Why does your company blog feel like a graveyard?

Producing useful, original content and attracting organic traffic to your online properties is imperative for your company's long-term survival. So how can your business create the kind of content that people will want to read?

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 was a 350% increase in the amount of data consumed in 1980. 

Furthermore, by March 2020, Pandemic-driven lockdown had made people adopt work from home culture, surpassing the figure of 400 gigabytes of data consumption by an average American as reported by WSJ. To put things in perspective, mobile internet was first introduced in 1996, and by 2016, mobile internet users surpassed desktop users.

These figures indicate that as we move forward, the demand for data consumption is increasing. People are consuming almost everything available on the internet, with 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 us look at some more facts and survey data. At the end of 2018, Nielsen released its Audience Report, confirming something most people already knew intuitively; consumers are multitasking and using multiple media devices simultaneously. For example, only 12% of the people surveyed did not use a digital device while watching TV.

In March 2020, data indicates that the average American adult spent an average of 3.46 minutes daily on mobile apps, a jump of 1.24 minutes compared to the 2018 survey by Nielsen.

Nielsen Total Audience Report Graph

Data provided by the Nielsen Company

In 2020, TikTok was the most downloaded app. YouTube launched a beta version of YouTube Shorts featuring 15-second videos, a feature very similar to TikTok.

63% of people ages 18-34 are watching live-streaming content regularly, and with YouTube's tipping functionality, independent artists like Harry Mack can grow their businesses without signing to a record label.

A New Multitasking Paradigm

Consumers are bombarded with choices, and their content quality expectations have gone up exponentially compared to what they were just several years ago. As a result, American adults often engage in two additional media-related activities when reading, watching TV, or listening to the news.

Vanilla blogs are losing their base due to a bland outlook and no longer can produce high-quality content that people will read. As a result, companies like Bumble, Mailchimp, and Microsoft invest in high-quality Content Distribution Platforms (CDPs) to meet the consumer's demand.

CDPs give companies the ability to produce clean, high-end content that people are interested in reading. Below is an example of Courier, a publication Mailchimp recently acquired.

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). A CMS with a high-performance publishing engine rather than a blogging engine.

The majority of CDPs are custom-built on top of existing CMS platforms such as Drupal and WordPress, so there isn't a standard feature set, and it's essential to shop around and consider your organization's unique needs when looking to upgrade to a CDP. A number of CDPs have grown over the year, offering better 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, development costs, time to market, maintenance costs are three significant downsides.

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

There are hundreds of CMS available to choose from for your business, but few of them stand out. WordPress and Drupal have been quite popular for nearly two decades now. The new ones which stand out are Contentful, DatoCMS, GraphCMS, Sanity, and NetlifyCMS.

CMS vs CDP diagram

1. WordPress

WordPress is an open-source Content Management System (CMS), first released in 2003. It's written in PHP and powered by a MySQL database.

Originally developed as a blogging platform, it has evolved into a CMS over the years and is now used to power e-commerce stores, membership sites, and learning platforms. As a result, it has gained widespread popularity, and as of May 2021, it powers over 36.4% of the top 10,000 sites on the Internet. As of June 2021, it has a market share of 42%.

  • 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 anywhere, and many content creators already know how to use it.
WordPress screenshot

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

  • 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. Frequently, two to three plugins are required for a single feature. For example, to run Instagram feeds, Instawidget is installed, which slows the website down and makes it heavy.
  • On an economic level, themes are inexpensive, usually costing around $60, and while some sell thousands of copies, the majority don't break 100 sales. This low cost disincentivizes developers from optimizing them, and sub-par javascript plugins get used to reduce website load time and decrease 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 the 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.

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 going with a reputable interactive agency, building a custom theme, and dedicating a fair amount of time towards QA once the project is complete.

Spamming the Internet with mediocre content that you wouldn't read is equivalent to shouting at the ocean. It is nothing but an Internet garbage.

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. As of June 2021, Drupal maintains a 1.4% market share, with usage declining over the past year.

  • 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 offers multilingual support, includes cache tags to improve performance, and includes a mobile admin bar with responsive themes.
Drupal Screenshot

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

  • Drupal has a reputation for being slow and hard to use. However, it's worth noting that the speed issue can be mitigated with the proper use of caching on the front end.
  • There aren't many themes available, and you will have to build a theme from scratch.
  • It has limited modules as compared to WordPress.
  • Drupal tends to be the tool of choice for mid to large Interactive Agencies. Prices will vary significantly based on agency location and project scope. With that said, you should expect to spend anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for anything decent.
  • Drupal's steep learning curve makes it difficult for adoption by majority of the developers.

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're going to have to invest a lot of time and money in custom development to build something that will reflect high quality. Also, don't forget the steep learning curve that comes with Drupal, which can slow down the overall development.

3. Contentful

Contentful is a modern headless CMS delivering content as an API. It's a commercial SaaS product with prices ranging from free (for community edition) to thousands of dollars per month. The company launched in 2013, and as of May 2021, Contentful powers 2.3% of the top 10,000 websites on the Internet.

  • It is the part of the modern Headless CMS ecosystem which advocates JAMStack development and content distribution through Javascript, API, and Markdown format.
  • Content is delivered via an API, meaning you're not locked into a programming language or software development paradigm. This freedom is especially relevant for CTOs who want to minimize the number of programming languages used throughout the company.
  • 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 launched two powerful apps, launch and compose, which help collaborate and compose pages. These apps come loaded with many features such as easy scheduling of publishing of content and visual workflow.

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

  • You're going to have to build the entire front-end yourself. 
  • The quality of what you get will be directly related to how talented your developers are and the time/money you invest.
  • Navigation can get trickier especially when tracking duplicate entries or content.
  • It does not provide a way to organize fields within an entry. It can be grueling at times to scroll through entries with many fields.
  • It can't be installed locally and the backend is not customizable.

Contentful is a fantastic headless CMS. In fact, our website (storypro.io) runs on it. Modeling content is fast and easy, and development tooling is superb. We use it in combination with Turbo and Stimulus to make the entire site blazing fast.

As for using it as a CDP, it might 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 large number of resources in building out the front-end.

Your team will have to build out everything, including user management, commenting systems, taxonomies, and page rendering logic. Of course, you're also going to have to maintain it.

Licensing a CDP

As far as licensing a CDP, you don't have many options. You could repurpose an existing publishing platform used by news organizations such as Vox's Chorus or Washington Post's Arc.

Chorus licensing costs are negotiated on a per-contract basis and reportedly range from 6 to 7 figures per implementation. Arc licensing fees range from $10,000 to $150,000 per month. 

These licensing costs can weigh heavy on startups and small size organizations, especially when they are planning to drive pure organic traffic into their site. Besides these CDPs are designed keeping in view the modern media houses, thus it might not be suitable for specific industry domain 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 (Story Pro), have also made a CDP, and you're on it right now. It can be launched in under 10 minutes, and be fully set up on your own domain in only a couple of days. Our licensing fees range from $1,250 to $25,000 per month. Thus you don't need to build your platform from scratch and can save a lot on development activities. You can now focus more on content development and distribution.

Other Options

It might make the most sense for certain businesses to forego investing in a CDP altogether and utilize a social publishing platform such as Medium. You will be able to publish high-quality content without investing significant resources outside of the cost to create the content itself.

The major downside is that their business goals (the platform's growth) may not align with your business goals (the growth of your business). In 2018, Medium removed the publication's ability to host under a custom domain, which prompted the above tweet from a Basecamp Co-Founder and Ruby on Rails inventor David Heinemeier Hansson.

As of September 2020, custom domain support is back, but it's essential to consider the past when forecasting the future.

You are always competing for the attention of your visitors and it's a jungle out there. You're competing with social media networks, major news organizations, Medium articles, YouTube channels, and Spotify podcasts.

To succeed, you have to create content that is both interesting and visually satisfying. Spamming the Internet with mediocre content that you wouldn't read is equivalent to shouting at the ocean. Thus you are creating internet garbage and filling the web space with useless content. Instead, you're better off spending more of your marketing budget on buying ads.


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