What? Another WordPress page builder post? I already wrote one of those, didn’t I? Yes, I did, but stay with me, because in 6 months, a lot can change. In WordPress Drag and Drop Page Builders Are Evolving, I compared six (6) drag and drop page builder plugins. During that comparison, Page Builder Sandwich* (PBS) caught my attention as a possible favorite, but I was hesitant. Since then, PBS has been completely rewritten and changed direction, but that’s a good thing. I’ve been keeping an eye on the progress, and although still in beta, I think now is a good time test it again. In addition, another new plugin from CPOThemes – Forge* – has come to my attention so I want to test it as well.
<tl;dr>Page Builder Sandwich Front End Page Builder vs. Forge Front End Page Builder – See which one fits your style best, expect the occasional beta bugginess, but in the end, I think both are amazing. </tl;dr>
Front End Page Builders Are Important
Both Page Builder Sandwich and Forge are Front End Page Builders. This, in my opinion, matters a lot. I know there are developers out there that look down on page builders in general, and front end page builders specifically. Why? Job insecurity, maybe? They’ll usually say that users shouldn’t have such tools available to them, because they’ll only end up creating ugly, bloated pages. They say such things should only be left to experienced designers/developers. Ok, I get that. But in my opinion, that sort of logic should be reserved for large clients who have plenty of cash. Those kinds of clients don’t mind paying an expert to create custom systems, manage content, etc. Designers and developers will always have a place in that arena. But although WordPress is a publishing platform that makes it easy for anyone to publish online, and proudly powers millions of websites, “easy” is relative. Sure, if all you need to do is write a straight, one-column blog post, with an image here or there, it’s relative simple. But try to create a post or page that includes column layout, for example, and publishing suddenly becomes next to impossible for the average site owner. The average site owner can’t afford to hire a designer to continuously write pages and posts. They need to handle content themselves, and they quickly become frustrated when they realize that the Visual Editor in WordPress won’t help them create a nicely laid out post. So, front end editors have a place in WordPress, and I believe it is years past due for WordPress to have this ability natively. The two plugins I’m testing today hope to plug that hole (sorry for the bad pun), and give site owners a truly EASY way to publish online.
In summary, why do site owners need great front end WordPress page builders?
- Create content with complex layouts
- Edit actual content as it looks, rather than moving around representative blocks.
- Save tons of time. No longer need to go back and forth to make a change, preview, make another change, preview, etc.
- Save money and have full ownership over content creation. No need to ask the developer to make custom fields, manage content layout, etc.
- Make WordPress TRULY easy
Let The Battle Begin
So let’s get right to the meat of this post. I edited two identical posts, first with Page Builder Sandwich and then with Forge. I added a two-column row, with an image in one column, and text in the other. Then, I added a one-column row, with a Google map using PBS and a post list using Forge. Next, I made a few text changes such as italicizing, and linking some words to another blog post.
My plan was to screencast the entire editing process so you could watch, but frankly, that ended up being a terrible idea. After stopping and restarting for the 22nd time (yes, I counted), I gave up. It just wasn’t meant to be. But I’ll do my best to walk you through the process as I experienced it.
Editing A Post With Page Builder Sandwich
From the front end, I viewed the post I wanted to edit. A large blue “Edit With Page Builder Sandwich” option appeared in the admin bar. I clicked that, and the PBS Inspector appeared to the left in the same way the Customizer would. It can be docked left or right of the post by dragging and dropping it.
At the bottom of the inspector is a “More Tools” link. I didn’t notice it at first, so I wanted to point that out. Click it to show all the Inspector options.
Scrolling down through the Inspector, I came across the Rows and Columns section. In my opinion, that should be placed more prominently at the top of the inspector since it will be used a lot. Anyway, clicking the 2-column icon placed a new 2-column row within the content. I could drag it to another position if I wanted by dragging it elsewhere.
I clicked in the right column, and then chose the Media icon in the Inspector. This opened the standard WordPress media window. I chose an image, and clicked Insert into post.
Then I just clicked in the left column and typed my text content. I then swapped the image and text in the left and right columns a few times by dragging the image left or right, just to make sure that worked well. It did. Keep in mind though, that you should grab the column in the lower right section to drag. Dragging from elsewhere won’t work as expected.
So, then I added a new row for a Google map. I needed just one column for this. I’ll scrolled to where I wanted it, placing the cursor at the end of a row. I clicked the single column row icon in the Inspector, and there’s my new row, right where I wanted it! I chose a shortcode for the map. PBS does not come with its own shortcodes or elements. It allows you to use whatever shortcodes plugins you are already using. Any shortcodes available to you will show up when the Shortcodes icon is clicked. To edit the shortcode properties I could double-click it, or hover and click the pencil icon. Once the shortcode attributes are added, the shortcode is rendered and you can see the result right there. If I edit the attributes later, the change will also be rendered.
I then made a few edits to the text. I italicized a few words. PBS has a cool feature that allows navigating via the keyboard, and also has Undo / Redo either from the Inspector panel, or keyboard. So, I undid that change using CTRL-Z! How cool is that! Then I underlined them instead, and linked a few words elsewhere in the content.
I was happy with the changes, so I clicked the Save Changes button. If I hadn’t been happy, I would have just clicked Cancel.
At any time, you can change the Row or Column attributes from the Inspector, or add custom CSS to an element.
Editing A Post With Forge
Ok, that was Page Builder Sandwich. I then tried to make the same edits using CPOThemes Forge Front End Page Builder. I viewed the post I wanted to edit from the front end, and I could see the Forge Page Builder link in the admin bar. It’s not as noticeable as the one PBS uses, but I’m not sure that matters much.
Clicking it opened the Forge panel toolbar. It’s not as obvious either, and it took me a while to figure out that if I click in the Search Elements section, the panel expands down. I can either scroll through the available elements or start typing the name of an element to quickly jump to one. That works very well.
Here’s one main difference between Forge and Page Builder Sandwich. Forge comes with elements of its own, and more will be added in the future. That’s great on one hand. You know they will all work well with Forge since they are built for Forge. On the other hand, it also limits the elements you can use. PBS, on the other hand, comes with no elements, allowing you to use whichever shortcodes you are already using via other plugins. This greatly expands the choices, but the interface might not be as seamless.
So first I added my two-column row. I could immediately see that Forge has a few more column choices than Page Builder Sandwich did. And instead of just clicking, I dragged the Row element to the position I wanted in the content. The panel then showed just the attributes that are editable for the row itself. The rest of the panel options disappear. So far, so good.
I then clicked in the left column and added some text by dragging a Text Block to it. An editor window popped up. This is another fundamental difference between Forge and PBS. PBS purposely tries to eliminate as many popups as possible. Page Builder Sandwich is attempting to eliminate the endless interruptions to the flow of editing. Forge, on the other hand, like most page builders, relies on popups for editing tasks. I prefer the PBS way of just typing right into the content but you might prefer the popup editor, because it has the familiar feel of the WordPress editor.
I tried to add the Google Maps element that Forge mentions on its site, but it wasn’t in my list. Maybe it’s still in the works. So instead, I chose a Posts List element. Simple enough, and looked nice.
I made the same text edits, italicizing, underlining, and linking. It all worked well.
You should notice one thing. Although the post I was editing already had content from before, Forge doesn’t automatically show it in the front end editing view. To show and use any pre-existing content, you’ll need to drop the Content element into the layout. That works fine, but there’s one pretty significant problem with this method. The original content isn’t editable from Forge. I guess you’ll have to edit that portion from the backend, or, instead of displaying it, copy and paste the content into a new text element. Or maybe it’s just a bug that will be worked out soon enough.
One nice thing about Forge, is that even if you don’t publish the changes you make, it still remembers them if you exit via this icon. So you can stop, close things down, and come back a week from now, and pick up right where you left off. The public won’t see the changes you made until you publish them, but you’ll be able to see them in the Forge editor. If you’d rather just discard the changes you made, click Discard instead.
What’s the code look like afterwards?
Both produce cleanly styled divs with classes. Nothing jumped out at me as being bloated or odd.
So what’s the price?
Both PBS and Forge offer free versions of their plugins on wordpress.org. Of course, both also offer premium versions. Each is relatively “new” and I’d say in beta at the moment, so expect them both to be imperfect and buggy right now. But I found relatively few issues in my testing with either. Certainly no more so than any other plugin I’ve dealt with.
Page Builder Sandwich* premium version is running a special right now for $44.50. That’s 50% off the normal price of $89/year for unlimited sites. Plus, the one-year update won’t kick in until the plugin is out of beta, so you’ll get some extra time on the first “year” for updates and support.
Forge* premium version comes in 3 options. $59 for one site, $99 for 3 sites, and $199 for unlimited sites with one year of updates and support, with renewal at a discounted rate.
So the price is definitely better for Page Builder Sandwich than Forge, especially for unlimited sites. Both work well, in my opinion, and which you choose will probably come down to a matter of how you prefer to work. As far as I can tell, both work well with whatever theme you are using.
Note: Both also have Lite versions available from the WordPress plugin repository.
I’m excited to see the way things are going with front end editing plugins. Page Builder Sandwich is my favorite of the two because it can use any shortcodes, and editing is right inline, rather than via popups. Plus, the original post content is editable on the front end as well. But Forge is definitely a worthy contender, with some nice elements (and more to come), and I’ll probably use both for quite a while before I really decide which is best. Both are pretty great already.
*Disclaimer: Yes, this is an affiliate link.