Visual Editors for WordPress – Roundup Review

WordPress is a brilliant platform for creating all kinds of websites and its popularity is well deserved. However, it was originally conceived as a simple blogging platform and if you use it for anything other than blogging, it does sometimes show its humble roots.

As soon as you want to create content that goes beyond text with basic formatting (e.g. columns, tabbed content, etc.), the WordPress editor can feel awfully limited. In response to this problem, various solutions have sprung up, that replace the WordPress editor with sophisticated drag-and-drop interfaces.

What do these plugins actually offer and do any of them really improve upon the standard editor? Read on to find out.

Roundup Video

Here’s a video, where I go through the pros and cons of six different page layout builders in rapid succession:

For reference and a quick overview, here are the pros and cons of each of the plugins in text form:

Aqua Page Builder

Aqua Page Builder

Aqua Page Builder is a free WordPress plugin. It adds a new “Template” button to your page and post editors and a template builder, which is separate from the page editor.

In the builder, you can add text blocks, columns, widget areas, tabbed content and alert boxes/notifications. In a few supported themes, there are more (theme-specific) building blocks available.

The level of abstraction is very high, in Aqua Page Builder and I get the impression that the word “Template” is a misnomer, in this case. You aren’t really building templates that you can insert and use in different ways, since you can’t use the same template on two pages, but with different content. In practical terms, that means if you want several pages that all have a two-column layout in common, but with different content, you have to create a separate “template” for each one of those pages.

Content Builder


Content Builder replaces your regular WordPress post and page editors with a visual drag-and-drop interface. You can add columns, test blocks, images, image galleries, videos, tabbed content, embed Google maps and add content dividers.

The user interface is intuitive and (apart from difficulties when moving elements around) very easy to use. The biggest issue with Content Builder is that it’s not compatible with the regular WordPress editor. If you switch from Content Builder to the regular editor, all the formatting goes lost and doesn’t recover when you switch back to the visual editor.

Elegant Builder

Elegant Themes Layout Builder

Elegant Builder is a plugin that adds a new layout and content editor to WordPress. Using the builder is a two- or three-step process: you create a basic layout with columns (optional), then add various elements to the columns and then edit the elements and add your actual content to them.

This is all done in a very nicely designed drag-and-drop interface. Elegant Builder boasts an impressive range of well designed elements ranging from regular text and image blocks to buttons, pricing tables and image sliders.

Unfortunately, the builder is very abstract. When you’re working in it, you never really know how the layout will translate to the front end and the only way to find out is to save the layout, then update the page and then check the front-end to see for yourself.

In the end, it’s an abstract and somewhat clumsy process.

Personally, I love Elegant Themes and have been a member for a long time, but this particular plugin is not the reason to join.

Ether Content Builder

Ether Content

Ether Content Builder is another plugin that essentially replaces the regular WordPress editor. The best thing about it is that it offers an amazingly expansive array of elements: columns, buttons, message boxes, embedded maps, twitter feeds… you name it, Ether Content Builder has it.

The user interface is a bit hot and cold. On the one hand, it seems very solid, the editing and drag-and-drop is easy to use and understand. On the other hand, it’s very abstract. In the editor, you’re just looking at an array of grey blocks that barely hint at what the content on the front-end looks like.

Ether Content Builder is one of the better builders, but it’s still far from perfect.

Page Builder

WP Page Builder

Page Builder is the second free plugin in this roundup. It adds a third tab to the WordPress editor, in which you can create columns and add various content elements. There are many widget-like elements. For example, you can add a search box, a list of recent posts or a custom menu.

There are also a few design elements such as buttons, pricing tables and styled lists, but the selection is relatively slim, compared to some of the other candidates.

Page Builder also has the same abstraction issues that several other builders in the roundup have. In the end, though, it’s a pretty good plugin, considering that it won’t cost you anything to use it. Hats off to the developers.

Visual Composer

WPBakery Visual Composer

The final plugin for this roundup is Visual Composer. The greatest advantage Visual Composer has over the other candidates is that it is less abstract: what you see in the editor more or less represents what you see on the front end. For example, Visual Composer displays the full text of all your text-elements, tabbed content is displayed in tabs, a blue box looks like a blue box in the editor etc. When you’re building large pages with lots of content, this seemingly small detail ends up making a big difference.

The user interface is a bit messy, with icons scattered all over it, but it never fails to be at least somewhat intuitive. There’s a good selection of elements as well. Ultimately, Visual Composer is the only plugin in the roundup that I actually ended up using for several pages, after I was done with the testing.


After using many different visual layout builders, my impression is that nothing matters more than the level of abstraction. You can have a brilliantly designed and fully-featured plugin (e.g. Ether and Elegant Builder), but if you’re looking at a set of abstract blocks and you’re always two or three clicks away from actually editing your content, the builder turns into a hindrance.

The two page builders that get it right are Content Builder and Visual Composer. Content Builder has the better user interface of the two, but it has a smaller selection of elements to choose from and it K.O.s itself with compatibility issues and the way it locks you out of using the regular WordPress editor.

In the end, Visual Composer is the best of the bunch and my only warm recommendation from the roundup. It’s far from perfect, but for complex pages (e.g. long sales pages with many elements) it provides a far superior experience to messing with short codes in the regular WordPress editor. In the end, that’s what matters most.

What’s your experience with replacing and improving the WordPress editing experience? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Shane's Signature


Due to the research I did for this post and some of the comments made by readers, I decided to create a visual editor plugin myself.

The goal was to create a content builder that takes all the best elements from the ones tested here and makes none of their mistakes.

I think we succeeded with that in a rather spectacular fashion. :)

You can see what we came up with here: Thrive Content Builder


I'm Shane Melaugh and I'm the guy writing most of the posts on this blog. My goal is to provide you with useful, straight-forward insights on how to grow your business by creating compelling offers, driving traffic and increasing conversions.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 53 comments
Henk Vos - July 17, 2013

Hey Shane, I agree, I use Visual Composer now, and while I’ve tried others, it’s the best I’ve seen so far.

Combined with the Builder Theme and WPHeadline or ShortCodes Deluxe, you can get pretty much anything done in layout and page design.

Just running with a worry about how much these codes slows down the site and if in the end it’s not just better to suck it up and learn to do it with HMTL and CSS.

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    I always worry about that as well, with each plugin or feature I add.

    For the plugins tested here, I didn’t take a close look at the speed aspect. It mainly comes down to how well the elements are coded. There’s no reason why things like columns and content boxes would slow down a site significantly (if they do, that’s some seriously bad coding).

    Dynamic elements like accordions and sliders are more likely to be problematic.

Christian Ermlich - July 17, 2013

Hallo Shane,

ich bin auch schon lange auf der Suche nach einem guten Editor. Bis heute habe ich nichts gefunden. Der letzte Versuch fand statt mit Authority Pro 3. Sieht nett aus. Ist aber sehr zeitaufwendig, und vieles geht nicht mehr, zum Beispiel Hybrid Connect reagierte nicht mehr. Es greift zu sehr in das Theme ein, daher musste ich es wieder löschen.
So versuche ich es weiterhin mit ein bisschen html und css.

Vielen Dank für deinen tollen Test und alles Gute

Christian Ermlich

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Danke, Christian! AP3 steht auch noch auf meiner Review Liste. Werde die Kompatibilität auch anschauen.

Pete - July 17, 2013

That’s hugely helpful, Shane. Thanks for keeping the summaries brief, actually selecting a winner or two and for going through all the testing in the first place.

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Thanks, Pete! Glad you liked it. Gotta say, it wasn’t difficult picking a winner, here. Most of the plugins just aren’t that great, in the end.

Mirko Herrmann - July 17, 2013

Hi Shane,

Christian already mentioned the compatibility of editors and hybrid connect. How about “Visual Composer” and “Hybrid Connect” – are they comppatible in the page builder mode?

Cool test, great idea

Thanks / Mirko

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    I’ve had no compatibility problems with Hybrid Connect and Visual Composer (I use them both on the Hybrid Connect website, for example).

Imogen - July 17, 2013

What a gift, Shane – thank you so much for this. Such a helpful video.

A bit surprised you don’t have an affiliate link to buy Visual Composer though … ?

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Thank you, Imogen!

    That is an affiliate link, actually. :)

      Imogen - July 17, 2013

      Oh, my dear, I expected a button! Duh! as my friend says. Anyway, it’s bought and I’ll be testing it on my test site over the next few days. Glad to know it works with hybrid connect.

      Thank you again for this – I’m rather hoping it will solve a whole lot of issues that I’ve been trying to solve with themes until now.

Warren Howard - July 17, 2013

I find that the features of Windows Live Writer provide a rich set to work with.

Thanks for this and all your reviews.

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Hi Warren,

    I used WLW for a while as well, but switched back to editors native to WordPress. For things like sales-pages, I found WLW to be rather unsuitable.

Joseph - July 17, 2013

Great write up and review, Shane. This is great info and a helpful resource. You should make your own visual editor WP plugin. I would definitely buy it!

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Thanks, Joseph!

    As I mentioned in the video, I would like to create a visual editor of my own. In fact, I’d most like to create a front-end editor for WordPress. But every time I mention that to Paul (our head of development) he almost gets a stroke.
    Apparently, it would be a technically very difficult task, to build such a thing.

Jeff Klein - July 17, 2013

Thanks for the great review video and article. Both were very helpful. I appreciate the quick overviews and comments from a developers perspective. A lot of times people reviews things they don’t actually use.

I was a bit disappointed to see a couple of the solutions you recommended were for sale on Code Canyon. They have great plugins on Code Canyon but I have never understood their licensing. Pretty much all premium wordpress plugins for sale offer a developer version of people to who do work for clients. On Code Canyon, the plugins you buy can only be used on one site. They do offer an extended license but even that can only be used for one site. Unless I just don’t understand their licensing. As good as the plugins they offer are, I can’t see buying them over and over again for each new client.

Thanks again for the great review. You should definitely build your own visual editor and offer it for sale… with developer rights.

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Thanks, Jeff!

    I agree that the lack of a multi-site or agency option on Envato marketplaces is strange. I also understand that the extended license is a single-use license, but I could be wrong.

Al Harji - July 17, 2013

Agreed with Joseph, you should build one imagine a page builder of the same caliber as Hybrid-Connect. It would be a game changer and I’m sure become the gold standard if the same level of precision and detail is given to Hybrid-Designer :) (yup, giving it a name sometimes makes it appear faster)

I have tried a few of them out there (some included in themes) every single one has one or two elements that make it unique but none get it right. PT Instant, InstaBuilder all have their pluses but miss the mark when it comes to full suite of functions.

Here are some of the ones I’ve tried and finally decided to give up searching for the ultimate page/post builder. Early last week I discovered Themify.Me themes has built (probably the best one yet) a sleek page builder included with all their themes and I have to say, it is pretty fantastic (and responsive) including front end WYSIWYG editor, fantastic shortcodes that you seem to prefer as well. Check them out, the only challenge is that it is not a plugin, it is incorporated into their themes. So far, this is the one I would say comes close to amazing, wish it was a plugin that would be able to be used on other themes and frameworks.

Elegant Themes one pretty good but the biggest challenge is the pages created with the plugin are not responsive. No longer an option in today’s mobile and tablet world.

I’ll take a closer look at visual composer for now while we eagerly await Hybrid-Designer.

Your approach to design and knowledge of what is already out there will be a huge benefit if you decide to tackle this.

Thank you for the detailed review and recommendation, if you decide to build one, please consider this comment as a pre-order. It may be time to take Paul out for a few beers and convince him.

    Shane - July 17, 2013

    Thanks for the detailed comment! I’ll have to buy a Themefy theme and try out their builder. I hadn’t heard of it before.

    If I can get a clear vision of what a visual editor would have to look like, to be clearly superior to all the others, I definitely want to go for it.

      Al Harji - July 17, 2013

      hit me up if you need to pick my brain at any point. I’ve been trying to look for the ultimate solution for a long time.

      Themify.me has some incredible and sleek themes. They do great work and support is fantastic as well. (like your product, I’m a big fan of their work, no affiliation what so ever)

      Shane, if you decide to do this, please add vertical tabs as the first feature request with WYSIWYG editor. If you wanted to stand out from the crowd, adding the ability to add custom post types with taxonomy builder and easy ability to add custom fields that can be shown on a page would be perfect.

      (btw, apologies for the horrible grammar on my original comment, the excitement of this being a p

      Shane - July 17, 2013

      Thanks! I’ll get in touch so we can have a chat about all this.

      I have WP projects in the works that could go in a direction like that, but it’s very early days, right now. In other words: none of this will happen anytime soon, but I’d love to have a chat and see what ideas you have and whether they would fit any of our future projects.

    Greg Moore - July 18, 2013

    Al, What’s your take on how some of these editors, and themify.me compare to Headway? Thanks.

Kent - July 17, 2013

Good review. Look forward to when you get sufficiently annoyed with the one you’re using to create your own.

Sean Daily - July 17, 2013

I can’t even begin to tell you how timely this post was Shane, I literally had a client email me about this last night! Thanks as always for the great writing and analytical work.

Mary Greene - July 17, 2013

Shane, thanks for another useful review! Are these editors fully compatible with various WordPress themes, plugins, and widgets?

Mary Greene

    Shane - July 18, 2013

    I didn’t encounter any compatibility issues in my testing (except the ones mentioned for Content Builder, in the video).

    Concerning themes, I wouldn’t expect compatibility to be a real problem, because the content editors don’t really interfere with the themes. They only apply to what’s inside the content area defined by the theme, so there shouldn’t be any conflicts.

Uwe Marx - July 17, 2013

Hi Shane,

yeah the wordpress editor can be a pain at times.

Actually, I got so disgusted that I switched over to weebly.com. I find them easy to use, even though, not all their features (FTP access, a special site/page builder,…) are available to domains not purchased/registered with them.

When I started out in IM, I bought and hosted several domains with evanzo and when the renewal time came around they wanted € +50 per domain. I don’t use evanzo anymore.

It’s always better to have separate domain and hosting services.

I want to thank your reader Al Harji for his about themefy.me. Checked them out and was impressed. I still use WP on other sites and will give them a try.

I agree with other readers that you should develop Hybrid Designer.

From your theme review a while back, I seem to recall that you where not perfectly happy with the available products either.

How about “Hybrid WP Themes with build in Editor”.

The world is ready for perfectly coded WP themes with all that you really need built right in.

If you could bring out a product that beats the top theme and editor available on the market, I don’t think you and Paul will ever regret having gone through all that trouble/hard work….

    Shane - July 18, 2013

    You know, I really agree with you there, Uwe. If we can make market-leading themes and a content builder, it will surely pay off.

    I’ll need to ask for quite a bit of patience, but I do want to make this happen. :)

Andreas Becker - July 17, 2013

Thank you Shane, just what I was looking for. Agree that this is bit of a shortcoming of WP that the editor is not WYSIWIG.
I will now try VisualComposer.

    Shane - July 18, 2013

    Yeah, the WP editor was definitely made for blogging. As long as you just have text and images, it’s fine. For me, I reach the limitations whenever I need to build landing pages and sales pages (which is quite often).

Tim - July 18, 2013

Nice going Shane. The standard wordpress editor is really only intended for writing content and inserting a few pictures (in-line). Once you get into the realm of columns, tables, etc., you’re looking at theme modification, not simply a text/content editor.

In any CMS framework, the content is purposely separated from the presentation via a database. This is what allows you to change themes with very little damage. An all purpose WYSIWYG editor would have to be fully compatible with any theme. Since many themes have their own display options, and methods of implementing them, the likelihood of conflicts goes way up.

Also, the size of any of these editor plug-ins shouldn’t affect the load times for visitors to the site..it’s only part of the admin section, which, if the plug-in is implemented properly, should have no bearing except for the admin person logging in.

    Shane - July 18, 2013

    Thanks, Tim!

    The editors do apply only to each theme’s content area, so conflicts there should be rare.

    As for the performance impact: you’re right that the bulk of the plugins won’t affect the front end. Some of them might load scripts and have large CSS files that could cause some performance impact, though.

Stacy - July 18, 2013

Thanks Shane. I was wondering how much overhead the plugin visual composer puts on shared hosting servers. This is typically the issue (limited host resources) I have found with plugins and themes that have drag and drop editors. Thanks again for this post.

Forrest - July 18, 2013

Thanks for another great round-up Shane!

Something else worthy of inclusion is the recently released Authority Pro3. I haven’t used it extensively yet, but the short time I’ve spent using it I’ve been very impressed, and I plan to use it along with Optimizepress for a new site I’m about to develop.

They brought out a fairly major grade for it a few days ago which allows you to immediately see a preview of a page without having to leave the editor (along with other improvements), and they have ambitious plans for continued development and improvement.

As far as I know it’s still available at a launch price of $47 for a multi-site license ($27 single-site) which is pretty good for what you get. (I wasted $150 on WP-Enlighten which is like a Hobie Cat compared to the AC72 America’s Cup yachts in comparison). http://authoritypro.com/ap3/

From my limited experience of using it looks like it compares very well with the products in your review Shane, but I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Bill - July 18, 2013

Hi Shane, I cannot make heads or tails of Code Canyons pricing. The Code Canyon site shows a price tag of $25 for Visual Composer but that seems to be for a single site license(?).

I imagine you are using Visual Composer on more than one site, right? What does it cost you to use Visual Composer on more than one site? Thanks!

Dee Copeland Patience - July 18, 2013

This was awesome! Very helpful. I wanted to make my pages look better, but always have to go to a designer.

I purchased the plugin to help defray some of the time and cost that it takes to use a designer. At $25, it’s worth it.

Terry Chadban - July 18, 2013

G’day Shane,
The email that I read directly before yours was one from the programmer of AuthorityPro3 advising of an update to the plugin!

Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already, I have installed it on a few sites and the editor is pretty visual and fairly intuitive to use. The current update adds a lot of preset templates as well as a major update to the editor itself.

Can’t remember offhand what it cost, but I bought the developer version and it wasn’t that dear — wouldn’t have bought it if it had been too expensive! :-)

Imogen - July 18, 2013

Hello Shane

Just to let you know. Visual composer plugin will not install on my wordpress installation (up to date!). The support is not good – the username and password they supplied doesn’t work.

Have given up and asked for a refund – wouldn’t recommend this plugin to anyone.

    Shane - July 18, 2013

    Sorry to hear that. I installed VC on several test installations, some blank and some with various themes and plugins and I didn’t have any issues.

Mary Greene - July 18, 2013

Shane, thanks for your response. I’m relieved you didn’t find more theme/plugin/widget incompatibilities (besides the one with the original WP editor). Still, I AM concerned about slowing down our site loading speed. Look at some of the Warrior Forum reviews to see how Authority Pro 3 slowed down site building and loading.

Iain - July 19, 2013

Awesome overview Shane. I’ll have to try to see which one I like.

I don’t do too much editing so these would make it really easy to make some real nice pages.

Paul - July 21, 2013

Thanks for the roundup review Shane. Which among the plugins did you use for your recommended products page? (imimpact.com/recommended-products/)

Rusty Ferguson - July 25, 2013

I’m just going to put in a vote for you developing one of these.

mike - August 19, 2013

So I purchase visual composer – and then by the look of it – I can only use it on 1 site – if I use it on multiple sites it’s against the licencing agreement.

I dont think anyone wants that ? – that’s like saying you can buy microsoft word but you can only use it ever on one document !!!!

Have I misread the licence agreement – I dont think so – but happy to be proved wrong.

Why dont wordpress just get a true 100% wysiwyg editor as part of the default build

    Shane - August 19, 2013

    Unfortunately, that’s correct. On CodeCanyon, you can only get single-site licenses of the plugins and scripts and the authors of the plugins can’t do anything about that. I agree that that’s far from optimal.

James - October 10, 2013

Thanks for posting the article. I am really banging my head to go with Elegant Themes which has the “Elegant Page Builder” plugin or Themify which has the “Themify Builder” plugin. Both are drag & drop that can be used on any WP theme. I plan to purchase the Developer plan for either one. Do you have any experience with the Themify Theme plugin? Any input would be helpful?!?
Thanks, James

    Shane - October 10, 2013

    Thanks for your comment, James!

    I have had a play with the Themify builder and I think it’s pretty decent.

    Here’s my take on Elegant Builder vs. Themify builder: the Elegant Themes one has more elements you can add and is generally a bit better designed. But it’s not very intuitive to work with, as these blue bricks you use to compose the page are really massively abstract from what you actually get on the front end.

    The Themify builder is much less abstract, as you see quite a close representation of what the final page will look like, as you’re building it. Definitely much better in that regard. It’s still quite multi-step and a bit slow, though. There also aren’t as many style elements that you can add.

    Bottom line: I’d rather work with the Themify builder, even though it’s also far from perfect.

      Al - October 11, 2013

      I’ve used both and agree that Themify is a bit more intuitive. James, if you’re using the Elegant Themes Page Builder Plugin, you should be aware that the content created with the plugin is not responsive – the pages created with it don’t size well at all. I’ve been asking the team at ET about and update but nothing for months.

      After Shane mentioned Visual Composer, I ended up trying it and like it the most of the batch. Themify offers a separate purchase for a stand alone plugin if you want to use it on other themes/frameworks btw.

Giakling - November 26, 2013

Looks great and have bought. However, have one question. Does it work with Profits Theme?

    Giakling - November 26, 2013

    Referred to have bought Thrive Content Builder. Sorry for the omission.

ken - December 18, 2013

Your effort at sharing your experiences with these plugins is much appreciated.


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