A conversation with Brian Gardner about the evolution of WordPress and new things happening at StudioPress
Self-hosted WordPress is a wonderful thing … except for all the hard parts.
Like figuring out hosting, security, design, installation …
In this 19-minute episode, I talk with our Chief Product Officer (we sometimes call him our Chief WordPress Officer), Brian Gardner, about the brand-new StudioPress Sites.
We talk about:
- The “hard part” about WordPress for people like me (maybe you, too)
- Why we developed a brand-new turnkey site platform
- The major differences between StudioPress Sites and the Rainmaker Platform
- Security, SEO, and other fun “back end” stuff to think about with your site
The Show Notes
- If you’re ready to see for yourself why more than 201,344 website owners trust StudioPress — the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plugins — swing by StudioPress.com for all the details.
- I’m always happy to see your questions or thoughts on Twitter @soniasimone — or right here in the comments!
A New, Ultra-Easy Resource for Creating Excellent WordPress Sites
Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.
Sonia Simone: Copyblogger FM is brought to you by the all-new StudioPress Sites, a turnkey solution that combines the ease of an all-in-one website builder with the flexible power of WordPress. It’s perfect for bloggers, podcasters, and affiliate marketers, as well as those of you who are selling physical products, digital downloads, or membership programs.
If you’re ready to take your WordPress site to the next level, see for yourself why more than 200,000 website owners trust StudioPress. You can check it out by going to Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress.
Hey there. It is so good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant.
My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hangout with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always get extra links, extra resources, as well as the complete show archive by entering Copyblogger.FM into your web browser.
I am here today with my colleague, my business partner, my friend Brian Gardner. Brian, it is so nice to have you with us today.
Brian Gardner: I am very happy to be here today. I get to talk about the thing I love most on the Internet, and that is StudioPress.
Sonia Simone: I love it. Brian is, like everybody in our company — I don’t know, we have kind of musical titles. He’s our chief product officer. But lately we’ve been calling him our chief WordPress officer. Which I think is kind of cool, because you’re very chief, and you’re very much a WordPress guy. I like that.
Let’s talk a little bit. So we’ve been keeping you and your team kind of busy. I thought maybe we would just have you over, and let us know what’s up with this new project. We’ve got this new thing, we’ve been talking about it a lot, and I wanted you to come just help us know kind of what it is, and what it’s called, and who it’s for, and all that good stuff.
Why Rainmaker Digital Developed a Brand-New Turnkey Site Platform
Brian Gardner: So last year, a lot of our team sort of on the StudioPress side, we went a little bit incognito. We’ve been always actively working on stuff from the WordPress perspective, developing themes and doing stuff like that. And updating Genesis and our plugins.
But about almost a year ago to the date, we all sat down in a basement and had dinner and talked about, “What is the next step for StudioPress?”
We had a couple of years prior to that, really focused on building Rainmaker and all of that. I kind of asked the question to us all, “What is the next step for StudioPress? Where do we take Genesis, and what do we do with a community of so many people?” Thankfully, so many people that trust us with their business.
I felt like it was time for us to do something. And so we talked a lot about things that were happening sort of in the space. Trends, design trends, the fact that mobile first has become such a big focus for a lot of web development and sites like that. We really sort of landed on, and it took us a little while to kind of formulate what we wanted to do.
Tony Clark, who’s the chief operating officer of our company and somebody who’s really into setting things up, and organizing structure and process, and stuff like that. He said, “You know, before we just identify what we think we want to build, let’s take a step back and let’s talk to our people and find out sort of what is the need.” Because a product that you build that no one buys is a product that you build that no one buys.
He said, “Let’s take a step back. Let’s put out some surveys, let’s talk to our people.” We thought we knew what we wanted to build and why we should built it. But I think it just helped to have a little bit of affirmation.
Sure enough, we talked to our audience, we talked to those that trust us with their business, and came up with what’s kind of at this point known as StudioPress Sites.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, and it’s cool. It’s just really a neat, neat new thing. Tell us a little bit about what it is. What is StudioPress Sites, how is it different than just the StudioPress that we all know and love — which is, of course, this set of premium WordPress things. What does this mean, StudioPress Sites?
The “Hard Part” about WordPress for People Like Brian and Sonia (Maybe You, too)
Brian Gardner: Prior to StudioPress Sites, StudioPress itself was primarily a WordPress-themed company. A premium WordPress-themed company. You would go to StudioPress.
If you wanted to use WordPress and look for something to use as a template for your site, StudioPress is where you would go.
A few things that we did outside of that were plugins. We have free plugins that work along the Genesis Framework of ours, and of course we have at this point 40 to 50 premium WordPress themes for sale.
Now, StudioPress Sites is sort of the next evolution of just that experience. People would come to us and buy a theme, then they’d go off and they’d find their hosting. A lot of times what we found is, it wasn’t just that easy, right? People didn’t necessarily understand what it was to set up hosting and then to go get a theme.
We take for granted, as WordPress people, what we know and how easy that seems to be for us. But there’s a lot of people out there — writers, bloggers, those types of people — who are new to this space. We’ve been here for, what, 10-plus years? They hear about blogging, they hear their business should have a website, things like that. Everyone tells them to do WordPress, but then they kind of got stuck.
They’re like, “Well, what does this exactly mean, and how do I do this? ‘What’s self-hosted WordPress?’ versus ‘What’s WordPress.com?” And all of that.
I think a lot of people at that point kind of left the WordPress arena and just went with a Squarespace-type site, right? Squarespace kind of stepped in and said, “Hey, we’re the all-in-one. Just come over here, click a few buttons, and you have a website.” Then there’s a few others, like Wix, that are sort of like that all-in-one thing.
We identified through our conversations and our surveys, we said, “Let’s take the experience at StudioPress and help make that easier for people to get a website.”
Through a number of conversations, and long calls, and meetings and stuff like that, we developed what we thought was a great idea, which was the ability to show up at StudioPress and get a website in minutes, with the ability to still offer the great designs that we have there.
Sonia Simone: It’s funny, because you say, “People like us get that WordPress is pretty easy.” But that’s like people like you.
I mean, I’m now at the point where I know the difference between .org and .com. But if I’m going to help my husband, for example, get a site set up, I’m so used to having a team that helps me out with it. It’s not so easy if you’re doing it for the first time or you haven’t done it in awhile.
It’s a really nice option to have all that stuff: “Okay, I have to get hosting.” “Nope, hosting is all set.” “Okay, well I have to get security monitoring.” “No, you know, we’re good with security monitoring.” It’s just really nice to have that all taken care of, as well as things like, I was always … I first went out with a Typepad site for exactly the reason you mentioned.
Once I switched over to WordPress, then there was always that question of, “Okay, well can I update WordPress? Is that going to mess up my site? Am I going to have to call the developer back, set it up, and get it re-set up?”
There’s all those questions people have with WordPress. It’s just nice to have that option, where somebody’s just kind of thought through the stuff for you.
Brian Gardner: Well, that’s the thing though. All the things that you just mentioned, those aren’t things that anybody — whether they be a blogger who’s just trying to get a name out and start something small or a small business. Those are questions, and concerns, and roadblocks. Those are things that people should not have to deal with.
I don’t spend as much time in support as I used to. But even back in the day I would read the support tickets of our own and at WordPress, and I see the struggle that people have. “I’m trying to do this, I can’t do this. I Googled that, I went on YouTube.”
I’m like, “Really?” Focus on your content, and writing, and doing your thing, and don’t let something like a website get in the way.
That’s ultimately kind of where we landed. And so we said, “If we can build something where people show up, and they can read what it’s about, and click a few buttons, and literally have a website in less than five minutes.” Then that to us seemed like a big win.
Sonia Simone: Exactly. Cool, well I know that some people who know Copyblogger and have been hanging out with us for awhile, probably one of their first questions will be … We have a platform called the Rainmaker platform that is a turnkey web platform, it’s based on WordPress. Is this the same thing, or is it something different? What’s different about the two things?
The Major Differences Between StudioPress Sites and the Rainmaker Platform
Brian Gardner: A lot of the technology. And this is kind of getting geeky first. But a lot of the technology behind the scenes is sort of built off of the same stuff.
Now from the end user, Rainmaker started out much like StudioPress Sites is now. But over the years we really developed that and added a lot of tools. High-powered tools, things that are really big. For instance, podcasting ability and the ability to set up a shop and do all kinds of things. And RainMail is another huge thing that is part of Rainmaker.
Rainmaker really evolved into a higher end product that’s a better fit for an established company, or an established blogger, or somebody who has the time and the money to invest into taking their business to a much higher level.
StudioPress Sites, on the other hand, is really more of that DIY, entry-level blogger — which there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of them out there. They don’t need Rainmaker, because maybe it’s outside their budget, or maybe it just has way too many tools that they don’t even need.
All they’re looking to do is get online. And maybe just a hobby blogger, or lifestyle blogger, or they just want to take pictures of their food. We realized that there is a need, and we can’t just force those people to buy Rainmaker because it’s our solution.
That’s where we decided to sort of part the Red Sea and say, “Okay, Rainmaker’s going to go this way, and StudioPress Sites is going to be born.” Really they’re two different demographics that we’re going after.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, it’s a similar idea in one way, because it’s WordPress made just a lot easier. In another way, people are using it very differently. The writers, a freelance design pro.
Another big difference: It seems to me that StudioPress Sites is more flexible. If you have your favorite plugins, or whatever, and they’re not part of the Rainmaker set, you can just go ahead and include them. Is that right?
Security, SEO, and Other Fun “Back End” Stuff to Think About with Your Site
Brian Gardner: Yeah. And that is another, from a technical perspective. And the developers in our community really love this. Because with Rainmaker, it was sort of on lockdown, where that was an environment that was not set up to allow people to bring things in from the outside, other than their custom Genesis themes.
StudioPress Sites is much like a traditional hosting setup, where you have, it’s normal WordPress. The back end is WordPress, as you would see it if you got hosting somewhere else. Along with that we’ve included a number of valuable functionalities and things that we’ve kind of built in to the experience, a little more enhanced SEO and a number of other things.
The good thing about this from a developers standpoint, or even somebody’s who’s not, is that you’re allowed to import any theme you want. You’re allowed to, like you said, snatch any plugin that might be relevant to what you’re looking to do.
Even on a deeper level, from a technical standpoint, you have FTP access. Which means from the server side you’re allowed to go in and do things. If you want to customize your theme, you don’t have to submit a custom theme or do it through the dashboard. You can do it through FTP, which is what a lot of the developers like to have, that access, because they make small tweaks and things like that to the files within the theme.
From that perspective it is wide open. There’s a lot of differences on the front end, but also on the back end.
Sonia Simone: I do want to take a little time to shout out. So much happens in a company like Copyblogger. We get on the podcast once a week and tell people what’s up. And the blog every week, there’s content. So much happens behind the scenes.
I want to thank the development team. I know you just have been really proud of the team. This has been a major effort. Our hats off, warm and fuzzies, group hug for everybody on the tactical team that made this happen.
Brian Gardner: You know, I’m an idea guy. For me, I always like to have ideas. A lot of times, and in this case for sure, I was not able to take that idea and do it all myself. I like to think I can sometimes. But this project was way outside of my scope.
Even though we had multiple people on it for this type of project, it was actually a small team. That small team that we had from a documentation standpoint, from a development standpoint, from a design standpoint, because we redesigned StudioPress on top of this whole StudioPress Sites initiative, which added another thick layer of complexity in terms of trying to time it all. Everybody outperformed what we hoped. And it just came together so well without a hitch, and we’re very proud of them.
Sonia Simone: Yeah. Really, really good group of folks. Let’s talk about maybe just a little bit, if somebody’s thinking about maybe they have a site on a Squarespace, or something where they don’t maybe have quite as much flexibility as they find they need. Or they do have a WordPress site. Maybe they have a site on WordPress.com, and they’ve got some limitations with that.
What are some of the questions that people might just go through to decide if StudioPress Sites might be a good option?
Brian Gardner: So unlike a theme — where you just kind of go to the store, and buy it off the shelf, and take it home and play with it — a website, whether it’s hosted by us or somebody else, that’s more of an investment, right? That’s more of a, “I planted my seed here.”
And it’s not just an individual product, right? There’s a little bit more thought that goes into, “Oh, I want to check out StudioPress Sites and do all of that.”
Now, the good thing: There are migration services. In other words, if you’re on a WordPress.com site, or if you’re on another hosting, we offer some partnerships with migration services that allow you to very easily take your content and site from one place and move it to another.
That’s something that I think people have a fear of, feel like they have to do it themselves. So that’s a good bonus in terms of if somebody wants to come over.
One of the other benefits of getting a StudioPress Site is that as part of that, you get access to the Genesis Framework. Which is, for almost eight years now, what StudioPress alone has built its revenue model off of.
Genesis is a framework for WordPress. It’s a part that comes with StudioPress Sites, and we offer 20 different themes on top of that. That’s the design side of the web experience.
Now, Genesis has some advanced SEO features. One of the things that I was really happy about with StudioPress Sites is that we included the Open Graph output into the source code. What that does is it tells Google, it tells Facebook, it tells Pinterest and Twitter and all of the social medias out there the proper information to display when posts are getting shared, and stuff like that.
For me, that was a big thing. There’s a lot of lifestyle bloggers who really rely on Pinterest for traffic. Out-of-the-box StudioPress Sites are Rich Pin ready. For those who are into that type of thing, they’ll know exactly what that means.
It basically means we’ve done a lot of the work to help people get their content to be in the most ready position to be shared and the most optimized. There’s search engine optimization tools that we have built into Genesis that help sort of enhance the experience when Google comes to visit.
On top of that, it’s a very secure framework. We hired Mark Jaquith, who is a lead contributor at WordPress, to do a security audit.
Again, there’s 20 designs that we’ve created, and come from also the third-party developers in our community, that come as part of that package.
At that point, whether you’re importing a site or starting a new site, it’s a very good experience to make a few clicks to get your site online, to pick your theme. And inside of that, there’s some customization ability. If you want to change some of the colors of your sites, and things like that.
Sonia Simone: And that’s so fun too. I know when you have a new site or when you make an update to a site, there’s just nothing more fun that sitting around and messing with your colors for about a whole afternoon. It’s just like, “What if I had that kind of pink? Oh, I like pink.” Lots of fun.
Well, I guess probably the best way to wrap this up is to talk about, just let people know how they can find out more about it if they’re kind of on the fence. How do they learn more, whether it’s a StudioPress theme or going ahead and maybe making a decision to go with StudioPress Sites?
Brian Gardner: Yeah, so if you go to StudioPress.com and just read the homepage, it’s built for us to talk about what Sites is and why it’s a great idea for your business.
Then on the main navigation there, we have two main call-to-action buttons. Either “Shop for a theme,” which is where you can go and look at all the themes that we have. Then there’s “Create a site,” which goes into a little bit more detail on StudioPress Sites and what it is.
There’s two different plans, and it spells out what might be a good fit for you. We’ve got some frequently asked questions already in place on that page also. The things that you might be wondering or asking yourself: “Is this right for me? What about this?” Those are already there for you.
Of course, we have a contact form. So if there’s anything that’s not on the site, things that you have questions about, our team is around 24/7 to answer those questions.
Sonia Simone: Very cool. All right, well thank you. Appreciate you dropping by and just letting us know what you’ve been up to. What you and the team have been working so on.
Brian Gardner: Yep.
Sonia Simone: Always a pleasure. I know that we’re going to get to see a little bit more from you this month on Copyblogger on the blog as well. That’s exciting, I’m looking forward to it.
Brian Gardner: Yeah, it will be good to be back.
Sonia Simone: All right, thank you so much. Sonia Simone here today talking with Brian Gardner. Thank you again, and take care.