Title pretty much sums up my feelings about this plugin.
The whole Internet had already let out a collective “WTF!?” over the brain-hemorrhage-inducing stupidity of renaming WPBakery from Visual Composer, and then calling this plugin Visual Composer. Thanks to this madness you will never, EVER find anything useful online by searching for this plugin’s name. Everything you find will be legacy articles about WPBakery Page Builder (from when it was still called Visual Composer) or modern stuff for WPBakery PageBuilder with “formerly Visual Composer” tacked onto the title. So good luck finding useful community documentation, plugins, articles, news, etc. Even if it exists you’re never going to find it.
I bought into this plugin as a developer, and paid for the developer licence at several hundred euros a year. I’ve deployed it across a large number of varied websites, and I thoroughly regret that decision. I’ve been using VC for well over two years so I’ve given it a really fair trial, and I’ve spoken to support on many occasions. Rest assured I’m not someone who’s only used it for 5 minutes and then given up, I know this plugin inside and out, including the premium features, I’ve used it across a wide range of websites over a long period of time, and I’m warning you to AVOID this plugin if you have any respect for your sanity.
First off let me say that this review WOULD be a glowing one if the plugin was reliable enough to be used in a production setting. It really does have one of the best user interfaces of any page/site-builder plugin, and comes with a number of very powerful features out of the box. There are many features that could make VC a joy to use, and it’s not too difficult to train customers on how to make minor changes to their website.
So why the one star review?
Undoubtedly I will get a reply to this review from Visual Composer claiming their plugin is ready for production but let me be very clear here: as a web developer with just shy of twenty years of commercial experience (and many MANY more as a hobbyist), I can tell you that this plugin is absolutely NOT FIT FOR USE IN A PRODUCTION ENVIRONMENT.
I have never had to contact a support team as often as I have had to with this plugin.
Build a page of even moderate complexity and the editor gets incredibly slow. Admittedly this has improved recently, but it’s still not great. Casual users might not be bothered, but designers need to churn through pages all day. When it can take up to 30 seconds between clicks on buttons and the expected action occurring, it becomes impossible to use.
The plugin, for whatever reason, also mysteriously deactivates itself on a regular basis. On one website in particular I have reactivated the plugin SIX TIMES already today. Nothing in the logs, no explanation as to why, it just vanishes. I reactivate it and it works again, until such time that it deactivates itself yet again. That might be in 1 minute or in 1 month. I have no way of knowing when it will happen or why.
That’s something of a common theme with Visual Composer. It works for a bit, until it doesn’t: things that work this week will break next week. Things that you fixed last week, after the last breakage, will break again next week in a brand new way. Things that you had to redo in a completely different way to work around some weird new bug will stop working after a few weeks with no more workarounds available. That’s just for fairly normal everyday use of the plugin, nothing especially advanced. Just using the normal everyday features of the plugin.
It’s now a fairly normal everyday occurrence for me to receive calls from customers telling me their website is a garbled mess. When I visit the site, sure enough, the entire site is a mess of missing and broken content. Edit the page, however, and all looks fine. Save it, and everything’s back to normal once again as if nothing ever happened. Easy fix, sure, but this is a scenario that should NEVER occur! What other website turns itself inside out on a regular basis, without anyone touching it?
Other times whole blocks of content will change colour and style when a feature that didn’t exist at design time gets added in and decides it knows best for the colour scheme. The Font Manager feature, in particular, is an underwhelming new feature that causes nothing but headaches for designers and developers. I’m constantly having to revisit finished websites to change the colour of text that has magically turned itself white on a white background, rendering it invisible. Or fix up styles that were correct at sign-off but now have arbitrarily changed size, font, colour, alignment, letter-spacing, or decoration.
Speaking of the font manager, there’s no way to actually add your own fonts through it. So it’s not so much of a font manager as a weird and annoying enforcer of the Roboto font and unwanted text colours and styles.
Trying to remove Roboto from your website with VC installed is virtually impossible. Every time I think I’ve removed it I find another instance somewhere else. It’s like playing Splat-A-Rat with fonts. Even if you actually WANT Roboto it’s not even that easy to use the font manager to create the styles you want on your website. Override the font manager through CSS and you’ll be golden… for a few weeks, when someone adds in an unnecessary !important tag or changes the selector chain to be more specific than your override. Expect to constantly revisit websites to fix up things you already fixed because the font manager is constantly changing its behaviour.
What I DO want, as a designer, is the ability to define a colour pallette and allowed fonts for the website and, ideally, enforce their use by the customer. No sign of any features like that though! Colour management is a case of maintaining your own external document of colour hex codes and copying and pasting them in where needed, like we’re stuck in 1998. There’s a “recenty used colours” feature which basically never has the colours I need in it. It’s a hopelessly useless feature.
Add in anything with even the vaguest hint of complexity, such as templating pages/posts with AFC / Advanced Custom Fields (a plugin that it REQUIRES you to install, suggesting a close coupling) and things get worse fast. I’ve yet to have a single case of using ACF with VC go smoothly. Things might look alright initially, but then when you try to edit the link from Visual Composer to a field within ACF and, more often than not, you can’t see the ACF widget in VC any more. Only solution is to delete the element and recreate it from scratch. Yes I have contacted support about it. Yes they have assured me it will be fixed. Yes, it is still happening on a regular basis despite many updates having rolled out since then.
Use VC’s built-in templating system (“Layouts”) and you set yourself up for a world of pain with all kinds of weird layout issues appearing out of nowhere.
Headers and footers built within VC can’t be selected within the Layouts editor, so if you don’t want to have to maintain identical duplicated content across all of your layouts it’s necessary to also create the header and footer as layouts, then embed those header/footer layouts into the actual headers and footers you create (which is very backwards) as well as embedding the header/footer layouts within your ACTUAL layouts… except embedding the headers and footers into the layout results in a different layout to using the headers and footer on VC-designed pages and posts. Using this approach also results in content sections refusing to adhere to the defined page width in the editor (yet mysteriously render correctly when saved and viewed on the front-end, except for when they don’t, of course!)
And if that last paragraph didn’t confuse you then you must have a much bigger brain mine. It’s a massive confusing mess to work around an incredibly obvious missing feature.
By now you should be getting a picture of how nightmarish this can be to work with. But it gets worse if you want to do something that VC doesn’t already provide an element for. Creating additional elements in VC requires the most over-engineered ReactJS hellscape development enrvironment with close-coupled dependency hell I’ve ever seen, and I was once a Java developer! Back in the WPBakery days adding a button (for example) was a simple case of writing a shortcode and then configuring a simple mapping from element to shortcode. Done in less than an hour. But in VC you will lose at least a day to the same accomplishment. And there’s no guarantee it will still work tomorrow.
Come back to one of these custom elements in a month or two and, most likely, it will no longer build. Come back to it in 6 months and, most likely, it will crash the VC editor. In both instances expect to lose another day to debugging and fixing the issues, resolving dependencies, and generally swearing.
The developer documentation is an unnavigable hot mess. Terminology in the documentation is confusing and explanations of how to do even the most basic of tasks (like having a child element access the properties of its parent) are missing or hinted at without ever being revisited.
The premium version shows an error-styled message at the top of the admin dashboard when the licence is approaching its renewal, even if it’s set to auto-renew. The message states that the licence will soon EXPIRE (not even “renew”) which leads to endless calls from customers demanding to know why I’ve not renewed the licence for their site as agreed upon during the pricing phase. The customers are incredibly sceptical when I assure them that everything is in hand and that the licence is set to autorenew, because why would a big scary error appear at the top of the site if I was on top of paying the bills? It’s a good question that I can only answer with, “it just does.” No other premium plugin I’ve worked with does this. Renewal reminders should go to the person paying the bills, not every single admin on every single website tied to the plugin. My customers have no way of renewing the licence, so why are they seeing the message?
That message, incidentally, appears across every single website. You can dismiss it, but it will reappear if you deactivate and reactivate the plugin. Since it deactivates itself on a regular basis you can expect to see the message more than once. If you’re a developer maintaining multiple websites, expect to have to dismiss that message OVER AND OVER AND OVER for the month leading up to your licence’s renewal. It’s so annoying in fact that it tempts me to just delete the licence entirely, save some money and be done with it.
But of course if you buy the premium version you get “free” support. Don’t get too excited though: no matter how much detail you give to support they will still go to great lengths to push the ticket back to you. I’ve filed support requests with lengthy explanations of the problem and how to replicate (I have to answer support requests myself, I know how to submit a good bug report) only to be told that the issue couldn’t be replicated, in spite of the step by step instructions in the ticket.
“Send us your login details and we’ll look at it,” is a regular rote response. Not likely; for painfully obvious security and privacy reasons that’s not happening! These aren’t even my websites to grant access to, they’re customer sites. If a customer discovered I’d given some random support team access to their website without clearing it with them I’d likely be persued through every court in the land.
Most of the time I’m not working on an Internet-facing website anyway, I’m working on a local development environment. So I record videos showing the issue step by step, and STILL they throw it back at me. Even though they’ve seen in the video that there’s an issue they still make no attempt to reproduce and fix it for themselves, I just get, “we can’t reproduce at our end.” Okay, but as you can clearly see in the video THERE’S A PROBLEM. It’s YOUR job as support to work out why the issue you’ve just seen is happening and then go about finding a solution for it, not just immediately throw it back. “You must have a weird plugin or theme that clases with the plguin.” Nope. Vanilla install every time to demonstrate issues.
I’ve been back and counted: I have more than 45 minutes worth of video uploaded to YouTube (unlisted) just for reporting VC bugs. Trying to get support to take a bug seriously is like pulling teeth.
I shouldn’t be having to do VC’s quality assurance team’s job for them! In 2022 they should have a robust testing setup using a combination of manual and automated testing to ensure regression doesn’t occur with a release. Given the frequency with which this plugin breaks I struggle to believe VC even HAVE a QA team.
Speaking of full width sections, once you’ve made a full width section you can’t then put a boxed section inside of it: the boxed section will also display at full width. While there’s a middle option of “stretching” the section to be full width while maintaining a boxed-width content area, and while that might work in 90% of use cases, it’s a seriously limiting oversight that forces some weird and awkward workarounds for developers/designers.
Some standard elements that ship with the premium version just straight-up don’t work, or are too buggy for general use. And some obvious elements are missing. Some obvious features on elements are missing. Some elements won’t let you change their colours, for example, without breaking out the CSS editor. Menus are extremely limited in appearance. Other elements won’t render as the screenshot shows them. Others work until you select a specific combination of options, usually the selection of options you require (of course).
Elements of a similar kind, such as buttons, will have different options and features. Some have more features but don’t look the way you want them to. Others look the way you want but are missing key features. Swapping elements is a feature of the editor, but it’s almost useless because the settings don’t map between two different elements of the same kind. And there’s no consistency between the way elements work: some have you create child elements in the editor on the left, some have you create them as children within the page WYSIWYG editor on the right.
Many times I’ve found that an element that I’ve used heavily throughout a design project stops working correctly after an update while I’m still WORKING on the project, and then have to go back through all my completed work to strip that element and replace it with another before I can continue with what I was doing. After it goes live the new element stops working as expected and I have to switch to something else again.
Personally I’ve had it with Visual Composer. I’ve tried so hard to like it and overlook its endless shortcomings and failures, but it’s reached a point where this plugin is eroding my business’s credibility.
My advice: don’t get sucked into using this plugin and then find yourself stuck in a position of being held hostage by it for evermore.
And now, undoubtedly, for a word from VC’s public relations team, who will tell you all of these issues are being addressed or have already been resolved (with no evidence or proof to back up their claims). I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to listen to the spin doctors or the user who’s been putting up with VC’s failures for more than 2 years.
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