Page builder limbo: Why fancy designer tools mean client headaches

Using a page builder for your WordPress site is all right if you’re the designer. But if you’re not, then you could be in for a world of frustration. We decided to write a little about why we don’t use page builders or premium themes on our client sites—and why you should expect your designer not to, either!

Cartoon of a business person bewildered by a page builder website

We’ve seen it more times than we care to recall. A client comes to us with a slow, under-performing WordPress site that needs “a few little updates”. It seems like a small task at first—but once we get started, we find out it’s a lot more complicated. Somebody has used a page builder.

When we ask the client, they almost all have the same response: what’s a page builder? They don’t know anything about that. They just commissioned a designer to make their site, and this what they got. Nobody showed them how to use the page builder, and certainly nobody explained that they would be left with an expired plugin license!

They don’t know how it got there. They don’t know how to update. They don’t use the page builder, but they can’t uninstall it. Welcome… to page builder limbo!

What is a Page Builder anyway?

A page builder is a type of plugin that fundamentally changes how content editing works within WordPress. There are lots of different page builders, but they all serve the same basic purpose.

The content editor in WordPress is a lot like a word processor. It’s designed primarily for writing and sharing text articles, with some sensible styling and layout controls mixed in. The overall look and feel of the site is provided by the theme, not by each page individually.

A page builder aims to convert WordPress into a complex page-by-page design platform—more like a graphics editor or desktop publishing program, like you might use for poster or magazine layout. In many ways, they make WordPress work more like its less popular competitors—platforms like Wix and Weebly.

And we hate them.

Okay, that might be a bit unfair. Page builders have their place. But we think that place is on sites where the owner is the designer, and they actively use all the complexity and micro-control that these plugins offer. That place isn’t on a site made for a small business owner, who just wants a reliable, efficient business website that lets them make minor updates easily.

So why do we hate page builders on business websites?

1. They slow down your website

No matter how much a page builder might make your site look like a graphics editor, it’s still a website underneath. Everything you see is made out of code called markup, and page builders usually generate pretty bad markup. (It’s a bit like watching a video with automatically-generated subtitles.)

Bad markup can easily turn your page into a bloated, sluggish site. That translates into frustration for visitors, and worse marks from search engines. That might be worthwhile if you truly need what the page builders offers—but if you don’t, that’s a huge penalty which you can easily avoid.

2. They make you pay for your designer’s tools

Premium (paid) WordPress plugins aren’t a new thing. Nor are they a bad thing. If a particular function is valuable to your site, a premium plugin is often the most reliable and well-supported solution available. However, page builders are a little different—because in practice they are often designer tools, not end-user tools.

Think about it: if you haven’t been taught how to use the page builder, then it’s certainly not there for your benefit. It’s there because your designer wanted to use it, when you paid them to make your site. Now the ongoing license fee is asking you to pay indefinitely for your designer’s tool! How is that fair?

Of course, you don’t have to renew the license. But, since you can’t get rid of the page builder, you now have an out-of-date plugin live on your site. That means no bug fixes, and no patches to security issues that hackers might exploit—which is no small concern on a platform as popular as WordPress.

While you’re at it, watch out for designers who want to build your site on a premium theme. They may seem cheap compared to a custom theme, but before long you will have to pay again to keep them current. A custom theme is a one-time expense, versus a premium theme which has an indefinite price tag. Make sure you know what you’re paying for!

Cartoon of a business person aggravated by a page builder website

3. They undermine the structure of WordPress

A page builder is a way to edit content that’s largely alien to WordPress core. That’s the whole point, after all! They deliberately blur the line that normally exists in WordPress between the theme (layout and page infrastructure, like headers and navigation) and the content.

This gives a designer more freedom, but also takes a lot of control away from the infrastructure WordPress is fundamentally designed around. In addition to bloated markup, that can mean unexpected results in combination with other themes or plugins. If you want a site with the fewest possible hiccups, then you’re better off working with the core infrastructure.

4. They stop you from learning how to use the normal editor

Page builders like to claim that they are superior to the default WordPress editor because they are “easier” or “more intuitive”. Well, in our experience, this is very much not the case. We regularly see clients overwhelmed by micro-management controls and inscrutable custom layouts. That’s why they wind up having to pay a developer to make even the simplest of changes!

With great freedom comes great complexity. Page builders are certainly powerful tools once you learn to use them, but there’s a lot to learn—especially if you don’t need the majority of options they offer. To make matters worse, the site may include other plugins that can only use the default WordPress editor. Now there’s even more to learn!

5. The extra baggage

“Page Builder recommends the following plugins…” is a phrase you might see a lot of when you’re in page builder limbo. There’s a good idea at work here; why waste time developing new code if somebody else has already made a good plugin? Indeed, the wealth of available plugins is a great reason why WordPress is so popular in the first place.

Unfortunately, page builders tend to take this further than a polite suggestion. Often, they come bundled with “required” plugins for elements like galleries or sliders, or will nag you to install their preferred plugins. This causes clutter and can result in conflicts if you have other plugins trying to handle the same tasks.

Sometimes they even bundle other premium plugins, which in turn have their own license costs. You don’t just get to enjoy one insecure expired plugin—you get the lot!

What should I ask for instead of a page builder site?

If you want a sensible, functional website that makes it easy for you to perform minor updates? Nine times out of ten, what you want is a custom WordPress theme.

A custom theme can give your site a unique look and feel without breaking WordPress’s infrastructure or loading you up with expensive plugins. A skilled theme developer can bring out the personality of your business, while staying true to best practice design principles. They can also keep your site lightweight and easy to use by including only what you need, nothing you don’t.

Cartoon of a business person happy with their well-made website

Page Builder rescue

Would you like to rescue your slow, hard-to-update page builder site? IT Wollongong can perform a custom theme rebuild that gets rid of the page builder, but preserves your content and styling. It’s everything you like about your existing WordPress site, only better!

If tyou need a page builder rescue, call (02) 4227 6630 or contact us online today!

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