What Is The Best Drag & Drop WordPress Page Builder in 2017?

It was a Sunday.

I was in a coffee shop in Thailand, enjoying a well-crafted latte when a random Swedish guy asked me what I was doing.

At the time, I was putting a sales page together with my shiny new Thrive Content Builder plugin.

Naturally, I gave him a quick tour of the software.

The usual response from anyone seeing a visual editor for the first time was always positive…

…but not this guy.

Instead, it was more along the lines of…

“Wait, what? You’re manually resizing images?”

“Oh man, now you’re individually aligning stuff…?”

Yep. He hated it.

Turns out, he was a developer. And, according to him, the whole concept of a visual page editor was… stupid!

Truth is, I’m no techie. And I’m certainly no developer. So while I understand the benefits of coding everything yourself, I can’t help but like the idea of a visual page builder.

But that conversation stuck with me for a while.

In all honesty, I questioned myself a while. I dabbled with the idea of learning code and ditching visual editors altogether.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I was addicted the simplicity of drag ‘n drop. The independent, unrestricted control over every single element on the page.

And, most importantly, seeing my changes happen in real-time. Exactly as they appear on the front end.

Turns out, I’m not alone.

Page builders have EXPLODED in the past couple of years.

I mean, you can barely mention “WordPress” without getting into a debate over which page builder is best.

The question is, what is the best page builder on the market today.

Everyone has an opinion, but few have the facts to back it up. Today, it’s time finally settle the debate. Once and for all.

But First… What Exactly Is A Page Builder?

Page builders are design tools.

Using a visual environment, they allow you to bring your ideas to life without having to learn complex code or deal with the inherent restrictions of using the CMS default editor.

Most WordPress page builders come in the form of a plugin, and pages created within the builder either lay on top of the standard WordPress page, or slot within the content boundaries of your theme.

These days, there’s no shortage of page builders on the market.

Many of them are constantly evolving and each behave differently, so there’s no real ‘standard’ or ‘definition’ of what a page builder actually is (or does).

That said…

At at fundamental level, their purpose is really to offer control over every element on the page. To lift the boundaries and allow for unrestricted creativity without having to face endless technical limitations.

Replacing The Default Editor

Page builders aim to do everything the default WordPress editor can do, and more. As such, they essentially replace it.

What’s wrong with the default editor, you ask?

Well, if you’re not concerned about the look and feel of your page and you’re happy to just let the theme handle it, there’s nothing wrong with the default editor.

That said, if you want any real control over your content, and it’s likely you do, then there’s everything wrong with it.

*incoming rant*

Considering the popularity (and profitability) of WordPress, the default editor is an absolute joke.

Here’s the editor we all know and love.

WordPress Editor

Now let’s take a step in my time machine.

Here’s what WordPress editor looked like almost a decade ago (2008).

WordPress 2.5 Editor
(sorry for the blurry pic, it’s all I could find)

You see that, right?

Aside from a subtle design difference, it’s pretty much the same thing with a few less bells and whistles — if you can even call them that.

Considering that WordPress powers around 26% of the internet, quite frankly, the current editor is a joke. And not a very funny one, either.

*end rant*

THIS is why there’s such a huge market for WordPress page builders.

And it’s also why replacing the default editor is no-brainer, especially considering that most page builders still allow you to use the standard editor if you choose.

You’ve no doubt caught wind of the new Gutenburg editor for WordPress, which may eventually replace the native, outdated editor you currently get. It does look like a step up, but it’s still early days.

What Can You Actually Do With A Page Builder?

Any decent editor allows you to drop images, play with the typography and adjust element sizes. That stuff is a given, and nothing you can’t do in the standard WordPress editor.

Page builders kick things up a peg.

For starters, you get complete control over your page layout, most commonly through the use of columns.

page layout with page builder

From there, you can start getting fancy with things like content boxes, icon boxes and tables.

content box with page builder

And you can even go as far as dropping in animated elements to really bring your content to life.

animated elements with page builder

These are just a handful of examples, and some page builders on the market have dozens of element types you can take advantage of.

Default Editor Vs. Page Builders

I’ve made a strong case for page builders so far but the reality is, even they have their faults at times.

In fact, whichever way you go with this, you’ll be able to identify a number of pros and cons for each.

It helps to know what they are before investing in a page builder, so let’s run through them.

Default Editor

  • It works straight out the box. No third party plugins are required
  • The interface is extremely simple and easy to use
  • It’s super fast if you’re just using it for basic word processing
  • It’s very robust and bugs are practically non-existent
  • Functionality is limited. Adding anything other than text or images is a bit of a nightmare
  • Styling is difficult without some level of coding/CSS knowledge
  • You have to constantly preview/refresh to see your live changes

Page Builders

  • Easily create desired layouts with zero coding knowledge
  • Changes happen in real time (only for visual page builder, but we’ll get to that)
  • Easy drag n' drop elements, because who doesn’t love that?
  • Use or create templates to significantly speed up the design process
  • No need to constantly refresh (again, only for visual page builders)
  • Potential to get far better engagement on your content
  • Page builders are third party plugins, so there is some setup involved
  • They rely on more complicated code which means more chance of bugs being present
  • Most page builders do not work with existing content
  • Copying content from other places (i.e. Google Docs) can result in loss of formatting

Which One Is “Better?”

As you probably gathered from my intro, the answer to this question will always be subjective.

If you ask me, in most cases, the benefits of using a page builder over the default WordPress editor are hard to ignore. (And even harder to argue against.)

I say “in most cases” because whichever way you slice it, it still depends on what exactly you’re trying to create. Sometimes a page better makes sense, other time, it’s just overkill.

The great thing about page builders is that they work as an external application, and even though they “replace” the default editor, you can still use the default editor if you want.

Whenever you create a new page or post, you get to choose between the default editor and your page builder.

WordPress post default editor and your page builder

If you’re looking to write a simple, text-based blog post, you can opt for the default editor because that’s all you need.

Then again, if you’re looking to jazz up your content and make more of an impact, just fire up your page builder and go all out on the design.

Ultimately, there’s no need to crown a winner here because there’s no need to choose a side.

Pro Tip

If you just need to apply some basic styling to your content, page builders are probably a little overkill. Instead, I’d recommend learning CSS or buying a tool like CSS Hero. You could also try shortcode plugins, like Shortcodes Ultimate.

Types Of Page Builders

Now that we’ve put the whole “default editor vs page builders” argument to bed, it’s time to open a whole new can of worms.

Here’s the thing:

The ‘page builder’ market is ginormous. Seriously, just take a look at the support forum for the popular page builder plugin, Thrive Content Builder. (Now Thrive Architect.)

Thrive Plugins

As you can imagine, this kind of demand has sparked a whole slew of page builders entering the market, ultimately making your decision much, much harder.

One of the first things to identify, though, is which type of page builder you’re going to use.

They essentially come in 2 forms:

1st Generation = ‘Back End’ Page Builders

Visual Composer 1st Generation = ‘Back End’ Page Builder

Looking to scratch an itch in the WordPress community, along came the first generation of visual page builders, all taking a very ‘block-based’, back end approach.

Even to this day, some builders – like Visual Composer – still offer a back end environment, still managing to keep a strong foothold in the market.

Let’s break down the pros and cons:

  • The restrictive nature of back end builders reduce the possibility of element conflicts and bugs
  • On the surface, they appear more ‘noob-friendly’ (though I’d argue it’s just an illusion)
  • What you see is not what you get. You still have to refresh/preview to see live changes
  • The page builder interface often feels slow and clunky
  • Block-based builders inherently feel less flexible compared to visual page builders

2nd Generation = ‘Front End’ Visual Page Builders

2nd Generation = ‘Front End’ Visual Page Builder

With the wild success of block-based page builders, it was only a matter of time before someone kicked things up a gear.

Enter the second generation of page builders with a much stronger focus on the visual aspect, offering a true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor.

You know the drill, let’s break it down:

  • Make edits in real-time, without the need to preview or refresh to see changes (WYSIWYG)
  • A faster and more intuitive drag n' drop interface
  • More flexibility / less constraints
  • More complex software means higher chance of element conflicts and bugs
  • You have to wait on a third party for fixes and updates (that may ever come)
  • You become dependant on third party support

Okay… So Which “Generation” Is Better?

I wouldn’t even hesitate to answer this.

2nd generation, front end visual page builders are just flat out superior.

Some could argue that back end builders are more ‘simplistic’, but that doesn’t mean they’re easier to use. They’re not.

Front end visual editors, on the other hand, are not only super-intuitive but also lightning fast in comparison.

This is why page builders like Visual Composer and Divi Builder have moved into front end territory. They knew it was the future.

So here’s the thing:

Now that you have a solid understanding of page builders and why you should use them, let’s introduce the specific builders we’ll be comparing in this post.

5 Popular Visual Page Builders

Despite the crowded page builder marketplace, it wasn’t very difficult to narrow this comparison review to 5 of the most popular visual page builders for WordPress.

Here are the brave candidates:

Thrive Architect

Thrive Architect (from Thrive Themes) is a front end visual page builder for online marketers. The tool works as part of the Thrive ecosystem but can also be used as a standalone plugin.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Website

Thrive Architect

Elementor

Elementor is one of the newer front end visual page builders on the market and it continues to gain popularity by offering a robust free version of the tool that doesn’t feel limited.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Website

Elementor

Beaver Builder

Beaver Builder is an established front end visual page builder that appears to be marketed towards professional web developers/designers and their clients.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Website

BeaverBuilder

Divi Builder

Divi Builder (from Elegant Themes) originally started as a back end builder, but has since transitioned into a fully-fledged front end visual builder with the release of Divi Builder 3.0.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Website

divi_logo

Visual Composer

Visual Composer is one of the oldest and most well-established back end page builders on the market, and like Divi Builder, it now also offers front end compatibility.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Website

visual composer

Page Builder Must-Haves

When you’re looking at page builders, features only give you a fraction of the full story.

(True for any product, but page builders especially.)

Sure, they all help you build fancy pages. But that’s the end result. The actual process is where the magic is. That’s what makes or breaks any page builder.

Fortunately, that process can be broken down and analyzed to death — in true Authority Hacker style. ;)

Ease Of Use

Let’s get the obvious out the way.

Thank you captain obvious

How “easy” something is to use determines its ease of use, or usability. It’s fairly subjective and it’s also not something you can measure, you just kinda… feel it.

With page builders, this is most reflected in the layout of the tool and interface as a whole, particularly in terms of ‘intuitiveness’.

Obviously you could attribute this one to any product, but considering the amount of the time you’re likely to spend inside a page builder, it’s importance is amplified.

So let’s look at some real examples to illustrate my point.

A good comparison to use for this is between Visual Composer and Elementor, two tools that operate very differently from one another.

Looking at the initial interface of these page builders, you’ll notice that while Visual Composer requires a click to open up the elements library, Elementor actually has this in view by default.

Visual Composer

Visual Composer

Elementor

Elementor

I think most would agree with me when I say, having a static sidebar as opposed to a full-screen popup is a lot easier to work with when building out your pages.

(Not just for quick access to elements and other settings, but also to maintain speed and flow as you work.)

Aside from all that, you also need to account for the “common-sense” aspect of a tool. Knowing how to use it without actually knowing how use it — if you know what I mean.

You’d be surprised how backwards some page builders can be in certain areas, and I can illustrate this yet again with Visual Composer and Elementor.

In Visual Composer, adding columns to my page quickly turned into a game of hide and seek. The options for this ended up being in one of the last places I looked.

With Elementor, there were MULTIPLE ways of adding columns, as well as the inclusion of a column element in the library.

#f*ckinggenius

Visual Composer

Visual Composer
(Note the sarcasm)

Elementor

Elementor

Of course, it’s easy to forgive these “minor inefficiencies” if you haven’t been around the block with page building tools, or you eventually just get used to it.

But, for all the reasons I’ve highlighted here, ‘ease of use’ should still be considered a huge factor when it comes to choosing the perfect page builder.

So here’s how it breaks down…

Thrive Architect

Thrive Architect has a very similar feel to Elementor in terms of user interface, and I like that. My only (small) gripe is how quickly the sidebar clutters when expanding out the styling options.

Thrive Architect user interface

Elementor

I’m a big fan of Elementor’s user interface despite the fact I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for at times. It didn’t take long before I really “clicked” with it though.

Elementor user interface

Beaver Builder

Beaver Builder was pretty straightforward right out of the box, though one thing I didn’t like was having to constantly click a button to bring the side panel back into view.

Beaver Builder user interface

Divi Builder

I just couldn’t really get comfortable with Divi Builder. Everything from the smooth scrolling to the auto-adjusting floating window just threw me off.

Divi Builder user interface

Visual Composer

Visual Composer has admittedly come a long way with the inclusion of a front end editor, though I still found it clunky and confusing most of the time.

Visual Composer user interface

Abstraction

Abstraction is dealing with ideas, rather than events.

In the software world, it means hiding all but relevant data in order to reduce complexity and increase efficiency.

A very esoteric explanation, right?

Well, when I talk about a high-level of abstraction in regards to page builders, what I’m actually looking at is how the page looks and feels while editing.

Think about it; the point of a visual page builder is to be able to make changes to your page while maintaining a realistic and accurate representation of that page on the front end.

In the simplest terms, It’s about visualizing the true result of your actions in real-time. No saves. No refreshes. REAL-TIME.

After all, If you still find yourself checking the preview after every other sentence, you may as well just go back to the basic WP editor.

Of course, you could argue this ties in with ‘ease of use’, but it’s something I felt needed to be singled out because it’s just that big of a deal when it comes to this kind of product.

Thrive Architect

Again, it behaves much like Elementor in this sense and there’s clearly a focus on reducing the number of steps it takes to perform an action. For me, the inline text editing gives it the edge.

Thrive Architect editor

Elementor

Elementor really excels here with a few minor hiccups. For example, I would have preferred to be able to directly edit text on the page (and not in the sidebar).

Elementor editor

Beaver Builder

With Beaver Builder, I often felt like I was having to do a lot of clicking and navigating to make something look the way I wanted. Just… meh.

Beaver Builder editor

Divi Builder

While it does provide a ton of options to make something just the way you want it, they did sometimes get in the way of simple actions that ended up being more drawn out than necessary.

Divi Builder editor

Visual Composer

Visual Composer was by far the worst in this regard. Even something as simple as resizing an image the way I wanted was an absolute nightmare.

Visual Composer editor

Flexibility

Flexibility – in regards to page builders – is all about removing boundaries and lowering resistance.

This is what governs your ability to recreate ANY page you see online, as well as bringing new ideas to fruition without running into endless technical challenges.

This is obviously a critical component of any page builder, but it doesn’t come without sacrifice.

Achieving a high level of flexibility is a bit of a balancing act with high abstraction. Generally, the more you focus on reducing complexity, the more flexibility you lose on the front end.

For me, there’s nothing worse than spending hours trying to build something a particular way, only to find that failure was inevitable.

In fact, I recorded a series of experiments to compare and highlight the importance of flexibility when it comes to page builders.

The test was simple:

Recreate Trello.com’s homepage as quickly and as accurately as possible using each page builder’s standard toolset.

The results were surprising to say the least, but rather than spoil the fun, here’s a direct link to each of these tests so you can see for yourself how it turned out.

Thrive Architect

Despite a significant upgrade from Thrive Content Builder, I did run into some styling limitations. (For example, you can’t apply a border radius value to a table element.)

Thrive Architect page layout

Elementor

There were very few ideas I couldn’t replicate with Elementor. Aside from a couple (very) minor restrictions, it was overall very well rounded in it’s capabilities.

Elementor page layout

Beaver Builder

On the surface it seems to have everything covered, but I frequently found myself limited on styling options in regards to certain elements.

Beaver Builder page layout

Divi Builder

Divi Builder was able to replicate most of what I threw at it, even if it did take some time to figure out how to do it, exactly.

Divi Builder page layout

Visual Composer

Visual Composer gives the impression of versatility with endless windows and options to go through, but it’s really not as flexible as it appears

Visual Composer page layout

Overall Speed

Even if a page builder does everything else to perfection, it’ll always come up short if the overall speed isn’t up to scratch.

With this kind of tool, you’re likely making dozens of small changes a minute and those small delays between actions quickly add up if they’re not optimized.

That’s everything from loading the builder environment, dragging elements onto the page, and making changes to both individual elements and the layout as a whole.

You’d be surprised how much this varies from tool-to-tool.

Thrive Architect

Architect was easily one of the fastest builders I tested, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t slow this thing down.

Thrive Architect loading

Elementor

Despite the builder itself taking a while to load on occasion, the overall speed of the tool was actually quite impressive.

Elementor loading

Beaver Builder

This is one the biggest issues for me when it comes to Beaver Builder. Almost every action is followed by a 1-3 second delay that quickly starts to irritate.

Beaver Builder loading

Divi Builder

Divi Builder performed really well here and the only time I had to (briefly) wait was when loading up a page/content template.

Divi Builder loading

Visual Composer

Visual Composer was just as bad, if not worse than Beaver Builder in terms of overall speed. Painfully slow.

Visual Composer loading

Future-Proof

With everyone and their mother starting a software company, it makes sense to question the longevity of such a company nowadays.

After all, I can easily hire someone to write some code, slap on a price tag and call it day. But how long do you think it’ll be before people start knocking down my door?

This is a constantly evolving industry. Updates are almost a daily occurrence and WordPress plugins are no exception. The simple fact is, they need to keep up the pace, or they die.

Again, this is hard to measure but there are a few good signs to look for, such as:

  • History – How long have they been in business? How many businesses do they own? What does their track record look like?
  • Credibility – Does the website look professional/credible? Do they make realistic claims about their product? What problem are they really trying to solve?
  • Growth Potential – How many users do they currently have? Is the number of users growing or declining? Are people recommending the product? Does the market have a strong future?
  • Reviews – What do users have to say about the product? How has the company responded to negative reviews?

The more positive your answers are to these questions, the more likely it is they’re in it for the long-haul.

If that wasn’t enough to worry about, consider this:

Any pages or posts built with a page builder are almost always tied to that particular builder, which means you need to keep the software updated and working in order to maintain your site.

If the people behind that page builder decide to close up shop, it’s just a matter of time before the issues begin piling up with every new theme, plugin and WordPress update.

Unfortunately, it’s rarely as simple as just uninstalling and replacing it with a new page pager. Divi is a great example of that.

Check out what happens when you deactivate Divi Builder:

Divi Builder code after uninstalling the builder

Yup. Every page you’ve ever built with this page builder becomes a cocktail of shortcodes.

So remember, a page builder isn’t just Christmas, it’s for life.

Thrive Architect

Thrive Themes was one of the first companies to release a live, front-end WordPress editor and their popularity continues to pick up pace.

Thrive Architect dashboard

Elementor

Elementor is the newest plugin in this review and although it has already grown an impressive and loyal user-base, it’s still too early to place any bets.

Elementor dashboard

Beaver Builder

Beaver Builder has been around a few years, gained some popularity in the developer community and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Beaver Builder dashboard

Divi Builder

Divi Builder is now on it’s third iteration, and considering it’s backed by Elegant Themes, I have no doubt we’ll see a lot more future development there.

Divi Builder dashboard

Visual Composer

Looking at how long this company has been around, and how many users it has, it’s hard to imagine Visual Composer making a disappearance.

Visual Composer dashboard

Support & Documentation

Great support has become a standard for pretty much any service or product we buy into nowadays.

Whether support is handled over live chat, the phone, or a dedicated message board, there’s really only two things that matter most…

  1. Speed, or how quickly you get a response
  2. Quality, or how effective the response was at solving your problem

Naturally, some mediums are better for speed (e.g. live chat), and others arguably yield a better overall response (e.g. ticketing systems).

What you want, ideally, is the best of both worlds.

Thrive Architect

Thrive Themes aren’t known for having the best support, but have promised to focus their efforts on changing that with the release of Architect.

Thrive Architect support

Elementor

Elementor offers detailed documentation, and videos. While they don’t provide live chat support, there is a very active, unofficial Facebook community.

Elementor support

Beaver Builder

Beaver Builder has the usual knowledge base and ticket support options. Again, no live chat but I was impressed with the speedy email response from the BB team.

Beaver Builder support

Divi Builder

Divi offers a public, searchable support forum with contributions from both staff and members. Again, no direct support options but I’m still a fan of this approach

Divi Builder support

Visual Composer

Visual Composer offers ticket-based support, boasting a 1.46 hours average response time. Unfortunately, the pre-sales support is virtually non-existent.

Visual Composer support

Page Builders Comparison Table

So now we’ve covered the crucial features to look for when buying a WordPress page builder, we can start to see how certain tools begin to stack up.

The table below compares some of the most popular page builder tools on the market today.

Tool Ease of Use Abstraction Flexibility Speed Future-Proof Support Σ
Thrive Architect 4 5 4 5 5 3 26
Elementor 4 4 5 5 3 4 25
Beaver Builder 4 2 2 1 4 4 17
Divi 3 3 3 5 5 4 23
Visual Composer 2 1 2 1 5 2 13

1 – Poor
2 – Average​​​​​
3 – Good
4 – Great
5 – Excellent

Still Not Sure Which Tool To Buy?

You can interpret that comparison table however you like, but there’s one thing we didn’t include which is still important.

​​​​​Price

For some, keeping costs down is a priority, and choosing a tool that ticks enough boxes without being super-pricey is just the preferred option.

For others, having access to the best possible tools for getting the job done is the only thing that matters, regardless of price.

So we thought it’d be a good idea to give you our personal recommendations, based on which of those categories you fall into to.

Best ‘Value’ Visual Page Builder

Whether you’re a penny-pincher or just on a tight budget, you can still benefit from using a page builder without breaking the bank.

In this case, there’s one visual page builder that sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes to “best value”.

I’ll let this pricing comparison table do the talking…

Page Builder Free Version Premium Version
Thrive Architect No $67 one-off
Elementor Yes (some limitations) $49 - $199
Beaver Builder Yes (heavy limitations) $99 - $399
Divi No $89/yr or $249
Visual Composer No $43 *varies

Considering how Visual Composer performed in our comparison, the obvious winner here is Elementor.

Elementor

In my opinion, not only is Elementor the best free visual page builder out there, but it also ranks among the top premium page builders as well. (Yeah, seriously.)

And, unlike other “free” page builders, Elementor still feels like a complete product without ever having to upgrade.

Best ‘Premium’ Visual Page Builder

While Elementor is a very good page builder, it definitely lacks in the marketing department.

After all, that’s why we build websites in the first place — to make money, right?

Before Thrive Architect was released, I would have had to give this to Elementor as well, but given how well Architect performed in my testing, and the fact that it’s very marketing-oriented, it is, for me, the best premium visual page builder.

Thrive Architect

(Of course, that’s not to say Elementor isn’t viable for marketers, because it is. It’s just not on the same level as Thrive Architect, for various reasons mentioned in the dedicated review.)

Page Builder Tool Reviews

Now that you have a grasp of what to look for in a page builder, it’s time to look at some of your options in a bit more detail.

The following tools have been thoroughly reviewed in their own, individual posts, but I’ve included a short and sweet version to give you an idea of how it fared.

Update: we will continue to update this page as and when we publish more page builder reviews.

Thrive Architect

Thrive Architect is a reboot of the original ‘Thrive Content Builder’, which quickly became the standard WordPress page builder for marketers on it’s release back in 2014.

Of course, Thrive Content Builder didn’t come without it’s drawbacks, and this vastly improved iteration is a chance for the ambivalent plugin to make a comeback, and ultimately win back the hearts (and wallets) of countless online marketers.

  • Great user interface
  • Inline text editing and formatting
  • Improved element selection (breadcrumbs)
  • Improved HTML and CSS editors
  • Hotkeys for fast actions
  • Response view and device-specific styling
  • Very flexible layout options
  • Significantly improved element styling options
  • List Item #1
  • Backwards compatible
  • No content lock-in and editable WP content
  • Crowded properties panel
  • Elements not freely draggable
  • No new elements have been added
  • Cannot save/use global content templates
  • No new page templates (currently)
  • Still some bugs to iron out

Elementor

Elementor is the new kid on the block, but don’t let that fool you. Despite heavy competition, it has quickly become one of the most popular visual page builders for Wordpress, and it continues to grow at rapid pace.

Since it’s release in mid-2016, Elementor has gained over 80,000 installs and an impressive 5 star rating on Wordpress.org.

  • Core product is 100% free
  • Great user interface
  • Global widgets are awesome
  • Unique styling and hidden elements for responsive
  • Revision history works well
  • It’s open source
  • Active Facebook group
  • Detailed documentation
  • Limited library of elements
  • Forced styling by default
  • Cannot edit elements directly
  • Global vs static templates can be confusing
  • Lacking some marketing-oriented features
  • No undo button (revision history isn’t always ideal)

Beaver Builder

Beaver Builder is a widely-used front-end visual page builder for Wordpress, also offering a dedicated theme and theme builder (as of very recently) to work alongside it.

Unlike it’s competitors, Beaver Builder seems to have a strong foothold in the developer community, promising site builders and their clients a platform to create and design websites without the usual headaches.

  • Intuitive user interface (beginner friendly)
  • Decent library of page templates
  • Ability to save templates and content sections to reuse later
  • Several reliable support options available
  • Use on unlimited sites (even on the cheapest plan)
  • Save modules and rows to reuse globally
  • Great support channels available
  • Limited module library and customization
  • Limited overall design flexibility
  • Constant loading with every action

Divi Builder

Divi Builder – from Elegant Themes – is a backend and front end visual page builder geared towards web designers.

With the recent release of Divi Builder 3.0, and an enhanced front end experience that is said to be a complete “reinvention” of previous iterations, there’s a lot of hype surrounding this little plugin.

  • Clean and minimal interface
  • Huge library of modules (inc. dynamic modules)
  • Global templates and modules with selective sync
  • Strong design and customization settings
  • Full page and section templates (inc. global sections)
  • It’s fast
  • Great support channels available
  • Great support channels available
  • Great support channels available
  • Poor template selection (if you can call them that)
  • Live chat support only for pre-sales

Visual Composer

Visual Composer is started it’s life as a backend builder and was one of the first – if not the first – on the scene.

Despite it’s age, it’s still one of the most widely-used page builders with over 1.5 million users, no doubt helped by the fact that it comes included with a number popular WordPress themes.

  • Clean, modern interface
  • Ability to save element presets
  • Ability to save rows/sections as templates
  • Over 200 premium, third-party addons available
  • Affordable for personal, one-site use
  • Complex/confusing design
  • No undo button
  • No global elements, sections or templates
  • A lot of redundant elements in it’s library
  • Lack of customization options
  • Rigid layout and column options
  • Limited page templates
  • No real-time editing
  • Virtually no pre-sales support
  • Expensive for multiple sites or client work

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33 Comments

  1. Awesome round-up. I’m a fan of Thrive products. I was torn between Genesis+Visual Composer, Divi and Thrive. I’m glad I went with Thrive as everything feels pretty natural to use.

    There were a lot of hiccups when the update to Thrive Architect took over the Content Builder but I really wasn’t affected too much with my sites. Few elements that migrated I had to redo but nothing that couldn’t be re-created. Small learning curve but I know it can only get better from here.

    I just hope Architect itself will be a lot more resilient to the migration issues that will likely happen a few years down the line when another upgrade is released. At least that is the challenge most people are having.

    Just curious, what builder did you use to post this article?

  2. Good article.

    I like the story in the intro. Coming from a development background myself, I can relate to the Swedish dude. It’s the constant battle between a designer and a developer.

    The problem with these page builders is that they tend to create “unclean” HTML with lots of hard-coded inline css styling elements spread across the code. This goes against the principles of developing clean, re-usable software code. And I guess that’s perhaps one of the reasons why the WordPress editor has always remained fairly basic.

    The designer and the average blogger, and also the end-user (the internet reader in this case), typically don’t really care, or think about, what the resulting HTML code looks like, as long as it works and it looks good. Which is cool.

    I’m not trying to criticize page builders, these drawbacks are simply unavoidable. I’ve thought a lot about whether using a page builder (and the HTML code that they ultimately generate on your website) could potentially have a negative impact on the quality of your on-page SEO. My guess is no, as long as the structure and hierarchy of the HTML is still correct.

    I purchased TCB earlier this year, only to help me create a bunch of landing pages. Works great. But I don’t use it for blog posts because of the reason I mentioned. WYSIWYG drives me mad, but that’s only because I have a tech background. Thrive is good though at producing well-programmed themes and TCB/Architect doesn’t really mess up the HTML code. Inline styles yes, but that’s unavoidable.

    Here’s a bit of reading around using inline styles for anyone interested:
    https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2612483/whats-so-bad-about-in-line-css

    1. Hah yeah, I remember our devs hating me for using page builders :P. But well, for marketing people that need to get stuff done fast, they’re hard to beat over long-winded emailing to a dev and a lot of wait.

  3. I found it amazing how you guys write such long articles with super details. If I had to write this post, it would have been ended in less than half the size of this.

    And talking about page builder, I love Elementor and Thrive Architect most. Elementor is the best option if you don’t want to pay and still create neat looking pages.

  4. Any opinion on Upfront builder from Wpmu Dev, or Cornerstone page builder?

    Interested in which one is the best option for me, regarding speed and SEO.

    Right now I’m using Visual Composer, got used to it, but it seems a little slow. And regarding SEO, it appears that Google may not read your text if it’s placed in its boxes or if it reads it sometimes it includes the HTML code for VC boxes in raw format instead of maintaining only the text, which defeats the purpose of posting articles.

    1. Hey Dan,

      They both look alright but I’d say Elementor “looks” superior still and for free making those a bit redundant.

      As for page speed I’d say Elementor probably has the cleanest code followed by Thrive Architect.

  5. Hello Lewis.

    Thank you so much for this. Your thorough analysis left me breathless.

    I was a bit disappointed though when you did not include Cornerstone from Themeco in your review.

    What is your take on Cornerstone? How does measure up to what a good page builder should be? Or is it just hype?

    1. Hey Chidi, I just checked Cornerstone and to be frank it doesn’t feel like a real front-end Editor. You basically get a v1 page builder on the left and a preview on the right. To me, Elementor seems to offer a better alternative for free making this one redundant.

  6. I know you guys are big Thrive Themes users and I expected a blowout review for them. I was pleasantly surprised how honest the review was. I’ve battled the demons of Thrive Architect myself and was glad to see those listed. Thanks.

  7. The issue with Thrive is that it drags your site speed down… When trying to rank & convert in competitive niches this is not good. VC will make a site drag too and it is just a big mess really. Beaver builder was meh. I’m not in love with Divi but if you put it on WPE is is very fast.. like under 1 second loads times while the others were 2.5+

    If Thrive can figure out the site speed issue I will be a fan.

    Cheers!

    1. I don’t feel Thrive is massively slowing sites down. Check some of our simpler posts on this site, I’m quite happy with the load speed. Plus, page speed really is a tiny factor in the overall game.

  8. Hi Lewis (et al)

    Nice to see you reviewing Divi on here. You guys definitely make it hard to “dip in” and have a quick read. lol. I’ll have to book some time in my calendar to go through this – Divi and the others.

    I’ve been messing about with a new site and opted (ahem) for the Optimizer theme. Just the free version to see how to work it. I’ve been having fun with it, but like the free ones generally, it’s got limited functionality, which I’m working around with plugins, mainly for page architecture; I’m doing fairly strict silos on this site.

    But when I feel like shelling out some cash, I’ll come back and measure the Pro version of Optimizer against your selection here. You might want to have a quick look at it, see how it measures up in comparison. (I don’t have any history of using drag-n-drop themes, so I’m happy with it, like a kid with a new toy.)

    Thanks for the hard work – so I don’t have to! lol.

  9. Hi. The other builder that I’ve been really enjoying using on client projects is the Kallyas’ builder. I haven’t used Elementor, but I’d say that Kallyas and Thrive Architect are my two favourite builders. Nice article. Thanks.

  10. Hey Gael,

    Great comparison – I was particularly happy to see my fav, Elementor, to rate so favourably.

    I used to be a real hand-coded + maybe ACF kind of guy (since I’m a developer). But we’ve recently rebuilt one of our main sites using Elementor after doing our own in-house comparison.

    Now we’re in the process of rebuilding all our sites using it and I have to say there’s not much you can’t do with the free version (if you have a little coding knowledge for some of the CSS since you can’t use the Advanced CSS tool on elements in the free version).

    In my testing, the speed performance of Elementor was amazing too in comparison with many of the others. Would love to see you add to this comparison guide in the future by testing the speed performance of all the plugins. You could build the same landing page in all the builders, then compare with GTMetrix and Bytecheck (for TTFB which is important here).

    Cheers,
    Josh

  11. I have tested several page builders as well and I agree with you Elementor is a rock solid page builder. I noticed you did not comment on how these page builders do with page load speed and mobile friendliness. Google is a stickler on mobile-friendly fast loading pages maybe you could do a comparison on how each page builder compares on these metrics (https://www.webpagetest.org/). I found some builders can add seconds to your page load time.

  12. Great roundup post here – I think that page builders are getting too good to ignore nowadays.

    Often times they remove the need for wireframes and photoshop on smaller projects and can deliver sterling results on a tight deadline.

    I did notice there wasn’t any mention of X Theme and their page builder “cornerstone” which can be used with their theme or standalone. In my opinion, the cornerstone page builder actually far outshines most page builders for ease of use and results.

    Hope it helps

    1. Hey Dan,

      I’ve actually heard some good things about the Cornerstone page builder so I’m sure it’ll find it’s way into this review when an update is due. Thanks for the heads up!

  13. Your review is quite different from other similar posts. Captian Evidence even makes me laugh :) Thank you for your hard work. As you’ve already mentioned the article will be updated, so hope you’ll also include MotoPress Content Editor in it. Thank you, Lewis :)

  14. Great article. I am a coder that made the switch over to a page builder a few months ago. Use Elementor Pro and really like it. One question about your page and site though. It loads very slowly and is very difficult to scroll down as the page “jumps”. Is this a result of the Thrive Architect plugin?

    1. It’s not just Thrive Architect. Our pages are overly complex and huge in size. We’re aiming to simplify a lot of the content moving forward to make the reading experience much better.

  15. I don’t feel Thrive is massively slowing sites down. Check some of our simpler posts on this site, I’m quite happy with the load speed. Plus, page speed really is a tiny factor in the overall game.

    1. There’s definitely been some changes and Elementor is currently the one we actively use on new projects having taken the top spot from Thrive. We’ll hopefully get around to updating this piece in the near future though to go a bit more in-depth on this!

  16. I use Elementor a lot, in my opinion, the best page builder around at the moment. The only other page builder I use is beaver builder but this is only due to beaver themer the integration with custom post types is excellent. Elementor, however, do plan to release something similar if this happens I think Elementor will become my go-to page builder for every project.

  17. I’ve used Thrive for many years, both Content Builder, and now Architect. While the learning curve is a little rough, once you figure out the basics, Architect is way above the competition in my opinion. Thrive always continues to update and come out with new features and other plugins that add to the overall ecosystem. Consider the membership plan if you want a full suite of tools. It’s pretty awesome. I always install Architect on new client’s websites to get them away from the default editor and they love it.

  18. As WordPress 5 is around the corner it is worth taking another look at Gutenberg. WordPress’ default editor in version 5, which is currently available as a plugin and already heavily promoted by the makers of WordPress.

    It does not get raving reviews by everyone to be honest. But in comparison to Thrive Architect and Elementor it does have it’s merits.

    Mobile editing is one of them. Architect’s and Elementor’s editors are not fully compatible with mobile browsers. Gutenberg is (from what I can tell thus far). So I can now travel light and only carry an ipad or even just a phone.

    Second of all the resulting html code looks way cleaner. I am a trained web developer. While I like the ease of creating something visually appealing with Thrive I dread looking at the html code it generates. Not a pretty sight.

    Gutenberg is nowhere near as powerful as the other options are yet. But then again how many of the features of Elementor do you really use on your money making websites?

    By the way: the slickest visual website builder I have used thus far is Webflow. It also creates astonshingly decent html/css. Its the closest thing I have seen to writing html by hand. Unfortunately it’s not compatible with WordPress out of the box. There is a saas app though that says it can convert Webflow output to a WordPress theme. I have no idea if it is any good. If webflow added WordPress theme export options themselves I wouldn’t use anything else for styling. And probably Gutenberg for editing.

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