WP Engine Announces New Plans: What It Means for Local Publishers

The times they are a changin’. Less than two months after WP Engine announced that it had raised $250 million in funding, the omnipresent WordPress host is changing its plans and pricing structure. In an announcement sent to its digital partners on Monday, WP Engine debuted its WordPress Digital Experience Platform (DXP), along with new plans and add-on features.

WP Engine’s updated plans put a greater focus on customization and flexibility, while taking advantage of the company’s WordPress Digital Experience Platform.

Although prices have gone up across the board, the company is hoping that customers will be persuaded to stick around with add-on features such as GeoTarget and Content Performance, which were previously reserved for customers with higher-end plans. WP Engine is also now offering CDN, for faster content delivery, on all new plans, along with SSL certificates for data encryption, and three environments for development, staging, and production.

Let’s take a closer look at what WP Engine’s plans and pricing changes mean for existing customers.

  • Prices are up across the board. WP Engine’s new plans start at $35 (Startup plan), $115 (Growth plan), and $290 (Scale plan) per month, compared to current pricing at $29 (Personal plan), $99 (Professional plan), and $249 (Business plan) per month.
  • Additional features for clients with Startup plans. CDN and SSL Page Performance Site migration are included for free with WP Engine’s new Startup, Growth, and Scale plans. Previously, CDN cost $19.95 per month for customers with Personal plans.
  • New site limits are in effect. With WP Engine’s new plans, customers with Startup plans are limited to 1 site, customers with Growth plans are limited to 5 sites, and customers with Scale plans are limited to 15 sites. Additional sites can be added on for $20 per site, per month, at any plan level.
  • Some terminology is changing. WP Engine’s new plans include “sites,” which are slightly different from “installs” on the older plans. Each site includes three environments, development, staging, and production. For existing users, the install count will not be changing.
  • More customization features are available at all plan levels. GeoTarget or Content Performance, which were previously reserved for customers on Business plans, are now available as add-on features regardless of plan level.
  • Business plan customers get add-ons at no cost. The current Business plan supports Multisite, GeoTarget, and Content Performance. Once Business plan customers roll into WP Engine’s new Scale plan, these add-ons will be included in their plans at no extra cost.
  • Monthly visitors remain unchanged. WP Engine’s new Startup, Growth, and Scale plans allow for 25,000, 100,000, and 400,000 visitors per month, which is the same as the company’s older plans.

Are these changes significant enough to cause an exodus from WP Engine? Only time will tell. For budget-conscious publishers, WP Engine’s price increase may warrant a closer look at alternative solutions, such as Flywheel. We’ve migrated a handful of independent publishers to Flywheel from WP Engine and have not had any issues. Their free migration service will work for most publishers but some sites that have custom setups may still need a manual migration.

Flywheel is one of a handful of competing WordPress hosting and management solutions with a loyal following among independent publishers. Like WP Engine, Flywheel was custom built for WordPress with fast load times and a streamlined dashboard.

Flywheel’s Single-site plans start at $15 per month (for the Tiny plan) and go up to $75 per month (for the Professional plan).Bulk plans (10+ WordPress sites) range in price from $100 per month (for the Freelance plan) to $250 per month (for the Agency plan). They also offer the option to pay annually for all plans, which comes with a discount for a free month.

Although Flywheel has a smaller price tag, its least expensive plan allows for just 5,000 visitors monthly, compared to 25,000 with WP Engine’s Startup plan. Flywheel also charges $10 per month for CDN for clients with Tiny and Personal plans, whereas WP Engine is now offering a CDN for free. Flywheel also recently added live chat support to rival the 24/7 support offered by WP Engine.

While there is no doubt that WP Engine is still the leader in WordPress hosting, Flywheel’s lower price point makes it a viable alternative for publishers looking to take the leap.

While Flywheel’s Tiny plan is best suited for small sites (5,000 monthly visitors), the Personal plan matches WP Engine’s Startup plan with 25,000 visitors and only costs $30 a month (as opposed to $35 at WP Engine). Other than the Tiny plan, all Flywheel sites come with a free staging site. Every plan also includes free SSL certificates, free nightly backups, free malware removal, and free migrations to the platform. And for anyone developing sites locally, they have Local by Flywheel, a free local development app that connects to their hosting platform to easily push sites live or pull sites down to your local machine.

Tired of getting emails from WP Engine saying you’ve outgrown your current plan and will need to upgrade? Well this is another area where Flywheel wins over WP Engine, check out their page that outlines the policy on overages and their “no penalty” policy: https://getflywheel.com/overages/


Launching a News Website

5 Steps to Launching a News Website

It all starts with a great idea. That’s the first step in launching a news website. But turning a great idea for a website into a viable business can get tricky.

Launching a news website doesn’t have to be expensive, and would-be entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to be technically savvy to pull it off. As publishing tools have gotten easier to use, the number of independent news websites has grown. In the past two years alone, there’s been a 50% increase in publishers joining the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, an organization that serves hyperlocal news operations.

What would-be publishers need in order to turn their ideas for niche publications into sustainable businesses is a strategic plan that encompasses editorial, business, and marketing.

5 steps to launching a news website

Step 1: Create a business plan

Launching a news website isn’t much different from launching a print newspaper or any other type of business. Everything begins with a business plan.

Come up with a mission for your publication—for example, “to educate members of the community about local politics”—and jot down some ideas about the topics you plan to cover. Once you’ve nailed down the editorial side of the operation, you’ll be better prepared to think objectively about how to generate revenue.

Use your business plan to outline your revenue strategies, which might include things like selling advertising, charging for subscriptions, or producing sponsored content. Looking at how much revenue you expect to generate can also help determine whether you’ll be hiring any writers or editors. A budget may also be necessary as a way to allocate resources.

Step 2: Select a platform

The most popular platform for local news websites is WordPress. In fact, more than one-quarter of the web—from bloggers to international media outlets—uses WordPress. Among independent publishers, specifically, WordPress has become popular because it’s low cost and easy-to-use. However, the specifics of your business plan will dictate which publishing platform is right for you.

When selecting a publishing platform, stick to those that offer flexibility and scalability. The last thing you want is to have to switch platforms right as your publication takes off. The best publishing platforms offer customizable designs, responsive sites, high security, and they’re SEO friendly.

Step 3: Choose the best plugins

Plugins will help expand the functionality of your WordPress website. Adding a plugin to a WordPress website is a way to gain access to a new feature without paying a developer to create that feature from scratch. For example, a publisher might use the Events Calendar by Modern Tribe plugin to add a fully responsive community calendar, or he might use the WooCommerce plugin to start selling physical and digital goods. Another popular plugin among online publishers is the Google Analytics plugin.

Check out this list of the top WordPress plugins for publishers for a more comprehensive look at how plugins can be used to improve the functionality of a local news site.

Step 4: Write valuable content

Once you’ve got a business plan in place and a website setup, it’s time to get going. Start putting together editorial content that aligns with your mission. Write articles, take photographs, and put together infographics or videos that will get readers excited about your publication.

Use the first few weeks as a testing period to determine whether you’re capable of putting together the content you envisioned on your own, or if you’ll need to hire outside writers and editors for help. Experienced writers will be able to write headlines with SEO in mind and put together content that impacts readers in a way that will drive traffic and boost readership.

Step 5: Start looking for advertisers

Advertisers will usually need to see a product before they agree to start advertising on your website, so hold off on looking for advertisers until you’ve started churning out editorial content at a regular pace. The specifics of your business plan will dictate where advertising revenue comes from. A few publishers will keep their websites as a personal hobby, and they can skip this step altogether. The vast majority of digital publishers will need to select an ad server before they can start accepting advertising. Many independent news publishers work with an ad serving solution like Broadstreet, while smaller bloggers tend to begin with Google AdSense before they branch out into more profitable avenues.

If you’d like to see examples of how others have gone about launching publications from scratch, check out publishers like Bklyner, Brentwood Home Page, and Baristanet. These publishers have all gone through the necessary steps to build thriving online businesses.

If you need help with any of the steps listed above, feel free to get in contact for a free video website evaluation.

Best CMS Platforms

Choosing the Best CMS: Open-Source vs. Closed Source

Open-source vs. closed. For independent publishers looking to build or revamp their websites, there might be no greater question.

Choosing the right content management system (CMS) is one of the first decisions a publisher makes, and within the broad category of CMS platforms are both open-source and closed solutions.

A content management system is the backbone of a website, supporting the publishing and editing of all digital content. For publishers, choosing the best CMS is extremely important because nearly every member of the organization will interact with the software on a daily basis. Behind every blog and digital newspaper, there’s a CMS doing the heavy lifting. But some CMS platforms do more of the heavy lifting than others.

The first step to finding the best CMS is to look at whether the platform is open-source or closed. While WordPress is the most well-known and popular of the open-source solutions, there are a number of lesser-known platforms, such as Drupal and Joomla, that are also used by online newspapers, magazines, and blogs to publish content on the web. With a large community of users, open-source CMS platforms like WordPress are often considered to be the easiest and most straightforward option for independent publishers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are closed CMS platforms. Solutions such as Rivista, Haven Nexus, and Metro Publisher all fall into this category. Closed CMS platforms are like prefab homes, in that they’re designed to be used by organizations in a specific industry with little to do in the way of customization. While the initial costs with a closed CMS are sometimes lower, many proprietary systems come with expensive monthly or yearly premiums, and exporting data can be tricky.

Here are four additional questions to consider when choosing the best CMS for your publication:

What is the interface like?

Reporters, editors, and other members of your publication’s team will be interacting with the CMS on a daily basis, so it’s important to choose a solution with an interface that’s easy to use. Content needs and brand guidelines play a major role in determining how well a particular CMS will work for a publication. Although there is something to be said for personal preference, open-source solutions like WordPress usually win out when it comes to the interface and usability.

Can I customize the system?

Publishers who want a unique look or custom features on their websites will often be better off with an open-source CMS platform, since closed systems can limit the options available. Using plugins and extensions, publishers can customize their WordPress websites for a fraction of the price that they could expect to pay with a closed system.

Even publishers who feel comfortable with an out-of-the-box template website with a closed CMS should consider any changes or upgrades they may want to make as their publications grow in the future. Publishers who choose open-source platforms can make modifications at any time, with or without the help of a developer, depending on their level of expertise. While customizations on an open-source platform may cost extra, this is usually a one-time cost—versus an ongoing expense. Still, publishers should take pricing into consideration when selecting the best CMS.

How frequently is the system updated?

A closed CMS may not be updated as frequently as an open-source system. Publishers who opt for an open-source solution like WordPress benefit from the community, with a team that’s dedicated to enhancing features based on the latest advancements in technology and web security.

While there are some CMS vendors that do an adequate job of rolling out software updates at regular intervals, the vast majority of these providers have systems that are largely considered outdated. If you are thinking of going with a closed CMS, request a change log from the vendor to see how frequently upgrades are being made before making a final decision.

Will I be handcuffed to a system?

What happens when it’s time to migrate from one CMS to another? Exporting data from a closed system to an open-system or even one closed system to another can be challenging and very expensive. Open-source solutions, such as WordPress make it easier to be “platform independent,” meaning that you can expect a smoother transition moving data from one platform to another if you decide to make a change in the future.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding the best CMS platform, most independent publishers with local news websites will find that open-source platforms, such as WordPress, offer the most flexibility with better pricing than what’s available through closed solutions.