructive, unbiased feedback to plugins that fall into a particular niche. Hopefully this and any future reviews will be the first cracks in the ice towards accelerating standardization of the disparate products in WordPress’ page builder ecosystem.

36 Comments


  1. Big fan of Elementor, very solid with a really clean UI.

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    1. Hi Luke, I see you also use Divi. How do you like Elementor compared to the Divi Builder?

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      1. Elementor is very initiative to use. Divi builder has its own strengths as well.

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  2. I often come across so called web agencies which are building the most beautiful websites using premium templates and page builders. But those websites are almost impossible to maintain by an average customer: too complex because of the page builder that has been used. It’s too easy!

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    1. I’ve found this too as we spend a lot of time repairing sites built by agencies. The worst are those using themes from themeforest, that include the evil visual composer, plus revolution slider plugins. They’re a nightmare in terms of site performance, SEO, ongoing support and updates. Divi from elegant themes I also hate. If these three developers could just disappear forever, the WordPress world would be a better place.

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  3. I really enjoyed his review. Finally one that takes strong consideration of what WordPress is – an enormous open-source project that allows the use of plugins to efficiently bring functionality to a site (unless a page builder decides it isn’t).

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  4. Maybe this could be the beginning of some standards for page builders being hammered out. That would definitely be a positive.

    Tony

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    1. No dual license is that the same code has two different licenses. Like GPL and a proprietary license for those that can’t use GPL software in their projects. Split license is when some parts of the code have one license and other parts have another.

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  5. Pippin’s post was enjoyable to read. There aren’t a lot of resources that break down the different page builders. These kinds of products are really hard to get right, it’s good to see developers tune in to see what’s working across the board and what isn’t.

    I will say that in terms of lock-in it’s almost impossible to avoid that. Especially without some common standards in place it’s an unrealistic expectation almost. That’s the cost of using a page builder in general that users should accept in advance.

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  6. Many of the plugin authors whose page builders were included in the review were quick to respond and are already working on changes based on Williamson’s feedback.

    Now there’s respect towards Pippin.

    I personally hate page builders because I feel they are more of a problem (even though most users do not see or realize this) on many levels. Sure, they can easily help create layouts and content, but there are sacrifices in doing that–especially when it comes with the “lock-in” effect.

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    1. Yeah but they not tailored for people who can actually code and do the same things without them, they are suited for people who are good at designing (layouts, colors, etc) but have no intention/interest/time of getting into coding. If you can code and somehow you still using those then I do understand your “hate”, but I think is better than not having some degree of freedom when it comes to your layout.

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  7. What about Divi by ElegantThemes ?

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  8. I am amazed that no one is mentioning the best WP builder that exists- Divi Builder by Elegant themes, which comes as a plugin and integrated in themes Divi 3 and Extra.

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    1. From Pippin’s review, “Divi Builder is definitely not my least favorite of the builders but it’s far from my favorite as well.” It’s there.

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    2. I’ve found Divi poor. The coding overhead is immense and tends to lock you into the private Divi world, making it harder to change site themes later to another framework or new design. They also break too many coding, Google and WordPress ‘best practices’, too often tending to be slower speed than most sites. Part of this is due to the people that tend to use Divi and page builders, who know little of coding or website optimization, only what ‘looks nice’.

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  9. Pippins review is an excellent analysis of the practical in your face issues experienced with these plugins.

    Another aspect would be to look at the code vomit spewed forth by pretty much all of them. Some of them have horrendous complex PHP, which makes it nigh on impossible to work out how to extend them or work around them, and others include gob smacks of CSS and JS which look like nothing more than code diarrhea.

    And another aspect would be to look at what features they offer.

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    1. I’ve seen add-ons for Beaver Builder, so at least one of the has thought about extensibility.

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  10. Never used a page builder before and never will. I am glad this review was done because it will shake things up and hopefully make all these page builder plugins a lot better for the end user and for plugin developers who have to do support on there plugins.

    Who will be the first to release a huge release now? I am sure a few plugins will stand out even more after a few months or less because of this excellent review post.

    I am not a developer but the end user who likes things just simple and easy to understand without having to read a book to understand what 2 features do.

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    1. Me too. I’ve been disappointed by a lot of premium plugins and themes/ frameworks because they seem to require a developer to configure and use them. I really think something I’m paying for could be (even more) user friendly than a free plugin/ theme.

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  11. It would have been interesting to also add a performance review of each plugin. How they affect the page load.

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  12. Pippin’s review is great but I find is a sad comment on several of the developers that they are only fixing fairly obvious issues after being called out on them.

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  13. We have had good success with Pootle Page Builder and Jamie Marsland has provided great service from across the pond. Currently, we are reviewing the Divi Builder and find it remarkably vibrant with a longer learning curve. There does not seem to be any SEO or performance issues with either. We are hosted at WPEngine and the load times are superior with both builders I have mentioned. By way of experience… getting good with one or two builders is advisable and jumping around will create additional labor costs. Plugin conflicts can also be an issue.

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  14. Hello Everyone,

    Our team has been rebuilding Fusion Builder from the ground up for the entire year, and it will be agnostic and work with any theme. It will first only release for Avada customers, with plans to release it later on for any theme.

    We agree with parts of Pippin’s review and have for awhile. Our development team has been planning this for over a year because we know it can be better and we ourselves are not satisfied with it, even though the vast majority of our customer base enjoys using it. Our team and customer base is very excited about the new one we have created.

    We work on improvements constantly, never being satisfied with keeping things the way they are. We do not make improvements simply because a critical review comes out. We do it because we know it needs done and is the right thing to do to help improve our product and make it better for our customers. We focus on our customers 100% and they know how hard we work to always improve the product through updates.

    Sarah did reach out to me but unfortunately it was hours before the post was going live. As mentioned, I did not have time to answer the questions she proposed, especially since a lot of them involved talking to our development team to get complete answers because I am
    not a developer myself.

    I feel the comment made about me being “hesitant to answer the licensing question” is taken out of context.

    To clarify, I was not hesitant to talk about licensing. I simply mentioned that question was not the only answer I wanted to be quoted on because I wanted to answer them all at once.

    It was not a reluctantance to answer the question, it was a reluctance for that to be the only question I answered because many questions we’re asked and I wanted to be thorough and take time to answer them all.

    Yes Fusion Builder is packaged with Avada and is Split-GPL as you can see when purchasing on Themeforest, which is where we currently sell exclusively.

    We also reached out to Pippin about the new builder that has been in development all year, which he did mention in his post.

    It is still in beta form at the moment but is being released soon at which time you will be able to see more details about it :)

    Thank you for reading.

    Cheers,
    Luke

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  15. Pippin’s review is great. He’s a great WP developer, and I really enjoyed his free-of-affiliates post. I’ll give a try to those 3 builders. Thanks Pippin, that was a huge effort!

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  16. Whoa? I like the SiteOrigin Page Builder. It is so flexible, extensible and you can write new Widgets within seconds.

    I brings a whole framework but you need to understand it first. Maybe the same for all the others.

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    1. I agree with this! I’ve been using SiteOrigin for a few clients and it’s the best of both worlds. I have the flexibility of programming specific widgets using whatever technologies I need, and they can drag and drop it wherever they want. Combined with custom sidebars it makes the whole content area a piece of cake.

      The interface could be a little cleaner though.

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    2. I agree too. Though I can’t say I have actually written new widgets (how?) but the existing ones give me so much power over page layout. I can even save page templates for other sites! It has saved me hours of manual CSS and given me design options I would never have considered. As for content lockin? Unreasonable to expect this to be perfect. If you deactivate then you’re in for a lot of work to re-layout anyway, so cut and paste your content to new pages beforehand. Better still stick with it, you won’t regret it.

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  17. Have been trying and using Elementor and with new templates it looks really promising. Tried to use tailor but it causes conflicts in most cases

    Live Composer hate the UI. Rest are theme bundled and VC is bloated and causes slow down

    My 2 cents. Nice review though.

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  18. Really nice review done by Pippin !! I like the Tailor page builder out of his three recommendations.

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  19. Pippin’s review of page builders is eye opening and quite exhaustive.

    I use Divi and Extra with the built-in builder to design websites for my clients. I do ensure that the sites are easily maintainable by the clients after they are handed over to them.

    I am definitely going to try out the 3 page builders which have been highly recommended by him.

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  20. There was some talk in the comments regarding building with Genesis being a better choice than a page builder.

    Genesis can actually be worse than the reviewed page builders or at least just as bad. I do get why people use one or both together though.

    Let’s start though by calling Genesis what it is IMO. A parent theme, not a starter theme or a framework. It’s disingenuous at best and a bold faced marketing lie.

    Genesis is a remarkable software not unlike Headway or Pagelines. However as we have already witnessed the financial woes Headway has had, using Genesis could have similar dire consequences for it’s user base. Divi at least offers a standalone plugin option these days but before wasn’t much better.

    http://www.polesapartdesign.com/from-the-ground-up/building-wordpress-themes/wordpress-starter-theme-vs-theme-framework/

    A framework typically doesn’t lock you into using a particular theme. If it were a real framework, it would install like a plugin or be distributed as an inclusive library.

    A framework would not care what theme you are had activated thus not taking away your freedom(s) / ability to choose. Genesis requires you to install it like a theme and makes switching away from it more difficult than with some of the page builders mentioned here.

    Contrary to certain myths about page builder SEO, they do less to inhibit SEO than themes that integrate it and don’t offer an off switch do.

    If you use a theme and page builder that both don’t specifically offer SEO functionality that’s probably a good thing. It should be left up to a dedicated SEO or custom plugin just for that. It’s too important to be an afterthought.

    https://www.wpsitecare.com/genesis-seo/

    It might even turn out to be that those who choose to use a Page Builder plugin (not part of a theme) instead of having a Genesis site created for them would be better off if they ever needed to switch solutions.

    Ultimately use what works for you. Having to pick between recommending / using Genesis or a Page Builder though, I would feel less awful steering people away from Genesis and toward a page builder. It seems like the lesser of the evils in the current WP climate.

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  21. I only like page builders when I’m not using them. P.S. Pippin is not human!

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  22. Regarding Page Builder Sandwich, I’d just like to point out that we have been busy revamping our UI for the past couple of weeks. Pippin’s feedback on PBS was great, but our revamp started because of feedback from our users and from brainstorming on how to make things easier, and not from his article. Too bad the article came out prior to us finishing the update (it’s still not finished).

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  23. I haven’t read the review yet. I tried a page builder (don’t remember which one) but uninstalled it because it had errors before I even started doing much with it. Since then I dared not try another because it was a big mess to clean up after the plugin was gone.

    I don’t know if this was included in the review but it’s of major importance to me. More than any fancy feature I’d like to know my posts won’t be a mess of code and missing parts if the plugin is gone/ uninstalled or buggy.

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