When people in WordPress circles say “page builder,” I’m not gonna lie: I get skittish. My mind immediately goes to poor markup, theme lock-in, and a gross tangle of code.
But recently I met a WordPress page builder plugin that’s risen high above my usual developer disdain: Beaver Builder.
Beaver Builder first appeared on my radar after hearing Chris Lema talk about it. Not long after, I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with the Beaver Builder guys at CaboPress. Hearing them talk was enough to pique my curiosity. (By the way, if you’d like to hear from the Beaver Builder team yourself, I interviewed them on my podcast).
After spending some time getting to know the plugin and working with it, I’m loving both the ease of use and the ability to extend it for custom scenarios.
If you’re not familiar with Beaver Builder (or skeptical, like me), I’d like to break down some facts that might change the way you think about this page builder.
Beaver Builder Review: Some FAQs for Developers
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Beaver Builder – Plugin or Theme?
Well, it’s both. Actually, it’s four things. There’s a lite plugin (free) in the WordPress repo, there’s the full-featured plugin, there’s an add-on plugin called Beaver Themer, and then there’s the theme.
Let’s look at each.
Beaver Builder Theme
This is a regular WordPress theme made to be a base for the Beaver Builder plugin. There are a handful of design options that make it a pretty slick starting point for using the plugin. Of course, Beaver Builder plugin works with just about any WordPress theme, so if you’ve already got a theme you like, no need to use the BB theme. If you don’t have a theme picked out yet, consider using this as a starting point.
Here’s a site I built with the Beaver Builder theme. Note that I’m not using one of the built-in templates, but was still able to throw that design together pretty quickly.
p.s. Beaver Builder Theme ships with a child theme (the child theme is just a style sheet and functions.php). As always, all code customizations belong in the child theme.
Beaver Builder Plugin
For those of you familiar with the Dynamik theme and the Genesis Extender plugin, the BB concept is similar – the theme (Dynamik) has all the functionality baked in, whereas the plugin (Genesis Extender) enables you to add the functionality to any theme.
This is where I’ve been camping out. You can use the plugin with any WordPress theme, including those for the Genesis Framework.
The plugin includes some basic drag & drop modules (i.e. photos, videos). They are truly basic and not overly impressive. But then there are the advanced modules. These are really cool and provide simple set-up options for things like a post grid, call to action, accordions, and more.
You can do complex things on a page in a fraction of the time it would take you to create a custom template. And note that all of these modules work out-of-the-box with custom post types, too.
Beaver Builder Plugin Lite
The free plugin is a bit of a tease. It works exactly the same as the regular plugin except for the available modules are stripped down to just a handful of options.
If you wanted to just try BB, you could install the lite plugin or, better yet, play with the demo that shows off the full-featured plugin.
Beaver Themer Plugin
The name is a little confusing at first but it makes sense based on what it does. It’s a plugin you install (and it requires that the Beaver Builder Plugin be active). But the functionality lets you create theme components, such as a header, footer, or content layout.
This is a new addition since when I originally wrote this article and it is, in evolutionary terms, THE MISSING PIECE. With Beaver Themer, you can create page layouts and then apply them very specifically to certain types of content (i.e. I want this layout used on posts with X category, or I want this layout used only on pages, etc.). There’s a bit more of a learning curve with this one, but it fills in the a lot of the gaps I originally discussed in this article.
Can I Extend Beaver Builder?
Heck yeah! BB has great module options out of the box, but you can customize those existing modules or create your own.
Let me say that last part again – you can develop custom modules. If you’re working on a solution for a client site and part of that solution involves giving the client a simple way to add content in the future that’s just as beautiful as the content you originally created, custom modules are where it’s at.
I feel a separate blog post coming on to talk about more about that.
You can extend the plugin in other ways, too.
But here’s my one complaint about Beaver Builder: While there’s great usage documentation, I really wish they’d publish a full developer API. Currently the best way to learn what all you can do with customizing BB is to check the forums and scour the source code (which, at least, is pretty well-documented).
Update (4/12/18): There’s a Beaver Hooks guide available. Woohoo!
Can I use it on multiple client sites?
Yep. All three pricing tiers for Beaver Builder include use on unlimited sites. Their Agency tier even lets you white label the plugin, which is cool.
That said, Beaver Builder does require an active license on a site in order to get updates. Do you want your client sites dependent on your annual license renewal? That’s up to you.
Yep. You can use Beaver Builder in a WordPress Multisite environment. I recently finished my first Multisite project with Beaver Builder and here’s what I learned in a nutshell:
The Pro license includes Multisite Support while the Agency license includes Multisite Network Settings. The difference? “Multisite Support” means, yes, Beaver Builder plays nicely and works just fine with any site on a multisite network. That’s great, but sort of defeats the purpose of Multisite, which is the ability to manage settings across the entire network. You can’t do that with the Pro license.
To do that, you need the Agency license. This let’s you create/configure layouts you can use across the entire network. Way more helpful (IMHO), but that was the case for my situation.
Are there Third-Party extensions available?
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about with Third-Party extensions, think about Easy Digital Downloads or Ninja Forms – both are “freemium” plugins with a free core plugin and a variety of paid add-ons, some of those developed by third parties.
What about custom templates?
Update: I’m leaving the section below for posterity’s sake, but let the record reflect that the shortcomings I reference below are capabilities now possible with the Beaver Themer plugin.
Yes, but you need to create them. 🙂 Certain plugins or theme frameworks (think WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, Genesis Framework), involve a lot of custom templates.
To work the most seamlessly with BB, you’ll probably want to create custom templates.
(If you’re working with the Genesis Framework, here are some templates I created that force full-width layouts across the board on posts and pages. Feel free to use them as a starting point for your own templates, but note that I have not thoroughly tested them.) 🙂
Beaver Builder and the case of the missing archive template…
Let me save you some head banging: If you want to create a post archive using BB modules, you use a regular ole page (or page template) + the Posts module. Beaver Builder is like honey badger in the sense that it does not care about the archive template.
This bugs me as it doesn’t conceptually follow the WordPress template hierarchy. It also explains why I couldn’t find a single example of a custom archive.php file for use with Beaver Builder.
There, I’ve just saved you four hours of your life.
Does it play nicely with other plugins?
For the most part, yes. Here’s a list of known incompatabilities. I will say that the BB development team is very receptive to feedback and attempting to make BB work with a variety of configurations. If you have concerns about compatibility with your setup, just bring it up with the support team and they can help you work through it.
Beaver Builder vs Divi
There are a number of page builder plugins out there, but Divi is high on the popularity list and I wanted to address it in comparison to Beaver Builder. Specifically, I want to address the difference in what these plugins add to post content and store in your database.
Beaver Builder injects inline CSS styles.
Divi injects a crap-ton of shortcodes.
What happens when you disable Beaver Builder plugin or theme? You still have all your inline styles and your content still looks fine.
What happens when you deactivate Divi theme? Your content is littered (quite generously) with shortcodes. You’d need to manually remove those shortcodes from every single post or page if you ever wanted to move away from Divi. Chris Lema wrote a great post showcasing how horrible it is.
That’s a ridiculous level of theme lock-in I’m not willing to put up with. So yes, when it comes to Beaver Builder vs Divi, I’m picking Beaver Builder all day long.
While a page builder plugin clearly serves the needs of a beginner-level audience, I think there’s a lot that developers can do with Beaver Builder that differentiates it (in a good way) from other drag and drop solutions.
My friend Pippin Williamson wrote an awesome developer review comparing a variety of page builders (including Beaver). It’s most definitely worth a read.
That’s my humble Beaver Builder review, but don’t take my word for it – go check out the demo and see what you think.