Pippin Williamson did a pretty epic, nearly 10,000 word review of thirteen WordPress page builder plugins. He didn't include page builders built into themes, but tested most of the popular plugins out there. I highly recommend you read it. Even if you don't read each plugin review (I'll summarize below), the intro and the outro are great by themselves.
Page builder plugins can cause lots of problems. Also, many of them take extremely different approaches. But all are offering some sort of component management interface that allows a user to configure and layout their page with varied styles of content and dynamic data to create advanced layouts.
As Chris Lema noted on his blog, there is a lot of user driven demand for page builders. It's not unwarranted, and people will fill that demand. The most important part of his post:
The most important thing they care about is making changes easily and quickly. Time is of essence. Page builders offer customers a way to make changes without calling a developer. Those calls can often feel frustrating because developers don’t answer the phone, sometimes disappear, and charge a premium (while sometimes being rude and/or impatient). It’s not shock that some people would rather skip the drama.
Enabling this goal should be the number one objective of every “page builder” plugin.
Pippin did a great job with his review, using just a few criteria to quickly identify the more problematic page builders.
By the end, he recommended Beaver Builder, Tailor, and Pootle Page Builder over the others. I was actually surprised by many of the positive things some page builder had — like the user interface of Site Origin — but most of them failed at playing nicely with any tools outside of their own relatively isolated ecosystems of modules and functionality.
I would've gone nuts doing what Pippin did. So much of the functionality I see in plugins, and especially page building plugins, drives me insane. He highlights the primary downsides throughout the piece:
- Lock-in via data loss when a plugin is deactivated
- Lock-in by using shortcodes in content, making existing data near worthless
- Lock-in by handling content creation in addition to layout
- Non-WordPress-like interface design, often times for apparently little reason
the_content()completely, breaking many other plugins
- Layout management using shortcodes that causes errors in other shortcodes that may be used either in those, or wrap them
- Convoluted interfaces, icons, and drag and drop experiences
- Requiring multiple tools in addition to the page builder
I'm sure all of these sound familiar to most of my audience. Not a single plugin was flawless, but some were definitely bigger offenders.
I have some more thoughts on this, but at a minimum, it's really good to see a thorough, canonical review of available page builder plugins.