Your choice of which drag and drop WordPress page builder to use can have dramatically negative consequences for your site—if not immediately (without your knowledge), then certainly in the long run.
Here’s why: the most important asset on your website is your content. If you choose the wrong page builder, that most important asset can get tangled up with code generated by that builder, or end up being “stored” in a place you can’t get to without that plugin or theme activated. Essentially, you can create a dependency on that plugin just to make your site do its most basic function: display your content.
Over and over, I’ve seen people get stuck with an irreversible mess of a site because someone started working with a page builder. Luckily, with a little time and energy upfront, you can avoid that mess entirely.
In my last post, I explained two design-related “traps” in drag and drop page builders for WordPress, and I walked through ways you can avoid taking a great tool and accidentally creating a worse outcome. In the same way, let’s look at two traps your content can fall into and what you can do to avoid them.
Content Traps: Shortcodes and Storage
Thanks to the extensibility of WordPress, developers can often build the same type of functionality in many different ways. With that power comes responsibility: developers must seek out the “most right” way to achieve that functionality.
Of all the reasons to do things this “most right” way, the primary one is to ensure your website doesn’t break or become insecure. It means developers should plan to be compatible with the future state of your website. By extension, it also means themes and plugins ought to be built in such a way that your most important asset—your content—is always safe.
Page builders are a prime example of how and why this matters to you. There are two major ways “lock-in” can happen: improper use of shortcodes and storing the content in a plugin-specific way.
“Shortcodes” are little snippets of text used to help you put complex pieces of functionality into a specific place using WordPress’s visual editor. You might use it to insert a form into a page, for example. They look something like this:
Some page builders use these to insert all that fancy functionality into your content. The problem? If you use a poorly-built page builder that uses these shortcodes and later decide you don’t want to use it, you’re stuck with an absolute mess of content. Your website will print all these shortcodes out directly with the plugin deactivated, leaving you to do a massive cleanup job that either takes a long time or requires some development knowledge.
Similar to the shortcodes problem above, there’s another way to lose control of your content. Once activated, some page builders “take over” the normal content editing process and begin storing your content in a special place in the database.
If you deactivate these plugins later, you won’t end up with the shortcode mess—you’ll just not be able to get to your content at all.
Sometimes this approach is correct in the sense that it’s the best way to put functionality into your content. The problem arises when mixing this functionality with the content and its appearance all into one single point of failure. In deactivating one page builder, you lose everything that’s important to your website, and you can no longer get into the content that belongs on your website.
To make matters worse, sometimes you decide that you need to get away from a page builder because you realize your website has started to suffer from performance issues. Maybe it’s not loading very quickly, or features aren’t working as expected, or it doesn’t work well on a mobile device.
All of a sudden, you have a very immediate problem without an immediate solution. Often, it means starting all over with something new.
Plan Time to Plan
If you expect your website to be providing value to your organization even just two years from now, the most important part of the page builder selection process takes place well before buying anything. A solid discovery and planning process can make all the difference.
First, it’s important to challenge the assumption that you’ll benefit from a page builder at all. With Evermore, we’ve found that many organizations that thought they needed a page builder really just needed a best-in-breed toolset and access to knowledgeable people. It might help to hire a WordPress expert or agency for a consultation to explore your needs.
If you’re sure a page builder is the right route for you, I highly recommend following Chris Lema’s process. He walks through an easy way to start vetting page builders.
As well, Pippin Williamson has written a somewhat technical—but thorough and crucial—review of major drag and drop page builders for WordPress. It dives further into some of the topics we’ve discussed here and will help you avoid falling into the traps we’ve discussed here by choosing a great product from the get-go.
In theory, you could simply read these two articles and land in the right place, but our belief is that people should be empowered to understand why certain decisions are better for their organization’s web presence than others.
By knowing what these content traps look like, you’ll better understand how to make great, consequential decisions for your website overall—starting with page builders, and continuing with every future tool you put to good use.