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Divi WordPress Theme: Why I Can No Longer Recommend It

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Note: The following is an archived email newsletter, originally distributed on October 22, 2019. Minor updates were made as-necessary. To receive content like this before it appears in archives, subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter and blog updates.


For years now I've been a fan of Elegant Themes, especially their Divi WordPress theme.

I've been using it since its initial release. I was in the process of moving all my sites over to it. I've helped clients get set up with them for new blogs. And I've recommended them numerous times to colleagues, both privately and through my blogs.

I was even planning to set up a big cross-site affiliate promotion for Divi -- and I generally only run even basic affiliate promotions when I truly love a product or service.

But over this past year...

I've fallen out of love with Divi.

In short, I can no longer recommend this theme (or any from these developers) to WordPress users. So consider this a warning that signing up now might cause you more grief than you could anticipate. And for those who started using it either with my help or at my past recommendation, I'm sorry. While there was no way to know how downhill the company would go, I regret it all the same.

If you want the full story, here it is... 

Normally when I'm put off by a certain theme or developer, I simply change it on my site(s) and never look back. But this is different.

Because I've spent years recommending Divi and sending numerous paying customers the developers' way, I feel a certain responsibility to explain why I feel differently now. I'd go so far as to warn you away from using it if you aren't already.

Basically, I no longer trust Divi's developers or support reps.

Trust is extremely important to me in relationships, and that includes relationships with the companies I do business with. If someone violates that trust once, it might be forgiven. But when they do so repeatedly, there's no going back.

And that's the thing. There wasn't some one-time screw-up on Elegant Themes' end. It was screw-up, after screw-up, after screw-up.

We've now gotten to a point where the only thing I can rely on from the developers is that with every theme update they'll introduce more problems than they fix.

Several months ago an update destroyed margins on the most important pages of All Freelance Writing in particular. I talked to support several times. After repeatedly denying it was associated with the theme updates, they finally admitted others had been reporting the same issue.

"No worries," was the basic message. They'd referred it to the developers, and there would surely be a fix. Just no ETA.

But there was no fix.

I ended up having to manually override a number of newly-introduced style problems because they broke the margins set in their own tool previously. It took a lot of time that I hadn't accounted for.

I fixed it though. So no worries, right?

Wrong. Next I came across an accessibility issue with forms set up in their builder that made people think a form was being submitted when it was just reloading the page.

In addition to being misleading to visitors, it was directly impacting email list sign-ups which hurts my business too.

I asked their support to look into it.

The response?

"We designed it that way." (Paraphrasing.)

No kidding. Their defense to violating basic web accessibility standards was that they meant to do it.

So I had to introduce a third party plugin to handle those forms so they'd work correctly (after spending months hard-coding functions and tools that would cut back on plugins and site bloat).

Needless to say, I wasn't pleased. But again, I was told they'd have a developer look into it. But they couldn't give an ETA. Also again.

Several more Divi updates rolled out.

No fixes.

But hey, there were more new features, changes no one actually needed, and lots of bloat.

Oddly, they'd just done a big speed optimization on the theme.

That lasted maybe a month or two. Then more bloat.

They were so worried about new, new, new that they stopped listening to customers. They stopped making sure the core features worked. And they essentially ruined what used to be one of the best theme interfaces around.

Things got so bad the backend of several sites became almost unusable. It could take several minutes for a post edit screen to fully load in WordPress -- and it would freeze any time you tried to scroll even after that. Divi became a nightmare to work with. It was affecting pages that didn't even use the Divi builder.

And it wasn't just me.

Their forum was full of people reporting the same problem, trying to explain to them what calls on the backend seemed to be hanging up our sites. But they don't have support check those forums. So several of us opened support tickets.

And it was the same old BS. Dismiss the problems. Act like each report is the first time they'd heard about it (even though at least a half dozen shared they contacted support about the same thing on the forum). Blame everything and everyone else. And don't fix what their own updates broke.

Now I have a better understanding of why they spent months ignoring huge problems with multiple builders in their theme.

They were developing yet another one.

They just launched Divi 4, the next big version change with a more advanced builder. So that's what their time was spent on -- creating an even bigger, more bloated, more broken tool for their customers, as if we aren't running businesses that rely on the product we're paying them for.

As expected, the forum since the launch of Divi 4 is full of complaints about it completely breaking sites, and it causing site load times to move at a snail's pace.

This is unacceptable by any measure. I didn't update my own sites yet because I didn't have an extra week of free time to clean up their messes yet again. And where a couple of months ago I had plans in place to migrate at least 10 additional sites to Divi, now I'm preparing to move everything away from it.

2022 Update: I've since moved all of my sites off Divi, cancelled my subscription, and have happily helped move some clients off their platform as well. Most of my sites are currently run using GeneratePress Premium, which has offered a far better experience with far less bloat.

It's another big time commitment for something I shouldn't have to do. And it really rubs me the wrong way after how much time (of my own and another dev) went into fully customizing All Freelance Writing in particular (the child themes they recommended people use are now causing compatibility problems with the new Divi 4 builder).

"Angry" doesn't even begin to describe how I feel toward the Elegant Themes developers and support team right now.

But while I can't do anything about their constant flubs, I can at least take some of the time I'd planned to put toward promoting them and use it to warn people away instead.

So consider this a warning. While Divi used to be a wonderful tool for quickly building WordPress sites, now it's a perpetual headache. One you'll pay for every year.

I'll start moving my sites to a much lighter base theme or going back to custom development -- testing in the next several weeks and moving bigger sites in the New Year.

Remember, bigger isn't better when it comes to WordPress themes. And with even WordPress itself getting into the "idiot-proofing" mentality that tends to make things worse, it's sometimes tough to find options that are exactly what you need without a lot of added bloat. But more bloat equals more things that can break.

Divi is the perfect embodiment of that problem.

Jenn Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has over 20 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 18 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 16 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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