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Judgement about wordpress vs yola (Image by Vectorportal via Flickr)Beware online comparisons between anything, especially between content management systems and especially when the review does not specify its user market.

Here is a case in point that I had referred to me this week by a client earnestly trying to determine which content management system to use for their organisation.

It is a review article entitled, Yola vs. WordPress Review: Which CMS is Better? (Jan, 2011).

In my opinion this is a dangerous and misleading article for three reasons:

  • It does not define the user audience it has in mind
  • It clumsily muddies the water between wordpress.com and wordpress.org
  • It contains glaring errors

In full disclosure, I have become a passionate advocate of self-hosted WordPress websites for business use and have seen such sites deliver powerful results for clients for a VERY SMALL financial outlay.

I also travel the country conducting workshops and keynote speeches in which I showcase, critique and field questions about WordPress as a content management system and hub for a business’ online marketing efforts. In the course of these presentations and one-on-one client work, I know that most people find the distinction between wordpress.com and wordpress.org VERY confusing, hence my frustration when I read articles like the Rank Review I mentioned above.

Socrates is quoted as saying, “the beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms”, and so let us define terms and dig beneath the surface of this misleading review.

Definition of audience and terms

The most glaring omissions in the Yola vs WordPress review are the lack of audience definition and unclear distinction between hosted and self-hosted WordPress websites.

Firstly, there is a big difference between evaluating website platforms for hobbyists, small businesses and enterprises. And then there is further difference between the needs of these groups and the technical functionalities they require.

For example, small businesses cannot be lumped together. Some might need their website to be a marketing tools with blog content and search optimised material to help prospects find them, have their questions answered and lead towards a sale offline. Others might need ecommerce on their site. And others might require a large repository of information or discussion such as a recipe site, forum, image gallery, etc.

One thing I learned very quickly during my 15 years of reviewing live theatre (Adelaide Fringe via FIVEaa and the old 5DN) was for a review to make sense it needed context. Hence, for me to pass judgement on a comedy performance, I needed to be clear that my review and score were in relation to other comedies. An absurdist play needed to be scored accordingly. This is because my award of five stars for some brilliantly insightful and disturbing absurdist theatre does not mean that people who enjoy light musical comedies would enjoy it.

Likewise, the grand enterprise of announcing Yola as better than WordPress in the Rank Review is meaningless without a well defined audience.

Secondly, it takes someone with some WordPress experience to understand this review is really focussed on the cut-down, for-the-masses offering of WordPress on the WordPress-hosted community platform, wordpress.com. In my opinion, this is a good place to practice blogging and for getting a taste of the world of WordPress, but the shared community nature of this offering is a long way from the dynamic, scalable entity that WordPress becomes when you host the software on your own server and have complete access to its tens of thousands of plugins for limitless website development.

Upon establishing that this Rank Review is comparing web-based, build-it-online web tools, we can determine that this review is NOT for serious business people, only for hobbyists.

It also appears to be judging the web builders as web hosts as well, something that always scares me because you NEVER want to be beholden to your web company by having them host your website too. In my opinion, such a state of affairs is restrictive and locks you in to their world on their terms. Decent web developers will happily work with you on external hosting platforms but will warn you if they have doubts about the host you are choosing.

With that clarified, we can now investigate some of the erroneous claims. And I should stress I am approaching this from the perspective of a small to medium business owner or small to medium organisation.

Not so fast, Rank Review

Firstly to the contradictions.

In relation to Yola, the review says:

  • Simple drag and drop page editor with a good choice of widgets and templates BUT THEN SAYS Yola’s page editor is quite limited, so realistically some knowledge of html and css is needed to customize the templates, which are pretty basic and all quite similar
  • Yola is only free with a Yola Link: “Make a free Website with Yola” – not great for a business website BUT THEN SAYS in its summary that Yola is the only one offering free hosting with no ads

In relation to WordPress there are not contradictions so much as errors, especially when self-hosted WordPress sites are considered:

  • Navigation is a bit primitive – links just get put down the side. This makes me groan, links can be placed within text, in sidebars or in other places as required
  • Restricted layout – all pages have one column and a sidebar. This is patently wrong. Not only does page layout get determined by your theme, almost all themes provide a blank page option allowing you to not have sidebars at all.
  • Occasional popup ads with free hosting. A business should NEVER be using free hosting in the first place because it will always end in tears.

Then there is a swag of statements that suggest the reviewer does not have an intimate working knowledge of web development, especially marketing-focussed web development where you want to maximise the usability and search engine visibility of your material:

  • Yola offers ‘1GB or storage per site, which should be plenty unless you’re publishing video’. This is a strange comment because you need to have very compelling reasons to host your own video when you can have such content hosted on YouTube and other services for free, offering the dual benefit of no cost for hosting and extra visibility through the popularity of those hosting sites
  • Not completely wysiwig – some elements look slightly different when published. Oh dear. The whole reason of using a content management system is to harness the power of database-driven websites. This is where content, particularly words and pictures, are held and worked on directly and only presented with the final bells and whistles and fancy fonts at the time a visitor loads a web page.
  • Can edit raw HTML. This is referred to as a feature in Yola only but one of the most handy aspects of WordPress.
  • Can have different banner pictures on different pages. Again, this is determined by the theme you have developed for your site. One simple example is the Desert Life website.
  • Templates better than Yola and Weebly. This claim is puzzling. Business people should not be looking to buy premade template for their websites. When packages like the Baker Marketing WordPress package exists for $950+GST for a basic, sound WordPress site with your logo included in a customised theme, advice on information architecture, and all security and analytics plugins installed and tested, a smart business person would know it is better to use their time on other things and have someone professional set up the foundation for their website. Fully customised sites with hand-crafted themes start around the $1800+GST mark, further emphasising the low cost of entry for business people wanting to harness the power of WordPress.
  • Works with PayPal shopping cart. Why this claim is put solely against the Yola site and not WordPress confounds me. Not only does PayPal work with just about every website system on the planet, WordPress self hosted sites can use a suite of ecommerce plugins like thecartpress and link payment through a PayPal gateway or their own merchant account facility.
  • Good Picture Editing tool, which includes cropping, red-eye correction and optimization. This is one interesting claim on behalf of Yola. However, when one considers that WordPress has a slew of plugins in its inventory for optimising images, it again borders on an omission. Furthermore, most business people approaching their website marketing seriously can easily develop an image processing procedure through free or professional software so that they only upload web-optimised images to their website in the first place.

Some conclusions

Neither Yola nor WordPress.com nor any other free, community-hosted web platform should be seriously considered by a business or association, no matter how small.

To approach web development with the miserly, timid mindset of a hobbyist is to put unnecessary restrictions in place for future growth and development AND leave you beholden to changes in the hosted community.

We have already seen whole businesses disappear when a third party environment is the sole foundation for an enterprise. Only a couple of years ago, when eBay decided overnight that it would ban the sale of ebooks unless sellers provided the print out and/or physical media to their customers, whole businesses disappeared in an instant.

Likewise, who is to say that Yola or WordPress.com will still be here tomorrow or not change their terms in a manner that precludes your business? At least if you have your own copy of WordPress running on your own server (with routine backups), you control your destiny to the fullest extent one can expect to in this world.

In other words, we must treat these free and community options as toys and playthings; great for testing and gaining experience but not serious options for an enterprise.

And when a trusted partner leads you through the process of planning and developing a website, you will discover that costs can be much lower than you thought and effectiveness much greater.

The question to ask is how serious is my enterprise? Too much effort and credibility is at stake to risk ‘investing’ in free or community options when there is any degree of seriousness attached to a website project. We all know we get what we pay for.

For me, at this time, nothing compares to a self-hosted WordPress website for small businesses, larger enterprises or associations. As the team at Site Visibility, respected observers of and practitioners in web analytics and optimisation in the UK has stated, any entity considering a web project in this era needs a compelling reason to choose anything other than WordPress.

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