Honestly, as website owners we have it easy these days. The web veterans amongst us will remember pouring over HTML code to build the most basic (and probably the ugliest) web pages you’ve ever seen. Not to mention the frustration of spending a whole day tweaking CSS just to move that single text box to the other side of the page. It was a difficult time for everyone… but thankfully those days are long gone.
Page builders are a software revolution that let us build and change web page elements in real time – with no coding experience required. Complex code strings are replaced with simple drag-and-drop elements, sliders and multi-choice options. It’s really opened up a world of opportunities for web professionals, amateurs and yogis alike, where anyone can take it upon themselves to execute their own website vision.
Since their inception, a variety of companies and tools have come to fill the space. Though they all perform the same core function, they all go about it slightly differently. In this article we’ll help you assess the options, so you can make an informed decision about which page builder is best for you and your business.
Why use a page builder?
We’re a big fan of page builders here at Wildheart. The purists of the web developing world will probably never come to accept them (for reasons outlined below) but for almost everyone else, they’re a great option. Here’s why.
- Ease of use – The best page builders always have a simple and intuitive user interface, letting you quickly and efficiently bring your pages to life.
- Templates – Many brands come with a library of templates (sometimes for free) that you can use as a starting point – saving you time, money, and a whole load of frustration.
- Flexibility – Change your website at any time, without the need to pay – or wait for – a costly developer.
- Mobile responsiveness – Most page builders offer in-built mobile responsive elements, with a high degree of customisation.
- Training – Learning to code could take you years, but watching a handful of page builder tutorials on YouTube is often enough to get started.
- Well supported – These page builder companies are well-funded and very active in improving their product. It’s nice to feel secure in your software choice, and the ongoing future of your website.
- Code “bloat” – Some page builders work by inserting shortcodes into the coding of the page. These shortcodes work just fine, but they’re often not the most efficient way to do it. Inefficient code will slow down a website to some degree.
- Lock in – Moving away from page builders can sometimes break aspects of your website that rely on them. Plus, some page builders (Divi I’m looking at you) rely too heavily on shortcodes and don’t have a function to remove them. So, deactivating the plugin can leave your website littered with random shortcodes. It’s not a problem for page builders recommended here though.
Of course – like any other tool – there’s a learning curve and compatibility points to consider when using page builders. Plus, if you’re designing pages yourself from scratch, how they look and function is ultimately down to your eye for design and your ability to execute on your vision.
So, it’s important to remember that page builders make the whole process significantly easier (especially with so many ready-made templates to start with) but they won’t instantly make you a professional website builder extraordinaire. That takes a little more time and effort.
The best page builders for WordPress
Since page builders first rose to power, there’s been a lot of different competitors for the crown, which has been great for us – the consumers. Tough competition has forced these companies to develop at an incredible rate, and the bar is now really high.
We won’t cover all the page builder options here (there are literally dozens) but there are two clear industry leaders that are worth considering first. These two WordPress plugins are compatible with just about every theme out there, and both offer considerable degrees of performance and flexibility.
With over 4 million active installs, Elementor is certainly the biggest player in the industry. Such mass adoption has helped it foster a strong community base, and its commercial success is driving a rapid development process.
- Versatile design elements – Elementor provides an extensive selection of blocks and customisation options, allowing you to bring almost any vision to life.
- Open source – There’s a community of developers constantly adding new widgets and elements for you to use on your website.
- Beautiful page templates – Access a large library of templates that you can implement on your own website with just a click.
- Powerful free version – The free Elementor plugin is incredibly feature-rich, and will often be enough for people’s needs. Though, more advanced users will want the Elementor Pro licence to really utilise the tool.
- Annual licence cost for Elementor Pro – It’s great value for what’s on offer, but it’s not an insignificant cost.
- Limited support if you cancel – Elementor only offers a single year of plugin updates after cancellation, at which point you’re at risk for incompatibilities with WordPress and other software.
#2 Thrive Architect
Thrive Architect has been in the game for a long time (previously under the name Thrive Content Builder) and it’s what we use exclusively at Wildheart – both on our own websites and those of our clients.
- Powerful editor – Just like Elementor, Thrive Architect comes with a powerful set of design elements and customisation features.
- Conversion focussed templates – Thrive provides a wide range of feature-rich templates for pages of all kinds.
- Deep integrations – Thrive Architect can be used in dynamic combinations with other Thrive products like Thrive Leads.
- Great value – You buy a single plugin license and it’s yours forever with full support.
- No free option – However, they do offer 30-day cancellation if you want to try before you buy.
Other notable mentions
- Beaver Builder – One of the original page builders that’s stood the test of time. A perfectly respectable choice, but lacks the diversity of features offered by Thrive and Elementor.
- Divi – Known for its shortcode fiasco, but mostly for its namesake premium theme by Elegant Themes. To be fair, it’s an extensive theme and page builder, but it comes only as part of the Elegant Themes full membership. So it’s only really worth considering if you’re happy to lock in with the entire ecosystem.
- Brizy – The latest page builder on the scene, Brizy is running on some modern new technologies. It offers a unique user interface that lets you make all of your changes inline, instead of the traditional sidebar approach.
Theme builder capabilities
The age of the WordPress theme is coming to an end. Until now we’ve been able to change on-page elements, but never to interact with theme locked elements like the navigation menu, footers and such. Theme builders are changing that.
The days of shopping around for a theme that looks and works exactly the way you want is over. Now if you have a vision – create it yourself!
- Elementor Pro has a built in theme builder element. It lets you fully customise any compatible theme, but they offer their own barebones theme (Hello) as an ideal starting point.
- Thrive have gone a step further and produced their Thrive Theme Builder. The Theme Builder replaces your current theme and essentially lets you create a theme from the ground up. Exciting stuff if you want control over all elements of your site.
The right page builder for you
The truth is, any of these page builders will get you from A to B. They’re all capable of producing attractive and functional websites.
Each has a handful of unique features that could be deal-breakers for you (e.g. software compatibility or integrations) but they mostly share the same features.
If you only have a small use for a page builder, Elementor’s free plugin is a great starting point. There’s a good chance that it’ll do exactly what you need without costing you a penny.
Or, if you’re looking to use page builders extensively across your WordPress site(s), then you’ll likely want to pay for Elementor Pro or Thrive Architect.
We exclusively use Thrive Architect here at Wildheart, but I’m personally a big fan of Elementor too. The team behind Thrive say their tools are designed to be more conversion focussed, and Elementor a little more design-led – and I’m inclined to agree.
Finally, the main difference comes down to user experience. Both Thrive Architect and Elementor follow the same general drag-and-drop approach, but with some key differences that you really need to try for yourself.
It’s worth having a play around with the free version of Elementor, and you can buy Thrive Architect with a no-risk return policy should you want to try that too.
Just bear in mind, switching page builders later down the line can be a lot of work, so you’re best off making a decision and sticking with it. No pressure… Good luck!
Need help with your WordPress website?
If all this feels like too much hard work, we’re here to help. Our New Website Package will provide you with a beautiful, effective, fully customisable and mobile-responsive website, using the Thrive Architect page builder. This means you’ll have full control over your own site and will easily be able to manage your own content. Check out our package page to find out more: