WordPress Themes vs Theme Builders vs Page Builders: Here’s the Difference

Matt   59

Updated on January 31, 2021

If you’re building a conversion focused website on WordPress, then you know there’s a ton of content you need to create.

Blog posts, a homepage, lead generation pages, an about page, sales funnel pages… just to name a few!

On top of that, there’s all the little — but critically important — details you don’t want to forget to take care of including your headers, footers, author boxes, and more.

Writing all the copy for these different types of content is difficult enough on its own...

...but then having to overcome the technical hurdles to get everything to look right is even harder!

Until now.

That’s because there’s two powerful WordPress tools available for online creators like you, developed to help you make your content AND manage all the technical intricacies:

Theme Builders (like Thrive Theme Builder) and Page Builders (like Thrive Architect).

What’s the difference between these two types of builders and how can you use them to create and manage all the different types of content on your WordPress website?

Read on to find out...


Sooo… What Does Your WordPress Theme Actually Do?

If you want to understand the difference between a theme builder and a page builder, it’s vitally important to know what a WordPress theme is and what it actually controls on your website.

To begin, know that every WordPress website MUST have a theme installed to function:

You MUST install and activate a theme on your WordPress website. This is done under the Appearance >> Themes tab on your WordPress dashboard.

Themes manage a long list of display settings that work together to create the overall look, feel and layout of your website. This includes controlling how and when the following sections of your website are displayed:

  • Header
  • Top section
  • Bottom Section
  • Footer
  • Sidebar

The white portions of this diagram illustrate the areas themes typically manage. The content section is often dynamically populated (which is why it's crossed out, but the theme will control details like its layout width.

Themes also control the default designs of important templates on your website we call your “One template, many pages” type of content. In other words, these are pages that use a single design template to dynamically populate multiple pages with unique content, such as your:

  • Posts
  • Default pages
  • Blog list pages
  • Blog archive pages (like your category pages)
  • 404 page

On top of all that, your WordPress theme also controls how certain templatized content elements appear on your site. 

These are content elements that can be displayed within the posts and pages of your site, but dynamically populate with unique text or images, such as your:

  • Author box (or boxes if you have multiple authors) 
  • Comments section
  • Blog post metadata (e.g. the publish date of a post)
  • Related posts
  • Social sharing options
  • and more...

And finally, when we say your theme controls the “look, feel and layout” of all this content, we’re referring to how it displays:

  • Font types, sizes, heights, colors, and hover behaviors for:
    • Heading text (H1-H6)
    • Paragraph text
    • Hyperlink text
    • Plain text
  • Content area and section widths
  • Content positioning
  • How images get displayed (e.g. circle, square or rectangular featured images)
  • Background colors and patterns
  • etc...

To show you exactly what we mean by this, let’s look at some Blog list page examples.

The look, feel and layout of your Blog list page (a “one template, many pages” type of content) is completely dependent on your WordPress theme’s settings. And it’s those theme settings that determine exactly how all of the dynamically populated content gets displayed.

For example, your WordPress theme might show your featured images as circles above post titles with brief excerpts... in columns of three... on a white background:

Blog List Page Example (round featured images)

Your WordPress theme manages the display setting of "One template, many pages" types of content like your Blog list pages. Here, blog posts are featured with round images, post titles and brief excerpts in columns of 3 posts.

By contrast, the exact same website with a different theme activated will load the same blog post content, but with very different display settings.

Instead of showing your featured images as circles, it might display them as rectangles.

Instead of just showcasing a menu header, blog post list and simple footer, it can display an engaging top section and advanced footer with a prompt to subscribe.

Even the font settings are completely different:

Blog List Page Example (rectangular featured images)

Your WordPress theme manages the display setting of "One template, many pages" types of content like your Blog list pages. Here, blog posts are featured with rectangular images, post titles and brief excerpts vertically, a sidebar showcasing podcast episodes as well as a fancy top section and footer.

Or what about this next Blog list page example?

Your WordPress theme manages the display setting of "One template, many pages" types of content like your Blog list pages. Here, the most recent post is featured more prominently than the older posts.

Here, a single blog post is featured at full screen width with the title overlain on its marquee image. The posts that follow it are displayed in a less eye-catching fashion.

You get the idea.

Across each Blog list page example, the exact same content is being loaded, just presented with different visual styles.

This is your theme at work.

What Content Is Not Controlled By Your Theme?

Like it or not, your WordPress theme actually controls the display settings for every Post and Page published on your website.

However, custom modifications can be made to WordPress Pages to ignore your theme settings.

But if you don’t know how to code these custom modifications yourself, you’ll need a Page Builder plugin (like Thrive Architect) to craft those specialty pages for you.

With Thrive Architect, you gain the ability to visually build all the custom single-instance pages needed on your website — no coding necessary.

Just drag & drop content elements with your mouse into the Thrive Editor and then customize each element directly using the left sidebar options — exactly as your visitors will see it:

Thrive Architect is powerful because it eliminates the need to frustratingly build your content in the backend, native WordPress editor. That means you can avoid having to guess what your post will look like on the frontend (visitor side of your site) whenever you make changes on the backend dashboard (admin side of your site).

On top of that, you never have to build any of your single-instance pages from scratch!

That’s because Thrive Architect gives you instant access to HUNDREDS of conversion focused landing page templates you can quickly load, customize and publish.

That library of professionally designed single-instance page templates includes a wide-range of:

  • Homepages
  • Lead generation pages
  • Sales funnel pages
  • Webinar funnel pages
  • One page websites
  • etc…

Check out the entire Thrive Architect landing page library by clicking here.

Where Else Can You Use a Page Builder Plugin?

You can also use your page builder plugin to populate the content of your blog posts and general website pages — like your About page or Contact page

In other words, pages where you want to display theme controlled features (such as the header, footer and sidebar), but still need to customize the in-page content.

By using the power of Thrive Architect to create this content, you not only make the building of new blog posts and general pages quick and easy, but you ensure it looks professional and visually engaging each time you press publish.

Here's an example of a contact page where the non theme content was created with the Thrive Architect page builder:

This website's contact page uses the Thrive Architect page builder to create the content between the theme controlled header and footer elements. 

Again, your page builder plugin CAN’T be used to alter theme dependent elements (like your header, footer and sidebar) on blog posts and general pages, but you can edit each and every detail that will populate their content sections.

And once you get used to building your blog posts this way — we guarantee you’ll never want to go back to using the lackluster WordPress editor to get the job done.

So now that you understand what your WordPress theme actually does, as well as how and where you should use a page builder to create content on your site...

...how does Thrive Theme Builder fit into this story?

Keep reading to find out.

Thrive Theme Builder vs. Themes vs. "Theme Builder" Plugins

Listen up, because this is important...

The biggest reason why you might want to use a Theme Builder on your WordPress website instead of a pre-designed theme can be stated in a word: flexibility.

Of course you want the flexibility to customize every little detail and piece of content on your site so you can make sure it meets your unique online business needs.

But for any WordPress tool on the market claiming to be a “theme builder”, to actually WORK as a fully functioning theme builder…

...it MUST be developed as a WordPress theme — NOT a plugin.

Think about it.

If a “theme builder” tool can’t be installed and activated as your actual theme, how is it supposed to manage all of your theme dependent features?

The truth is that “Theme Builder” plugins CAN'T.

They usually require fragile, multiple-instance workarounds that don't apply themselves universally across your site. If you then want to change a theme feature, you'll have to modify all these different instances — which becomes a website maintenance nightmare!

That’s why the only true WordPress theme builder is Thrive Theme Builder.

It is an actual WordPress theme (installed in the Themes section of your WordPress site) that gives you the power to customize ALL your theme features — down to the last crucial detail — with a visual, drag & drop editor.

And as luck would have it, if you’re already familiar with Thrive Architect’s visual drag & drop page builder, Thrive Theme Builder’s user interface is exactly the same (with a few extra theme crucial features).

In fact, you can swap between modifying your theme content (in Thrive Theme Builder) and then modifying your non-theme content (in Thrive Architect) with just a single click:

How to switch from the Thrive Theme Builder editor to the Thrive Architect editor

Switching from the Thrive Theme Builder editor to the Thrive Architect editor just takes a single click.

And if you're in the middle of editing your Thrive Architect page builder content, the reverse is also true. You can switch to editing your theme based content with the click of a button:

How to switch from the Thrive Architect editor to the Thrive Theme Builder editor

Switching from the Thrive Architect editor to the Thrive Theme Builder editor also takes a single click.

Here’s What TOTAL Theme Flexibility Actually Means

Having TOTAL flexibility over your website means that you can make your default header and footer look just the way you want them. Of course, it's always nice to have some pro-designed templates to begin that customization process with, and that's exactly what you get with Thrive Theme Builder:

How to select a default header template in Thrive Theme Builder

With Thrive Theme Builder, you can first select one of the many pre-designed header templates to begin your customization efforts with.

And after loading and customizing your header, you can then do the exact same thing when it comes to your footer:

With Thrive Theme Builder, you can first select one of the many pre-designed footer templates to begin your customization efforts with.

Notice also that any Thrive Theme Builder templates you choose honor the global settings you set (like colors and logos) and are automatically inserted when your header or footer templates are loaded!

But TOTAL theme flexibility doesn't stop there. It also means being able to place and customize elements like your Author Box wherever you want to in your content. Need your Author box to appear at the top of your content in a sidebar? That's no problem:

Author box in your sidebar example

In this Thrive Theme Builder blog post template example, the author box has been placed in the sidebar.

Or how about placing your Author box at the bottom of your content before the comment section, because you don't want to display a sidebar? That's no problem either:

Author box beneath your blog post content example

In this Thrive Theme Builder blog post template example, the author box has been placed beneath the blog post content.

Maybe you don't want to always show the same blog post template for every article on your site. For example, you may have articles that you want to showcase a featured image on, and articles where you don't.

With Thrive Theme Builder, you can create multiple templates for those different content needs... and switching between them only takes a few clicks:

How to switch between blog post templates in Thrive Theme Builder

Switching between your different blog post templates in Thrive Theme Builder is just this easy.

Are you starting to see just how intuitive, quick and easy Thrive Theme Builder makes designing and customizing your WordPress theme controlled content?

Wait Just a Sec… Do I Still Need the Thrive Architect Page Builder if Start Using Thrive Theme Builder?

Remember when we said that the Thrive Architect page builder is a plugin and Thrive Theme Builder is a theme?

Well, that means Thrive Theme Builder and Thrive Architect are designed to work together in order to give you total design control over your entire website.

Of course, Thrive Architect’s page building features work just fine with any other WordPress theme. 

And you can even use Thrive Theme Builder as your WordPress theme without the Thrive Architect plugin installed.

But if you want to gain the power of visually customizing every detail of your WordPress theme while also being able to create landing pages (as well and blog post content) with speed and design appeal, you’ll need both installed:

Time to Start Building!

So now that you know the difference between themes, theme builders, and page builders, as well as exactly what each does on your website…

...it’s time for you to start building!

If you’re not a Thrive Suite user yet, make sure to sign up now so you don’t miss out.

Finally, if you still have any questions about WordPress themes, theme builders and page builders, feel free to get them answered in the comments section below!

by Matt  February 24, 2020


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Leave a Comment

    • Hi,
      Upon release, Thrive Theme Builder will not be WooCommerce compatible. But it’s one of the things we’ll start working on as soon as the product is released.

  • As much as it pained me, I paused using Thrive Themes for a while due to some load time and speed issues I was having. It might have been just me or my layouts, but have you done any speed tests using any of the themes that you built with this? If you have, what’s the best you’ve been able to achieve? If you haven’t, could you run some? Would be awesome to know you can break the 1sec load time barrier that I’ve seen you can get with Oxygen builder (with larger images too).

    • Hi Rudy,
      Speed is a complicated topic because it depends on a lot of different factors.
      – Your hosting (the biggest one)
      – The content (images vs. optimized images vs simple text)
      – The tools you are using (how many plugins on your site are loading code etc.)
      – The theme you are using (how much code bloat is there)
      – The caching solutions you are using
      – Etc.

      And then there are a lot of ways to analyze speed (total load time vs first paint and onload time).
      We’ve written a complete article on it here: https://thrivethemes.com/optimize-website-speed/

      That being said, we’ve been doing extensive speed tests on Thrive Theme Builder to ensure that using Thrive Theme Builder will not hurt the loading speed of your site. And we’ll publish our recommanded stack of tools to get the best speed result possible.

      But we also are realistic and honest, if all you need is a basic but blazingly fast website, Thrive Theme Builder is probably not your best pick (we’ll never beat a handcoded website). If on the other hand, you want full drag-and-drop customizability, conversion focused design and a fast loading site we’re confident that Thrive Theme Builder is what you’re looking for.

  • Such an awesome concept and so excited to try this out! I absolutely LOVE Architect & use it for everything! I know I will love the new theme Builder too!

    Thanks to everyone who made this happen! <3 😀

  • Great. How can I transfer pages or elements built with TA to the Thrive Theme Builder? Will you also offer a page type or pre-built site as a ONE pager, with a menue that links to different section all on ONE single page? Thanks.

    • Hi Anna,

      Pages build in Thrive Architect will simply stay the same, no need to transfer them.
      I don’t think that at the moment we have a one page website template, but you can very easily link any menu to elements on the page instead of other pages!

  • Hey guys, can you please answer if we can use Thrive Theme Builder for clients? I want to build websites AND landing pages for local businesses. Do we need to buy an extra license for Thrive Architect or is it already on board?

  • Hey, this is awesome! As a longtime user of Thrive Themes, I’m super excited for the opportunity to take the new Thrive Theme Builder for a spin and expect that it will be just as fantastic as your other products.

      • My current thrive themes site uses the category redirect to page option. I did this to customize the category pages. Will this be broken after switching to theme builder? That’s important because of inbound external links to those pages. Would love to hear how that works out.

    • Hi Jared,
      Not exactly an “above the header” section because the header is the top section, but you can add any content above the menu in your header section such as the call now button you’re talking about.

    • We’re excited to see what you build! 🙂 We’d love to see some Thrive Theme Builder sites in the wild. Feel free to send it over to our support channel when it’s done.

    • Yes, absolutely. You simply replace your website’s Theme. Your site structure and content will remain the same but you’ll have the ability to change template appearances. We’ll be publishing some videos soon on how to switch a site over to Thrive Theme Builder.

  • I am sure I will love this. Total flexibility and easy to apply. You are awesome , team TT, Powh! With so many choices you really have to foresee whatfor a website is intented and wich elements are needed for a good conversion.

  • Any thoughts/recommendations for an existing site that was built with Thrive Architect on another theme (in this case the Oceanwp theme)?

    Can/should Thrive Theme Builder replace the existing theme? Or is TTB only recommended when building new sites?

    The main reason I’m asking is that I wouldn’t mind a little more control at the theme level, but I don’t think I’m willing to undergo an enormous amount of time to make the switch.

    • Yes, Thrive Theme Builder can be used to replace a website’s theme entirely. We know this is quite a concern for users so we’re going to be publishing some videos on the exact step-by-step of how to move a site over to TTB. I think you’ll find those videos really helpful.

      • This is awesome news, Brad! 😀

        I’m in a similar situation, as I have been building “just good enough, version 1” and was going to finish it up this week!

        I’m using Thrive’s ‘Pressive’ theme, but would like to make a few changes as well!

        TTB will be perfect for this, and I’m so glad to hear there will be dedicated tutorials coming for us!

        <3 😀 😀 😀

  • Da schein Thrive Themes mit dem Thrive Theme Builder ein grosser Wurf gelungen zu sein. Ich gebe zu den 2. März kaum erwarten zu können.
    Mein grösstes Problem ist aber die Sprache. Wenn ich ehrlich bin, empfinde ich es schon etwas arg befremdet, dass Thrive Themes auch noch so langer Zeit noch immer keine Sprachpackete anbietet.

    Schade kann ich da nur sage.

  • Awesome. Just wondering how this will affect categories that are redirected to pages via current thrive themes. Will this re-direction from category archives to pages still be an option?

    • Hi,
      You actually won’t need this option anymore because you can build your “real” category pages exactly the way you want. But you would have to set up that redirect again (just like if you changed to any other theme)

  • I currently use Thrive SQUARED theme and Thrive Architect. I have bought these products individually (along with Thrive Apprentice). How would the change to TTB affect me…? I am currently not a member,

    • To begin with, Thrive Theme Builder will only be available to our members. We don’t have a public launch date yet. If you choose to become a member, you’ll be able to access it. We’ll be publishing a tutorial soon that walks through moving an existing site over to Thrive Theme Builder.

      • thanks Bradley. My question is more how will using TTB be different given I’m already using a Thrive Theme for my WP site? Thanks so much

      • Ok, I see. Have a read of the accompanying post above, underneath Colin’s video. It’s written by Matt and explains this is more depth. Basically: all the things you can’t visually edit in your current Thrive Theme (such as: blog sidebar, footer, header, blog template, blog roll, category pages, 404 pages, search pages, etc) you’ll now be able to click on and change. Oh, and every part will have designer-made templates too. We’ll publish some tutorials soon where you’ll see it in action.

  • This is an absolutely outstanding accomplishment, even if 70percent of promised functionality is actually delivered. Over time the rest will be delivered.

    How do I migrate my old site of over 500 blogs and pages to the new theme?

    • We’ll be publishing a tutorial soon that walks you step-by-step through moving an existing site to Thrive Theme Builder. I’d recommend you watch that tutorial before you active the new Theme.

  • A very timely development for me ! Do I have to wait two weeks ? Seriously, I’m setting up many websites which I would like to have the same theme (the sites offer the same products and services to many different locations and market segments). Having achieved the perfect look, will I be able to clone it across many sites ? or do I have to do them all one by one ? Thanks again Thrive team – no other theme is needed!

    • Hey James,
      You’ll be able to adjust the theme to your needs and then you can export and import that version. It’s as close to cloning as you’ll get 😉

  • I believe the whole WordPress community has been waiting for this guys. I wish they all knew about it.

    Thanks so much, this will make so much possible.


    • We’ll release it standalone eventually, but we don’t have an ETA yet. Thrive Members always get access to new products in advance, along with some discounts and exclusive content. It’s like a loyalty card, but way better than just getting a free coffee. You’re always welcome to join as a member

    • Thrive Theme Builder is a completely new product which means that it won’t be much different then when you’re switching from any other theme to Thrive Theme Builder. We prepared a step-by-step course to guide you through the process.

  • Hi,
    i am using thrive theme and wanna change my existing website to Thrive Theme Builder. How can it be done without any risk of content changed?

  • After searching for these differences for a while, no one has explained them perfectly as you have done. Thanks, really helped me

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