Why does your company blog feel like a graveyard?


The 21st-century human consumes a lot of data. In 2009, UCSD published a report estimating that an average American consumes 34 gigabytes of data each day in video games, movies, tv, and radio. That's a 350% increase in the amount of data consumed in 1980. 

Furthermore, by March 2020, the pandemic-driven lockdown made people adopt a work from home culture, with companies being forced to allow a remote workforce. Data consumption continues to increase, and in the fourth quarter of 2021, averages hit 536.3 gigabytes (GB). 

People are consuming content at staggering rates, and the majority of this content consumed via mobile apps exclusively. With that said, staying relevant and competitive in this digital generation requires finding new ways to keep content engaging to generate organic traffic.

The big question is 'How to stay ahead in the game?

Data provided by StatCounter Global Stats.

Let's take a look at some more facts and survey results. Nielsen released its Audience Report at the end of 2018, confirming what most people already knew intuitively: consumers are multitasking and using multiple media devices at the same time. For example, only 12% of those polled did not use a digital device while watching television.

According to data from March 2020, the average American adult spent 3.46 minutes per day on mobile apps, a 1.24-minute increase over the 2018 Nielsen survey.

Nielsen Total Audience Report Graph

Data provided by the Nielsen Company

TikTok was the most downloaded app in 2020. YouTube has launched a beta version of YouTube Shorts, which features 15-second videos and is similar to TikTok.

63 percent of people aged 18 to 34 watch live-streaming content on a regular basis, and with YouTube's tipping functionality, independent artists like Harry Mack can grow their businesses without having to sign with a record label.

A New Multitasking Paradigm

Consumers are inundated with options, and content quality expectations have skyrocketed in comparison to just a few years ago. As a result, when reading, watching TV, or listening to the news, American adults frequently engage in two additional media-related activities.

Vanilla blogs are losing their following due to a lackluster outlook and are no longer capable of producing high-quality content that people will read. As a result, businesses such as Bumble, Mailchimp, and Microsoft are investing in high-quality Content Distribution Platforms (CDPs) to meet consumer demand.

CDPs enable businesses to create clean, high-quality content that people want to read. Here's an example of Courier, a recently acquired publication by Mailchimp.

The Anatomy of a CDP

It's easiest to think of a Content Distribution Platform (CDP) as a specialized, publishing-centric Content Management System (CMS). Rather than a blogging engine, a CMS with a high-performance publishing engine.

Because the majority of CDPs are custom-built on top of existing CMS platforms like Drupal and WordPress, there is no standard feature set, and it is critical to shop around and consider your organization's unique needs when looking to upgrade to a CDP. Over the past year, a number of CDPs have emerged, offering greater flexibility and ease of use than traditional CDPs such as WordPress.

Building your own CDP

Building a custom solution is the most popular option to have the most control over functionality and presentation. However, there are three significant drawbacks: development costs, time to market, and maintenance costs.

Unless you have specific business needs, it's best to choose an existing Content Management System (CMS) and configure it to function as a CDP.

There are hundreds of CMS options for your business, but only a few stand out. WordPress and Drupal have been around for nearly two decades. Contentful, DatoCMS, GraphCMS, Sanity, and NetlifyCMS are some of the new ones that stand out.

CMS vs CDP diagram

1. WordPress

WordPress is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) that was first made available in 2003. It is written in PHP and runs on a MySQL database.

Originally designed as a blogging platform, it has since evolved into a CMS and is now used to power e-commerce stores, membership sites, and learning platforms. As a result, it has grown in popularity, and as of May 2021, it powers 36.4 percent of the top 10,000 websites on the Internet. It has a 42 percent market share as of June 2021.

Advantages
  • Development can be fast and inexpensive due to a large number of plugins (55,000+) and pre-built themes available in both the WordPress and open marketplace.
  • Many freelance web developers, contractors, and interactive agencies are available for hire, further reducing the website development cost.
  • WordPress is over 17 years old and powers a large portion of the Internet. It's not going away, and many content creators are already familiar with how to use it.
WordPress screenshot

The classic editor appears simple, but plugins and shortcodes allow for a heavy degree of customization.

Disadvantages
  • It's important to note that pre-built themes are multi-purpose and tend to get bloated, meaning HTML markup is not optimized and often has underutilized CSS rules. This slows download time, increases paint time (how fast the browser shows the content after it loads), and makes the website feel choppy.
  • Plugins create complexity. A single feature frequently necessitates the use of two to three plugins. For example, to run Instagram feeds, Instawidget is installed, which slows down and adds weight to the website.
  • On a financial level, themes are inexpensive, typically costing around $60, and while some sell thousands of copies, the majority sell less than 100. Because of the low cost, developers are disincentivised from optimizing them, and subpar javascript plugins are used to reduce website load time and on—page performance, making the website feel choppy.
  • WordPress is over 17 years old, and at its core, it is still a blogging platform. Content is stored along with HTML (and in some cases CSS) markup in the database. Because content isn't separated from its presentation, it becomes difficult to update over time. WordPress has attempted to fix this problem by releasing the Gutenberg Editor in 2018, but reception has been lukewarm at best.
  • Updates, whether related to WordPress or a related theme/plugin, can be overwhelming. If a site uses more than 40 plugins, it can be challenging to update each plugin without disrupting full site functionality.
  • Security is another concern while updating a specific plugin. Not only plugins, but WordPress as a whole has also been trying to mitigate the security threats which frequently impact sites and plugins.
  • Customizations can be overwhelming for any new user. Customizing a minor feature can break the functionality of the site.
Conclusion

There isn't a standardized way to build a CDP on WordPress, and what you get will be determined by spend and the quality of your developers. If your budget allows, we recommend hiring a reputable interactive agency, creating a custom theme, and devoting a significant amount of time to QA once the project is finished.

Spamming the Internet with mediocre content that you wouldn't read is equivalent to shouting at the ocean.

2. Drupal

Drupal launched in January 2001 as a Web Framework (WF), which can configure to function as a CMS. Under the hood, it runs on Symphony, an open-source PHP framework with unit testing, object-relational mapping, and a templating language. 

As of May 2021, it powers 12.8% of the top 10,000 websites on the Internet, maintaining a 1.4% market share, with usage declining over the past year.

Advantages
  • Drupal is highly flexible and is used to build websites as well as full-fledged web applications.
  • Drupal has a large open-source community (albeit smaller than WordPress), with many available plugins (called modules).
  • Since version 7, Drupal includes a Content Construction Kit (CCK), allowing competent developers to create complex solutions for storing and displaying structured content.
  • Version 8 includes multilingual support, cache tags for improved performance, and a mobile admin bar with responsive themes.
Drupal Screenshot

Drupal comes with a minimal backend but allows for heavy code-less customization.

Disadvantages
  • Drupal has a bad reputation for being slow and difficult to use. However, it's worth noting that the speed issue can be mitigated with proper front-end caching.
  • There aren't many themes available, so you'll have to create one from scratch.
  • When compared to WordPress, it has fewer modules.
  • Drupal is the tool of choice for mid-sized to large Interactive Agencies. Prices will vary greatly depending on the location of the agency and the scope of the project. That being said, you should budget between $30,000 and $100,000 for a decent home.
  • The steep learning curve of Drupal makes it difficult for the majority of developers to adopt it.
Conclusion

Drupal's powerful taxonomy makes it a good choice for CDPs with interconnected content, such as University websites and Destination Travel Sites. However, the backend is dated, the editing experience is slow, and you'll need to invest a lot of time and money in custom development to create something of high quality. Don't forget about Drupal's steep learning curve, which can slow down overall development.

3. Contentful

Contentful is a modern headless CMS delivering content as an API. It's a commercial SaaS product with monthly fees ranging from free (for the community edition) to thousands of dollars. It powers 2.3 percent of the top 10,000 websites on the Internet.

Advantages
  • It is the part of the modern Headless CMS ecosystem which advocates JAMStack development and content distribution through Javascript, API, and Markdown format.
  • Because content is delivered via an API, you are not restricted to a programming language or software development paradigm. This freedom is especially important for CTOs who want to reduce the number of programming languages used across the organization.
  • Content is stored separately from the presentation, making it possible to re-use it across channels (website, mobile app, etc.).
  • Modern developer tooling makes it easy to integrate with the most popular Application Development Frameworks, including Swift, Django, Ruby on Rails, Vue, and React.
  • It's possible to create complex taxonomies linking content via one-to-many and many-to-many relationships. This taxonomy is very similar to Drupal but with a much better editor workflow.
  • It provides SDKs for almost all programming languages, and offers its own hosting with a CDN.
  • It integrates with GitHub repository and other third-party apps.
  • As of June 2021, contentful has released two powerful apps, launch and compose, that aid in the collaboration and composition of pages. These apps include a plethora of features, such as easy scheduling of content publishing and visual workflow.

Similar to Drupal, Contentful allows you to define custom content types along with their fields.

Disadvantages
  • You'll have to create the entire front-end yourself.
  • The quality of what you get is directly related to how talented your developers are and how much time and money you invest.
  • Navigation can get trickier especially when tracking duplicate entries or content.
  • It does not allow you to organize the fields within an entry. Scrolling through entries with many fields can be exhausting at times.
  • It can't be installed locally, and the backend isn't editable.
Conclusion

Contentful is an excellent headless CMS. In fact, it powers our website (storypro.io). Modeling content is quick and simple, and the development tooling is excellent. We combine it with Turbo and Stimulus to make the entire site lightning fast.

In terms of using it as a CDP, it may make sense for a multi-channel content-based business (such as a newspaper) that wants complete control over content modeling and is willing to invest a significant amount of resources in building out the front-end.

Everything, including user management, commenting systems, taxonomies, and page rendering logic, will be built by your team. Of course, you'll also have to keep it up.

Licensing a CDP

There aren't many options for licensing a CDP. You could repurpose an existing news organization's publishing platform, such as Vox's Chorus or the Washington Post's Arc.

Chorus licensing fees are negotiated on a contract-by-contract basis and are said to range between $6 and $7 per implementation. The monthly licensing fees for Arc range from $10,000 to $150,000 USD.

These licensing costs can be prohibitively expensive for startups and small businesses, especially if they intend to drive only organic traffic to their website. Furthermore, because these CDPs are designed with modern media houses in mind, they may not be suitable for specific industry domains or businesses such as research oriented industry or software industry.

Story Pro's writer mode helps editors create high quality content without thinking about the presentation.

We (StoryPRO) have also created a CDP, and you are currently on it. It can be launched in under 10 minutes and fully operational on your own domain in just a few days. As a result, you don't have to start from scratch and can save a lot of money on development activities.

Other Options

Certain businesses may find it more cost effective to avoid investing in a CDP entirely and instead use a social publishing platform such as Medium. You will be able to publish high-quality content without having to invest significant resources beyond the cost of creating the content.

The main disadvantage is that their business goals (platform growth) may not coincide with your business goals (the growth of your business). Medium's ability to host under a custom domain was removed in 2018, prompting the above tweet from Basecamp Co-Founder and Ruby on Rails inventor David Heinemeier Hansson.

Custom domain support will be reinstated in September 2020, but it is critical to consider the past when forecasting the future.

You're constantly competing for your visitors' attention, and it's a jungle out there. You're up against social media platforms, major news outlets, Medium articles, YouTube channels, and Spotify podcasts.

To be successful, you must create content that is both interesting and visually appealing. Spamming the Internet with mediocre content that you would never read is akin to yelling at the ocean. As a result, you are generating internet garbage and filling web space with useless content. Instead, you'd be better off allocating more of your marketing budget to ad purchases.

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On my website, Smarts, we use WordPress along with a very high-level theme and plugins to make it look like it was professionally designed. However, in the last few months of working with some people on more advanced features on Smarts, I have come to realize that along with a well-designed site having great SEO (Search Engine Optimization), there is still quite a leg up to be had from optimizing your WordPress theme so it runs as smoothly as possible.