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Is Pinegrow Web Editor Right for Your Agency?

Is Pinegrow Web Editor Right for Your Agency?

Over the last few videos, I’ve talked a lot about Pinegrow and how I’m using it in my business. From a technology standpoint, things have been mostly great. But today, I’m going to talk a little bit about some of the problems that I’m seeing which have more to do with it as a platform than it does as a website builder.

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The Three Biggest Challenges

I’ll just cut right to the chase. My three biggest issues with Pinegrow are:

  1. That changes to themes and blocks only flow from the editor to the production code.
  2. Its local installation and workflow.
  3. The license model for agencies and infrequent users.

What We Do For Our Clients

To give you some context, here is a bit about how we work. First, most of the projects we do are WordPress-based. That means, as far as Pinegrow is concerned, we are mostly using it to create and modify custom blocks and custom themes. Pinegrow was built as a platform-agnostic HTML and CSS tool. It has tons of features, most of which we aren’t using, and it even has its own CMS for static HTML websites. That said, the vast majority of our customers are using WordPress and have no interest in other platforms or alternatives.

We are generally responsible for the development and maintenance of the website, while my clients publish and edit content. I categorize the look and feel of a website into three parts. The theme controls the overall style and framework for the site. Things like colors, fonts, spacing, headers, footers, search results pages, blog index pages, and hero sections are part of the theme.

Next, we have the page layout which is the body of the page. This is where we create our custom blocks to support various sections like features, calls to action, pricing tables, testimonials, blog post grids, and really anything that isn’t a generic text and photo section. Until we began switching to Pinegrow, we built most of our page layouts using a WordPress-based page builder like Oxygen. Now, we build sections as custom WordPress Blocks that go into a page managed by one of our themed page templates.

Using custom WordPress blocks lets our customers manage all the content on the website using the same editor they use to publish blog posts or write articles. They don’t have to learn about page builders, and we don’t need to worry about them accidentally breaking a layout since we pre-define what can be modified by them. If anything, it’s like the pre-page builder days when we created custom fields for everything that a client could modify or edit. Only now, our customers can visually see their changes in the Block Editor rather than simply filling out fields in an ugly form.

The Peak Performance Digital Team

My team consists of me, a project manager, my designers, my support team, and my development team. I’m the only full-time person in the company and everyone else is either a retained contractor or a freelance contractor. I don’t hire out freelancers on a per-job basis, so that does give me some stability from project to project. My team, however, only works for me part-time and they work on projects for other people when they aren’t working for me. They also use their own equipment and software licenses for the work they produce for me.

Challenge 1 – Edits Require Pinegrow

And that brings me to my first big challenge with Pinegrow. You see, in a traditional WordPress environment my team would either be working on plain text-based PHP, code using any open or closed source software they choose, like Visual Studio Code. In fact, I could have three developers using three different editors and it wouldn’t matter.

If they aren’t building or editing traditional themes using code editors, and frankly we don’t do much of that anymore, they are working with the page builders that are installed directly on the websites. That means that the only hardware and software dependencies I have for my team are a supported web browser, a text editor, and a graphics editor. Bringing Pinegrow into the mix changes all of that.

You see, with Pinegrow, if I want to make a change to a theme or block plugin, I have to make that change using the Pinegrow editor. The editor then takes those change and creates PHP-based themes and React-based blocks. While the themes and blocks that Pinegrow creates are directly editable using any code editor, the problem is that any changes we make directly to the components don’t get reflected back inside of Pinegrow. That’s because Pinegrow is, at its core, an HTML and CSS editor. To make those themes and blocks, we actually start with an HTML page, then add properties and actions to it that Pinegrow translates into themes and blocks.

Challenge 2 – Workflow and Local Development

What Pinegrow does frankly, is magic to me. And, it works great for solopreneurs and freelancers who don’t need to work in a team environment. For agencies like mine though, the desktop client and local development workflows add a level of complexity that we never had to deal with. Sure, we already have a git-based workflow to manage code changes for hand-coded classic themes and blocks. We also have processes and tools in place to handle development, test, and production deployments. What we don’t have, and didn’t need until we introduced Pinegrow, was a build process. Particularly one that requires a licensed 3rd party compiler, which is essentially what Pinegrow is in this context.

Challenge 3 – Licensing Model

So that brings me to point number three, Pinegrow licensing model. Their traditional one-time payment and subscription models work great for solopreneurs, freelancers, and agencies with full-time employees. But, for agencies like mine who rely on part-timers and contractors, it definitely adds some hardships and barriers. This is, by far in my opinion, one of the biggest barriers that Pinegrow needs to overcome before it gains any traction in the web agency market.

Let’s take a look at Pinegrow’s pricing. The year-one license cost of Pinegrow for just me was $299 and it renews each year for $150. I’m more than happy to pay that. That’s not bad at all considering everything it does and the power it puts in my hands. Now however, every team member who could potentially need to edit a theme or block has to have a license for Pinegrow and has to have it installed. And, since they are all contractors, an annual license for each of them would be silly. That means, I’m now looking at an extra $240 per month, or almost $3000 per year, in licensing fees.

For a small company like mine, that hurts. A lot. Especially since most of my team would only need to use Pinegrow once or twice per month unless they were building a new website. And even then, we’re really only looking at two or three people who would be using it heavily.

And, Pinegrow is licensed per-user and not per-machine. That means I can’t even reduce costs by setting up a virtual machine with Pinegrow on it. Something that my support team and project manager can access when they need it, which would be very rarely.

Now, if Pinegrow was an industry-standard tool that my team would be using with all their clients I could reasonably expect them or their agencies to purchase their own licenses. But, the truth is, Pinegrow is a very niche and specialized tool. And they probably wouldn’t be able to use it on projects for their other clients even if they wanted to. So, like it or not, I’m now budgeting for their monthly license costs.

In a commercial software development world this kind of licenses is not unheard of. A perpetual license of Microsoft Visual Studio goes for $500 and a low-code platform like Appian is $75 per month. Interestingly enough, Appian does offer options for a $9 per month infrequent license or a $2 per month input-only license. A model like that is definitely something I’d welcome from Pinegrow.

License Comparison With Other WordPress Tools

If we look at licensing requirements for other WordPress tools, you’ll see how different Pinegrow’s is in comparison. Let’s take a look at the pricing for Elementor, which right now is the number one site builder for WordPress. The software is not installed locally on a user’s computer like Pinegrow is, but instead it’s installed on the client’s website as a plugin. The license cost for a single website, regardless of the number of people who use Elementor on that site, is only $49 per year. A 25 website license is only $199 per year, a 100 website license is $499 per year, and the cost to use Elementor on 1000 websites, regardless of how many people work in your agency, is only $999 per year. The incredible GenerateBlocks plugin is only $99 per year for 250 sites. Then, of course, we have other site builders such as Oxygen which has an unlimited use, one-time license fee of only $350. Nope, never mind, right now Oxygen is actually discounted to only $150.

Let’s also take a look at Webflow’s pricing model. Now, Webflow isn’t WordPress based, but it is one of, if not the most powerful of all the hosted options available. Their license cost is only $60 per month for nine seats, or $6.66 per user per month. Compared to Pinegrow’s $19.50 per user per month, that’s a major difference. Plus, their software and licensing is all cloud based and transferrable so I could easily take the annual billing option for my 9 person team at $588 compared to Pinegrow’s $3000. Now, of course with Webflow you also have to pay a per-site fee but frankly that’s pretty much a wash compared to the hosting, maintenance, and support costs of a WordPress site.

So Should You Use Pinegrow?

Clearly, Pinegrow needs to do something about its licensing model to attract and keep small agencies like mine.

So, what does all this mean for WordPress agencies who are interested in Pinegrow? Well, if you are a solo agency and you are going to make Pinegrow a core part of your service offering, then go for it. It’s a tremendous value for what you are getting. If you are a larger agency with full-time developers who will be using Pinegrow every day, then it’s also a great option and the price is likely worth it. If, however, you are one of the majorities of web agencies who rely on contractors, freelancers, and part-timers then you have a much more difficult choice to make.

Does this mean that Pinegrow is dead on the branch for WordPress agencies? Not necessarily. If you go back to one of my earlier videos with Pinegrow’s CEO you’ll hear that they are actually working on a WordPress plugin version of Pinegrow. I’d had a chance to play with an early beta and so far I’m incredibly impressed with what they’ve accomplished. From what I can tell, it shares much of the same general code base as the desktop version which would actually make it one of the more mature options for WordPress once it’s released, since the desktop version has been actively developed for 8 years.

Of course, so much of Pinegrow’s WordPress success is going to come down to their licensing structure, their marketing, and their engagement with the WordPress agency and developer community.

I, for one, love what Pinegrow enables for my agency and I’m happy to support them. That is, as long as I don’t look too closely at the license costs.

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