Our MasterWP.guru blog recently posted WordPress Under Duress, a report underlining multiple signs of pressure impacting WordPress. The WP Tavern Posting cited intensive competition from other CMS systems such as SquraesSpace and Shopify, increased complexity throughout the rapidly changing WP Core and profound shortcomings in both the Gutenberg Editor and its wider vision, FSE-Full Site Editing. But a perceptive reader noted that these same issues were now confronting many top notch PageBuilder/ThemeBuilders. So this post will look at largely the same crisis impacting WordPress PageBuilder/ThemeBuilders but from the top – looking at the leading PageBuilder/Themebuilder with 10 million active users, Elementor.
The PageBuilder to ThemeBuilder Transition
Because WordPress has been so aggressive in moving to Gutenberg – for example, making the Classic Editor a second class plugin despite its inherent capabilities. Likewise imposing Block Widgets on all users forcing the release of a Classic Widgets plugin to rescue valuable older working classic widget code. Or consider constant changes to what is allowed in the Theme Customizer or meta fields and other custom post settings.
But perhaps the most aggressive approach has been Gutenberg advocates claiming superior performance for the Gutenberg editor versus the top PageBuilders where tests show NO Gutenberg Editor superior runtime performance. But the bottom line, is that the top PageBuilders/Themebuilders [henceforth we will use Elementor as the name for this group of UI development tools] now face four vital competitive forces:
1 – intensive internal rivalry among the top 8-10 PageBuilders/ThemeBuilders;
2 – an aggressive WordPress Gutenberg Editor and FSE-Full Site Editing team;
3 – large improvements in SEO & runtime speed by CMS competitors like Wix, Weebly, Shopify, Squarespace, etc;
4 -A new crop of “No Coding Required” enterprise application developer tools from IBM. Oracle, SAP plus newly bankrolled Kissflow, OutSystems, Mendix, etc..
Each of these competitive factors will be assessed against Elementor and some leading PageBuilders starting with the internal PageBuilder/ThemeBuilder rivalries.
Internal PageBuilder/ThemeBuilder Rivalries
Elementor started in 2016 a year after Gutenberg development launched and was a pioneer supplier of a drag and drop layout and styling using a UI interface. Elementor was first to offer a free complete layout builder with basic re-usable templates. Other vendors like Beaver Builder, Visual Composer, Themify followed suit but their intro of a free versions were delayed by months if not years – this helped Elementor to achieve its current highest active user levels of 10 million users.
Elementor added to its active users lead by vigorously supporting an API which allowed add-on vendors to extend the Elementor UI Interface substantially. Again rivals like Beaver, Divi, Visual Composer and Themify followed too but with limitations allowing Elementor to reach 800+ freemium addon-plugins, again larger than any other rival.
But some rivals like Beaver, Divi, Themify, Thrive, and Visual Composer created specialized plugins for backend and system integration tasks which gave them leadership in these special areas. Finally, almost all of the rivals supported development of top-notch query loops, custom post aids and sophisticated free/low cost user templates. In addition, all of the tools recognized the importance of training their users:
So all of the PageBuilder tools have some combo of Knowledge Bases, Video tutorial directories, and training centers like the above as supplements to their support services As for the quality and responsiveness of these vendors support, this TrustPilot page for Elementor is typical of what to currently expect from many of the PageBuilder/Themebuilder vendors.
Integrating with Gutenberg
Elementor and most PageBuilders have the distinct advantage of being better runtime and operational speed performers plus much better ease of use in styling/design than Gutenberg block tools. But Gutenberg developers are recognizing the problems with new support for page and object caching and lately responding to poor Live Edit reviews..
Elementor has been late to Gutenberg integration but now has an innovative set of choices. Like Beaver, Divi, Themify, Thrive, and Visual Composer, Elementor has a button for adding Elementor code inside a Gutenberg Block:
Note the Thrive and Elementor buttons inside the Gutenberg Block editor ready to add Thrive or Elementor code. Beaver, Divi, Themify, & Visual Composer can do the same – allow users to add code/layout from their favorite PageBuilder right inside the Gutenberg editor. However, the Thrive Editor is more versatile allowing users to add multiple Thrive edits around Gutenberg Editor blocks as seen in the screenshot below:
Here, the Thrive editor takes over the Gutenberg Editor session and allows Thrive users to add layout anywhere above and below existing Gutenberg blocks. In response to this Elementor has created a free plugin Elementor Blocks for Gutenberg which allows you to easily insert any Elementor template into a Gutenberg edit session. This is not as easy to use as the Thrive-Gutenberg interface.
And there is more Gutenberg and Elementor plugin interfaces allowing use of either Gutenberg or Elementor and sometimes other PageBuilder templates like Beaver in project design. See Templately Templates Cloud, Responsive Templates Importer, SKT Templates, and Brainstorm’s Starter Templates for some of the many Template offerings. But the bottom line is that Gutenberg’ rate of change is high so what is in and working in Gutenberg and Elementor/Pagebuilder integrations is subject to Caveat Emptor caution.
CMS rivals like Wix, SquareSpace & Weebly are no longer pushovers
Previously in doing assessments of other CMS system like Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, and even Shopify, Elementor with its huge library of addons would prevail in important categories like runtime speed, SEO support, completeness for backup, security, and other backend operations. But that was 2-3 years ago – now rival CMS have improved not only their design, layout and SEO capabilities but also critical runtime speed.
For example, take SquareSpace’s runtime speed. In our tests 2-3 years ago of photo gallery applications, Elementor had only a slight advantage over SquareSpace in ease and flexibility of photo gallery layouts, But in photo gallery runtime speed Elementor apps used to consistently outpace SquareSpace – but no more.
In a test of SquareSpace speed versus Elementor using its new Flexbox layout here are the results:
Yes, the Core Web Vitals are slightly better for Elementor, the GTMetrix base values are nearly equal but the fully load time of SquareSpace at 1.5sec versus 1.8sec for Elementor shows that SquareSpace matches Elementor speed as seen in a variety of other tests. And Elementor was using flexbox which has improved Elementor runtime speed by 10 to 15%.
However, even Elementor’s Core Web Vitals slight advantage is under pressure as all the rival CMS do better:
Data Studio reports that although Core Web Vitals scores have been improving over the past 2 1/2 years, all of the CMS rivals are doing better than WordPress with Shopify showing the best improvement. So the bottom line is Elementor and the PageBuilders face “new and improved” CMS competition.
Competition from Enterprise Low/No Code Application Platforms
With WordPress growing to 43% usage on the Web’s top 100 millions sites while growing to more than a half trillion dollar market, Enterprise software vendors have taken serious note of the opportunities. Both Forrester and Gartner have been tracking the LCAP-Low Code Application Platforms with magic quadrant charts and reports:
Here is a summary of the Forrester’s assessment of the LCAP market place:
Forrester sees that “The enterprise content management (ECM) market continues its evolution to cloud-first, flexible, extensible platforms. Modern content platforms now dominate the vendor landscape, and customers continue a steady pace of migration to these platforms — away from aging, on-premises repositories. Vendors with mature offerings have rearchitected their platforms to take full advantage of cloud scalability. Newer cloud vendors continue to invest in advanced capabilities for governance and automation. All vendors are embracing AI and ML to automate routine activities and are building design and development tools to help their clients deliver tailored user experiences ”
Likewise, Gartner sees a burgeoning Low Code Application Platform market place with emphasis on the newly bankrolled UI sophisticates along with traditional players.
Here are some of the key characteristics of Gartner LCAP entrants:
1 – LCAPs deliver custom apps by minimizing hand coding
2 – This includes model-driven graphical workflows, drag & drop UI design and layout, business logics systems plus data support services;
3 – Use Cloud services for performance, scalability and availability;
4- Provide enhanced security, backup and disaster recovery services;
5 – Enable application monitoring services to tune ops & validate SLAs;
6 – Provide Enterprise API access to integration tools linking 3rd party cloud and other services;
7 – Have vendor help, training and support options for users and managers.
But LCAP is hardly settled as new vendors contend with new entrants whose AI, Cloud-based , Low Code tools have to be matched by traditional Enterprise Content vendors. This is a new approach to a burgeoning market where technology and marketing are subject to rapid change. Elementor’s recent entrance into the Headless WordPress market is a telling example of LCAP surprise and strategic maneuvers.
WordPress, Elementor and the PageBuilders, even LCAP-Enterprise developers are faced with 3 fundamental contradictions:
1 – Low Code development is losings its magic – speedy ease of use is slowing as UI workflows become more complex;
3 – The rate of change in software development and the ability to preserve invested/legacy development procedures/systems is becoming more tenuous.
In essence LowCode development is getting harder to do – just try to use Gutenberg Editor for tricky WYSIWYG design layouts. Or do Woo Commerce custom post layouts using Bricks Builder or Elementor Flexbox tools. Be prepared to spend some extra reading and testing time getting used to the novel workflow. And because novel design demands innovation do not expect cookie cutter duplicate workflows downstream.
Finally, almost every development shop will have the same contest – how to maintain and preserve the great bulk of systems that run the shop versus applying new Low Code tools that promises faster/easier development of new features and/or performance at the cost of minor/major changes in workflow and operations. Yes, its the ever-present management conundrum but now with the rate of change accelerated by strategic demands and a wide group of vendors /suppliers pursuing a piece of the $1 trillion Low Code Development market.