In the age of modern web development, there are various approaches to building a WordPress website. However, not all websites are created equal.
WordPress is the most popular website platform & content management system (CMS) – used by 43.2% of all websites on the internet, and 65% of all sites which use a CMS.
This popularity is influenced by WordPress user-friendliness and versatility: the WordPress theme & plugin repository provides a range of third-party tools advertising ‘no-code’ page-builder functionality. These themes & plugins are appealing to beginners and website owners; they lower the ‘barrier to entry’ and, in theory, allow websites to be built without prior coding knowledge.
Unfortunately, because of its popularity, flexibility, and the fact that the software is open-source, WordPress development is exposed to negative practices. This has given the platform somewhat of a bad reputation over the years.
One such example is the over-use of ‘page-builder’ plugins and themes – software that can be installed on a WordPress site which enables webpages to be designed and built without the need for coding experience.
However, load speed, maintainability, and many other factors all need to be considered when developing a website that both works for you and your visitors.
So, how do WordPress page builders affect these key factors?
Before we dig in…
What Do We Mean by Page-Builders?
A WordPress page builder is a plugin or theme that enables website owners or developers to create custom web page layouts directly from the WordPress dashboard.
The most popular of these plugins and themes are:
- Divi (Theme)
- Elementor (Theme / Plugin)
- WP Bakery (Plugin)
- Visual Composer (Plugin)
Page Builders can be seen as ‘all-in-one’ toolkits that provide a wide range of pre-built elements and widgets which can be used, typically in a drag-and-drop interface, to build and customise web pages.
Sounds great! So what’s the catch?
What Do We Mean by Page-Builders?
On the surface then, page-builders sound like a great idea! Why wouldn’t anybody want this level of flexibility and control when building a website?
Well, as with all good things in life, there’s a catch.
So, let’s run through the main reasons why page-builder WordPress sites aren’t all they cracked up to be…
1. Slow Website Speed
- Due to their ‘catch all’ functionality, page-builders bloat your website with extra code, notably:
- More PHP to run on the server before data is delivered to the browser.
- More HTML code is generated from the PHP which the browser has to process and render.
- More data and more requests mean slower load times.
- On a test Bidmark did recently on a site we had inherited with speed issues, we found that deactivating the Elementor page-builder plugin alone took the server response time by over 70 % from 792ms to 218ms.
- Server response time and page-load times are critical to allow your website to compete in search engine rankings. Slow sites are penalised heavily by Google.
- Similarly, slow websites offer poor user experience – we’ve all clicked away from a website because page load times were becoming frustrating. This means higher user bounce rates and shorter session durations. Users are simply less likely to convert a business goal on a slow website, and this information is fed back to Google, perpetuating this SEO disaster.
2. Poor Design Consistency & Maintainability
- Web development typically employs a top-down approach to styling components, which encourages maintainability and flexibility.
- Page-builders violate this principle – they encourage styles & formatting to be set at the bottom level, on each component.
- This makes for quick & simple development, but also makes it too easy for on-the-fly development to move away from the company’s core branding. It also means that changing any aspect of the design sitewide is time-consuming. Every instance of every setting needs to be changed sitewide, whereas, in a traditional development approach, we’d be adjusting a single line of code.
- This, therefore, makes for a short-sighted and unmaintainable approach – fast to get up and running, but difficult to manage effectively in the long term.
3. Limitations on Design and Functionality
- For all the flexibility that page-builders provide, they can’t cover all bases. Past a certain level of complexity, custom development is simply required to allow for freedom of design and functionality.
4. Your Website Relies on Third-Party (Often paid) Software to Function
- Using third-party page builder themes/plugins to build a WordPress site puts the website owner at risk of software abandonment.
- If the developers that maintain the page builder your site happens to be using decide they want to ditch it, there’s not much that can be done.
- Sooner or later this will lead to both security and WordPress compatibility issues for the website owner.
5. Content is Non-Transferrable
- Page-builders work by generating code which is then compiled by WordPress into HTML that the web browser can display.
- This works OK while the plugin or theme is active, but when removed from the site in favour of a new theme/plugin, the content is converted back to the simple text at best, or at worst, into code that is unusable.
- This must be taken into account when using a page builder – the larger the site becomes, the more manual work will be required to migrate, and the more difficult & costly it will become to move away from the chosen theme/plugin.
6. They’re Largely Redundant
- With the introduction of the WordPress Gutenberg API, developers now have a way of coding their own custom layouts which can be made available to WordPress built-in page builder.
- This means that we can now have the best of both worlds; a custom-built website that uses best practices, while also having access to the native WordPress Gutenberg page builder to use the components to create a custom layout if required for one-off pages.
- This goes a long way to resolving all the issues we’ve mentioned above while maintaining the user-friendly drag-and-drop experience of a typical page-builder.
Is There A Middle Ground?
In an ideal world, there would exist a solution that allows for both custom-layout webpages using pre-built widgets to offer flexibility, and fixed-layout webpages using page templates to offer consistency & maintainability.
As we mentioned above, with the introduction of the WordPress Gutenberg API, developers can now take advantage of ‘page-builder’ type functionality while still employing development best practices.
Sites can be developed in sections, and these sections can be made available to the native WordPress Gutenberg drag-and-drop page builder for on-the-fly page development without the need for a custom page template.
At the same time, these sections can be used in page templates, so when consistency is required over flexibility, maintainability issues encountered with page-builders can be avoided entirely.
This is the approach we take here at Bidmark and one we have found works very well for our clients. A key benefit to this approach is that it allows clients to add content themselves in a simple manner, without affecting the aesthetic or creating an unmaintainable website.
In conclusion, although WordPress page-builders sound appealing, the benefits are far outweighed by the drawbacks when thinking ahead about maintainability – a factor that will cause a lot of headaches for sites as the amount of content grows.
Page-builders slow down websites drastically by requiring more server-side code to run before requests are returned to the browser and many more requests from the browser to files which are often not required anyway.
Setting options on each component leads to unscalable websites – as the website grows, maintainability decreases exponentially.
There are better ways of offering similar flexibility by working with WordPress’s built-in Gutemberg page-builder API.
And finally, it’s important to remember that the fate of your website & content may be out of your hands if the software it relies on is discontinued.
So, if you’re looking for a new website that avoids the pitfalls of page-builders but reaps all of the benefits, get in touch with us today – we’ll be happy to provide a quote.
How Can Bidmark Help You
Our website development service team in Leeds can help you understand how a website should work for you and develop this for you. Contact us to discuss how our web development service could help you build a website perfect for your business.