In this in-depth Page Builder Framework review, we look at the free core theme – and the premium add-on plugin. How does Page Builder Framework compare vs alternatives like Astra, GeneratePress & OceanWP?
As the name suggests, Page Builder Framework is a flexible, lean WordPress theme framework, tailor-made for use with page builders like Beaver Builder, Elementor, Divi Builder, Thrive Architect, SiteOrigin, Brizy, et al.
As a theme framework – it’s a no-frills theme meant to serve as the foundation of your own, custom design – in the form of a Page Builder Framework child theme. This is not an all-singin’ all-dancin’ all-bells-n-whistles WordPress theme like Avada, Enfold, BeTheme, Salient, Jupiter, Bridge, Phlox and similar multi-purpose themes.
It’s two fundamentally different approaches – yet with the same goal: a website you’re happy with – a website that helps you achieve your goals.
(GeneratePress, Genesis, Page Builder Framework, OceanWP, Astra, etc)
(Avada, Enfold, BeTheme, Salient, Jupiter, Bridge, Phlox, etc)
|You start with a blank slate.||You get lots of fancy starting points.|
|What you want is up to you to create.||What you see is what you get.|
|Easy to customize.||Difficult to customize.|
|Faster, due to leaner code-base.||Slower, due to bloated code-base.|
|You activate only the features you need.||You deactivate and ignore unwanted, unnecessary features.|
|Less confusing user experience.||More confusing user experience.|
|Your site will fit your needs perfectly. No more, no less.||Your site may have needless fluff that was difficult to remove or too tempting to ignore. Like f.e. a team-page, despite being a two-person business.|
|Your site will reflect your personality/business uniquely and authentically.||Your site may look generic and feel impersonal. Fancy, but inauthentic.|
To fully understand Page Builder Framework, here’s a quote from an email correspondence I had with David Vongries (PBF lead developer), discussing PBF’s speed test results in a theme performance comparison I’d published:
One thing I want to highlight is, that PBF follows a slightly different approach than the others.
I’m trying to keep things as minimal as even possible but at the same time provide as much flexibility as needed.
Trying to keep it very bare-bones, following – what I call – the „framework approach“.David Vongries, Page Builder Framework lead developer
Cool. But how well does Page Builder Framework fare as a theme framework then? Let’s start with a look at its features: what it does – and doesn’t – do.
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- SIMPLICITY ☆ Is it intuitive and easy-to-use? Even if you had a hangover? And is it enjoyable to use?
- RELIABILITY ☆ Can you trust it? Is it stable / bug-free? And can you get help (videos, docs, support) if needed?
- FEATURES ☆ Does it meet your needs? Can it help you achieve your goals? And how is it different vs the alternatives?
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Features of Page Builder Framework
One of the first things you notice, when activating the Page Builder Framework Premium add-on plugin, are the Performance enhancement options:
- Compile inline CSS
- Remove Feed Links
- Remove RSD
- Remove wlwmanifest
- Remove Generator
- Remove Shortlink
- Disable Emojis
- Disable Embeds
- Remove jQuery Migrate
- Disable RSS Feed
These – and other recent performance improvements in Page Builder Framework, are a nice touch! Our sites can always use an extra speed boost, right?
Menus, Headers & Footers
With page builders and WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor taking care of page/content formatting and design, it’s important that your theme gives you plenty flexibility for the elements not handled by the page builder or Gutenberg: namely the footers and headers, incl. menus/navigation.
Page Builder Framework has quite powerful options for menus/navigation. I particularly like the centered logo menu, with menu items spread evenly on its left and right side. A design often seen on fashion, artist, portfolio, food websites, etc.
Some users may miss the ability to create a menu in a fixed, left-aligned column, as used by many web-apps and software. Perhaps with a “hamburger” show/hide option.
Page Builder Framework does have a similar type of menu, but it floats on top of the main content when shown/revealed, which isn’t quite the same.
Custom Sections & Hooks
When first encountering PBF’s Custom Sections, I thought they were similar to Page Headers in Astra Pro and Elements in GeneratePress (review).
I soon realized that wasn’t the case. No capabilities to create a fancy hero header with a large – perhaps parallaxed – background image.
Further research revealed that its bare-bones UI is intended for use with your preferred page builder – f.e. Beaver Builder or Elementor (or most other popular page builders).
Makes sense. This is Page Builder Framework, after all. Its approach is to let the page builder do what it does best – and let the theme handle the rest.
With Page Builder Framework’s Custom Sections, you can assign rows/templates built in your page builder – to various areas of your site. Like f.e. the header or footer. Or more than 50 other places, via hooks.
Hooks are always nice to have, in a WordPress theme; and Page Builder Framework has hooks galore – letting you customize the site’s look and behavior, via the Custom Sections feature – or (if you’re code-savvy) via the functions.php file in your child theme.
There’s a handy link in the admin bar that expose all the available hooks for that specific page. Nifty!
Custom Sections are deceptively simple. They’re powerful! With them, you can use your page builder to design all kinds of stuff, that go all kinds of places. No coding required.
You could f.e. create an email opt-in box, or author info box, and place it right after your blog post content. The possibilities of your page builder is vastly expanded.
And the conditional display rules will let you leave out certain sections on certain pages or posts, only displaying them to certain users (f.e. those who are logged-in or logged-out) and so much more.
Astra Pro has a similar feature: Custom Layouts. And it is slightly tastier and easier to use than Page Builder Framework’s approach. Just as powerful, yet more intuitive for new users to figure out.
Plus, for codeless ease, Astra Pro’s Page Headers feature (similar to GeneratePress’ Elements feature) lets you create impressive hero headers for your posts and pages, with very little effort.
So, if you value such a page header feature, GeneratePress or Astra Pro may be more suitable for you.
Individual layout settings for each of WordPress’ blog related views:
- Blog index page
- Category archives
- Tag archives
- Author archives
- Date archives
- Search results
Useful feature! On search result pages, you may only want the titles and excerpts displayed – without featured images.
Whereas, on the blog index page (front page or main blog page) you may want posts arranged in 3 columns, with each post’s featured image, as well as some meta-data, such as the category the post belongs to, as well as its tags – but without a text excerpt (opposed to the search result pages).
Category and tag archives are also worth dedicated layouts. They can be useful SEO assets, targeting the category (keyword) by aggregating the posts from that particular category (or tag). For this purpose, we need the title and excerpt displayed, just as on search result pages – but perhaps also with the featured image added, to spice things up.
Such capabilities in Page Builder Framework improve the user experience for your visitors. Don’t overlook it. Use it!
Page Builder Framework has special treats for WooCommerce users. So much so, that WooCommerce users could end up feeling downright spoiled! Below, I’ve highlighted a few of the best WooCommerce features in PBF.
Cart menu item
For beautiful integration of your WooCommerce cart, Page Builder Framework lets you easily include it in your main menu navigation.
The icon can even be either a Cart, Basket or Bag. I really like that! The right icon is important, semantically and branding-wise.
A shopping cart icon makes sense for a health food shop, but not for a fashion or beauty shop, where a shopping bag or basket icon is a better match, style-wise. A shopping cart icon would feel too “Walmarty”.
You can also customize the text next to the cart icon, and whether item count and monetary amount is shown.
Easy product search
Another cool WooCommerce feature of PBF, is restricting the search field to only search in products. That’s useful for ecommerce sites that don’t want blog posts and regular pages cluttering the search results.
When a shopper searches for a product, there’s no reason to include blog posts and pages in the search results, right?
Powerful styling of WooCommerce pages
Page Builder Framework also has flexible styling options for the main WooCommerce shop page, the product category pages, and the checkout page. The latter can even be made Distraction Free at the flip of a switch. Neat – and profitable:)
Read about the other cool WooCommerce features, like f.e. Quick View Gallery, Native Cart Popup, Infinite Scroll, Off-Canvas Sidebar, and more, on the official PBF website which goes into more detail than I can here.
Simplicity of Page Builder Framework
How easy is Page Builder Framework to use? Let’s look into that next!
Simplicity is an area in which Page Builder Framework aims to excel.
To keep the UI neat and less intimidating, Page Builder Framework hides advanced options, until you switch them on, as needed.
While it’s clear PBF does a lot to simplify things, it’s not always as intuitive as it could be.
One example is menu typography. Letter-spacing for menu items – is set in the Customizer’s Typography > Menu section. But spacing between menu items, and their font size – is set in the Header > Navigation section. That’s messy and confusing.
Another example, is setting the color of text links. We’d expect this setting to be labeled something like… Link Color… right? And probably found in the Typography section… right? Nope. Not so!
Turns out it’s labeled Accent Color – and not found in the Typography section… but in the General section.
Unintuitive, and something I’ve seen confuse other PBF-users.
Typography-related settings should be located in the Typography section. Or the Color section. But not in the General section.
Yet, it’s likely a deliberate design choice, to simplify Page Builder Framework by using a global accent color for things that need to stand out. Links included.
And that is a sensible design choice, encouraging the use of a single accent color, for things that are important or clickable.
I’d like to see more of that, in Page Builder Framework – and WordPress themes in general: conscious design choices made by the developer, that make it easier for less design-savvy users to get good results while minimizing the risk of poor design.
Reliability of Page Builder Framework
Page Builder Framework is actively developed, with regular updates to both the Page Builder Framework theme and the premium add-on plugin. It’s clear that David Vongries (the PBF lead developer) is 100% committed. And that’s important!
Buying into a premium WordPress theme is an investment in the foundation of your website – hopefully for years to come. If your chosen theme is abandoned, you’ll eventually have to migrate to another theme. A time-wasting, laborious task that is to be avoided. Fortunately that’s not likely with Page Builder Framework.
Page Builder Framework also passed all theme checks that WordPress themes must adhere to. You’d be surprised how many themes don’t!
Further testing and code evaluation did reveal a few things ripe for improvement. I notified the developer and quickly received a reassuring reply that he’ll look into it asap.
In that context, his gracious reaction to a theme speed comparison I published, deserves quotation here, despite being from a private email correspondence we had, discussing the results:
Actually, I was quite surprised how Page Builder Framework ranked when the blog post was published. We expected it to be pretty close to the top.
So, we took this as motivation and optimized every single piece of code during the release of 2.0. In fact, we were able to save quite a few database requests and optimized the entire codebase.
As should be clear from the above, David is very performance-oriented, open to feedback, and proactive in addressing feedback.
I’ve linked to the mentioned post in the quote above, as it’s worth a read for you too. Especially if you’re considering Astra Pro vs Page Builder Framework! I even giggled a bit when I read it:)
Overall, Page Builder Framework is a stable theme you can trust.
Verdict: is Page Builder Framework worth it?
Page Builder Framework is a good, page builder friendly theme. Yet there are slightly better alternatives available in this highly competitive space.
That said, Page Builder Framework currently has 66 5-star reviews on WordPress.org. That’s solid proof of its popularity. And with ZERO lesser rated reviews of 4 stars or less – it’s also a remarkable testament to its reliability.
It’s a good theme, backed by a serious developer. Just make sure it does what you need – and look into the alternatives if unsure!
How about you? Have you tried Page Builder Framework? Liked it? Or do you prefer other themes like Astra Pro, GeneratePress, Genesis, OceanWP – or some other theme? Let us know:) Share your voice in the comments below!