All-In-One Solutions and Page Builders

Not so long ago the page editor in WordPress wasn’t much different from the editor that you use when composing an email. Designing a page required knowledge of HTML and CSS, and many site owners built layouts using table rows and columns. Third-party page builders like Visual Composer, Divi, Beaver Builder, and Elementor revolutionized WordPress by providing more user-friendly, visual page editors that anyone could use to build beautiful web pages. Even web designers started to use these kinds of page builders to create websites for their clients. During that time WordPress also began the Gutenberg project to modernize the core WordPress editing experience by introducing a new block-based editor named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press. The Gutenberg editor was officially launched on December 6, 2018, as part of WordPress version 5.0, but development of the broader Gutenberg project has been ongoing since then.

While using page builders like Divi and Elementor remain popular choices in WordPress, the core editor has undergone a significant overhaul and third-party block-based libraries have emerged. Although the core editor is still quite lacking compared to something like Elementor, with the help of block-based libraries and Gutenberg-optimized themes the core editor has become just as easy to use, significantly lighter, future proof, and in some important ways even more powerful. This is because dedicated page builders are full editing software suites that operate independently of the core editor and rely on shortcodes, while block libraries seamlessly extend the core editor’s capabilities and align with the vision of the broader Gutenberg project, including full site editing (FSE) capabilities. WordPress has discontinued support for shortcodes in FSE themes after version 6.0. FSE themes are still in the early days, but as they continue to evolve and gain adoption, dedicated page builders will need to address compatibility challenges.

The page load execution time of the Elementor page builder is even longer than the WooCommerce plugin, an infamously heavy ecommerce plugin.

Page builders served their purpose in the earlier days of WordPress and are still widely used, but they are slowly losing their use value in a cost-benefit analysis with the lighter, more user-friendly Gutenberg editor, especially when supplemented with a Gutenberg-based theme and block library (note that block libraries are sometimes referred to as “page builders” as the use of the term is broadly applied, but they represent completely different implementations of the editing functionalities).

The Paradox of All-In-One Solutions in an Open Source Ecosystem

All-In-One solutions like Avada and Divi’s theme on the other hand are entire website builders for WordPress that make it even easier to set up more feature rich sites by providing most of the functionality required to build a website out-of-the-box. They are basically like Wix or SquareSpace, but they are built for WordPress and you still have to get hosting for your site. However, we do not recommend using Divi or Avada for building websites. The problem is that when you use Divi or Avada you are effectively locked into using their theme, and page builder, and all of their other built-in features in an otherwise open source ecosystem. Wix and SquareSpace are extremely limited compared to WordPress-based solutions; however they make up for it by being the most user-friendly solutions for creating a website quickly, making them ideal for simpler, one-off, or temporary websites. They are particularly suitable for those who do not view their website as an evolving project and whose needs can be met with the features offered by Wix or SquareSpace.

On the other hand, the WordPress ecosystem is massive, with over 40,000 plugins in the repository alone, and there are so many great plugins in WordPress that compete with each other, things are constantly changing and improving. While it’s convenient to have a page builder, interactive forms and tables, SEO, and many other features built-in and working out of the box in all-in-one solutions in WordPress like Divi and Avada, you might find yourself needing a newer, more feature-rich form plugin, such as FluentForms. While theoretically you can deactivate some or all of Avada’s functionality if you can find plugins that are otherwise compatible with it, they quickly become bloatware and you are still stuck with their theme and page builder. The future of WordPress is not some centralized, all-in-one solution that does everything for you. Instead, it thrives on an integrated ecosystem of thousands of developers adhering to the WordPress core standards, collaborating seamlessly to unlock endless possibilities, all within a modular framework. Relying solely on a single development team to compete with the global community of open-source contributors and plugin developers in WordPress is an exercise in futility.

Rather than competing for supremacy with the best features and functionality, or focusing on any one specific area, solutions like Divi and Avada try to solve too many problems for inexperienced website owners and in the process detract from what actually makes WordPress so great. Despite this, they continue to be popular because they make it easy to build a website. If we used something like the Elementor page builder or the Avada website builder on the Indigetal WebCraft platform it would result in far more resource-intensive websites with little actual benefit to our clients. Many advanced customizations wouldn’t be possible, we wouldn’t be able to shop around much further or consider a different plugin if something better came along later on – and if there was an incompatibility with another plugin, an all-in-one solution like Divi or Avada would always take priority! As out-of-the-box solutions, they are effectively luring in novices, fostering dependency and locking them in. Moving away from these kinds of tools wouldn’t just be an inconvenience, it would require starting over from scratch…

Navigating the WordPress Diaspora to Develop a Solution

Our challenge was to achieve something like an all-in-one solution, and even provide hosting like Wix to make it even easier for our clients, but instead of choosing a single vendor developing proprietary solutions in an otherwise open source platform, we are taking full advantage of everything that WordPress has to offer by hand-picking the fastest, most feature-rich, easy to use theme and plugins. If we ever did decide to replace something like the form builder we would introduce the new plugin and advocate or work together with client sites to make the transition, but we will never force a client site to make a switch if they are able to safely continue using an older plugin.

When building your website, selecting a good “theme” and “page builder” are two of the first decisions you need to make besides hosting. A WordPress theme is a delineated folder of code files that determine the overall look, layout, and base functionality of a website beyond that provided by WordPress itself. There are literally thousands of themes in WordPress as well, ranging from developer-oriented skeletons that do little but provide a good foundation to build a custom theme with, all the way to something like Avada that is an entire out-of-the-box solution meant to do as much as possible for you. We’ve already discussed the issues with these type of theme/page-builder/etc. behemoths and their entrenched persistence in WordPress today. Other themes are built or optimized for compatibility with popular page builders, Gutenberg, or both.

There are also single-purpose themes tailored to specific types of websites that look good and provide relevant functionality, but are otherwise very rigid in design and customization options. Fully custom themes, even if done well, are similar to these kinds of rigid, single-purpose themes but are often even more rigid. In addition, unlike themes available in the marketplace, fully custom themes are developed for individual clients and require ongoing investment for maintenance and updates. Too often websites with custom themes become outdated security risks within a few short years, unable to adapt to newer plugins or fully utilize the evolving capabilities of WordPress. With the single-purpose themes that are made available in the marketplace, customization is limited but you can typically expect updates from developers actively maintaining them. While custom themes may at first appear to be ideal solutions to achieve tailored design and functionality, they do so at the expense of the adaptability and sustainability that is otherwise an inherent benefit of WordPress.

Finally, there are the very few Gutenberg-based themes that are lightweight, fully customizable, and as user-friendly as possible, given the extensive capabilities that they provide. In our view, these represent the gold standard of WordPress themes that offer the best of all worlds.

The Solution: Fast, Customizable, Future-Proof

To that end, we have tested the finest Gutenberg-based themes, plugins and block-based libraries available in WordPress, including the Stackable, Kadence, and Generate Blocks block libraries. So without further ado, allow us to unveil the theme and block library chosen for Indigetal WebCraft client sites:

We are using the Blocksy theme and the GreenShift block library for their powerful, but lightweight and user-friendly features. Blocksy just released a completely revamped version 2.0 and the developer of GreenShift is very active and has added some incredible features to it, including Rive and GSAP integrations for animation, a figma integration for importing prototypes, the addition of much-needed features for Gutenberg’s query loop block, and improved UI and global styles management. All of this in a solution that is significantly lighter than other page builders!

All client sites on Indigetal WebCraft’s platform get the premium version of GreenShift that include animation, marketing, dynamic, and chart related blocks! With the marketing blocks and separate SEO plugin, consultancy websites will have all of the tools that they need to improve their SEO score. You can easily create interactive charts using GreenShift blocks, and their dynamic blocks can be used to design templates that are then used for specific *types* of pages, as well as to create personalized experiences.

We’ve developed all of our custom themes with a dependency on Blocksy as the parent theme. This ensures that even while they are collectively custom-“ized” for research consultancies by us and individually custom-“izable” for each site using Blocksy and GreenShift’s powerful features to do so, our “custom” themes are predominantly maintained and kept up-to-date by the world-class developers of Blocksy! Leveraging these and other cutting-edge capabilities available in WordPress today, we are able to emulate the WordPress ecosystem at a micro-level, serving as a boutique agency specializing in research consultancies. This allows us to provide a wide selection of highly-modular, pre-designed, and customizable elements for seamless integration into your site, incorporating all the desirable aspects of all-in-one solutions and fully custom themes, while avoiding their shortcomings. With our approach we can honestly respond to a question asking if we are an all-in-one solution or custom theme developers, “yes, but absolutely not!” We look forward to the confused stares at our next dinner party.

At the core of our mission is a dedication to providing a website platform solution for research consultancies that strike a harmonious balance between customizability, user-friendliness, performance, and future-proofing. We recognize the incredible achievements of the thousands of developers and contributors working collectively in the WordPress open-source CMS platform. We are developing a collaborative framework that emulates this ethos at a micro-level tailored specifically for research consultancies. Our goal is to harness the full potential of WordPress while crafting solutions that remain relevant and intuitive for years to come. With us, clients can experience the best of WordPress alongside expertly managed containerized server architecture!

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