WordPress is well-known as a user-friendly platform. Its editing interface is easy to learn, and streamlines the process of creating content. However, in some ways the WordPress editor is almost too simplified, which has led many people to look for alternative solutions.
This is where page builders come into the picture. Also known as ‘site builders’ or ‘website editors’, page builder plugins provide you with an editing interface that is more visual, intuitive, and feature-rich. While there are a lot of these plugins out there, Visual Composer is far and away the most popular.
Of course, popularity isn’t everything. So let’s take a close look at the Visual Composer plugin, and see if it lives up to the hype. We’ll start with the basics!
An Introduction to Visual Composer
As we mentioned above, page builders are incredibly popular tools. With the default WordPress editor, you’re limited in how much you can alter your content’s appearance and layout. In addition, many users want the option to add more types of features to their pages, posts, and other content types.
Like all page builders, Visual Composer is designed to resolve these problems:
It replaces the basic WordPress editor with a drag-and-drop interface, enabling you to design your content more freely. You’ll use a wide variety of unique modules to add text, media, and other features to your pages and posts. What’s more, you can customize each of these modules to look and function the way you want.
Before we look at Visual Composer’s features in more detail, let’s clear up one potential area of confusion. You may run across a plugin created by the same developers, called WPBakery Page Builder. This shares a lot of its functionality with Visual Composer, but is actually a separate product.
WPBakery Page Builder only enables you to edit and create content. In contrast, Visual Composer can help you design your entire site – including headers, footers, and sidebars. For the purposes of this review, we’ll be focusing solely on Visual Composer.
Visual Composer’s Key Features
We’ve already described what Visual Composer can do in a general sense. In the next section, we’ll be taking a first-hand look at how this plugin actually works. Before that, however, let’s review the features it provides.
Visual Composer offers a wide range of functionality, enabling you to:
- Design your website and its content using a drag-and-drop page editor.
- Start from scratch, or kick-start your designs using the many included templates.
- Choose from a wide range of elements to add features to your content, ranging from simple text and image blocks to buttons and e-commerce pricing tables.
- Edit and customize any element, altering its characteristics (colors, fonts, sizes, locations, etc).
- Use custom CSS to tweak your elements and designs further, or create your own with the developer API.
These are just the major highlights. In addition, Visual Composer should work seamlessly with any theme. It’s also translation-ready, responsive, and supports multisite. Overall, Visual Composer is a complete-package plugin if you’re looking for a more powerful and intuitive way to work on your WordPress site.
A Hands-On Review of Visual Composer
At this point, it’s time to see Visual Composer in action. Below, we’re going to walk through the process of setting up and using Visual Composer.
We should note that we’ll be using the premium version of the plugin – we’ll talk about the differences between it and the free version later on. Let’s jump right in!
Setting Up Visual Composer
As we pointed out earlier, some themes already have a version of Visual Composer built in. If you’re using a premium theme, therefore, it’s worth checking to see if you already have access to this tool.
If not, you’ll need to purchase and download Visual Composer. Then, install and activate it on your site like any other WordPress plugin. It shouldn’t matter what theme you’re using – Visual Composer should work regardless.
Next, you’ll need to create a Visual Composer account:
You’ll be prompted to confirm your account, and activate your license key. Then, you’ll need to wait for a few minutes while all of the plugin’s assets are downloaded to your website:
After that, you’ll see an overlay giving you the option to create a new page:
However, you can simply click away from this screen to return to your WordPress dashboard. You’ll have a bunch of new options now, so let’s check out what you can do.
Creating a New Page Using Visual Composer
If you create a page or post now, you’ll see a new option:
You can use the Add New button to create content using the regular WordPress editor, or select Add New with Visual Composer to use the drag-and-drop editor instead. Selecting the latter will take you to an entirely new interface:
You can choose a template to get started with, which can help you design your content more quickly. Alternately, you can begin with a completely blank page. For now, we’ll stick with the latter approach:
You’ll see a row of icons at the top of the screen. At this point, you’re free to start designing your page. For example, you can add columns to it. By clicking inside one of those columns, you can then add a new element:
As we covered earlier, Visual Composer elements are modules that let you add specific types of content to your pages, posts, and so on. With most of them, it’s pretty obvious what they do right from their names. For instance, the Text Block (naturally) enables you to enter text:
In the left-hand menu, you’ll see a familiar editor, where you can add and modify the text itself. However, you can also use the Design Options to change the element’s margins and padding, add a background color or image, and more:
The customization choices you’ll see will depend entirely on the element in question. As another example, let’s check out the Basic Button element:
You can include the text that will appear on your button, add a link, change its appearance and size, and so on. This is one of the nice things about Visual Composer – it eliminates the need to install a lot of extra plugins on your site (for example, you won’t need a plugin for creating buttons anymore).
This same process can be used to design pages, posts, and other content types. There’s a lot more you can do, but you’ll find that the interface is intuitive enough that you can start building out your content right away. Of course, if you do need help, the developers offer some pretty comprehensive documentation.
When you’re done working on a piece of content, you can use the icons in the bottom-left corner to publish it, or save it as a draft. That’s really all there is to it!
Designing Other Site Elements with Visual Composer
If you’ll remember, we mentioned earlier that this plugin lets you design more than just your site’s content. If you check out the new Visual Composer tab in your dashboard, you’ll find options to create headers, footers, and sidebars:
Let’s just look at the Headers section as an example, since all three work similarly. Selecting the Add Header button will take you back into the Visual Composer editor:
First, you’ll give your header a name. This won’t be seen by your website’s visitors, so you’ll want to make it descriptive. Then, you’ll be able to access the editor proper:
For the most part, this works exactly the same as the process we described above. You can now add columns, place and customize elements, and so on. The only difference is that your additions will be confined to the header section of your site. You’ll be able to see your changes applied in real time.
Just as before, you can save or publish your header when you’re done here, and check it out on the front end of your site. The same goes for footers and sidebars. This gives you a great deal of control over your site’s layout and appearance.
As you can probably tell, we found Visual Composer simple to get started with. In fact, its ease of use is pretty impressive, considering how many features it offers.
The editor could stand to make it a little more obvious what each part does – all you’ll see is icons, rather than labels, which can be a bit confusing at first. Other than that, however, Visual Composer makes creating content a breeze.
In particular, the sheer number of elements and customization options on offer is incredibly useful, as is the option to design other parts of your site using the same editor. This is a great way to keep your site’s entire look consistent, while not sacrificing any amount of control.
Visual Composer’s Pricing and Licensing Options
Before we wrap up, let’s talk briefly about pricing. You can get Visual Composer in two main varieties – free and premium.
The free version includes the drag-and-drop editor for content types, as well as a hefty library of elements. You’ll also get access to pre-built templates, and all of the editor’s other key features. If your needs aren’t too complex, you can do a lot with the free plugin.
For the complete feature set, however, you’ll need a premium license:
There are three tiers, but each includes the same set of features and options. The only difference is how many sites you’ll be able to use the plugin on. For one site, you’ll pay $59. Alternately, you can spend $149 to get a three-site license, or $349 to use Visual Composer on unlimited sites.
The premium versions give you access to the header, sidebar, and footer builders, along with additional layouts, templates, and elements. If you want the widest range of options for designing your site, and you can afford a single-site license, these extras are well worth the cost for most users.
At the end of the day, Visual Composer is a plugin that really does live up to the hype. It provides a far more flexible and powerful editing experience than you’ll get by default on your WordPress site. Yet it makes using its editor simple, so anyone can create complex layouts and features.
Visual Composer is one of those plugins that’s useful to just about everyone. If you’ve ever found yourself wanting more control over the way your content looks and functions, it’s at least worth your time to check out the free version. Visual Composer is straightforward enough for beginners, but offers plenty of advanced functionality for developers too.
Have you ever used Visual Composer, and what were your own impressions of it? Share your experiences in the comments section below!
Image credit: Scott Lewis.
About Will Morris
Will Morris is a staff writer at WordCandy. When he’s not writing about WordPress, he likes to gig his stand-up comedy routine on the local circuit.