a glimpse at Verst blogging platform
While some might call Verst "WordPress light," the functionality it does provide is what many a WordPress user cobbles together with third party solutions

In its 16-year history, WordPress has encountered many competitors. But the vast majority of those foes have never managed to siphon more than a few thousand users away from the digital giant, barely denting its dominance at the helm of the CMS market.

After pitting WordPress against Ghost and Medium, I decided to take a look at another emerging platform — Verst.

New York-based Verst describes itself as “the first intelligent, all-in-one website and blog platform. Publish vivid content, discover key insights, and grow your brand with ease.”

A Chat With Verst CEO, AJ Frank

To get to know Verst, CMSWire posed a few questions to the man behind it, CEO AJ Frank:

CMSWire: What made you want to launch Verst? Was there a specific market need or problem you were trying to address?

AJ Frank: We knew we wanted to help professional publishers do more with better tools, so we had conversations with dozens of creators in every vertical. What we heard were many of the same issues coming up over and over — pain points that were resulting from outdated and overcomplicated solutions.

With a streamlined, simple interface, a top-notch mobile app, and a blazingly fast architecture, Verst already vastly improves the publishing experience. But we also wanted to level up the experience for established creators looking to grow their audiences and revenue.

Rather than cobbling together a bevy of expensive and disconnected third-party tools, Verst publishers have A/B testing, analytics, SEO and call to action capabilities baked right into their experience. So it all works together, with no engineering assistance needed, and we can leverage machine-learning tech to share the gains across our network.

Basically, we wanted to give creators the sophistication and power available to the web’s biggest media brands in an easy, out-of-the-box platform.

CMSWire: How would you position Verst in the context of WordPress, Medium and Ghost? Are you a competitor, or are you focusing on a specific audience?

Frank: I would say we’re all serving slightly different segments within the broader web publishing landscape. I’ll address each individually.

WordPress accounted for the bulk of horror stories we heard. If you’ve ever tried to manage a WP site, you know the back-end looks like a rocket ship console and most people need to pay an engineer just to manage the vast array of plugins, updates, custom coding and general complexity. Because WordPress technology powers 80 percent of all websites, we think we have a huge opportunity to offer WordPress users a better experience.

Medium obviously takes a contained, social-network approach to publishing, whereas our users are building their own branded, individualized websites. Medium claims to offer both eyeballs and discovery, but still relies largely on social channels for traffic, just like the rest of us.

If you’re serious enough that you want your own design, URL, branding, audience and monetization, then Medium’s free service won’t cut it.

Ghost is essentially a modernized WordPress, so while they’ve improved the architecture, it’s still built for savvy coders using disparate components.

Verst offers incredibly easy tools to build a custom homepage, design your site and optimize for growth, without any coding, any plug-ins or having to purchase any templates. When we say all-in-one, we really mean it. Maybe I’m biased, but for 99 percent of creators, I think Verst is the best and most accessible of these options. Nothing will take you from zero to sixty quicker than Verst.

CMSWire: How does Verst fit into an enterprise setup? What specific features does it bring to an enterprise, and why should an enterprise marketing team consider Verst?

Frank: Verst works great for individuals and organizations alike. On the enterprise side, this is a platform that’s built around achieving goals. If your company is creating content for lead CTAs, we’ll place it strategically throughout your content — and if you’re collecting email addresses, they can port directly into MailChimp, SendGrid or any email provider.

You can also A/B test those CTAs, as well as your article titles and thumbnails so you’re wringing the most engagement out of every post. If your enterprise is a media company, then our new Paid Subscriptions feature gives you turnkey access to the model that’s proven so successful for Stratechery, The Information, and so many others.

It’s really simple to start earning monthly revenue. And then our native mobile app is full-featured and rock solid, so your team can publish new content, review analytics or run tests from a conference or anywhere else. Whether your content is a lead-gen tactic or your whole business, Verst is a great home for you.

An Overview of the Verst Platform

To test drive Verst, I signed up for their 14-day free trial.

Verst has all the blogging features you would expect: pre-built themes, a simple user interface, in-line editing, a native mobile app and the ability to embed all sorts of media. There aren’t a large number of themes, nor did they blow me away in terms of design, but they can be customized quite extensively.

The blogging interface itself is clean. It reminded me more of Medium than WordPress or Ghost, which is probably a good thing.

A Look at Verst’s Features

Here are some other features worth mentioning:

  • Google AMP compatibility
  • Post scheduling
  • Built-in social sharing integrations supporting a wide variety of networks
  • Onboarding and customer support
  • SSL to keep you and your visitors secure 

Each theme serves up a healthy number of customization options, and you can add content blocks, including text, images and video. 

Monetizing Your Verst Blog

But Verst is more than a blogging platform and website builder. It’s also a turnkey business strategy. 

That’s because unlike Medium, WordPress or Ghost, Verst gives you control over your own pay-wall, helping you to monetize your blog right away. It follows that up with built-in email subscription forms, A/B testing and an intelligent analytics dashboard.

What Makes Verst Unique?

Here’s a breakdown of what makes Verst so different.

Paid Subscriptions

With Verst’s Pro and Enterprise packages, you can charge readers a subscription fee to access exclusive content. Verst takes a 5 percent cut of the surcharge, plus Stripe fees.  

You can also toggle Google Doubleclick ads to run on your site as an alternative monetization technique.

Calls-to-Action

Verst makes it easy to set up call-to-action buttons or email sign up forms. For the latter option, Verst can connect directly to your MailChimp or SendGrid account for seamless email campaign integration.

Once you design your call-to-action message, Verst intelligently places it within your content.

A/B Testing

Verst supports A/B testing of page elements like images and headlines to optimize your site for conversions and engagement. The platform will automatically figure out which version works best.

Intelligent Analytics

To measure the success of your site and A/B tests, Verst has an intelligent analytics engine that sends alerts when valuable trends emerge and offers suggestions on how to act upon this data. 

For example, if one of your blog posts receives an unusual amount of activity, Verst will let you know, enabling you to capitalize on the traffic spike before it peters out.

Pricing

While WordPress and Medium remain free (for now), Verst has three pricing plans, the cheapest of which doesn't include the option to monetize or remove Verst’s branding.

While the FAQ section mentions the 5 percent monetization cut, it fails to mention the additional fees for its use of “Stripe to collect money from readers and PayPal to pay you.”

This makes what was already a rather long winded fee structure that much more confusing — particularly when it comes to calculating the total fee you’ll need to fork over for each subscriber.

How Does Verst Stack up Against WordPress?

As per usual with any emerging blogging platform, we have to look at it in context of the reigning king of blogging: WordPress.

Will Verst be the platform that finally dethrones WordPress? I highly doubt it — mainly because that’s not what Verst is trying to do.

Verst is for publishers who want to scale their audience rapidly, build a business and tweak their content to resonate as much as they possibly can. WordPress is the swiss army knife of blogging platforms. And as many experienced WordPress users will testify, that outsized functionality is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth.

One Reddit user remarked that Verst, “looks like a more expensive version of Wordpress with less features,” a comment that’s hard to argue with.

But that isn't necessarily a criticism. Verst boasts all the features that a serious WordPress blogger tries to patch together using third party plugins and themes. With Verst, key features like paywalls and A/B testing are available out-of-the-box.

In Verst’s case, the phrase, "less is more" applies — at least for brands and serious content marketers.