Like some other page builders I’ve reviewed in this series, Visual Composer is both a back end and front end page builder for WordPress, boasting over 1.5 million installs.
Visual Composer was actually one of original WordPress page builders, and it started it’s life as a very simple back end builder that came preinstalled with dozens of popular themes.
Today, we’re taking a critical look at the front end aspect of Visual Composer.
The Good, Bad, And The Ugly
For this review, I fired up Visual Composer to see how it fares in comparison to popular alternatives.
From here on out, I’ll share my experiences using this tool, as well as what I liked and didn’t like along the way.
User Interface & Experience
I have to say, it’s been a helluva long time since I laid eyes on Visual Composer, and I didn’t exactly have the fondest memories of it. The interface in particular.
That said, I was quite surprised at how “modern” the front end editor looks at first glance. Visually, it almost feels like a blue, “sidebar-less” version of Elementor. Almost.
But we all know looks aren’t everything, it’s what’s inside that counts (right, Mum?)
Adding an element to the page was pretty straightforward, and it seemed to share Divi’s approach with it’s “floating window” element library.
On the surface, Visual Composer offers an extensive library of elements, and, just like Divi, I usually found myself using the search bar to zone-in on the exact element I needed.
Clicking any element automatically adds it to the page, and brings up another floating window for customization.
The customization window can also be moved and resized, if you’re into all that.
So far so good, but what didn’t I like?
Well, it just lacks intuitiveness.
A good example is the rudimentary customization settings. Here’s what the image alignment options look like…
This — along with multiple other settings — shouldn’t be in the form of a drop down.
Considering the number of actions you take when building a page, you shouldn’t have to click multiple times to apply a simple setting. It’s just bad design.
Finally, let’s talk about colum structure, because this really didn’t work the way I expected it to.
You can’t do it from the element library…
And nothing in the ‘Column Settings’, either…
So where the fook is it? Well, I’ll tell you.
It’s the in the ‘Row Layout’ which are ONLY visible after clicking the teensy-weensy little arrow in the corner.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Overall, the builder looks nice on the surface, but the interface definitely takes some getting used to — and almost certainly a few WTF moments along the way.
As you may have noticed above, Visual Composer comes pre-loaded with a number of content elements.
And while this appears to be a respectable library to choose from, there are a few elements that I would consider redundant.
For example, the individual social buttons. I mean, who does that?
Most people either use a dedicated social plugin, or at the very least, a page builder element that incorporates multiple social networks. Breaking them up like this just seems like a desperate attempt to bulk out the library.
And then you’ve got things like ‘Separator’ and ‘Text Separator’ – which could easily be a single element with an additional setting to add text. Not cool, man.
Visual Composer does, however, offer some handy third party elements — like Contact Form 7 and Woo Commerce — as well as the default WordPress widgets.
And even though it does “sweeten the deal”, I still feel that it’s ultimately lacking in the elements department.
Clearly I’m not alone, since there’s over 200 premium add-ons you can purchase to supercharge the standard builder. The list includes everything from tables, CSS animations and even advanced form builders.
(Oh, and you can even buy an “undo button” addon. Because yeah, there’s no undo button by default.)
One thing that is clearly missing from all this, though, is global elements.
If you’re a fan of using global elements across your posts and pages, cover your eyes now…
Visual Composer doesn’t support global elements! *gasp!*
Overall, I’d say the selection of content elements you get with this page builder are pretty subpar, and you’ll almost certainly have to buy some premium add-ons at some point.
Let’s start with the level of customization you get for individual elements.
This is actually one of the first things I noticed as I was putting Visual Composer through its paces. The tool gives you very little control through the settings a panel.
Take a look at the “Text Block” settings…
Yep, that’s it. That’s all you get.
Nothing to adjust line height, letter spacing or even font size. Anything like that will require meddling with CSS.
And it’s not just with text. Pretty much every element I looked at had only basic settings in the way of customization.
Not a good start, but what about creating different layouts?
Under the row settings, you can click a button to split the row into multiple columns, like so…
Okay, I guess it works. Sort of. Kind of.
What I don’t like is that I have to go through several steps before I can have my column layout on the page. (You can’t have columns without first adding a row.)
It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’d be nice to have a more direct way to add those in.
And, even when you’ve got your columns in place, what happens when you want to resize them slightly? You know, adjust the width of individual columns…
Unfortunately, you can’t. The columns are fixed, and just like Divi Builder, the only workaround is to add column-specific padding. Of course, that’s a bit of a dirty hack for something that should just be a case of dragging with your cursor.
Overall, Visual Composer lacks “flexibility” in many ways, and while the layout options were workable, the elements themselves were far to rigid for my liking.
Did You Know
I ran a test below to see how well Visual Composer performed when recreating Trello’s homepage. This will give you an idea how flexible the page builder is in a real life scenario.
Content & Page Templates
The ability to save individual elements is something we’ve come to expect from page builders these days, and Visual Composer comes with own, unique solution.
Instead of saving the element itself, it’s saves your settings in the form of a preset.
While this isn’t significantly different on the surface, it does mean having to load the default element before applying the preset.
(Not sure if you’ve picked up on it yet, but taking the long way around seems to be an ongoing theme with Visual Composer.)
So what about saving entire rows, or sections?
The good news is, you actually have the option to save as a template this time — not just a preset.
You can then click the template button to drop your saved row into your content at any time.
One thing I really liked about Visual Composer, is how it gives you a live preview of your templated section before inserting it into the page.
(Something other page builders need to implement)
Finally, let’s talk about page templates.
Saving your own, full-page templates is a piece of cake in Visual Composer. Just click the templates button, name your layout, and click save…
From there, the templates library — containing pre-made layouts — are just a click away.
Now, the library itself has a surprising number of layouts to choose from, but they’re not all full-page templates.
In fact, most are sections, like hero sections, showcase grids, article layouts, etc.
Overall, Visual Composer handled itself well here, but the limited selection of actual page templates (and not parts of one) might be a turnoff for some.
I must admit, my past experiences using Visual Composer were mostly made up of waiting for something to happen.
Things have changed.
The page builder has definitely made some improvements in terms of overall speed, but it’s still not quite as nippy as I wanted it to be.
It actually reminds me of Beaver Builder, in the sense that almost every click results in a short waiting period. Though, I should say, Visual Composer definitely has the edge there.
It’s not just the loading that bugs me, though. It’s the long-winded approach that Visual Composer seems to take with everything.
Editing text is a good example, since you can’t just directly edit it. Ohhh no, that would be far too easy.
You gotta pop open a separate window… wait for it load… then change the text…
And that’s not even the worst of it.
Any changes you do make aren’t even reflected in real-time. You actually have to click the ‘Save Changes’ button every time you want something to happen.
(Also note the slight delay even after clicking save)
Why they chose to go this route is beyond me. SUPER annoying.
To sum up, it’s certainly not the slowest page builder on the market, but the overall design of this thing just makes everything way more cumbersome than it needs to be.
Before buying Visual Composer for this review, I tried reaching out the company to ask a few questions.
I say “tried” because no matter how hard I looked, there was absolutely no way to get a hold of support.
That’s right, NO pre-sales support. Not even so much as a contact page.
The only way to get through to someone is to be an existing customer, otherwise, it’s the knowledge base for you!
Well, maybe they put all their resources into providing world-class support for existing customers.
The thing is, though, I wasn’t even able to test that theory because apparently, I don’t actually have a license for Visual Composer.
Except… I friggin’ do….
So yeah, things are pretty bleak in terms of support. You’ll be lucky to even send an email, let alone get a response.
They also have a YouTube channel with over 70 videos, though upload activity in the last year has been minimal.
As for external support groups?
Well, I did find a couple Facebook groups, but nothing that resembled the community behind Elementor, or Divi.
In fact, most of the questions were left unanswered. Definitely not the same environment I’m used to.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to appreciate support group communities that are solely based around one product. It just… works.
So, overall, if you ever find yourself in a pickle with Visual Composer, just know that it doesn’t even come close the support options you get with more popular page builders.
Despite having a dedicated website, Visual Composer is only available from CodeCanyon, which is part of the Envato Marketplace.
At the time of writing, the regular license fee is $34 one-time, and, of course, there is more than one license available…
Unlike other page builders, the difference between the two licenses aren’t the number of installs, but whether or not you’ll use it for personal, or commercial purposes.
Looking at how it’s competitors are priced, you can get a better idea of where this plugin sits in the market
|Page Builder||Free Version||Premium Version|
|Thrive Architect||No||$67 lifetime|
|Elementor||Yes (some limitations)||$49/yr - $199/yr|
|Beaver Builder||Yes (heavy limitations)||$99/yr - $399/yr|
|Divi Builder||No||$89/yr or $249 lifetime|
As you can see, Visual Composer is the cheapest page builder that we’ve looked at so far.
That said, you’ll need a separate license for every website you use it on, and if that happens to be a clients site, it quickly becomes the most expensive page builder in that list.
Rebuilding Trello’s Homepage
For each page builder I review as part of this series, we decided it’d be a great idea to recreate an existing page using each tool.
That way, it would give us (and you) a much clearer comparison of what each tool is capable of in practical terms.
As for the page, we settled on Trello’s product tour page because it’s an excellent example of a modern layout that makes good use of different elements.
Check out the video to see how I got on with Visual Composer:
Where It Performed Well
- Margins – The default margins were easy to remove and it always left images flush with the edges — which is exactly what I was going for in this case.
- Glitch-free – I actually expected Visual Composer to be a little glitchy with this rebuild, but surprisingly, I didn’t run into any problems that weren’t caused by setting limitations.
Where It Fell Flat
- Resizing images – This was probably the biggest issue I faced. Not being able to easily resize images without knowing and scaling down dimensions is a bit of a joke.
Button presets – The buttons have very limited control in a sense that everything from size, padding and even color settings are predefined. Very frustrating.
- Container width – The lack of a “container width” option meant I was unable to control how wide my elements were without using left and right margins. Not a great solution.
- Font family – Fonts are inherited from the theme and cannot be altered on a page-by-page basis (though, admittedly, that probably won’t be a requirement for most people.)
- Background images – Section background images offer practically zero customization, and, in this case, not only was the positioning way off, but I couldn’t even stop the image from repeating itself.
- Drop shadows – This rebuild involved plenty of elements with a drop shadow effect, and that was something I was not able to replicate without custom CSS.
- Gradients – A single section of this design involved a gradient background, and, again, Visual Composer was unable to achieve that without having to use custom CSS.
- Inline buttons – This seems to be a recurring issue across page builders, but having two buttons aligned next to each other (inline) proved virtually impossible in this case.
Is Visual Composer Right For You?
Now that I’ve covered all the different features and functions of Visual Composer, weighing up the pros and cons and giving my experience along the way — let’s talk about YOU.
As with any tool, Visual Composer isn’t going to be the right choice for everyone, so I’d like to get to the bottom of who exactly this page builder is suitable for.
As I mentioned before, Visual Composer is pretty inexpensive if you’re just looking for a 1 site, personal license. (Anything outside of that, and your costs will quickly skyrocket.)
But just because it doesn’t cost much, that doesn’t mean it’s the best budget page builder. It’s not.
Elementor is not only free, but it’s MILES better than Visual Composer in almost every aspect. And if you do eventually decide to upgrade, the cost is marginal in comparison.
Overall, I think Visual Composer is deceptively cheap, and if you want something more “long-term” for your money, there are faaar better options available.
Visual Composer isn’t the most complicated page builder you can buy, admittedly, but the the poor design makes everything way more drawn out than it needs to be.
It also lacks customization options that will no doubt force most users into the custom CSS realm, which is probably the last thing you want to be doing as a beginner.
For those reasons, I can’t recommend Visual Composer as the most beginner-friendly option, especially compared to the faster, more intuitive builder, Elementor.
If you’re looking for an advanced page builder with boundless possibilities, Visual Composer, unfortunately, isn’t the answer.
It’s uninspiring elements library, content templates and customization options leave a lot to be desired, but more than that, the complete absence of an in-built custom CSS editor makes it a pain in the a** to make your own adjustments on the fly.
Getting it anywhere near the level of, say, Elementor PRO, would require countless paid addons, and even then, you may as well just buy Elementor PRO if you’re spending all that money.
Visual Composer has been in the page builder market for a looong time, and it’s definitely made some leaps since it’s early days as a back end only editor.
Unfortunately, though, age doesn’t count for much in this case, and the new kids on the block have definitely shoved some of more established page builders to one side. Visual Composer was no exception.
Whether you’re looking for ease of use, speed, flexibility, affordability or anything else I’ve mentioned in this reviewed, there are simply better alternatives on all fronts.
If you were considering Visual Composer and you don’t know where to go after reading this, I highly recommend checking out Elementor.