“What do we want?”
“Another blogging platform!”
“When do we want it?”
This isn’t a chant you’re likely to hear anytime soon, given the plethora of blogging platforms out there already. But that isn’t stopping one fledgling startup from launching a new professional-grade publishing tool.
Officially opening to the public today, Verst acknowledges that the web doesn’t need “another basic blogging tool,” which is why it’s launching something different… something aimed squarely at “website publishers who deliver valuable content to engaged audiences, and convert that audience into paying customers,” according to a company blog post. At its core is unification — it promises to bring websites, analytics, optimization tools, and monetization mechanisms all under one digital roof… without relying on third-party extensions and tools. And it’s mobile-friendly, too.
While Verst has all the usual features and functions you’d expect from any self-respecting content management system (CMS), it throws in some additional smarts. Data plays an integral part of any professional publisher’s business, which is why Verst has built analytics and A/B testing tools directly into the platform. It’s commonly known that major media brands such as BuzzFeed test different headlines to garner maximum clicks — and this is something that Verst allows publishers to do by letting them experiment with headlines and hero images after an article is live.
Additionally, Verst sends notifications to editors, or whoever requires access to real-time data. So, for example, if an old “evergreen” article suddenly sees a sharp spike in popularity long after it was originally published, Verst will let you know. Similarly, it can send alerts for other key events, including when a post does much better than expected or when an A/B test finishes.
Verst promises that these insights will improve over time, thanks to machine learning. As it analyses the results of more and more A/B tests and combines that with traffic data, it may become better at suggesting the best times of day to post with a certain headline, or even be able to suggest images and headlines to use.
While display ads remain a popular monetization mechanism, they aren’t always the best fit for every brand and publisher. This is why Verst has built-in subscription features and calls-to-action (CTAs) — for example, “Buy this book” or “Subscribe now” — that can be designed and pushed live without leaning on any third-party software. Verst can also decide on the best position for the CTA, and editors can A/B test different formats and layouts.
In an increasingly mobile-first world, Verst also offers a native iOS app (Android to follow) for publishers to manage posts on the move — and this isn’t a watered-down version of the main desktop app. It includes the full analytics, A/B testing, and CTA tools.
Though WordPress pretty much dominates the blogging landscape, there are many other publishing tools aimed at professionals, including relatively new platforms such as Ghost. There are some obvious synergies between Ghost and Verst, as they are both trying to bring publishing tools into the modern era. However, Verst is adamant that its user-friendly “all-singing / dancing” approach sets it apart from everything else.
“Verst is unique as an all-in-one solution that’s extremely friendly to any type of user, no technical expertise required,” Verst CEO AJ Frank explained to VentureBeat. “Much like Apple’s approach to hardware, it’s an environment with no plugins and no code hacking because the most crucial functionality is already integrated and accessible. You’re also getting a seamless integration of features within Verst that allows us to make the publishing experience dynamic and ever-improving from day one.”
The story so far
Verst is the handiwork of a New York-based startup formerly known as Dwnld, a platform that helped non-coders turn their websites into native mobile apps. In its original guise, the company raised $12 million in VC funding from Greylock Partners.
So why the pivot?
“We wouldn’t call this a pivot, as building a website publishing tool was always in our plans, but we accelerated in that direction when we realized there was a finite number of content apps users were willing to install,” continued Frank. “In addition, the web gives us a much larger canvas where we can iterate faster in pursuit of the same end goal. Lastly, it’s tough to build a business at the whim of Apple and Google, the gatekeepers of the app universe. So, we switched our focus to building a platform for publishing web content across devices — that could harness advanced tech and machine learning to help maximize for engagement and conversion.”
Show me the money
Unlike other publishing tools, Verst won’t be offering anything for free — apart from a 30-day trial period at the start. After that, users will be expected to pay $29 / month if paid annually, or $34 / month on a rolling basis.
Although the freemium business model does have its benefits, it often isn’t conducive to building a solid money-making business. I, for one, would rather pay for something and know that the company is making money from me.
“With Dwnld, we learned the lesson that many SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses have learned the hard way — when you don’t necessitate payment, you attract a less serious, less committed user,” added Frank. “Given that our company is young and our resources are finite, this type of user tends to distract from building an amazing product for our core audience. Verst is built to help publishers achieve measurable results, whether that be increased signups, purchases, subscribers, etc. As such, we consider it a tool that hopefully pays for itself.”