Have you ever wanted to build a page or post on your WordPress site but the default editor just didn’t have what you needed? If you want to add things like Google Maps, multiple column layouts, buttons, icons, accordion sections or image carousels. Maybe you just want to position everything on your page in a very specific way that the WordPress editor isn’t capable of without coding knowledge.
Page builders solve the problem of creating custom or complex pages without the need for installing a lot of plugins or hiring a developer. There are many page builders out there, some free and some paid, most with a free and paid version. If you want to test the waters a free page builder is the way to go. There are some really useful one with a lot of great features.
On the other hand, there are some amazing paid page builders that are loaded with features and allow you to create very complex and beautifully designed pages with no coding or development knowledge.
Page builders can get a bad reputation because they add additional code that can slow a site down. While this is a valid point, if you were to install multiple plugins to match the same functionality of a page builder you would have similar problems with additional code and potentially reduced speed. One way around that would be to hire a WordPress developer to create the features you need. But this can end up costing much more than buying a page builder.
What to look for in a page builder
The main things I look for in a page builder are features and ease of use. Does it have the capability to build what I need in an intuitive way? Sometimes you have to install one and test it out to determine if it will work for you.
Components of page builders
These are the individual components of a page and include images, videos, buttons, text columns, headings, lists, quotes, accordion sections, tab sections, etc that can easily be inserted into post or page then moved around via drag and drop. They can be thought of as modular pieces of a page to add style and function, they are the building blocks of your posts and pages. Different page builders refer to these by different names like blocks, modules or widgets.
Most page builders include a template feature. They allow you to use predesigned pages that you can customize and edit to your liking. With templates, you can easily select a prebuilt layout and input your text or images to quickly have a beautifully designed page.
Review of popular page builders
I decided to test several of the most popular page builder plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. These are Elementor, Brizy, Beaver Builder and Site Origin. I only tested the free versions of these because I believe someone testing the waters is most likely to go for a free version before grabbing their wallet for a $50-$100 plugin.
The first page builder I tried out was Elementor. I liked it for its easy to use interface, large selection of elements, customization options, and selection of pre-designed pages. One of the features that I really liked with Elementor was the ability to edit things like margin, padding, box shadow, background, and border radius of any element you add to a page. These could be done with CSS but having the ability to change it all without using code is very handy for someone unfamiliar with CSS.
When you first open the Elementor editor you will see a list of elements you can add to the page (Elementor calls these blocks). There are a lot of blocks available and they include:
- Google Maps
- Image Box
- Icon box
- Image gallery
- Image carousel
- Icon list
- Progress bar
- Social icons
- Menu Anchor
Elementor also allows you to insert any widgets that come with your theme into a page you are building along with the Elementor blocks. You can insert WordPress widgets like Search, Recent Posts, Recent Comments, and Categories.
Elementor has an option to use either your theme’s default page template, the Elementor Full Width template (no sidebar, but does include the header/navigation and footer from your theme) or Elementor Canvas template that is completely blank (no header/navigation or footer from your theme). This allows you to really customize the look and feel of your pages.
If you prefer to work from a prebuilt page, Elementor has a nice selection of pages for you to customize to your liking. You can either take the page and just edit the text and images or add new blocks to the page or even delete blocks you don’t need. Responsive layouts are also available allowing you to design your pages with desktop, tablet, or mobile layouts in mind.
Overall, this was one of my favorite page builders. It was easy to use, had many options to create all kinds of page designs, and I really liked the pre-designed pages. For a free plugin, it has a lot of great features.
Beaver Builder was the next page builder I tested. The free version is pretty limited compared to the others. There are only a few basic elements (Beaver Builder calls these Modules) for you to add to pages:
- Column layouts
There are no pre-built pages available in the free version of Beaver Builder. It does, however, allow you to change element width, margin, and padding without the use of CSS.
After being underwhelmed by the free version I decided to try a demo of the paid version. The plugin had so many good reviews in the WordPress plugin directory it seemed the free version had to be missing a lot of features.
The demo had an abundance of template pages including content pages and landing pages to customize. The design of these pages was very modern and sleek. Just like with Elementor you can edit the pre-built pages by adding or removing modules on the page or build a page from scratch using individual modules.
The Beaver Builder user interface was easy to use but the lack of features eliminates its usefulness as a free page builder. With that said, the paid version does have plenty of great features and looks like a very solid page builder.
Brizy is similar to Elementor in that you can build a page from scratch using individual elements (Brizy just calls these elements). Unlike other page builders, it doesn’t have full pre-built pages, it has blocks (pre-built page sections you can edit). They are a group of elements combined to create roughly a half page layout. There are many assorted options to choose from and multiple blocks can be added together to form a page. Elements included in the Brizy page builder are:
- Icon box
While not quite as intuitive as Elementor, Brizy is still pretty easy to figure out and includes plenty of options for creating pages. Similar to Elementor it also has the option of changing page templates. You can use your theme’s default page template (includes header/navigation, sidebar, and footer), page builder template (header/navigation and footer) or you can use the Brizy template (no header/navigation, sidebar, or footer). With Brizy you can also build pages in mobile view so you can customize them for mobile use. Also available is the ability to change element width, padding, border, and add CSS classes.
Brizy is definitely a good choice for a free WordPress page builder. It is easy to use and has many elements and blocks to create great looking pages. It’s only real downside would be the lack of prebuilt pages. The pre-built blocks of elements are nice but I would like to see full pages.
SiteOrigin has some really nice pre-built pages (SiteOrigin calls these layouts) you can customize and a modest amount of elements (SiteOrigin calls them widgets) for you to build a page from the ground up.
The main problem I have with the SiteOrigin page builder is that you also have to install their widgets plugin to use any widgets other than basic ones like images, posts, gallery, recent posts, recent comments, or HTML. To use any of the following widgets you have to install the additional widget plugin:
- Call to action
- Contact form
- Text editor
- Feature list
- Google Maps
- Hero image
- Price table
- Post carousel
- Image grid
- Layout slider
- Masonry layout
- Image or video slider
- Social media buttons
- Video player
Anything other than basic WordPress widgets requires installing another plugin. I’m not sure why it couldn’t come bundled with the page builder plugin like the other page builders I tested. These widgets don’t come activated after installing the SiteOrigin widget plugin. Meaning if you select a prebuilt page you will get error messages stating “missing widget” for any widget the prebuilt pages uses that you have not activated. So you must go to Plugins, Select SiteOrigin widgets and turn on any widgets used on the page. None of the other page builders require these extra steps. When you first get the “missing widget” error it’s not immediately obvious what you need to do to fix it. After playing round with it was I able to figure out the widgets need to be manually activated.
That was my biggest problem with the SiteOrigin page builder, it wasn’t especially user-friendly or intuitive.
What about Gutenberg?
I wouldn’t be able to talk about page builders without mentioning Gutenberg. For those not familiar with the Gutenberg WordPress editor (aka the block editor in WordPress 5.0+), it provides a new way to edit posts and pages much like a page builder, but it is developed by WordPress and will be included in the WordPress core sometime in the future. This means that it will be standard on all WordPress installations, replacing the current editor. Currently, it is available as an optional plugin and the developers are asking that users install the plugin, test it out and provide feedback about how it works.
While not nearly as complex or feature-rich as actual page builders, Gutenberg makes use of elements much like they do. It also allows for drag and drop placement of elements.
What Gutenberg is missing that most page builders have are templates. With Gutenberg, you are creating a page or post completely from scratch. There is no pre-built page for you to edit or customize.
What free page builder should you choose?
After testing the free versions of Elementor, Beaver Builder, Brizy, and SiteOrigin I suggest using Elementor or Brizy. Both were easy to use and full of useful features. They offer the best value for a free WordPress page builder. Beaver Builder and SiteOrigin weren’t horrible, in fact, they both have good reviews in the WordPress plugin directory but they just don’t hold up against Elementor or Brizy.
What are your thoughts on WordPress page builders? Do you have a favorite one not mentioned here?