The new Ghost blogging platform has highlighted a glaring weakness in WordPress – it’s losing the Word part. What started as a blogging platform has morphed into something else. Are they risking leaving the writer behind?
I’ve been an active blogger for about six months now, having first started on Blogger and then moving to WordPress when I needed a permanent home and more options. After many years marketing and selling products both offline and on, I had developed, launched and ran websites, including eCommerce sites – but had never used WordPress.
At first WordPress proved disappointing – the whole dashboard approach and “hidden theme control” via CSS felt limiting. But once blogging regularly and experiencing the challenges of promoting a small business, I appreciated the many WordPress tradeoffs that came from balancing user needs across a deep platform developed over many years. My previous Drupal experience (bad) made me appreciate the CMS capabilities of WordPress. Ubiquitous and cheap themes let me look like a mega-dollar business. Plug-ins brought me SEO optimization, security, spam control, social media integration, and control over that left sidebar! Pages took my site beyond blogging and into business. And I haven’t even explored any of the eCommerce, paid-sign up or other options yet.
So, what gives? I first became aware of Ghost a few months back. I’d been playing around a bit with Node.js and heard of Ghost as one more startup executing under the MEAN stack. I liked that aspect of Ghost, but having just moved to WordPress from Blogger, I did not appreciate John O’Nolan’s motivation behind it. In the intervening months, I’d come to understand the problem.
As millions of users and businesses came onboard, WordPress left their blogging roots behind. What Ghost is addressing – and what’s suffering in WordPress – is the blogging experience. I’ve tried Medium, and have been watching Svtble, for insights as to how the writing experience might be better. I’ve toyed with Markdown using both Draft (although Nathan Kontny‘s vision seems promising) and Mou for Mac. Frankly, I’m back using the WordPress tools.
I was forced to ask: What do I need in a blogging platform that fronts for a small product development business? In short, what are my user needs?
Missing the word in WordPress.
Writing on the web is moving forward, but WordPress seems stalled. I’d consider these areas ripe for innovation – representing top user needs for a significant segment of their most loyal users.
Writing experience. WordPress has a very clunky writing engine. The tiny MCE editing window is too small, and the WYSIWYG experience unreliable. The browser saving of past versions is mystifying! And the site preview (while writing) integration extremely inelegant. Most businesses create little content, other than simple pages around product offerings and promos. Perhaps for them limited writing capability is probably fine. But for bloggers and content creators, the writing experience has become a WordPress weakness.
Leveraging past content. Once you start accumulating a series of posts and pages, finding past content becomes messy. And once found, WP facilitates only a raw page link to that content; without editing, the link can’t land mid-article for example.
Social integration. Social posting and integration are all provided via 3rd party plug-ins. JetPack helps at a basic level, but editing tweets and FB posts is difficult. This is a tricky and changing area, but Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – the key platforms – are now huge knowns. Integration is a necessity for almost any business. This can no longer be an afterthought.
Theme modification. This is doable but harder than need be. Small modifications of themes necessitate a trial and error proofing process – simple page and font management is lacking. Businesses using designers can just call their agency. But for the masses, simply buying a different cheap theme doesn’t solve the problem. Theme markets offer no standard language in which to compare during purchase the features each offers – the whole buying process could use a robust and automated feature comparison engine.
Curating content. Once blogging, you find yourself capturing links and clips everywhere as you develop new content. My process consists of Email messages sent to self, Notes captured in Evernote, Saved pages in Safari, Notes on iPhone, Twitter favorites, etc. Web tools for collecting and structuring content seem nonexistent. Cutting and pasting is the norm. I keep hearing of folks running their process through Evernote. I don’t get it. My Evernote account reminds me of the old days of document management via Windows folders. Within minutes, I forget what is where. Search box hunting proves useless. Online folders is not the answer.
Blog ideation. Blogging is an interesting mix of writing stuff you want to say – easily structured into a series of posts – and interesting ideas that pop into your head as you walk the dog. The later are usually better. My experience has been to start many posts, but complete few. My curation process is to start drafts around interesting ideas, and then link related content to those drafts over the following few weeks. But this ad hoc process is made even clumsier by the WordPress post interface. WP mixes published content with drafts, requires 3 clicks deep to access anything, and facilitates repurposing content using “cut and paste” between browser windows. All works but so clunky.
Site dashboard. I have not spent much effort here, but I wonder who has? The JetPack Status solution is weak. I’m sure better dashboard solutions exist, but this is not a top need for me. For sites with serious traffic, optimization around traffic generation requires integration beyond WordPress. Most are probably using Google; sort of a high bar to beat. An eCommerce site paying for demand generation will have their CPA dashboard elsewhere. Dashboards are sexy, but never really done as the next question always arises. For writers the question is what worked – what headline, what topic, what search term?
Site speed tracking. Much is now being made of this being a key Google ranking parameter. Plugins likely exist, but this too now feels fundamental. How one’s site mix of theme and plugins impacts page load speed is unknown for most. It shouldn’t be.
Ghost can exploit these weaknesses
What started as a few disparate issues now projects a huge bullseye opportunity. Content creation on the web is accelerating. While some might feel content marketing is yet another web fad, the reality is different. Content’s success is built on a fundamental marketing truth – one proven though the ages. Hearts and minds are won through word of mouth referral by friends. Strong WOM depends on quality products and educated users. Users now find and learn about products on the web – not in store, or in the mail, or even from a sales rep. Before you see a potential customer, they are already far down the purchase process. Companies willing to play the long game of feeding this new beast will win. Quick and expensive emotive ads might serve the big brands, but they won’t create new customers. Thoughtful articles that build trust and authenticity will. Content marketing is here to stay.
Addressing the above missing needs will allow Ghost – or Draft or Medium – the ability to carve out a very profitable niche. And once started, such basic needs often become mainstream. WordPress take note – changing a hugely successful product is hard. But in most cases reality wins.
For how Ghost can win, see part two of this post.