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TownNews vs WordPress: 5 Reasons Publishers Should Make the Move to WordPress

By August 26, 2015November 20th, 2015Web Development

About a year ago, the owner of one of the oldest and most established news weeklies on the west coast approached us to assist with a major overhaul of their publication. One of their goals was to modernize the paper and begin the transition away from a traditional print-based revenue model to a more up to date and viable digital model.

At the time, the publisher’s website was hosted with TownNews, a fully-managed website and revenue platform for publishers built on the BLOX CMS. Ultimately, in our opinion, the pros of the fully managed solution were outweighed by the cons of limited choice and we decided to make the move to WordPress.

Here is a brief summary of our considerations:

Open Source vs. Managed CMS

Our agency firmly believes in open source and that every company should own their website. Managed services can also be extremely limited in terms of flexibility and customizability, which we found to be the case with TownNews. Open source platforms such as WordPress are extremely flexible and customizable, and have the advantage of huge communities that support them, providing design, development, and maintenance services, as well as countless plugins and integrations with outside platforms.

Flexibility and Integrations

I am a bit of a technophile and early technology adopter and it’s really important to me that my company is leveraging the most powerful and up to date products and services on the market. While managed services provide the simplicity of an all-in-one solution and, it can be argued, do the research for you, it eliminates the ability to develop a product that’s built to fit and tailor made especially for you. In the publishing world, this comes into play with many features, including management of different areas and functions of your site such as classifieds, real estate, auto, calendars, various feeds, and so on.  Most importantly, choosing an open source solution also provides a lot of powerful options for the management of display advertising and revenue generation.

For the most advanced publishers, open source websites can also be easily combined with marketing automation platforms to harness the power of dynamic content, behavioral segmentation, automated emails, and developing closed loop campaigns for up selling advertisers where advertising leads are delivered directly from the publisher.

Mobile Responsiveness

The data is undeniable. According to comScore, over 60% of online media is consumed via mobile devices (often in-app), as compared to only 40% on a desktop PC. This means that the majority of a media outlet’s advertising revenue depends on its ability to deliver a seamless, high quality mobile customer experience. To add fuel to the fire, Google recently issued an update of its search algorithm that penalizes sites that are not mobile-responsive.

The bottom line is that mobile responsiveness has been a must have for years now and any respectable developer today offers fully optimized and responsive sites as a standard feature. Despite this, many publishers are still stuck with outdated platforms, possibly due to the cost of switching or upgrading.

At the time that we made the migration to WordPress, making the upgrade from the old TownNews non-responsive Blox platform to one that was mobile friendly and responsive was not in the road map.  Since then, TownNews has added responsive design to new customers as a premium upgrade.

Analytics and Reporting

In the publishing world, sessions, page views, clicks, time on site, are all directly linked to revenue. It’s mission critical to be able to drill down through the data and analyze different slices to set benchmarks and goals, develop strategies, and measure results.

We typically use Google Analytics as well as a handful of other marketing and advertising platforms which provide deep insights and integrate beautifully and seamlessly with WordPress. Google Analytics is compatible with TownNews, but overall, we did not feel that TownNews’ in-app analytics gave us the degree of data and drill-down that we needed.

Platform User Interface

I handle all of the technology vetting and purchasing for our agency and also help match clients with the right technologies. In addition to all of the features and functionality considerations, it’s also really important that the platform and all of its integrations provide a pleasant user experience and interface. Platforms must be simple, clean, intuitive, fresh, fast. My experience of the TownNews platform was underwhelming and felt underpowered and outdated.  Going back to WordPress and all of our integrations was like going from black and white to color.

Making the Move

There is a lot to consider in choosing a technology stack to work with and, ultimately, it has to fit in with long term strategic vision and revenue based goals. Moving tens of thousands of pages to a whole new CMS is a big undertaking, but we’ve managed to streamline and fine tune the process to make it a highly efficient and productive.

For anyone considering the move, we’re in the process of building a migration guide that gives an overview of the process. Please email to request a free copy.

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Andrew Erickson

Andrew is a partner at Alaniz and is responsible for heading up digital strategy and our organizational and technology infrastructure.