By: Jeremy Brochue

Date: August 9, 2017

One of the most consistent requests Subtext gets from ongoing clients and agency partners is to build campaign landing pages for their WordPress websites.

Whether the landing pages are for new product announcements or just list building campaigns, they have to work across all devices. That isn’t a surprising requirement since mobile browsing surpassed desktop last year. With the right page builder, that doesn’t mean building responsive campaign landing pages always requires a full design and development team.

Page builders are intended to be easy to use; just drag-and-drop and you’re done. There are limitations, however, especially when you get into adding more complex elements to a page (whether that’s a newsletter sign-up or just a copy block you want to look different from the rest of the page).  

 

What is a page builder?

At the most basic level, a page builder is either a built-in theme tool or additional plugin which allows WordPress admins to create and style the components of a page visually.

Visual Composer was the first on the market, released in 2011. Since then, page building tools and plugins have proliferated for WordPress. The selling point of all page builders is rooted in the idea that customization of your pages is just a few clicks away, and no coding is required. That, you too, can customize every element of your website without any understanding of modern web development or coding ability.

So, what’s the rub? Do they do what they promise?

For the most part, yes. Most page builders allow for control over how the page is broken up, from the width of content on the page to columns and rows, they give you a high level of adaptability. In addition, the majority of page builders have preset components for image sliders, adding forms, simple animations, or even the ever-popular parallax background effects. This combination of control over page structure and the ability to add complex functionality with the click of a mouse make them a keystone for many brands working on WordPress.

 

Getting started

There are many benefits and detractions to take into consideration before moving all of your campaign work to a page building tool with your internal team.

 

The pros:

  • Affordability – For a small upfront fee (or sometimes free/or packaged with a WordPress theme) you can quickly create and layout new pages for your website.  With a page builder already included, you can save time and money by not having to add more plugins that could slow your site’s performance.
  • Drag-and-drop/all-in-one functionality – Rather than having a plugin for sliders, one for animations, and another for controlling content grids, page builders are an all-in-one tool that allows you to drag and drop content how you see fit. Many of the page builders on the market have features specifically for social integrations, call to action blocks with buttons, and much more.
  • Little development experience required – This means more control and the ability to create sturdy, good looking pages without needing a Computer Science degree. The interfaces are typically user-friendly, especially those with a front-end editor that allows you to drag and drop each element where you want it.
  • Control – Page builders give brands control of their own content and campaigns. You can build your website as you’ve always envisioned it.
  • Plentiful options – There are numerous great options available. Each has their own benefits and costs, however, so research is required.

 

The cons:

  • Shortcodes & the lock in effect – These snippets of indecipherable code are the result of how page builders set up the visual elements of a page and even some of the back-end functions. This makes porting a website built with a page builder extremely cumbersome to move over to a new theme. The time sink this kind of updating can take is known as the lock in effect.
  • User Limitations – The IT crowd have a ton of great acronyms for user error issues. While they don’t really apply in this situation it is important to note that if you really know nothing about UX and visual design, a little power can be a very bad thing. In addition, there are limits to what a page builder can do – it often seems like those limitations aren’t clear until you’re already committed to a plan the page builder can’t complete. Inexperience with development really limits the full power of most page builders as well. Sometimes the tool is not the issue.
  • SEO – There are arguments to be made that page builders create unnecessary or even problematic code. When it comes to the page markup and non-semantic code for SEO purposes, it can take a higher level of development skill to adjust for SEO purposes.
  • Site speed/load time – The more resources a particular plugin needs, or the sheer number of plugins you run, the more processing power your server needs to have. The more complex the elements of a page, the longer a page will take to load. Using a page builder can result in strains on both fronts to the resource load they carry and the range of components they allow us to add to a page. The answer to both of these issues is having a qualified web developer to help hone your web pages and maximize server efficiency.

While page builders are made to be easy to use, keep in mind that it can be very difficult for new users of WordPress to get started with the page development process. Changing or customizing page layouts on a site may also look great at first but break when published. That can mean a lot of time testing and tweaking every element on a page until it looks and works right. The more limited a person’s skill with HTML and CSS, the more limited their ability to customize page layouts.

I don’t mention these factors to discourage you, but for the sake of assessing your readiness to jump in.

 

Recommended Page Builders

  • Visual Composer – The first on the market and still one of the best. Integrates with a ton of ThemeForest themes helping make site building easier and affordable.
  • Cornerstone – Associated with Themeco’s ThemeX, Cornerstone has made it easy to see the page while you make it. As a 100% front-end tool, each change you make happens in real time for review. In addition, once you get the element the way you want, you can save it as a template element for use later.
  • Divi – Divi is a combination WordPress theme and visual page builder. From real time design to the speed saving of an integrated page builder and theme, Divi offers an elegant and powerful solution for almost any website.

There are many more page builders (and reviews of them) available on the web. With a little research, you could be on your way to controlling your brand’s destiny.

 

Page builder or custom development?

There are a ton of great page builders on the market for WordPress, and mobile responsiveness is almost always baked in so you can confidently create fast landing pages that work. So, when do you know if you should go custom or use a page builder? The answer may not be so straightforward.

There are a couple elements to consider when deciding whether to use a page builder or work with an agency to custom build your landing pages.

  • Page builder & team limitations – while powerful tools, these page builders are still limited in what they can do. There will be times a developer will be needed for page styling or form connection.
  • Server load and page load speed – may be critical to your project, but teaming up with a knowledgeable developer can minimize risk and maximize server performance.
  • E-commerce integrations/SSL/site security – the more there is on the line the more likely it is you’ll need a true web developer. If hackers can find a way into your site, they will.
  • Resources & the best use of your team’s time – Design and/or development may not be where your time is best spent, but if you know your limits you can determine when it is time to look to the pros.

Your best bet is to rely on your agency partner to assist in determining the technology solution for your campaign needs, whether that means using the built-in tools and functionality of a page builder or going fully custom with a unique template integrated with Advanced Custom Fields and all the bells and whistles. We’ve found that the best path forward is often the mixed route, working alongside our partners to create highly effective campaign landing pages.

Happy building and best of luck on your next campaign!

*One last and very important note: Keep your WordPress installation and plugins up to date! Make sure your plugins are licensed too. Leaving upgrades or licenses to languish can result in security risks and broken page elements.