Ghost vs. WordPress: How to win

In my previous post I considered user needs left underserved by WordPress.  Much of what WordPress lacks centers on their poor quality writing experience.  Ghost – a new blogging platform –  seems poised to change this and in the process attract the business blogger target. But this will take focus: How can Ghost win? Ghost has progressed quickly. From a cold start only months ago, you can now get a droplet configured on DigitalOcean, eliminating a scary install for many users. Other hosts are also offering one-button configuration (not quite one button, but…).  Third party Ghost themes are appearing. And enough core functionality exists to allow early adopters to start driving the platform.

Ghost vs. WordPress

Beating WordPress – or any of the other emerging blogging platforms such as Medium or Suvtle, or existing heavyweights such as Tumblr and Blogger, won’t be simple.  These established platforms are already supporting thousands of businesses and bloggers.  With their “must have” needs satisfied, most users are unlikely to move beyond the experimental stage with anything else.  Ghost needs to offer something different to a target segment willing to accept hard trade-offs to secure that benefit.  No company can compete on all fronts.

What’s great about WordPress.

Given WordPress’s longevity and deep penetration of the web, they clearly do much very well.  Their associated ecosystem is deep and rich.  Combined the two deliver key business requirements.

1.  Security. Security against hacking and spam control is a basic need. I use WPEngine to monitor and manage this for me. I love their automatic WordPress upgrades – which happen way too often – and daily backups.  Nice.

2.  Extensible.  Businesses require extensibility to meet their needs as demands change.  WordPress plugins provide users an integrated means to customize the platform. But short of the notables like Automatic’s JetPack or Yoost SEO, installing and using plug-ins is very trail and error.  The WordPress.org plug-in review system is very poor.  Most are out of date or more commercial than pitched – leading to very undesirable behavior once installed.  And worse, you have no idea of their impact on site speed.

3.  Mature platform. WordPress is a mature technology that offers stability, and supports a huge developer ecosystem.  For all businesses, up time is the game.  Offline sites are not selling; or worse losing customers to the competitor.  Complex sites need to accommodate admin privileges, user permissions, and audit processes.  Selling businesses need proven ecommerce and payment ecosystems.

4.  Easy to use. Anyone can be productive quickly, yet with time gain great skill. Editing and content management tools (images, video, etc.) work with little training. Post types, categories and tags are all in place. Any business with multiple staff accessing the site require this level of ease-of-use to prevent a spiraling of training and support costs.

5.  Rich CMS WordPress is a simple but powerful CMS.  Static pages and multi-menu navigation is built-in. Allowing static front pages is huge, and making sidebar widgets targetable by page/post super clever.  Many  content types are storable with names, descriptions, meta data, etc.  Content access is clunky but robust. While this works for businesses managing simple cross-site promotional programs, bloggers need content, images, videos, purchased images, and audio clips readily cataloged and accessible.

6. Social integration.  Handling social media integration is well beyond most small business owners’ ability, although they all understand the importance. Most create little content themselves and tend to rely on more traditional marketing approaches. This may change, but with the exception of new web and app startups, not quickly.  Good content marketing requires a mindset most business do not have.

7.  Themes.  WordPress offers a wonderful theme approach facilitating millions of variations. But WP might have too much of a good thing.  Access to a huge number of themes is not an issue for most.  Quality and some variety is important, but once chosen a theme changes only infrequently.  Larger businesses use customizations done by design partners, placing a high value on WP’s in-place designer ecosystem.

Can Ghost get a foothold?

Larger multi-sites having trained staff and in-place processes require the business requirements described above.  Moving to Ghost early is simply too painful. For others, Ghost must enable a minimum of the above before adding the new stuff.  Making the product easy to use and enabling a strong CMS content platform are fundamental to driving content generation.  But they can get away with fewer themes, and less robustness in many other areas. Their early adopters either won’t need it or can do it better themselves, willing to trade off for unique benefits WP lacks. To attract heavy bloggers (and startup businesses without marketing resources) Ghost must dramatically improve on WordPress weaknesses key to this target: the WP writing system and content generation capabilities. To win, Ghost must differentiate along these top user needs.

1. Writing experience. The ultimate will be a WYSIWYG experience, without the overhead of a Microsoft Word. Using Markdown might be the right choice, but I found it mandated a different set of work arounds.  Ghost’s emphasis on seeing exactly what your post will look like, while being able to drag image content into the pane, would be a huge advance toward this goal.  Core writing elements like tables need to be supported.  Pull quotes and other writing accents easy to accomplish.

2. Leveraging past content. A smart referral engine built into the platform could empower heavy content producers.  Tools to smartly identify related site content for linking would help.  Pointing directly to mid-posts should be easier.  We all forget what we wrote six months ago, and leveraging colleagues’ content is even harder.  All this can’t depend on extensive upfront tagging by writers.

3. Solution Googleized.This is paramount.  Author Rank and Page speed must be visibly addressed. And anything Google+ launches leveraged.  A new platform will have more opportunity here than something based on older tech serving many, many masters.

4. Curating content. Starting with the writer, and not the available tools, will lead to the best experience.  A good platform should be built using the model of content written online, with web-based supporting materials gathered over time (and by multiple staff), with collection grouped around ideas.  Don’t go down the folder path of Evernote.  Start with the post – and base the process around delivering a new post against a well-formed idea as quickly as possible.

5. Blog ideation. Build a platform that separates completed content, from drafts, from ideation.  By designing around the process, and not the library of posts, you can envision new tools possible at each step of production, deployment, and reuse – and presented when required. Today’s content marketers’ are using a plethora of ad hoc tools to organize idea generation and curation across teams – lots of best practices to be leveraged.

6. Paywalls.Increasingly business models are incorporating free/paid service offerings – or some flavor of subscription services. Integration and maintenance of such billing models is a pain, but is being felt first by serious bloggers and web startups.  Ghost without some level of payment support for subscription services will truly be just another self-gratification writing platform.

7. Site speed.  (And responsiveness.)  This too feels like an emerging and unmet need.  If the MEAN stack provides a Ghost advantage, they should put it front and center.  Make site speed a key differentiator.  Prove it.  Promote it.

8. Dashboard. Ghost takes great pains to promote its dashboard, but this could prove a rat hole.  These are hard to keep current.  Better to offer best in class APIs, allowing integration with Google or Twitter tools like Buffer.  But dashboards sell.  With non-techies, nice dashboard make sales, even though the entire pitch was focused on performance and competitive capabilities.  Go figure.

User Needs – where will Ghost beat WordPress

Taking all of the above, I constructed a set of user need radar diagrams that point out the differences between where WordPress stands today, and where I suspect Ghost is targeting.  Most businesses will not move off the qualifying user needs – they need as much of those core attributes as available. When a quarter of the web is running on WorkPress, most current WP sites are not early adopters. Disclaimer:  This chart is my conjecture  – the weighting on WordPress attributes reflect my own experience; those of Ghost on those needs I suggest must emphasize. Ghost_user_needs But for heavy content producers, and smaller new startups with technical chops, moving to Ghost might provide large competitive advantages.  The online writing/curation/social integration experience is ripe for innovation.  Use of Node.js offers technical advantages when serving huge numbers of users accessing apps vs static page content, and could attract important early developers moving that way.  Startups might also leverage these platform advantages to build in powerful marketing integrations at low or no cost. By addressing the differentiating needs, Ghost will build a value proposition that WordPress (or anyone else) will find tough to follow.  But to do so they’ll have to build it into their product.  A plug-in model will just recreate the problems plaguing Word Press – tons of low quality and self promoting plugs in of little use – and be slow to develop. Focus back on the writer and make that process work – not just the writing experience which seems to be in vogue today – but the entire process.  Ideation, Curation, Online production, and Reuse.  I’d bet on Ghost.

Want more on the future of marketing?  Follow me @gilbertdw.

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