We’ve been planning a piece on the best way to build a WordPress site, literally since before The WordPress Helpers launched. We questioned the idea of WYSIWYG (and more to the point what WYSIWYG means in WordPress) in this pre-launch piece, and also re-purposed this article from our sister service, Answer Guy Central.
The piece has slipped for a while, mostly because in the face of a tremendous proliferation of tools that claim to be the be-all-and-end-all of WordPress site creation we weren’t quite sure how to give the news that, or even whether we wanted to cast what had morphed into a WordPress Theme Concepts article as “Good News About WordPress Theme Concepts”, or “Bad News About WordPress Theme Concepts”.
What we’ve come to understand in the last couple of months playing with both the idea of WordPress Theme Concepts and a few of the tools is that the right approach to the issue comes down to how you see what happens after you commit to a tool.
Odd as it might sound, the image on top of this piece helped up pull the idea together. Theme Foundry, the makers of Make, have kind of walled themselves off. We’re not sure that’s such a bad thing, and we also don’t have an issue with Theme Foundry’s business model for Make, which is to deliver a pretty great starter WordPress theme for free, and charge for the version that has all the features.
We also have no problem with this comment from a Reddit forum:
The truth is, a theme vendor isn’t responsible for supporting outside software, no matter how popular that other software is. Some try—the folks at Elegant Themes are great at it, for example—but ultimately the only right way to look at a theme is as the framework of your site, and your plug-ins as needing to comply. Hopefully you got where you got by following a great theme selection methodology. But there’s something else in Theme Foundry’s position that deserves mention, as least as it applies to MAKE:[clickToTweet tweet=”Theme Foundry’s MAKE may be the perfect WordPress Starter Theme” quote=”Make is an absolutely terrific basic site construction tool, and comes as close to the perfect no-knowledge-necessary starting point we’ve ever seen. EVER”]
That’s an important statement. MAKE is both fast, and plays nice with WordPress by leaving neither extra database tables nor a lot of shortcode cruft behind, storing all its data in the POSTMETA table where it’s not only harmless but easy to remove altogether if you ever stop using MAKE.
So this just became about theme implementation.
Our earliest experience with odd theme implementation dates several years back; you can read about it in the article we linked above on Headway. Headway stores its data in the OPTIONS table, which we thought was a bad idea then and still kind of do, now. And Layers, which like MAKE is free … in this case ACTUALLY free … uses this technique. We have a hard time recommending Layers because of that, but unlike Headway—which requires extra software to be terribly useful—we love the sites you can churn out with Layers. We also love the management team at Layers’ parent Obox, and the fact that at least in theory you can export a Layers site to “regular WordPress pages”.
One builder/theme combination we have quite a bit of experience with is Divi, from Elegant Themes. Divi is … great. For real, great. When it comes to laying out the basic building blocks of a new site Divi provides hands-down the best experience we’ve had and you can make sites relatively easily using it. We recommend Divi highly … except for one thing: it’s entirely shortcode based; practically speaking any site you make in Divi is captive to Divi, so if you ever want to STOP using it you’ll be starting from scratch.
Then, there’s Qards. Qards may be the easiest page builder yet, and creates truly beautiful pages. It takes an entirely different approach than Divi, MAKE, or Layers, running as a plug-in and storing its information in a set of extra database tables as well as WordPress Custom Posts. It’s … weird; you need a theme, as well as Qards, but once you start using Qards you won’t actually use that theme any more. But if you’re looking for a really easy way to build a WordPress site that’s beautiful, in a matter of minutes, this is a Qard you want up your sleeve.
- Divi is really easy to set up site design with, less easy to tweak, and creates pages you can’t easily take out of Divi
- MAKE is a great option for simple sites (for free) and even better if you pay for the “real” version
- Layers is great, except we don’t care for how it stores its data. But it’s free, and you can use it to build great sites easily
- Qards isn’t quite sure if it’s a theme or a plug-in, makes incredibly beautiful sites with almost no effort, comes as close as possible to genuine WYSIWYG function, and feels … like you aren’t using WordPress at all
Here’s the punchline on WordPress Theme Concepts:
The 80/20 Rule applies; you always need to balance how you look at this stuff. And sometimes when you look for the ultimate WordPress site builder you end up asking unexpected questions and finding odd things.
Which WordPress site builder in this group do we recommend? Divi, but only if you know a bit about design and are OK with knowing you won’t ever be moving your pages to another theme. Qards, but only if you’re OK thinking way outside the box and creating something that doesn’t feel terribly flexible. Layers if you’re OK with a questionable data storage technique and are on a budget. MAKE, if you’re being safe.
Like we said; WordPress site builders are less about WYSIWYG simplicity than about … WordPress theme concepts and a different kind of thinking than you might have considered before you got started. And no, we sure didn’t expect that to be how this article ended.
Want to slog through it with us? Contact The WordPress Helpers.
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Nicely timed article. I loved Headway and used it up until and through v2.0 – and the they went and did some Godawful thing and released Headway 3.0. Gone was the “anyone can use” mindset, in came the “this is for geeks and devs”, despite what the Headway guys tried to tell you.
Since then, I’ve used dedicated child themes for Genesis, or standalone themes from Themeforest, and customized with CSS (my current design on my own blog is from Themeforest, I’m really liking some of the stuff they’re doing).
However, Divi intrigued me, so I’ve built three sites with it, and I do love the ease in which you can get something up and running – and looking good – in a short amount of time. Until, like you say, you consider all the shortcode crap that’s inside. I am not looking forward to any theme changes I make…
I’ve just started messing around with Bldr from Modern Themes:
This looks pretty nifty. Have you had a look at that at all? Curious your thoughts.
I’m not surprised we have similar sensibilities on this … that’s struck me before.
I’m glad you were able to read between the lines on Headway, and I agree; it was pretty cool, until it wasn’t. What bothers me more than the way they bollixed it up, though, is their attitude. Clay is a genuine genius of a developer; the real deal, but Grant doesn’t understand service very well. Somewhere in between lies real possibility, but they had a cat by the tail … and let go.
And Divi … man I love Divi; it’s seriously the best build-a-framework-for-something software I’ve seen. And although it’s fallen off a bit lately, Elegant’s support can be among the best there is. But one-way-code if ever there was!
I hadn’t see BLDR, but I’ll sure check it out. Visually, it reminds me a lot OF Divi. And with the same freemium model MAKE uses, but way less expensive, as long as it’s clean it’s going to be hard to ignore!
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