Advanced WordPress plugins – Theme builder (2019 Edition)

In December of last year, I made a list of WordPress essential plugins for 2019; this is a follow-up list of advanced WordPress plugins for more advanced users or developers that want to use some Rapid Application Development tools such as a theme builder.

If you find WordPress or your theme to restrictive, here are a few plug-ins that may help you overcome most limitations found in the WordPress basic installation and themes.

These plug-ins do not require any in-depth knowledge of PHP, HTML, CSS or JavaScript but I highly recommend that you arm yourself with a basic understanding of programming in these languages.

Before I begin my list, you need to understand the difference between a page builder and a theme builder and have a deeper understanding of themes.

A word on themes

What is a WordPress theme? A WordPress theme, in its most basic form, includes all the layout templates, colours, fonts and any other elements for your site.

A theme is required with a theme builder; this is because WordPress cannot function without it. If you opt to use a theme builder, consider using a minimalistic theme.

Fair warning, many themes come with custom post types and functionality baked into the theme core; if you use these, you may face serious problems changing themes later on.
Using a basic theme with quality plugins will overcome any of these issues in the future. There are free themes that are designed to be used with a page or theme builder such as Astra, GeneratePressOceanWP and Phlox to name a few. These themes have extra functionality and often carry additional components for the page builder; for example, Phlox Pro comes with an array of elements for Elementor and a host of other plug-ins.

They are all excellent, so you may ask why I do not use any? The problem with these themes is the fact they come packed with extra functionalities; if you wish to change your theme later, you are at risk of losing that functionality.

What now?

Oddly enough, starting by choosing a theme builder is the right approach. Usually, these builders come with a basic theme, and you can start creating your layout the way you want it. I must also point out that the themes above and some of the add-ons discussed below have importable templates built for theme builders that can be customised allowing for a fast start or help you with creative ideas. If you are using Elementor, there is also the Envato Elements plugin which has hundreds of free templates.

I have opted to use one of two very simple themes, namely Kava Pro for which a free version is available, and the Elementor Hello Theme which is built and maintained by Elementor and is free, both of these themes are more suited making your custom theme from the ground up.

The difference between Page and ​Theme builders

A page builder allows you to customise the content of any page or post that you create whereas a theme builder will allow you to create templates for any post types which include header and footer across your site. In its essence the new WordPress editor Gutenburg is a page editor, so was the Classic editor. There are a few around that have more or fewer customisation abilities, Elementor (Free), Visual Composer, WPBakery and many more.

With a theme builder and a custom posts and post type tool, your imagination is nearly the limits.

I use a theme builder called Elementor Pro; there are others on the market have a look at Beaver Builder, Divi Builder and Oxygen to name a few popular ones.

My theme builder of Choice: Elementor

Elementor is a free “what you see is what you get” page builder and with over 2 million active installs, how can you go wrong? Elementor allows you to customise any post or page using elements from its extensible library. This may not sound like much but considering that nearly every posts and page on this website are tailored for its content, it becomes rather impressive. The free version lacks dynamic content and custom fields integration which allows the builder to access custom fields but more on that later.

Elementor Add-Ons

We cannot talk about Elementor without discussing some of its add-ons, here are some of my favourite add-on premium packs:

Starting at $49 per year for 1 website

Elementor pro is an add-on for Elementor transforming Elementor into a fully fledged theme builder, the list of additional elements and functionality is ever growing.
For me the most important are:

  • Full theme builder functionality with the creation of headers, footers, pages, posts and custom posts conditional templates.
  • The ability to use custom posts types and custom fields
  • The ability to create custom popups
  • The integration into WooCommerce
  • And a wide range of other visual elements and features.

If you are going to use custom posts, custom fields or WooCommerce Elementor Pro is a must.

Starting at $49 per year for 1 website

Crocoblock is probably one of the best-rounded add-ons to Elementor and Elementor pro.
It comes with an array of features from elements for Elementor to templates allowing you to have a headstart.
Some of my favourite plug-ins from CrocoBlok are:

  • JetMenu, to create mega menus using Elementor.
  • JetTricks, to create Tooltips, unfolding columns and sticky elements.
  • JetSearch is a customisable ajax search box.
  • JetThemeCore is a collection of readymade pages and elements which can be useful when you get creatively stuck.

It is worth noting that though CrocoBlock includes all the JetPlugin and Kava Pro, they are available individually through Envato Market

Starting at 26€ per year for 1 website

Elementor Extras 2 has the usual Elementor add-ons such as maps, unfold, posts and timelines and may initially seem a waste if you own another well-rounded add-on to Elementor.
This is until you look at a few of the elements more carefully.

  • Google Maps allows you to add multiple points and route between them.
  • Age gate is out of the box, no complications

But the one that makes this add-on essential is not a visible add-on, it is called “Display Conditions” this allows you to display or hide block based on login status, user roles, dates, page, taxonomy, post type and much more. There are other plugins like this one but none that allow so many conditions and multiple conditions as of the time of writing this article. It is very good at managing block conditions and is ideal for membership sites of any sorts. As of today, it does not handle field conditions.

Elementor Extras

Starting at $24 once off fee  for 1 website from Envato Market or $99 per year for unlimited websites

Element Pack has a host of elements and extra functionality for Elementor and various 3rd party widgets; it is another well-rounded option.
Element pack comes with very flexible elements, and unlike many other plugins, it’s custom post types for FAQ, Portfolio and Testimonials come in separate plugins. This means that you may decide to stop using it and you will not lose data. Like CrocoBlok it comes with a free theme called Rooten as well as a few pre-made pages and blocks.

More specialised

The few following Elementor plugins are more specialised but still worth mentioning

Elementor’s post and post archive layout elements are limited to its presets.  CrocoBlock, Extras and Element Pack have a bit more but still, do not allow you to do custom layouts, this is where this free add-on shines. It allows you to override the default post grids using Elementor elements.

DynamicConditions for Elementor is a field, including custom fields, level conditional system to show or hide elements. It has some of the functionality of “Display Conditions” from Elementor Extras, but they are more complementary than competitors. It is handy to hide empty fields or create a dynamic template to show and hide parts on a true/false condition, but it is far more potent than that.

I will be talking about Toolset, my prefered Field and Custom Post Type plug-in in a future article. If you want to go beyond the WordPress default data types, a plug-in or WordPress and PHP code knowledge are needed.

The plug-ins discussed in this post do not resolve all of the problems that WordPress designers face; in the end analysis, nothing will beat the raw power of coding. However, these advanced WordPress plugins go a long way to overcome close to all of the problems you may face designing and maintaining a more advanced WordPress site.

As for the Elementor add-on packs, you do not need all of them, choose one pack and stick with it, if you want to build advanced websites you will need Elementor Pro.
CrocoBlock is probably the largest in terms of features, Element Pack has some features that you may use every day and Extras comes with pleasant surprises, but all have the same basic features.

The plan is to create a demo site with video tutorials to demonstrate the power of each of these tools soon, which will include some tips on creating a responsive layout in Elementor.

I use these plug-ins daily; in fact, a lot of these are used to create this website.

Some of the links in this page are affiliate links and the money made will go towards giving you better content at no additional cost to you.

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