Excellent question, Tara, and one that we’re hearing with increasing regularity as the WordPress block editor (code-named, “Gutenberg”) continues to evolve and mature.
The short answer is that the WordPress block editor allows you to build beautiful content layouts using blocks. It will eventually be powerful enough to create any type of layout can imagine. But, as of today, it’s still no match for the flexibility provided by third-party page builder plugins.
This brief video provides an introduction to Gutenberg. With each release of WordPress, Gutenberg continues to evolve, adding new features, blocks, and ease of use. Today, you can build any type of page layout you can imagine using the provided blocks. And, you can install third-party plugins to add even more blocks to the Block Editor.
But today, those blocks can only be used within the primary content area of a page or post. You cannot create headers or footers, using blocks.
But you can use Block Patterns, which are pre-built collections of blocks you can use to quickly create complex page layouts — and even re-use those layouts across multiple pages or posts you create down the road. Think of them as ready-made, one-click, page layouts.
When WordPress 5.7 is released in March of 2021, it will bring a powerful new feature called “full site editing.” With full site editing, blocks may be used in other places on your WordPress site, including the header, the footer, or the sidebar.
It will also bring the ability to simply drag and drop blocks wherever you want them to appear on your page.
In time, it’s easy to imagine that the default editor in WordPress will enable you to build just about any type of site design you can imagine, without ever touching a line of code.
WordPress page builder plugins, on the other hand, are robust design tools that allow you to create completely custom website designs today.
They include ready-made templates you can use with just a click, offering a lot more design flexibility than Gutenberg offers today.
One key difference is that some page builders offer live editing, which is a much better experience than the back-end editor in WordPress. When you edit a post or page in Gutenberg, what you see on the screen is not an actual live preview of that post or page. Rather, the Gutenberg editor does its best to depict what your content will look like when it’s published.
On the other hand, page builder plugins provide an actual live preview of your page as you edit it. You can see precisely how your content will appear before you save and publish the page.
Page builders also generally offer more flexibility and options for styling your content. While Gutenberg allows you to modify the background colors of certain blocks, use gradients, adjust the width of elements, and so on, page builders go further, also allowing you to change fonts, modify the line height, and much, much more.
Gutenberg helps site owners create media-rich page layouts and content. But page builders enable you to create entire site designs, which is why they’re used by small businesses, WordPress designers and agencies, to create ecommerce stores, or landing pages that increase sales, boost subscribers, and much more.
There is one critical warning you should consider before committing to a third-party page builder plugin. Layouts you create in a page builder are not portable. You cannot simply explore or import page layouts from one page builder to another.
And, if you ever choose to move away from your current page builder plugin, your page layouts and custom design elements will break, resulting in the underlying shortcodes and other proprietary code snippets being displayed to your site’s visitors, instead of your beautiful site design.
Once you commit to a particular page builder plugin, you’re stuck with it for the long-haul. The only solution (as of today) is to re-build every page layout, being careful to match the earlier design you put all that hard work into.
For this reason, we recommend new users stick to the default WordPress block editor (for now). If I were building a new site today, I would attempt to build it using only the blocks that ship with WordPress — and only resort to third-party solutions for specific features that aren’t supported by WordPress itself.
On the other hand, if you’re a WordPress professional, creating websites for clients, you would likely be better served by committing to a robust third-party page builder plugin with ready-made templates and full site editing that you can use today. You’ll also find that each page builder has a tremendous community of fellow users who can provide support, share tips, and add-ons they’ve developed to extend those platforms.
This coming year will bring a ton of new features to WordPress, including full site editing, more options for customization, collaboration for teams, multi-lingual support, and much more.
Hope this long-winded answer helps you understand the differences between Gutenberg and third-party page builder plugins, and that you’re better equipped to decide whether you should commit to a particular page builder, or stick to the default WordPress editor as it continues to evolve and mature into a robust site building solution.