StudioPress, creators of the Genesis Framework and part of the Rainmaker Digital empire just rolled out a new SaaS offering: StudioPress Sites. Some would say it looks awfully similar to sister product Rainmaker Platform.
So, what’s the story here?
Is this new offering merely a fresh coat of paint on an existing product or is there actually some innovation here? I’ll share what I know from my experience and then let you judge for yourself.
StudioPress Sites vs Rainmaker Platform
Let me start with some quick history.
StudioPress is one of the largest (and longest-standing) WordPress theme shops. They’re also the creator of the Genesis Framework, arguably the most popular premium framework for building WordPress sites.
In 2014, Rainmaker Digital (then Copyblogger) introduced the Rainmaker Platform. The service takes all the technical aspects out of website creation and leaves the user to create content, publish podcasts, offer memberships, and a lot more. It’s a digital marketer’s playground. (Here’s a “behind the login” demo if you want to see what it looks like.)
What is StudioPress Sites?
Since the Rainmaker launch, the company’s attention has been predominately focused on Rainmaker, leaving StudioPress fans a little disengaged.
Now in 2017 comes along StudioPress Sites, a hosted service combining a WordPress site with built-in access to web builder tools. And some other bells and whistles that I’ll get to.
It’s tempting to think that StudioPress Sites (a service quite similar in theory to Rainmaker) is just a way to throw a bone to the StudioPress customer base (“Hey! We haven’t forgotten you!”), but I think there’s more to it.
Stop and think about all the friction points — all the things that aren’t obvious or easy — that come with building a website. StudioPress Sites tries to remove that friction by providing a little more hand-holding than you’d get with a self-hosted solution (and less than you’d get with Rainmaker).
How does StudioPress Sites differ from Rainmaker?
On the surface, the most obvious difference between StudioPress Sites and Rainmaker Platform is the actual look of things. Rainmaker has a 100% custom interface while StudioPress Sites uses the default WordPress admin UI that any existing WordPress user is already familiar with (with the exception of a new StudioPress menu item).
While the Rainmaker UI is frankly a massive improvement over the default WordPress UI, it’s helpful that any existing WordPress user could come in and already feel right at home in the dashboard of a StudioPress Sites site. There’s less of a learning curve.
The underlying tech
Both StudioPress Sites and the Rainmaker Platform run on Synthesis hosting (another offering in the Rainmaker Digital family of products). This means both are running on a host optimized for WordPress in terms of both speed and security.
That’s about where the similarity ends.
Think of the Rainmaker Platform as an extra layer wrapped around Genesis. The feature set is hard-coded and made for a very specific market: personal brands who do content marketing through podcasts, products, courses, emails, affiliate programs, etc.
It’s also a closed environment, meaning there’s no direct access to the servers (irritating for developers accustomed to uploading files or accessing the database). No plugins are allowed either. Womp womp.
By contrast, StudioPress Sites is pretty much what you’d expect with a standard WordPress install. You’ve got WordPress, the Genesis Framework, and the StudioPress theme of your choice (the service includes access to 20+ HTML5, mobile-friendly themes). You’ve also got SFTP access and can customize theme files to your heart’s desire.
Even though both services use WordPress and Genesis, from a technical standpoint they’re quite different under the hood. Rainmaker has more moving parts that make it less nimble (from a development perspective) than StudioPress Sites.
Since StudioPress Sites and Rainmaker Platform both include managed WordPress hosting, there’s no hosting setup or config necessary. It’s also worth noting that there are no penalty costs should your traffic suddenly spike.
One more note on the hosting side of StudioPress Sites: staging sites are not available yet (though they’re on the roadmap).
With Rainmaker, many of the features are “baked in” (typically via a custom post type), which is a practice that annoys me as a developer but is generally considered suitable for custom site builds. And that’s what Rainmaker is – it’s essentially a highly customized site built for a specific audience.
It’s more feature-packed than StudioPress Sites and its price reflects that ($145/mo on an annual plan vs $24/mo).
StudioPress Sites is much more akin to a standard self-hosted WordPress install. From within your WordPress admin, you can 1-click activate the theme of your choice (no need to install first). You can also do a 1-click activation for any of a dozen or so curated partner plugins. Essentially, it’s a small repository of trusted plugins that let you do anything from run an affiliate program to selling products.
That (growing) list of plugins includes:
- Design Palette Pro
- Beaver Builder Lite
- Soliloquy Lite
- Easy Digital Downloads
- Restrict Content Pro
- Ninja Forms
- WPForms Lite
Note that if you choose to use the premium version of these plugins (or associated add-ons), that is a separate cost. You’d purchase it directly from the creator and add your license key to your StudioPress Site. In addition to these plugins, you can also install and activate any other plugin you choose.
There’s a content optimization feature that’s not overly impressive – Rainmaker’s SEO tools are much more robust. If you remember the Copyblogger’s Scribe SEO product from a few years ago, that’s built into Rainmaker.
In short, StudioPress Sites eliminates a lot of the hassle of site setup, but you still get to “get your hands dirty” more than you would in Rainmaker.
Who will enjoy using StudioPress Sites?
Let’s lay out some options for using WordPress and the Genesis Framework in order of ease of use*:
- Rainmaker Platform (easy – little to no technical aspect required)
- StudioPress Sites (moderate – lots of helpers to make the process easier, but you can still get technical)
- Self-hosted WordPress with Genesis (difficult – go find some tutorials, kid)
* I’m defining “ease of use” in terms of normal people (i.e. not developers)
Of course, if you’re a developer, you’d probably reverse those rankings to match your preferred level of control. For instance, I’d pick self-hosted WordPress every time because I’m a nerd and want maximum technical control.
I wrote about six ways you can know if Rainmaker is right for you. You can read those and see what you think, but here I’ll give you six ways you can know if StudioPress Sites is your best option.
6 ways to know if StudioPress Sites is right for you
- You’re a DIY sort who doesn’t mind getting a little technical. As a matter of fact, you enjoy the challenge.
- You want full access to the code base for any customizations you might want to make. (Start with these Genesis tutorials!)
- You’ve already tried self-hosting WordPress and found it frustrating
- You’d rather choose plugins from a curated list than dig through the repo and reviews
- You’re budget-conscious*
- You love Copyblogger or StudioPress
* Plans start at $24/mo and that includes hosting. Save the cost of your current host, the Genesis Framework, and whichever themes you’d like to experiment with.
So, what’s the verdict?
As a huge fan of both StudioPress and the people behind it, I have no trouble recommending StudioPress Sites. It’s a bargain for the service you’re getting, not to mention the support that comes with it.
I think this is more than simply appeasing an existing customer base. This is the start of reaching into a crowded marketplace that’s in terrible need of quality offerings (cough Squarespace, Wix, cough). It’s a smart move for the company and I look forward to seeing how StudioPress will iterate on its service and make it even better over time.
Oops, I told you that I’d let you be the judge. What do you think?