Page builders, page builders … you’re all pretty. Can’t we all just get along?
Say you have limited web design experience, you need a website, and you’re on a budget. You’ve decided a WordPress page builder is right for you. Congratulations! You’ve just stepped into a hornet’s nest of "mine is better than yours because …"
Much like the tribe wars between Mac and PC devotees, page builders have their tribe wars too. People like what they like, and they’re comfortable staying with what they know. And let’s face it, learning something new is time-consuming, and sometimes hard, depending on your experience. But time moves on, technology advances, and what worked really well before might not work well anymore, and so you have to look for new solutions—better solutions. This is where I am.
Page builders have grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years, and it seems every month they’re coming out with new amazing features that bring parity in function, if not approach, to the party.
Page builders aren’t just for novices. Experienced users and web designers also adopt page builders because they allow you to make sites quickly, and they look great. As you might expect, some page builders do more than others. You’ll notice these are called page builders, not theme builders. Every WordPress site has to have a theme installed in order to build pages.
The theme is a global template that controls how your site looks. Components like headers, footers, and sidebars are not pages, so a page builder cannot customize these. Third-party plug-ins can get around such limitations, but some page builders come with a theme builder, which can style headers and footers.
Some page builders have their own themes, starter layouts, blocks, and page templates to help jumpstart the design process. If you have a favorite theme, you can use that. Chances are it is compatible with most page builders.
If I’m not using the page builder’s theme, I use Astra (free version). It’s lightweight, integrates nicely with most tools, and has a nice starter template plugin with the free version of the theme. Astra also allows you to create full-width designs and turn things off, like titles and the sidebar on pages.
For this review, I chose four page builders based on what is most important to me: ease of use, features, support, longevity, and price. I compared Beaver Builder, Brizy, Elementor, and Divi, all of which are tested on a localhost environment.
I had never used any of these page builders before, so if you’re looking for an in-depth, cool tips and tricks, I’ve-used-this-one-forever-and-you-should-too type of article, this isn’t it. I’m not going to suggest one over the other, because “best” is too relative a term to be useful. I’m going to try these four builders and share what I learned from research and hands-on testing.
Quick backstory. I need a new way to build WordPress sites because my old framework theme (which has served me well for over six years) is sunsetting sooner rather than later, and I need to start migrating existing sites and building new ones on something else. For this reason, a more established builder with solid support and a large community may have an edge in a close race for my undying WordPress page builder devotion.
Pricing structure is a weighty consideration for me when choosing one builder over another, because I have several WordPress sites that I’ve built and continue to manage, but I’m not a high-volume freelancer at the moment, so there’s no client absorbing the cost. The one-time pay/unlimited sites pricing option is appealing to me for this reason. Only two that I tested have this option.
I have included a stats comparison ranking for each builder, but don’t put too much weight in that. You can improve all stats with various plugins. I’m not a scientist, just a curious nerd, so I compared requests, page size, code lines, load time, div requests, and Google insights/Google mobile ranking for each. A page was made in each builder, with an identical header and footer and one simple element. Load times were averaged, and the other stats compared. All builders with their own themes did better when using their theme rather than using a third-party theme. Brizy was the only one that didn’t have its own theme. Would that affect its stats?
These are my first impressions, based on my criteria:
In no particular order, I’ll begin with Beaver Builder. Many people swear by Beaver Builder. Beaver Builder has three parts: a page builder plugin, a framework theme, and a themer plugin. The page builder and theme are bundled into the common paid tier system, and the themer is a stand-alone product. They have an excellent demo site where you can play around with each product and see what they do.
I do not have a subscription to Beaver Builder Theme, so I installed the free Beaver Builder Page Builder plugin (lite version). Just search for Beaver Builder on the WordPress plugin page and it will come up (WordPress Page Builder – Beaver Builder), along with a ton of other plugins made to work with Beaver Builder. While I had the results up, I installed the Starter Templates plugin (by Brainstorm Force) for the free Astra theme I’m using and used one of their excellent starter templates. When you select a starter layout template in Astra, it will also download the plugins you need to use that template. In this case, it added Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder Lite and WPForms Lite plugins, also free.
The settings panel is clean and responsive and intuitive to use. You can make the settings panel disappear by selecting the arrow beside it (|<) at the bottom. It will pop back up when you double click one of the menu items.
If you’re just going to edit a basic starter template to suit your needs, the free builder plugin might work for you, but module options are sparse if you want to add anything else. You may get a little more functionality from the plethora of third-party plugins available for Beaver Builder, but to truly embrace the power of this page builder, you would have to purchase the theme and the themer.
Beaver Builder has a yearly subscription model with three tiers: Standard ‒ $99 (does not include the theme, but does include support, page builder plugin, unlimited sites, and premium modules and templates). Pro ‒ $199 (adds the theme and multisite capability). Agency ‒ $399 (adds network-wide multisite settings and white labeling). The themer is a separate plug-in and costs $147 yearly. You must have the premium builder to use the themer. They offer a 40% discount on all auto-renewals, including the theme/builder package, but they do not offer a one-time lifetime payment option.
Beaver Builder Pros:
- The code is relatively clean for a builder. There is no content lock-in. Some other builders output content into shortcodes, so if you decide to switch to another builder, you basically have to start over. Beaver Builder isn’t one of them. There’s not a lot of bloat, so the resulting page had the best overall stats of the four builders tested.
- The builder is stable and is very popular with more advanced users and businesses.
- The demo site is a nice touch. You can see exactly what you’re getting for your purchase and whether it’s the builder for you.
- Beaver Builder has been around since 2014, so there’s a large community of support out there, as well an active Facebook group. They use a support ticketing system for official help.
- It’s more expensive initially, but the renewal discount makes it less than Elementor, Brizy, and Divi for a yearly subscription of the least expensive option. I’ll call that a pro; however, see pricing structure below.
Beaver Builder Cons:
- The Standard plan ($99) does not come with the Beaver Builder Theme; for that you’ll have to opt for the Pro option ($199). You may not need the Beaver Builder Theme if you’re using a theme you like, but you’ll probably want the themer, which comes separately as an add-on for Beaver Builder (premium builder version), as mentioned above ($147). So, if you get the Standard plan, because you don’t need the theme, and buy the themer, you’re paying $246 initially. With the 40% off every year thereafter, you’re paying $147.60 for both, but because Beaver Builder really does perform better with its own theme, you’ll want to purchase the Pro option ($199). I’ll let you do that math. Confused? Yeah. I feel you.
- There aren’t a lot of modules available in the free version compared to the competition. The free builder plugin feels like a true tester, just to get a feel for the builder, but not something one would stay with if they weren’t going to purchase the theme (and themer).
- One reoccurring theme in my Beaver Builder research was the high level of devotion to the builder, but there’s a bit of unease as well, as competitors outpace Beaver Builder (core) in updates and new functionality. Third-party plugins seem to pick up the slack, but people like to chase shiny new things, and the competition is producing shiny things at breakneck speed.
That being said, everything I’ve read paints Beaver Builder as a high-quality product, always in step with all updates to WordPress and attentive to support requests. They are a stable builder precisely because they are cautious with updates, which is good. If you’re making sites for yourself, you may not mind putting up with the occasional glitch. You may feel it’s an acceptable trade-off for achieving that cool new feature with one click, but if you’re building sites for clients, glitches are the last thing you want. Beaver Builder is expensive, but you do get what you pay for.
Best feature of Beaver Builder: Stability
Next up is Brizy builder. Brizy is one slick hunk of page builder love. Too much? I don’t know; it’s pretty nice looking. Very minimalist—maybe too much—but it certainly doesn’t get in your way. It’s very easy to use and very intuitive.
It doesn’t have a theme, but it does have five layouts in the free version of the builder plugin once you install a theme. In addition to layouts, they have a very large library of blocks and elements that are available in the free builder. You can see all the Pro layouts and such as well; they’re just not available to you unless you upgrade.
Once again, I’m building with the Astra theme. You can visit Brizy’s website for a list of compatible themes.
Like most page builders these days, elements (such as images, rows, and columns) are resized easily on the front end by dragging handles. Brizy has only six icons visible for your building experience: Add Elements, Reorder Blocks, Styling, Mobile View (where you adjust your page for desktop, tablet, and phone responsive viewing), Page (where you select your page template), and a More menu. There is redo, undo, and a preview option beside the update button. That’s it.
I love Brizy’s concise UI, but Beaver Builder and Elementor, for example, have all the control panel options in one place and visible all the time (if you choose). Sometimes simple is better, because a lot of settings all at once can feel overwhelming, but once you become accustomed to ignoring settings you don’t use often, you may like all those options in one scrollable panel.
Concise was a new experience for me in a page builder, and while I loved the look and appreciated having the most used settings available right beside the element I’m editing, I had to click through two additional settings panels to adjust the margins. I could get used to that I suppose (all advanced settings were two panel clicks away), and I don’t often have to adjust the margins or use the other advanced settings, but it’s something to consider if you want to do a lot of fiddling with your layout. It’s a trade-off for the instant access of the most used settings, and one I can live with.
Brizy has a unique image placement feature that allows you to drag your image within its window (providing the image is larger than the window) for exact placement, not just the usual top, bottom, left, right, and center alignment. Their global style menu is also well designed, making it easy to visually select your style options.
This builder has the typical three-tier pricing option, but differs from Beaver Builder and Elementor in that it has a one-time payment option called Lifetime. The pricing page says the Lifetime option is going away soon at its current rate. Pricing is as follows: Personal ‒ $49 per year for three sites; Studio ‒ $99 per year for unlimited sites; and Lifetime ‒ $299. All of Brizy’s plans come with their Brizy Cloud access, which is an intriguing product that is also available for free. The Pro cloud access, with the paid subscriptions, has more options (of course).
Brizy is relatively new on the builder scene (launching in 2018), but the team has been in the game for a while. It has an active Facebook group and a rapidly growing fan base. I love the builder a lot and will keep an eye on its maturation.
- I’m going to call the minimalist UI a pro for simplifying the building/editing process, but as I explained above, you might not always want that.
- There is no content lock-in due to shortcodes.
- It’s a good value, especially the Lifetime option and the inclusion of Brizy Cloud, with all the plans.
- I really, really like Brizy. I like the look, the fluid workflow, and the possibilities for its future.
- It’s a relatively new builder, so some of the features present in the other builders aren’t there yet (like importing and exporting layouts and blocks), but I like their approach, and they’ve made great strides since I first became aware of them, so I have high hopes for their continued development. According to their to-do list, many of the features I wish it had now are planned in the near future.
- The UI may be a con for some, but, overall, I liked it … unless I had to frequently access advanced settings, and then, not so much.
- From the comments in their Facebook group, there’s still some work to be done to make this a top tier builder, but they are moving up quickly, and current users seem generally happy with its performance. The Brizy team is active in the group and seem attentive to its members’ questions and comments.
- Taking a look at the code produced by Brizy, I found it a little bloated, but I read that they’ll be addressing this in future updates. It came in third, sometimes fourth, depending on the stat in the comparison test. It’s hard to say if it would do better with its own theme (as the others did), because Brizy doesn’t have one.
Best feature of Brizy: A real pleasure to use.
Next is Elementor. Elementor is one of the most popular page builders out there. According to Elementor’s website, there are over four million active installs.
Elementor’s interface is much like Beaver Builder’s. It’s got one editing panel that contains everything you’ll need to edit your site. But unlike Beaver Builder, there are a lot of building elements available to use with the free builder plugin. There are many third-party plugins. So. Many.
The builder is very intuitive. I like to see how far I can get in a page build before I have to look something up. If you’ve never used a builder before, your mileage may vary, but I found Elementor very easy to navigate, and I didn’t have to look anything up.
It has inline editing, but all other changes are made in the side panel. You can right click a module for menu items as well. The panel is well laid out, and I didn’t find any builder quirks (meaning no odd ways of achieving a result). Everything was very logical to me. There is a global undo, and there was no lag while the builder executed each change. The Elementor section here is short compared to the others, but the plugin is just so easy to use and understand, that there’s not a lot to say about it.
One thing I did look up after seeing an example on their homepage was custom positioning, which is available in the free plugin. You don’t want to do a lot of this because it may have unintended consequences for the responsiveness of your site (and there is a warning about that in the panel when you select it), but when you need something to be right there on your site, a flexible layout is pretty darn useful.
The team at Elementor is very engaged with their users. They have an active presence on social media, a large group on Facebook, and lots of third-party plugins.
There are three pricing tiers: Personal ‒ $49 yearly for one site; Plus ‒ $99 yearly for three sites; and Expert ‒ $199 yearly for one thousand sites. There is no lifetime one-time payment option. All tiers come with 50+ Pro Widgets, 300+ Pro Templates, Theme Builder, WooCommerce Builder, Popup Builder, Support for 1 Year, and Updates for 1 Year.
Elementor (free) Pros:
- Comes with a lot of elements that you’d have to buy or install as a plugin with other builders (like sliders and form builders).
- The third-party plugin market for this builder is extensive. Product longevity looks good. I’d say they’re going to be around for a while.
- No content lock-in. Elementor came in second in my stats test.
- You can do quite a lot with just the free version, a good theme (like Astra or Ocean WP), and some free third-party plugins.
- I didn’t find a lot of cons to Elementor (free). Something that does so much for zero money is pretty darn impressive. Sure, there are things you may need that only come with the Pro version, and who wants to bog down their site with a bunch of plug-ins to fill in the gap, but if I had to purchase the Pro version, the number of websites I need to switch over requires the $199 a year plan, and that is out of my budget.
Best feature of Elementor: The free version, in concert with a good theme and the astounding number of free plugins, may be all you need.
The last builder is Divi. Full disclosure, I have Divi Lifetime Access. I purchased the one-time payment Lifetime Access option last year during an insanely good Black Friday sale. Lest you think that makes me biased toward Divi, I haven’t used it yet. Note to the Page Builder teams: put your stuff on sale for a brief period with an insane price and people will buy it even if they don’t need it yet! Because, the future!
This is Divi’s builder layout. Instead of a constant settings panel on one side of the screen or the other, Divi pops up a panel when you select a gear icon and closes it when you approve your changes or X out. The panel is positioned wherever you last put it on the page, so if you’re used to side panels, you can put it there and that’s where it’ll pop up every time. I like the idea of positioning the panels close to where you’re working, because I have a large screen, but sometimes the panel pops up over the part I’m editing, so I have to move it. I’d rather the panel pop up above where I’m working automatically, like Brizy does. Minor quibble, and more to do with my working environment than a real gripe. The module and row panels do pop up where you’re working, because unlike some of the other builders, you don’t drag and drop a module, you select it in the panel and it inserts where you want it (where you clicked the plus sign).
Once you get the hang of how the builder works, it’s really easy, but I admit to watching a video on building a site with Divi because it initially frustrated the heck out of me. It’s concise, like Brizy, but I had trouble getting started. Instead of building from scratch, I imported an entire layout until I got the hang of it. It seems silly now because everything is so obvious, but there you have it. It must just be me, though, because most people say it’s super easy (which it is … now).
One really great thing about Divi is the layers panel which I show in the screenshot. Instead of heading to the wireframe view of the page to see its structure, it’s all in one nice panel you can open right there on the page. With this layer panel, you can navigate anywhere on your page. Just select the section you want and the page scrolls there. Elementor has a navigation panel that behaves this way as well, but it doesn’t have as many options in it. From Divi’s layers panel, you can see a nested version of your page and can reorder, edit, delete, rename, and such, right in the panel. It’s a real time saver.
Divi has a huge library of layouts, and you can make a site just using those premade layouts, but sometimes you don’t want the whole layout set, or even a page, you just want a portion. Out of the box in Divi, all you can do is import a whole layout set or a page; however, if you find a section (or row or module) from one of the premade layouts or pages that you want to save for future use, you can make it a favorite, which makes it available in the library for the next time you’re building with that same element (row, module, or section). Cool, but here’s the rub. In order to do that, you have to import an entire page layout into your page, go to the part you like, and save it; then you delete the rest of the items from that imported page layout you don’t want. That’s a lot of steps compared to the other builders that have premade blocks ready to use, but (and this might be a saving grace but), after using Divi for a while, and saving what you like (which includes parts you’ve built from scratch), you have a personally curated library of layouts, modules, rows, and sections. These saved library items can be used individually, or they can be set to global. You can also export your library items for use in a different Divi site or import ones curated by others. Nice!
In Beaver Builder you can also save a row or a module and make it global. Elementor has this ability too, but it’s not as granular as Divi. In Elementor, you can only save a section, not a row or element. Brizy does not have the ability to save any individual part of a layout as of this writing.
Divi’s code is heavy, and this slows it down, but many people use plugins to mitigate this, and in the end, it’s not as big an issue as one might think (this goes for all the builders).
You can try out the builder on their live demo site.
Divi has two pricing tiers: Yearly Access, at $89 a year, which gives you unlimited sites and support, the All-in-One Divi theme, Extras theme for bloggers and online magazines, Divi builder plugin for use with other themes (I didn’t find this particularly useful, as Divi works so much better with its own theme), Bloom email opt-in plugin, and Monarch social media plugin.
The other tier is Lifetime Access. For a $249 one-time payment, you get everything that comes with the yearly access without the reoccurring payment. That’s actually an amazing value if you’re building several sites or if you plan on sticking with Divi. They run specials occasionally, so it can be had for less than that as well.
- Lots of layout sets and pages to choose from. Easy to use, but also allows you to get a little more creative once you become a more advanced designer/builder.
- Comes with a theme builder so you can customize your headers and footers.
- A/B split testing with statistics.
- Lifetime Access option.
- A live demo site to try before you buy.
- Product longevity. Very large community and engaged team. It seems like they’re going to be around for a while.
- Heavy code. Divi came in third and fourth in my stat comparison, depending on the stat (alternating with Brizy).
- Content lock-in due to shortcodes. There are plug-ins to combat this, but ugh, what a hassle.
- Although the Divi favorites library is great, it’s laborious to curate, and I wish Divi had a library with finished sections, modules, or rows, out of the gate (in addition to the custom library). I missed this the most when I started using it.
- Resizing modules is clunky. You have to do it in the settings panel instead of just dragging handles like the other builders.
Best feature of Divi: A great value, especially the lifetime option. When you purchase Divi, you’re getting a page builder, a theme builder, two themes (Divi and Extra), and two premium plugins (Bloom, an email opt-in plugin, and Monarch, a social sharing plugin).
No page builder is all things to all people. Try the demos and free plugins where available, and join the Facebook groups to get a good sense of the product before you decide to go all in on one or the other. How-to videos are available for all the builders I mentioned that will give you a good idea of their ease of use and capabilities.
Select the one you feel most comfortable with in price and performance and invest in that. Remember, you can always grow into a product, but you sure don’t want to outgrow one.