To use a page builder, or not? Does using a page builder mean you’re not a “real” developer? Does it undermine the industry? Or does it make things easier for you and your clients and offer a great solution to the struggles many clients face when it comes to editing their websites?
If you’ve been poking around my site lately, and you know how to look at the page code, you may have noticed something. You might have noticed that this latest incarnation of my website was actually built with Beaver Builder.
I, personally, never thought such a day would come. I’m a developer for crying out loud! I can code whatever I want! If I want to use something to make editing pages easier for my clients, Advanced Custom Fields is the only worthwhile option!
Or, you know, so I thought. And I resisted using any type of page builder for a long time. It seemed like cheating.
And how can I charge $10,500+ for a website built with a page builder?!
That’s crazy talk, right?
Well, actually it isn’t.
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Clients aren’t buying 80+ hours of code
Clients are buying a solution to their problems. And their problem isn’t that they want thousands of lines of code that are written exclusively for them. Their problem is that they need to sell more, and that they want their website to be easy to manage.
What clients are buying is a way to make more money, get more opt-ins, and make their lives easier.
That can be done with a fully-custom-built-from-scratch website, a strategically tweaked existing WordPress theme, or even a page builder, depending on the client’s individual needs.
When other developers complain that they can’t compete with someone who takes 5 hours to build a website when it takes them 50–well, they’re selling the wrong thing. They’re selling the code, and the build of the website itself, which is not what the client is buying.
I don’t mean to downplay the importance of learning to code, and the fact that we NEED developers. But developers who are selling websites need to stop focusing on selling the wrong thing, and instead focus on selling a solution to their clients’ problems.
There will always be a niche for custom solutions, I don’t think that will ever go away. But I do think the era of selling a “website” has passed (probably back in 2005), and clients are no longer looking to buy bundles of code and graphics, but looking to buy answers to their problems.
Page builders allow you to focus on strategy
When you’re not spending 50-80 hours for each website by writing custom code and fiddling to get things pixel-perfect, you have a lot more time.
You can either spend that time working with more clients, and therefore making more money, or you can spend that time diving into strategy for your clients, and charging more for what you offer because it delivers actual results to your clients.
It seems funny that today, making a website is far less work in terms of building it, but far more work in terms of planning, strategy, and testing, but that’s pretty much the world today.
Clients really don’t care what tools you use, but they do care about results. You could build a website on WordPress, Joomla, Squarespace, whatever. You could custom-code the whole thing from scratch, use a pre-existing theme, framework, or page builder, and clients don’t really care as long as their website delivers the results they want.
Are you a “real” developer if you use a page builder?
If what I’m saying is annoying you, I get it. I resisted these things for a long time, and I refused to believe that a website built with a page-builder could get the same or better results than a custom theme I made. I considered people who used page builders or anything drag-and-drop to be cheaters, and just generally I thought that using these tools was a cop-out.
Then I had a conversation with a Ruby developer, and it threw me for a loop. We were talking about creating websites, and he asked what I used, and I told him WordPress. He then said, “So you’re not a real developer, you don’t actually have to code anything hard.”
Ouch, that kinda hurt.
(Related: PHP: The Good Parts)
Everyone has their own idea of what a “real” developer is, what specific skills you have to have, and how you’re not one if you use a certain thing, or if you don’t use a certain thing.
And I mean, I GET that when everyone calls themselves a developer, it’s confusing to clients who don’t know what the different skills are, and may end up hiring the wrong person. That’s a problem.
But it’s all completely subjective.
Instead of worrying what everyone is calling themselves, and what tools they’re using (or not using), just make it clear what your skills are, what you can do, and how you can solve your clients’ problems.
Very few clients know the difference between CSS and PHP, so if coding languages are your selling point, you might want to rethink it. Or focus on a different audience that is specifically looking for someone with certain coding skills–which is likely not your average Joe looking for a website. Joe just wants to sell his product, he doesn’t care what coding languages you know.
Clients just really don’t care, as long as they get the results they want.
Should you use a page builder?
That’s something you need to answer for yourself. There are pros and cons to using page builders, just like any other tool.
Page Builder Pros:
- Faster build time
- Easy to create custom-looking pages
- Easy for clients to edit
Page Builder Cons:
- Messier code
- You’ll still need to know some code to make things look truly custom
- Easy for clients to break
- Yearly license fees are likely
Like everything else, it depends. It depends on you and your clients, and what the best solution for both of you is.
In the past two years, I’ve been getting clients who expect drag-and-drop functionality for their websites. I think they’ve seen things like Squarespace and Wix, and want that kind of functionality on their custom WordPress site. I’ve previously used flexible widget areas and flexible fields in Advanced Custom Fields to achieve this, but something like Beaver Builder would be even easier for them.
I see the day I use something like Beaver Builder for all of my clients coming soon because clients want to be able to edit a line of text or add an image even more easily than WordPress, widgets, or ACF allows.
And I want my clients to be able to use their websites.
What a crazy thing, right?
But your clients might be different. Maybe they never touch their websites, and that edit-ability isn’t needed. If you’re the only one making changes to the website, then do what works for you.
It really comes down to your clients and what their needs are.
What page builder should you use?
The best one out there right now, in my opinion, is Beaver Builder. It produces less messy code than other options, and is easier to stop using (no horrible shortcodes spewed throughout your content) if you decide to go a different route in the future.
It’s also dead-easy for clients to use. They simply click on a section and can edit it, and see the changes on the front-end of their website.
To create a website with Beaver Builder I would still start with the Genesis Framework, or the Beaver Builder theme. You used to have to code your headers, footers, and page templates separately, but now with Beaver Themer (an add-on for Beaver Builder), you can create universal styles and page templates throughout the website, reducing or even eliminating the need to code custom page templates or header and footer areas. These sections can now all be edited easily, with changes applied site-wide.
Though I have to admit I am a little weary of clients being able to make site-wide changes so easily. Imagine if they mess up the header, and apply it across the entire website–eep! Then it’s not just one page that looks bad, but every page. Fortunately, the fix could be applied site-wide too. But they not be able to figure out the fix themselves, and you may have to step in and rebuild what you had previously created. Just something to be aware of, because when a client messes up a page, it’s one level of panic, when they mess up their entire website, it’s a much higher level of panic.
Where I feel Beaver Builder truly shines is for things like home pages and sales pages, where there are multiple sections, and you want a bit more style than a basic interior page. Simply drag and drop sections, content, etc. and you can have something beautiful, quickly.
And, if you design in the browser like I do (instead of Photoshop or Illustrator) this is a quick way to create wireframes or mockups for your clients that actually adjust to the browser size so that they can see what things would look like on mobile. Hooray for eliminating steps and streamlining the design and development process!
Ultimately, whether using a page builder is right for you is a personal decision. You need to do what’s best for you and your clients.
As someone who has been making websites since 1999 though… I see websites going more and more to drag-and-drop builders.
Don’t sell your clients hours of coding. That’s not what they want to buy anyhow. They want to buy solutions to their problems and make more sales. Sell that. Sell strategy and solve their problems.
There will still be a need for custom coding. That’s not going away, it’s just changing a bit. While you may not need to know much code to build a basic website nowadays, there’s still a need for customizations that fall outside page builder abilities, or outside of WordPress abilities. There will always be a need for custom development work.
Don’t worry about whether you’re a “real” developer. No matter what skills you have, there will always be someone around to tell you that you’re not one. Instead, focus on the skills you do have, keep learning, and always strive to do what’s best for you and your clients.
If you decide a page builder is right for you, use one. If it’s not, don’t. It really is that simple.