In this straight-talk Divi theme review (which will soon be updated to Divi 4!), we look at the pros and cons of a popular but troubled WordPress Page Builder. Divi ain’t dumb, it’s just a theme with an attitude. Why? Read on!
When Google in early 2015 announced that “website mobile-friendliness” would soon be included as an SEO ranking signal in Google’s ever-changing algorithm, I emailed those of my web design clients whose websites were not passing Google’s Mobile-Friendly test, to notify them of the imminent ranking changes, and what could be done, to dodge negative impact.
SEO being important to most website owners, they all wanted something done about it. Two even decided they wanted a total redesign done.
One of the websites was built in PressWork, a free WordPress page builder that later got discontinued. The other website was built in Thesis 1.8.5 – also known as Thesis Classic – not the controversial Thesis 2.0 rewrite.
While a Thesis 1.8.5 website can be made responsive (Alex Mangini of Kolakube fame did a great job) I took the redesign project as an opportunity to choose a new theme, better matching my client’s current needs and wishes.
But which theme? Let’s look at the requirements of my client – the one with the Thesis 1.8.6 website.
PTCC is a nationwide Practical Tai Chi Chuan martial arts association. Their most essential need, was for the individual clubs to have individual sub-pages, each with their own, adaptable layout – and one that they could themselves edit, easily.
So I wanted a WordPress theme with a client-friendly page builder, and it had to be one in which I could assign each club specific permissions to only edit the layout of their own individual page.
First choice: the great Headway theme?
Headway is unique in the WordPress page builder space. It’s the only theme that lets you design your dream website, zero coding skills required! You do need persistence and a willingness to learn, though!
Yes, Headway is indeed a great tool… for (albeit aspiring) web designers. Client-friendly… not really. I’ve tried giving a few clients access to Headway’s Visual Editor. It’s usually been a mistake. 1-2-3: and something’s been messed up.
I looked around for alternatives, and Elegant Themes’ popular Divi theme is one I’ve wanted to make a real, alive’n’kicking website with, for a long time.
The Divi theme could give each individual Tai Chi club instructor an easy way to layout their pages, without fooling around with design elements like fonts, margins, padding, etc. Stuff non-design-savvy clients should never have access to.
Divi seemed like the perfect theme for our project. But was it? Read on!
Divi – a theme with an attitude!
Despite Divi’s relatively young age (released in late 2013, now already at version 2.5.3) it’s a theme with a history – and it’s one of controversy.
Divi is in many ways a strange theme.
In fact, Divi isn’t really isn’t much of a theme at all. What makes Divi be Divi – is its page builder. As a theme, Divi is pretty average. Borderline mediocre, to be honest! Divi is like the popular Visual Composer plugin + a very simple theme.
As such, Divi isn’t truly template-based, like f.e. the Headway theme is. You’re building your layouts on a page-by-page (or post-by-post) basis. Yes, you can save these layouts to Divi’s library, and reuse/apply them to other pages and posts. But you can’t just assign a “Blog” template to your blog posts, and have all blog posts use it. The latter is smart, because you can change the layout of all posts/pages just by editing the template, in one quick swoosh. Boom, everything’s changed. Done!
In this sense, Divi is a much more manual affair, best suited for relatively small websites. The best use case for Divi would be for an artist’s website, with all pages designed independently, to suit the content on each page. Contrarily, the worst use case of Divi, would be for a large corporate business website.
The Divi controversy
What’s been so controversial, is the way the dear Divi theme creates its impressive page layouts. Technically, under-the-hood, Divi does its job; using shortcodes. As long as Divi is your active theme, these shortcodes will be replaced with your intended layout.
But – and this is a big but (not butt… you don’t want a big butt, do you?) – should you ever decide to leave Hotel California aka Hotel Divi: you’ll be in for a nasty surprise!
“You can checkout any time you’d like… But you can never leave!”
The Eagles – Hotel California (lyrics)
As long as you’re using Divi, there’s no problem. Beware: should you ever decide to switch theme at some point in the future, your dear content will be soaked in a sea of shortcodes.
We’re not talking “a few shortcodes here and there” – we’re talking massive shortcode pollution to an extent that will make your web site look like, well… a giant “waste disposal” site. Not nice.
Some have argued that this isn’t a problem. I couldn’t disagree more! This is all your content (pages and posts where you’ve used the Divi page builder) entangled in shortcodes, like an ancient, Egyptian mummy, wrapped in crap, from head to toe. Forever.
Being tied to Divi might still be good for you though!
That said, it can actually be a blessing in disguise. How’s that? Well, too many WordPress users switch themes as often as they buy new outfits. But a website isn’t a Barbie doll. It’s the vehicle that lets you deliver what you are offering to the world. It’s a reflection of you (or your company) – and as such, it shouldn’t change much, fundamentally. Just like YOU. Your outfit may change, yet you’re still the same you, broadly speaking.
Yes, your website design should be updated every now and then, but in more of an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, fashion. Being tied to a theme like Divi, might be good for you, then! Your brand will be more consistent, you’ll be investing more time refining your website, than wasting time, redoing and redesigning, year after year. And, you’ll have more time to focus on creating high-quality content!
Still, sacrificing your content in trust of the Gods at Elegant Themes, really is a choice you should be very conscious about!
To alleviate this widespread critique, Elegant Themes (makers of Divi) announced a Divi Builder Plugin, that can be used with any WordPress theme.
Problem solved? Partially. What if you’d like to stop using the Divi Page Builder plugin, for whatever reason?
Beaver Builder, a strong Divi theme challenger, is an example of a WordPress page builder that cleans up nicely after itself, should you ever switch to another solution. See? It can be done!
All that being said, I was still keen on using Divi for the Tai Chi site I was about to get working on. The new Divi Role Editor features were just what I needed, to simplify the interface for my non-tech-savvy clients.
Yet, another unexpected obstacle got in my way…
Divi speaks your language – it seems
According to Elegant Themes’ sales page, Divi is “100% Translated into 32 Languages“. I joyfully thought “Great!” and installed Divi.
Little did I know what was to follow…
Divi no hablo Danish – at all
However, the Danish Divi translation is so frickin’ bad, it’s useless. Worse than had it been made with Google Translate! How’s that even possible??
I tried lots of stuff to permanently get rid of this horrible translation of Divi. I could of course just delete the Danish localization files from Divi’s /lang/ folder, but I wanted an update-proof way, so I never had to deal with it again. No matter what I tried, the uselessly lame translation stayed in place. A support ticket later confirmed that there’s no way to get rid of the translation! I’d be stuck with a theme UI in what can best be described as hopelessly bad Danish. Not just the actual words are wrong – the grammar is down-right sloppy.
Frankly, this p****d me off, big-time. Divi had let me down.
Naturally (and regrettably) I decided to look around for a better choice.
Thrive Architect vs Divi
I looked heavily into Thrive Architect from Thrive Themes. Its intuitive WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) preview is quite impressive! So much so in fact, that there is no preview – what you see is truly what you get, with Thrive Architect. Not so with Divi. Designing a website with Divi, still happens in WordPress’ content editor.
Thrive Architect is definitely on my to-do list for a thorough review soon!
However, I found the Thrive page builder a bit complex, from a client-standpoint. So I turned towards a raunchy lil’ fella with big teeth:
Beaver Page Builder (read review) vs Divi
In the end, Beaver Builder won me over with its deceptively simple UI, packing an extensive feature set.
How did it go? Well, I’ll save my Beaver Builder experiences for my next blog post (now live) where I dive into both Beaver Page Builder and the optional Beaver Builder theme – the combo I ended up using for my client’s Tai Chi association website.
Well, this was my long-overdue Divi theme review. Have you tried Divi, Thrive Architect or Beaver Page Builder? Please share your thoughts below! Questions are also welcome – speak up:)