A common knowledge gap among business owners yet to reach £10m revenue is in understanding the differences between low and high quality websites – and what you actually get for your money when you do pay more.
If that’s you, this post will save you hundreds of hours of stress and thousands, possibly tens of thousands of pounds over the next couple of years.
Page Builders = Low Quality WordPress Websites
The lure of page builders and low cost web design services (less than £2,000) can be tempting. Their seemingly easy-to-use interfaces and quick solutions appear to offer a cost-effective way of creating a website.
However, a lot gets sacrificed in the process of making it easier for non-developers to do the things developers can do with code.
If your goal is growth beyond referral and word of mouth marketing, and you’re aiming for £5m – £50m+ revenue, you’ll need more control, options and features than low quality page builders are able to offer.
But, let’s start with the basics.
What is a WordPress Page Builder & Who Uses Them?
Two of the most popular WordPress page builders (who both claim to be #1) are WPBakery and Elementor.
Here’s one the sites we maintain (but didn’t build) looks like in backend (admin area) of WordPress with WP Bakery:
And here’s what it looks like when you edit pages on the front end (the bit visitors see) of WordPress:
For comparison, here’s what the Elementor Editor looks like on the front end:
It looks just as complex as a fully blown design or illustration program!
Thankfully we didn’t have to install Elementor, the people responsible for this difficult-to-maintain website had unbelievably used two different page builders to create this simple website. We could only assume they ran into limitations with one and had to hope that a second identical plug-in could offer a way forward.
These systems are often marketed as all-in-one website solutions, able to do whatever you need in the easiest possible way, without needing a developer; as if proper web development were a thing of the past.
They spend a lot on marketing and, well, let’s just say they use a lot of creative licence with their unregulated claims.
The type of companies using page builders are unable to work with code usually as they treat websites like a bolt-on to their existing marketing services and don’t have the knowledge, expertise or resources to commit to proper web development.
The type of people working with page builders are not considered to be web developers, or even web designers, by the professional community. They lack the time, ability and/or desire to learn professional coding to best practice standards. Shortcuts, quick fixes and hacky code solutions (often borrowed from other developers) are their go-to tools.
Yes, the implication here is that serious marketing is done using websites built with proper developers and best practices, not DIY tools plagued with limitations, bugs and are full of security vulnerabilities, used by people who rely on low quality plug-ins every time you want to add functionality to the site.
It pays to give equal consideration to the type of website you’re about to get and, just as importantly, the level of web development capabilities of your next growth partner.
Short on Time? Here’s The Quick Version
Here’s the TL;DR version for those of you wanting the highlights. We’ve tried to make it as short as possible but it’s difficult to cram decades of experience and insights into a teeny tiny blog post!
When Page Builders Are The Best Option
- You aren’t investing into long term growth
- Your main priority is to get a website up quickly
- You consider your website a one-time project and don’t want to evolve it
- You only want to rely on word of mouth and referral marketing
- You only need a basic website and want to spend less than £2k
- You are not relying on cold outreach to generate leads
- Your annual revenue goal is less than £500k
- You sell low value services worth less than £40k per year per client
In all other cases if you’re looking to grow, especially if you want to start generating cold leads (potential customers you’ve never spoken to before) you’re going to need a more robust website that can be optimised for marketing and sales purposes; using a page builder in this scenario will only lead to regret later on.
Page Design & Layout
- Viewing your website as a marketing platform is important for revenue growth to £10m and beyond
- Page builders allow you a good range of basic styling options and layouts
- MAny sites built using page builders will require code to meet your expectations (which is unfortunate if your web designer can’t code)
- Coded web pages give you almost limitless flexibility and complexity
- Page builders are designed to get very basic web pages live very quickly
- You will face constant struggles when trying to optimise your site for marketing and sales purposes
- Page builders struggle with complex features like sticky sections, pop-ups, decorative elements, and unique layouts
- Page builders struggle to create web pages that look good on mobile and tablet devices
Speed & Ease of Development
- Using page builders requires a completely different and much easier set of skills than coding bespoke web pages properly
- Page builders are typically used by non-technical marketers, web designers and amateur web developers
- When you want to add even slightly advanced marketing or sales features you’ll be pushing a page builder far beyond its limits
- Some requested features will be impossible to implement and some will be implemented very badly
- Starting with a site built using a page builder, then learning about your full requirements over time almost always results in the site needing to be rebuilt from scratch
- Professional web developers will never use page builders and will be reluctant to use them if you want them to manage a pre-existing site
- If a page takes longer than 2.8 seconds to load, there’s a high chance users will instantly leave, especially if it’s the homepage
- Search engines like Google rates user experience highly when ranking web pages and rarely ranks slow-loading pages highly
- Page builders give you hundreds of different styling options and features, trying to give you as much flexibility as coded web pages, requires a vast amount of code
- A page builder may give you 15 different types of slider, for example, you may only use one, but every time someone visits your site they have to load the code for all 15
- The more features and code, the slower the website, the worse the experience for external visitors and internal content editors and the worse your site will perform in search engines like Google
User Interface and User Experience
- Page builders have to cram hundreds of different styling options and features into a very small space which makes it difficult to use
- Good user interface and experience design principles revolve around removing clutter and being intuitive enough to not need documentation or user guides
- Beaver Builder, a popular page builder for WordPress, has 348 pages of documentation, each page can be several A4 pages long
- The more features a page builder (proudly) boasts, the more cluttered it’s going to be and the harder it will be to use. It’s much easier to just write code – if you know how.
Risk of Needing a Full Rebuild
- It’s common for businesses to need to keep rebuilding their websites every couple of years until they find a strong web development and growth partner
- If you don’t understand all of the marketing and sales requirements your website needs to support to achieve £10m+ revenue, or you don’t have a growth partner to guide you, you’ll have to figure it out as you go – on your own
- The more you push and upgrade a website (especially those built using page builders) beyond its initial feature set, the higher the risk of needing a full rebuild to support new or upgraded features
- Our Growth Framework takes businesses from £500k up to £50m revenue and makes clear everything your website will need, so you’ll never need to rebuild your site again
Plug-ins, Code Quality & Conflicts
- Page builders are not responsible for the number and quality of plug-ins used, but only no-code “marketing focused” website creators use page builders, so it’s worth mentioning
- People using page builders have little to no coding ability; if they did they wouldn’t use no-code solutions, it would be like an Olympic cyclist using training wheels, there’s nothing to be gained, only lost
- Sites built with page builders resemble patchwork quilts, stitched together using 40-80 plug-ins of varying quality that often struggle to work well together, creating a horrible user experience for everyone
- If code does not conform to framework requirements or best practices, your site will not work, will be full of bugs and glitches or be vulnerable to security breaches
- Code from one plug-in can conflict with code from others, every time you update one you run the risk of creating a code conflict that can break and disable other plug-ins
- Websites we code from scratch typically rely on less than five high quality plug-ins and benefit from best practice standards
Adding & Updating Content
- Templates in development are reusable chunks of code, while page builders require manual placement and updates
- Page builders lack the ability to apply changes universally to multiple instances of a specific element
- For example, adding a newsletter sign-up after the fifth paragraph in every blog post using a page builder would require manually editing each individual post – imagine you had to update 150 blog posts
- With proper development using PHP templates, changes made to a template would instantly reflect across all instances using that template
- Updating a template would take minutes compared to the hours it would take with a page builder, reducing the risk of human error and making fixes easier if necessary
If your goal is to simply get any kind of website up and running quickly, you have no marketing or sales ambitions and no intention to create quality content, page builders are the way to go.
If you are looking to grow B2B revenue to £20m, £50m+ then you will have to understand three things:
- 95% of qualified leads are not ready to buy when you first meet them
- If you only focus on lead gen, and no other form of marketing or sales, 95% of qualified leads will have forgotten about you by the time they are ready to buy
- To have a chance of converting the 95% you have to invest into branding, marketing, sales, website technology and operations – all the things we specialise in.
For more details, walk-throughs, concept explanations and pictures, read on!
Upgrading Your Site Without Needing a Full Rebuild
For business owners engaging in cold outreach, but who are yet to go through the journey of creating consistent revenue beyond £10m or so per year, it is inevitable that full web rebuilds will be a part of your life until you hire a real developer to code your website; someone reliable that you can trust, who shares critical knowledge with you along the way so that you can make informed decisions without needing to rely on other people.
If you don’t have a full understanding of the journey to £10m revenue or above, and you don’t understand what’s going to be expected of your website, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to define and communicate your website requirements clearly enough to avoid needing to keep figuring things out and then adding to it slowly, over time.
The more you upgrade a site beyond its original feature set, the greater the chance of conflicts and issues.
The alternative is to know and define all of the website’s short, medium and long term requirements right from the start so that your site can be built in a way that allows for frictionless upgrading and entirely avoiding the need to rebuild everything from scratch.
But most business owners don’t have the expertise needed for that. We do, because as a growth agency we have a balanced focus on strategy, branding, marketing, sales, operations and website technology. We also designed our own B2B Growth Framework, which guides businesses from £500k to £50m revenue and more.
This framework allows us to know exactly what you’re going to need and when, so you’ll never need to rebuild your website again.
Next up, the reality of working with page builders – for us and for you!
Nightmare Interfaces & Poor User Experiences
One of the first things you’ll notice when using these page builders is the often confusing or overly complicated UI.
Good user interfaces remove clutter and create a user experience that’s so intuitive it needs no documentation on how to use it.
Beaver builder, one of the most popular page builders for WordPress, has no less than 348 pages of documentation – I counted manually!
No-code page builders, although they have support for coding as their no-code offer has so many limitations, do the opposite. They cram as many buttons and features as they can into what often becomes a clunky, confusing and ineffective interface that’s a nightmare to use – even for developers.
The more features a page builder (proudly) boasts, the more cluttered it’s going to be and the harder it will be to use. It’s much easier to just write code – if you know how.
Adding & Updating Content
Now, this isn’t the fault of page builders, but often low quality tools go hand in hand with low quality service providers so I’ll mention it anyway.
People who use page builders are not proficient with or capable of coding – if they did, they simply wouldn’t use page builders. It would be like Picasso using a stencil or an Olympic cyclist using training wheels – there is nothing to be gained, only lost.
Let’s say you ask for a new feature to be added to the site, it’s not uncommon for someone who builds sites using a page builder to need to run several experiments with several different plug-ins before they can get it right.
A plug-in is basically a feature, or set of features. The code is written by other developers that have no understanding of your site or how it’s built. Code quality varies significantly, and is especially low with free plug-ins.
Often these page-builder-using website editor people don’t clear up after themselves, creating situations where, trying to navigate the admin area to change content, you may look at a menu with three similarly named menu items that look like they take you to the place you need to go to make the changes you want to make.
Often they don’t and it can take 20-30m to figure out how to update one single piece of text on a website.
It’s not simple.
Lack of Template Support
In development terms, a template is simply a chunk of code that can be reused an unlimited amount of times. Page builders don’t work this way, everything is manually placed and has to be manually updated one by one – it’s a tedious process to say the least.
Let’s say you have a blog page template. You might say “Hey guys, we’d like to add a newsletter sign-up after the fifth paragraph in every blog post”.
Let’s imagine you have a small blog with around 150 posts.
Using something like Beaver Builder, you’d likely have to add that in 150 times, to each post.
Let’s say you wanted to change the wording… Yeah, that’s 150 manual edits with somewhere in the region of a 10 second wait time each time you click through the admin to get from editing one post to another.
It would be a harrowing few hours making those updates.
If this was built properly, by a real developer using PHP templates, you would edit one template and the change would instantaneously reflect across all blog posts using that template.
It would take less than 5 minutes and the risk for human error is much, much lower and easier to fix if it does happen.
Design & Layout Limitations
Despite the best efforts of page builders to include every possible feature you could ever need – it’s an impossible task.
The only way to get full control over your website is to use a developer or development team to help you build it in the way you need it to be built.
Again, it’s okay if you don’t really care about your website and you’re only sending a couple of people to it every week. But if you’re looking to grow to £10m revenue and beyond then it’s better to re-frame your website as a marketing platform.
Typically at this level your marketing needs to be able to convince people that you can be trusted – this is no easy feat and branding has a large role to play here. This result is needing more sophisticated web page layouts and designs to show that you, as a company, are invested in becoming an industry leader or authority.
And to do things like track (in your CRM) when and how many times a person has visited your website and other marketing or digital assets you’ve created.
This is where page builders fall apart.
Here’s a simple example:
This is a part of a website we designed (with code) for one of our clients. We’d consider this to be roughly 4/10 on the complexity scale.
You couldn’t make this using a page builder because of how elements bleed into and across each column.
Below you can see an example of a more complex website, perhaps an 8/10, that we’re in the process of building for one of our clients.
Not even 10 page builders working together could achieve this level of design.
Poor Performance Impacting UX & SEO
If a page doesn’t load for a user within 2.8 seconds, there’s an above 65% chance they’ll just leave instantly; especially if it’s the home page. Google and other search engines also track page load times, Google won’t rank your web page highly if it’s too slow to load.
The ever evolving feature set of page builders, trying to get as close as possible to the limitation-free experience of coding, means more and more code.
You can’t turn this code off or stop user’s web browsers downloading it all every time they visit your site.
Imagine you want one type of content slider on your website. A page builder is likely to give you 15 or so different options to satisfy all the different types of people and companies using their page builder.
That’s 15 chunks of code your site loads, even though you’re only using one.
That’s just a slider. If we look at all the features your site could use vs the features your site actually uses, you could be loading the code for 200+ different features you’ll never use.
This is called bloat. The more bloat your site has, the longer it takes for users to download the code and fully load a page on your website.
Both Google and people will notice the impact.
By coding the website, features and templates ourselves, site visitors only have to load what’s needed. We don’t need to consider the use case of Betty’s Bakery or Gary’s gym and load all the code for all the features they wanted too. It’s bespoke, personalised to your needs and your needs only for much higher performance.
Below, on the left you can see Google’s PageSpeed scoring for a website built using a page builder. On the right you can see one of our low budget coded websites.
Even at the low end, properly coded web pages and websites perform a lot better, which is crucial for SEO and sales conversion.
Speed & Ease of Development
“I thought web design was your bread and butter?” Asked one of our start-up clients after we had to tell them their website wouldn’t support the changes and upgrades they requested.
There’s a common misconception that there’s only one or two ways to build a website. Even with WordPress there are about four completely different ways to build a website which have a massive impact on the quality and flexibility of the end product.
Unlike other platforms, WordPress allows you to build really quick and dirty websites (with tools like page builders) but at the same time, you can also build high quality, bespoke websites with near limitless functionality (when you code it properly like we do).
In the case of our unfortunate and somewhat frustrated client, this was probably about the 174th time he’d been told he can’t have what he wants because either his site (built using a page builder) wouldn’t allow it, or the cost of implementation was going to be too high to justify the results gained.
Generally speaking, web developers can build advanced marketing and sales optimised sites much faster than people using page builders can create basic brochure websites.
Maintenance Prevents Hacked Sites, Errors & Broken Functionality
Sophisticated marketing platforms, especially ones storing client data, just like cars, need constant maintenance to reduce the risk of things breaking, check to see if anything is broken and to properly fix problems when they occur.
Let’s say you went down the page builder route and ended up with a no-code web designer who doesn’t really know what they’re doing beyond the basics.
Your website will resemble a patchwork quilt, stitched together using dozens of plug-ins to achieve the functionality you want; at least 40, but I’ve seen horror shows with 80 or more – and it creates a horrible user experience for you, your team and potential clients using the site.
Code has to conform to certain framework rules, or the code doesn’t work; it breaks and creates an error on the site.
If code doesn’t follow best practices, it’s at risk of becoming deprecated, which basically means: so old, inefficient and easy to exploit/hack that no-one should use it any more.
Each plug-in has to be kept up to date, and with every update comes a new chance for a conflict to happen between two or more plug-ins. A conflict can be a full (easy to spot) or partial (hard to spot) break of a feature. For example, a partial break could be that your enquiry form doesn’t submit if the third field is filled out – you won’t always know when things are broken, but potential clients will.
A professional web developer will give you a premium website that may rely on say 5 high quality plug-ins; this is what we do. A no-code “marketing web designer” will use 40+ plug-ins of varying quality, all written by different developers.
The more plug-ins you use, the harder it is to maintain and update the site and the higher the chance of conflicts and breaks. Maintenance of sites created with page builders is often so complex and time consuming, it usually costs less to rebuild it from scratch using proper code and templates.
Hacking & Security
According to Sophos, a popular anti-virus solution provider, roughly 30,000 websites are hacked every day.
43% of all websites are built using WordPress.
So we can deduce that around 9 WordPress sites are hacked per minute, 390,000 per month, and 4.7 million per year.
Why do so many of them get hacked? Largely because there are so many unloved WordPress websites out there 😥
When you don’t update plug-ins (because doing so will break everything) and you have no retained (proper) coding abilities, you can’t keep your site secure; it’s just not possible.
So if you care about not being hacked, you’re better off working with web developers over no-code web designers.