With the growth in popularity of drag-and-drop WordPress website and page builder tools like Beaver Builder, Elementor, Divi, Thrive Architect, and Oxygen Builder, what does the future hold for the beloved bog standard WordPress theme?
Themes often referred to as templates or skins for WordPress, are still a fantastic option for many non-techy users. They're not going to die out anytime soon either, I don't think.
For the most part, standard WordPress themes, although have huge limitations from a customization point of view, offer a quick, easy, and affordable solution for users to create a reasonably professional looking website.
I've worked with many kinds of WordPress themes, frameworks, and templates in the last 8 years. Some of these themes have been brilliant, and some not so much.
The biggest problem with the bog standard WordPress theme template of today
As I said earlier, the main problem with ready-made themes and templates is customizability.
No matter how user-friendly, intuitive, or customizable the theme creators claim their themes are, there's always going to be limitations with them.
Sure, you can change a logo, perhaps some colors too, but for the most part, everything else will remain locked into the theme's style sheet or template file.
With a theme or child theme for a WordPress framework, such as Genesis, you can definitely have a professional, robust, and secure theme for your WordPress website, but you're not going to be able to achieve that exact layout or design style that you have in mind.
In order to create the perfect looking site you envision, you either have to learn how to create a website yourself or hire an experienced WordPress web designer and front-end developer, which can be costly.
Are WordPress themes bloated with unnecessary code?
The other issue with many pre-designed themes and WordPress templates is the amount of code stuffed into them, otherwise known as code bloating.
Now, I'm not saying that all WordPress themes are badly or excessively coded. The more complex features, options, fancy effects, and transitions a theme has built it, the more code heavy it will be.
You've got to ask yourself, is having a multi-layered parallax theme with tons of transitions, and hover effects really necessary for your needs?
Genesis and many StudioPress child themes, for example, are built on very lightweight code.
Perhaps I'm being a little biased here you might think, but I've used Genesis in countless personal and client website projects since they started back in 2010.
Other premium theme companies might follow strict, industry standard coding practices too, I don't know, but seriously, there are hundreds of thousands of ready-made themes out there, and unfortunately, not all are coded with speed, stability, and security in mind.
So, what is the solution for WordPress website owners?
For those users looking to have more control over the design, layout, performance, and functionality of their WordPress sites, the solution is to use a visual, drag-and-drop website builder, page builder, or theme builder.
There are quite a few of them already dotted about. There are also a few theme builders in development right now that look to become game changers, like the Thrive Theme Builder.
There are also a few WordPress themes that now come with a drag-and-drop interface for extendable customization.
Visual website builders vs page builders
Now, you're probably wondering what are the differences between a page builder and a website builder tool, right?
Well, they're both drag-and-drop, visual design tools.
A page builder is obviously for creating custom pages within WordPress, such as landing pages, sales pages, product pages, etc. Thrive Architect, Elementor, and Beaver Builder are popular page builder tools.
A website builder tool, on the other hand, is for creating an entire website from scratch with WordPress. These tools include all of the design elements and options available in most page builders, plus more. Divi, Oxygen Builder, and coming soon, Thrive Theme Builder are powerful visual WordPress website builders.
Taking WordPress customization to the next level for real!
With a WordPress visual website builder tool, plugin, or theme, website owners and bloggers can have complete control over the design and layout of their websites.
Many of the website and page builder tools we know of today are user-friendly, not all of them, but most of them.
A lot more visual, a lot less coding
The wonderful thing about using a drag-and-drop visual website builder tool is the amount of little coding actually required to create a great looking website.
So straight away, you're not having to deal with code bloat. Unless, of course, you decide bloat your pages with your own custom code yourself, as many of these tools are also developer-friendly with custom code widgets and hooks built right in.
I know that not everyone is comfortable with modifying style sheets and hacking into HTML templates and what not. This is where a visual website builder tool can prove to be very intuitive and valuable for many non-techy users.
Don't get me wrong, I love throwing myself into 'code' as a front-end developer to extend the functionality of a website, but I value my time and my sanity too, and I value my clients as well. Which is why I'm actually pleased to see the gap between front-end dev or coding and visual, point, click, drag-and-drop design slowly closing.
No developer fees and less time wasted
As a website owner, using a website builder for your WordPress website project also means less time and money wasted in your business.
Less time having to screw around with bits of complicated code, template files, just to change the style of a few elements in your site, and less money having to seek out a designer or developer to undo or fix your mistakes.
Now, I'm not entirely sure why I would be happy about that since my job is a freelance web designer. But the thing is, I care more about the businesses and entrepreneurs that I work with, and if I think they can save time and money doing some things themselves, I'd be more than happy to state this to them.
The real pros and cons of going with either option
OK, so I think I've ranted enough and shared with you my honest thoughts regarding visual website building tools, page builders, over bog standard WordPress themes and templates. I'll leave you with a list of pros and cons for going with either option for now.
Pros and cons of using a pre-designed WordPress theme
If you're going to go down the premium WordPress theme or template path, I would, of course, recommend using something like the Genesis Theme Framework.
Here are the pros of using a ready-made WP theme -
- Professionally coded by certified, experienced, and knowledgable developers.
- Responsive design is already built-in.
- Most themes are affordable if it's a one-time purchase, like Genesis.
- Themes are customizable at a basic level.
- You can receive free yearly or lifetime updates.
- You get access to technical support at any time.
- Great support network available through forums, videos, social media groups, etc.
- Not unique, thousands of websites may use the same theme.
- Limited customizability (design, layout, branding).
- Code bloated themes can cause your site to load slowly.
- Possible plugin/script conflicts.
- Monthly or yearly licensing can be costly over time.
- The theme can be discontinued or support removed by the author at any time.
- Free themes offer fewer pros and don't come with the level of updates and support as premium themes.
Pros and cons of using a WordPress visual website builder or page builder
If you're thinking about investing in a powerful WordPress visual website creation tool, I would recommend checking something like Oxygen Builder if you're comfortable combining custom code with visual design. Otherwise, there are Divi, Elementor, Thrive Architect (page builder), Beaver Builder, or if you can wait a while, the up and coming Thrive Theme Builder.
OK, so here are some pros of using a visual website builder tool or a page builder for your website design project -
- Building a website from complete scratch means you have complete control over the entire design, style, typeface, layout, including responsive design. You can truly create something unique.
- Less, much less, code bloat!
- Less time wasted on theme file hacking.
- No need to call in a web designer or developer to assist you, you save money doing most things yourself.
- Many visual drag-and-drop website builders come with tons of built-in design elements, tools, options eliminating the need to use too many additional plugins.
- Extendable with hooks for your own custom code.
- Many website builders also come with a huge library of pre-designed page sections, call-to-actions, hero-sections, building blocks, etc.
- Frequent updates, support, and video tutorials from the author and support network (users) such as forums, YouTube, and social media groups
And the cons?
- If you've never used a website building tool before, it can be a steep learning curve at first.
- A little amount of knowledge and experience in coding is useful, but not necessarily required, to make the most of some website builder tools, particularly Oxygen Builder.
- Monthly or yearly licensing can be costly over time.
- The website builder tool can be discontinued or support removed by the author at any time.
WordPress visual website builders vs themes, the conclusion?
I guess you really have to ask yourself, what is your goal with your website? And, what is your budget, time availability, etc?
If you're looking for something quick, easy, affordable and simple, then go with a pre-design WordPress theme with plenty of customizability options.
If you have the time to devote to learn how to create a website tailored exactly to your needs, with the exact design, style, and layout you have in mind, then invest in a WordPress website builder tool.
What are the risks?
There's always going to be a certain element of risk going with either option. You can't foresee the future, because what might be hot and popular right now, could all change in a heartbeat in the future. Keeping yourself updated with the latest web design and WordPress development trends might not sound like something you should be doing when you have a business to run and manage, but it certainly helps.