WPBakery Page Builder (formerly Visual Composer) Review
By Sean Ondes | Last updated: July 20, 2019
Visual Composer is easily one of the first (or the first) page builder plugins available for WordPress. Even after rebranding as Page Builder, WPBakery’s plugin still boasts that they have the all-time most popular page builder for WordPress. The reality is that though lifetime sales may still stack higher than it’s competitor’s, the time for this page builder is long over.
Improved live editing
Since the last time I looked at WPBakery Page builder, it looks like the developers have made some dramatic performance improvements to the live editing screen. WPBakery Page Builder has long offered a live editing view but until recently the interface was slow to the point that it was virtually unusable.
However, even with the performance improvements, there are some aspects of the live editing view that are difficult to manage. For example, dragging an element from one row to another can be a frustrating experience. After a couple of attempts, I had to resort to the back end editor to move the element.
Two editing environments
WPBakery offers two views for their page builder. They have a back end editor which can be found on the WordPress page or post editing screen and a front end editor that allows for live editing. Both editors have a very dated look but still well designed interface and use colorful icons to make modules stand out.
My mild gripes and acknowledging some slight usability improvements are the good parts about using WPBakery Page Builder
On the more critical side of my review is the glitchy behavior of the UI, slow page saving, inconsistent settings options between elements, and a large number of usability oversights and outright failures. Taken all together, these drawbacks make using WPBakery Page Builder a frustrating experience.
WPBakery Page Builder Features
WPBakery has better organized elements than some of the more modern page builders
Elements are grouped according to All, Content, Social, Structure, WordPress Widgets, and (if it's installed) WooCommerce. This is a good attempt at systematic grouping. However, some of the modules are found in odd locations as well. For example, a Flickr module is found in the Content section rather than in Social. I can see the rationale to place it there but I think it's a mistake. The Row and Section modules are located in Content instead of Structure where they might be expected.
WPBakery might not understand what "deprecated" means
Something that should be pointed out is the choice to include deprecated elements. I have no idea what they're thinking by doing this. The idea of deprecating something is to remove it from circulation. Instead of phasing them out and simply still supporting them on layouts where they already exist, WPBakery Page Builder includes them right next to their newer replacements.
Even with my picky gripes, WPBakery has done a much better job than some of the other page builders I've reviewed in systematically organizing the elements.
If you use WooCommerce, WPBakery Page Builder has you covered
The plugin has long integrated with WooCommerce. There are quite a few elements available so you can display single products, product archives, buy buttons, etc. in almost any way you want.
If you want to use any other ecommerce plugins, just make sure whichever one you like uses shortcodes. Those shortcodes can be embedded in your WPBakery Page Builder layouts.
No integrations email list managers though
WPBakery Page Builder doesn’t offer any direct integration with any email list managers. You’ll need shortcodes or another plugin for that.
How does the plugin work with Gutenberg?
WP Bakery Page Builder can be used as an alternative to Gutenberg Blocks. Neither can be used inside of the other.
Layouts and Templates
There is a good amount of variety among the templates included with WP Bakery Page Builder. Though the thumbnails in the template library are extremely small, oddly cropped, and totally useless in showing you how the full layout will look.
In contrast to the poorly thought out template library, many of the templates have a modern feel (not all of them) and can be a good starting point for laying out a new page.
Full width layouts with any theme
The developers position is that Page Builder should work with any “properly coded” theme. They don’t elaborate any further.
WPBakery has created a version control nightmare
Many premium themes on Themeforest add drag and drop page building by including WPBakery’s Page Builder as part of a plugin bundle. Unfortunately, a common practice of many of these theme developers is to include a customized version of Page Builder to accommodate the needs of their theme. This custom version of the page builder is not always as current as WPBakery’s official release. This can occasionally cause incompatibilities that weren’t anticipated. WPBakery does not provide any support for these unofficial versions of their plugin.
In short, even though you may get a copy of WP Bakery Page Builder, it may not be an official version. This isn’t a smudge on WPBakery’s record per se though it may be questionable business decision on their part. This should be considered when buying a theme that includes this plugin (or any other plugin, really) as part of a bundle. Make sure that the plugin included isn’t customized.
Installation and Removal
How easy/hard is it to install?
After purchasing, download the plugin and install it in the typical WordPress way. You’ll then need to activate the plugin in order to get regular updates. WPBakery Page Builder is often bundled with premium themes purchased through Themeforest. Again, if you get the page builder as part of a plugin bundle included with a theme, you won’t have a separate purchase code for WPBakery Page Builder.
Shortcode lock in is a real problem
Uninstalling Page Builder is also typical to WordPress. However, as is the case with all shortcode based page builders, you’ll be stuck with a lot of cleanup afterward. WPBakery Page Builder leaves behind a huge mess of shortcodes once it’s deactivated. If you’ve built a number of pages, this can be a pain to straighten out.
I’ve been in this scenario more times than I’d like to admit. There are no shortcuts to clean up the mess left behind by a shortcode based page builder.
Performance and Updates
Does the plugin slow down page loading?
WPBakery Page Builder’s performance has improved drastically in the past few years. That said, building pages can be a painfully slow process as the plugin struggles to keep up with your changes. Saving an edited page can sometimes take long enough for you think you could go get a cup of coffee and be back before it finishes (not really that long but it seems that way).
On the front end, things are quite a bit better. There is a noticeable impact on page loading speed bit’s not any more significant than other page builders.
WPBakery Page Builder’s update frequency depends on where you got it
This had been said over and again here but it needs to be repeated. If you get WPBakery Page Builder as part of a plugin bundle included with a premium theme on Themeforest, you’re not necessarily using the same Page Builder that WPBakery sells independently. That means your copy of the plugin cannot be activated directly. You’ll receive updates when the publisher of your theme releases them. The order of events will go something like this:
- WPBakery releases an update to Page Builder and notifies customers with resale licenses.
- A resale customer (in this case, a theme author) reviews the update and decides whether or not it’s worth releasing an update to their customers. This part is entirely up to them.
- If the update merits a release, they check for conflicts with their theme and resolve them. This part takes as long as it takes.
- Theme author releases the update.
So basically, some time after WPBakery releases an update, the update will eventually (but not necessarily always) make to your copy of Page Builder. If you’re sighing right now, I understand.
Customer Support and Documentation
Many support options
WPBakery provides support with a ticketing system for customers, have extensive knowledge base articles and faqs, and maintains collection of video tutorials on their main website. One year of support is included with purchase of the plugin and can be renewed for a slightly discounted price. The discount was $6.00 off of the original plugin price when I tested it.
WPBakery also offers limited support on the plugin page on Codecanyon and states that they will respond to support requests as long as there is a valid activation license.
It can’t be ignored that while the plugin has a 4.67 rating on Codecanyon, there are also numerous 1 star reviews based mainly on Support and Documentation. I’ll leave that fact up to your interpretation.
Important note about support for WPBakery Page Builder
If you get the page builder as part of a plugin bundle included with another theme, you won’t have a separate purchase code for WPBakery Page Builder. If you get the plugin this way, you will not have access to WPBakery support without purchasing a separate license. This is a ridiculously confusing scenario for newcomers to WPBakery Page Builder.
$45 on Codecanyon or through WPBakery’s website.
WPBakery Page Builder is very frequently included with plugin bundles in premium themes purchased from Themeforest. The downside to getting this plugin as part of a bundle is that WP Bakery won’t activate automatic updates or provide support without purchasing a separate license from WPBakery.
This is a one-time cost that includes lifetime updates to the plugin and 6 months of support. Support can be renewed through Codecanyon for a slightly discounted price.
I’ve worked on dozens of sites that used WPBakery Page Builder. On every one of them, WPBakery Page Builder hurt a lot more than it helped. The page builder has a lot of options so theoretically it should be very useful.
In practice, pages built with Page Builder are challenging to maintain. The UI more so gets in the way of building pages rather than helping. If you’ve already built a large number pages with it, shortcode lock in is a big problem. Short of WPBakery completely rewriting the plugin from the bottom up, Page Builder isn’t worth the trouble.
If you’re not already using WPBakery Page Builder, then don’t. If you are already using it on one or more sites, I recommend planning your escape as soon as possible. You’d be much better off using Beaver Builder Pro or Elementor Pro.