One of the key elements of a Content Management System (CMS) is the templating layer. Templates are the guardrails to keeping a website looking consistent and on-brand. However, a shortcoming of templating is that every site visual must be accounted for as an option in a template.

Enter Page Builders

The evolution of CMS usage is about more control for page authors. Sites still have templates that control global elements such as navigation, footer elements, typography and font usage, but the middle of the page is an area for components. It’s a flexible work area that can be adjusted to better serve the unique contents of each page while still staying on brand.

The common advantages that page builders provide are:

  • Rapid development of most basic sites.
  • The ability to easily reorganize items on a page.
  • Spacing and coloring tools on each component type.
  • Icon-based administrator toolset for ease of use.

Competition is driving this page builder movement

Full-service sites such as Wix, SquareSpace, and Weebly all offer “drag-and-drop” components to quickly build a basic site that looks good. It’s an incredible draw — in an evening or two, you can have a very professional-looking site launched. This is often the best solution for a business or organization that doesn’t need an expansive website. If you are a small, independent restaurant a website with your location(s), hours, and food menu is all that is necessary.

The competition from the all-in-one hosting services has taken away the bottom of the market from WordPress. The disadvantages of these all-in-one full-service solutions aren’t usually realized until you hit the ceiling on functionality. Some points to consider:

  • Graphic and structural components are plentiful, but not endless.
  • New features are only added if a certain threshold of their customer base would benefit from them.
  • Proprietary code running exclusively on their servers isn’t meant to be exportable, it’s meant to sustain monthly fees. If your site sees a tremendous growth in traffic, you pay more. You cannot “shop around” for other hosts. Only Wix servers host Wix code, only SquareSpace servers host Squarespace code, and so on.

Using ‘stock’ WordPress

In contrast to full-service page builder sites, with just the basic WordPress application, your site would be:

  • Using a free, open-source software codebase.
  • Have highly portable code and database to migrate hosting to whatever you best fit is at the moment.
  • Capable of being extended using free, paid, or self-written plug-ins.
FeatureHosted Site Builders‘Stock’ WordPress
Choice of multiple attractive starter themescheckmark
Visual editor for straightforward content authoringcheckmark
Stock photo image library includedcheckmark
Icon library includedcheckmark
No coding requiredcheckmarkcheckmark
Easy “brochure-ware”-style websitescheckmarkcheckmark
Compatible with phone/ tablet/ laptop/ desktop screen sizescheckmarkcheckmark
Hosting provides updates/maintenancecheckmarkcheckmark [1]
Available development/staging environment to test new features away from the live site.checkmark
Open-source softwarecheckmark
Portable codebase -- easy to access and move your own data.checkmark
Add functionality to your site with additional plug-ins, configuration or programming.checkmark

WordPress’s default theme is functional but boring. Likewise, the In-page component builder Gutenberg is functional but still requires theme coding for a customized look. The goal of these base tools is to prove functionality. Some sites do exist with the default look & feel because it works.

Note [1]: Using one of the numerous hosting companies that specialize in WordPress installs allows for automated one-click updates and back-ups. 

WordPress with a page builder

Due to the rising popularity of page builders, WordPress started including the Gutenberg block-level editor beginning with version 5.0 in 2018. Gutenberg is functional and has the advantage of being ‘shipped’ with all successive versions of WordPress, but it is still very basic (by design) and not really a direct competitor to other long-term page builders. 

Gutenberg makes a WordPress site easier to build, but it is largely just structure that is shown to work with the default WP themes that it ships with. Gutenberg is not a way to launch a site quickly unless you are using one of the default themes.

In contrast, page builders are a combination of a theme + plug-ins to provide a toolset designed to put components on pages without additional programming skills.

FeatureHosted Site Builders‘Stock’ WordPressWordPress with a Page Builder
Choice of multiple attractive starter themescheckmarkcheckmark
Visual editor for straightforward content authoringcheckmarkcheckmark
Stock photo image library includedcheckmark[2]
Icon library includedcheckmarkcheckmark
No coding requiredcheckmarkcheckmarkcheckmark
Easy “brochure-ware”-style websitescheckmarkcheckmarkcheckmark
Compatible with phone/ tablet/ laptop/ desktop screen sizescheckmarkcheckmarkcheckmark
Hosting provides updates/maintenancecheckmarkcheckmark [1]checkmark [1]
Available development/staging environment to test new features away from the live site.checkmarkcheckmark
Open-source softwarecheckmarkcheckmark
Portable codebase -- easy to access and move your own data.checkmarkcheckmark
Add functionality to your site with additional plug-ins, configuration or programming.checkmarkcheckmark

Note [2]: Not having a preselected stock photo library isn’t a great loss. There are other royalty-free and low-cost stock photo libraries available elsewhere on the internet.

Which WordPress page builder is the best?

Like most simple questions with complex answers, there is no ‘best’. However there is a “best for certain criteria”. The choice that you make may be based on these factors:

  • Does the page builder’s documentation or demonstration site show examples of each component that you’d like to use?
  • Does the page builder integrate well with other plug-ins that you are using on your site, such as ecommerce, language translation tools, email mailing lists, or a web form?
  • How active is the support community?
  • How much does it cost? Is it all-inclusive or are add-ons necessary?
  • What are the terms of the license for the length of support?

There is no shortage of theme + plug-in solutions to “wix-ify” a WordPress installation. The most popular solutions are:

Divi, WPBakery and Themify are all equally matched for implementing a front-end theme and a back-end builder. You’ll very often see these “backend builders” bundled with paid themes on It’s a great value bundle for $30-60, which even if it turns out wrong for you, isn’t an expensive mistake.

So the best page builder is your first one — as it will either fill your need, or will use the experience to refine your list of needs/wants and find one that is better. I recommend the Salient theme (which uses WPBakery as the backend) as a good introduction to WordPress page builders.

Page builders aren’t a panacea

Page builders have limitations. Items such as menus, headers and footers only have a few display options. This is purposeful as the limitation provides a known code base that the page builder components won’t conflict with.

No matter what your chosen solution, you can’t avoid the basics of making and operating a website. Website administrators will still have to follow best practices. The site still needs to have consistency and stay on-brand to be clear to your end-users. Items need to be organized on a page in a way that won’t confuse users or impact Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or accessibility requirements.

Customizability per page is a double-edged sword. A page builder makes placing objects on a page simpler, but admins still have to be instructed as to where items go — as well as where they don’t go.

So if page builders aren’t perfect why should I use one?

Everything is a compromise. If a solution gets you 80% of what you want at a reasonable cost in a quick time frame, it is well worth the effort. The marketing of the Wixes of the world focuses specifically on what you can do. They don’t mention any limitations of their service — which are plenty.

WordPress with a page builder gets you the ease of visual updating with the expansion possibilities the WordPress ecosystem has cultivated for the past 18+ years. Page builders are a winning idea!

Gerald Angelo is a Senior Solution Engineer at Clarity Partners. Working primarily with Drupal and WordPress websites, he makes the projects both look and operate well on both the front and backend with a focus on User Experience (UX) and Accessibility. In this article, he discusses the reasoning, limitations, and results of leveraging a page builder solution on the WordPress platform.