Note: there will be a lot of links here. Some will he affiliate links where I get a commission if you buy. To be clear, this doesn’t cost you anything extra if you buy/sign-up, and I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have the first-hand experience.
It’s been 5 weeks since I switched to the Rainmaker Platform instead of continuing to host my own site on Bluehost. Now seems like the right time to write a balanced review while everything is still fresh but not so fresh that I rant – instead of presenting facts – on the rare instances I was second-guessing my decision to change. You know, because change is hard.
TL;DR: I switched to Rainmaker and would recommend the same for anyone who takes their site seriously.
Why did I change to Rainmaker? There are a number of reasons:
1) Speed – Who has the patience to wait for a site that doesn’t load quickly? With all the other information available on the web, if I don’t get my answer quickly, I don’t hesitate to move on to the next result, and I know a lot of other people feel the same way.
2) Security – Hacks and ransomware and other cybersecurity threats are increasingly common. With more people moving their lives online each day, I’d argue the damage of these attacks is growing at a disproportionate rate.
3) Integration for e-commerce and community building (aka membership gates) – One thing I’ve learned is that when you cobble together a site with pieces that weren’t designed together, sometimes you get unexpected results. To quote Sweet Brown, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
4) Established trust – I have been a fan of the work done at Rainmaker Digital, formerly known as Copyblogger Media, for a long time. My first purchase of a WordPress theme was through them and they wowed me with the support and resources available to their customers. From that experience, I trusted that quality would translate to their managed hosting offering.
Converting from Self-Hosted Bluehost to Rainmaker
So let’s get into the actual process of converting. Rainmaker offers a 14-day trial where you get a sample site where you can try out just about every feature and just about every theme Studio Press available when you become a paying customer.
Let me tell you about my self-hosting setup. I use the following:
– Leadpages ($297/yr)
– Bluehost hosting ($4.95/month).
– iThemes security/database backup (free version)
– Yoast SEO (free version)
– Google keyword tool (free)
– iThemes exchange ($130 one-time with 1-year support and updates)
– WordPress premium theme from Studio Press and Genesis child theme ($99)
– Disqus commenting system (free)
– Mailchimp to manage email subscribers ($15/month)
– A number of other plugins (jetpack, scroll trigger box)
I’m not going to lie. Things were a little bumpy at first after I converted, and I’m a bad news first kind of guy, so I want you to consider a few things before I tell you about all the positives of switching to Rainmaker.
Things That Annoyed Me (But Not So Much Now)
Images – I can’t put this problem on Rainmaker because I didn’t spend much (aka any) time researching converting my site, but I will say this. Exporting all WordPress data and uploading into Rainmaker brought everything over but the photos. I’ve re-added images for the most recent posts and continue to add others based on the popularity of posts. I’ve also re-added all of the Corporate Ladder University cartoons.
Permalink default format – Rainmaker defaults to the permalink format of http://domain/post. This gives you more flexibility, and I know others have tested it concluding that links without dates seem to perform better in search engine results. That being said, my previous site was setup as http://domain/year/month/post.html.
The bottom line is because of the default setting, every single link to my site, including those in my email that was scheduled to go out a couple days later, were broken. Years of intertwined posts disconnected just like that.
The good news is they were great in working with me to put a fix in place. The bad news is it raised two other items that caught me off guard.
Can’t change your permalink format yourself – I don’t know why this is set up this way, but I was a little annoyed initially. Considering this is maybe the third time I’ve tried to change my URL format in 5 years, this is a fleeting nuisance.
Customer service is all virtual – when it comes to my site, I’m impatient. Whether writing a post or implementing something new, I want to see the results right now. Not now but RIGHT now. The quality results make the wait worth it.
You still need to pay for your email host – Rainmaker doesn’t host email so if you’re like me, you need to keep paying your old host so your email doesn’t get shut down.
No plugins – if you know anything about managing a blog, you know there is an exorbitant number of free plugins (and premium ones too) that people use to try to improve their workflow. No can do on Rainmaker.
If you’re thinking about making the switch, prepare to kiss your plugins goodbye. That alone might be enough for many to consider this change a non-starter even though we know plugins slow down site speed. Not me. Because I knew Rainmaker had much more to offer.
It kind of reminds me of two of my preferred burger spots – In n Out Burger and Five Guys Burgers & Fries. One has a small menu with a few choices (In-N-Out) and the other has quite a few bells and whistles (A1 sauce, bbq sauce, mushrooms, etc). And In-N-Out trumps Five Guys by a wide margin. This isn’t up for debate.
I didn’t know the above in advance but even if I did, I wouldn’t have made a different decision. What I would have done is actually planned a site launch instead of doing it on a whim like I did, particularly because of the site images and permalinks.
Why Rainmaker makes a lot of sense
If you are looking to run a digital e-commerce business, Rainmaker is built for just that and is a platform you can grow into while keeping your annual cost fixed. The platform is available on a subscription model, but whatever cost you sign up for today continues to be your cost in the future, even when additional features are added.
I’m going to touch on a few of the things I use right now but would be happy to answer any questions you have on other functionality.
Aside from course creation and the learning management system, which I’ll get to later, you can also restrict premium content to members. (Free or paid membership is your decision.)
Time Sensitive Coupons
If you choose to offer discounts, you can make them such that the offer is time sensitive. For example, you can create a discount link that will not work after a certain number of days once the link is clicked. That may help spur someone previously on the fence to take some action.
Similar to Leadpages, Rainmaker allows you to create visually appealing pages to make an offer to visitors. There are a number of base templates you can use, some of which are a step up from the ones Leadpages offers.
For example, I remember looking for a pricing page with 3-columns similar to the one Leadpages itself uses on their pricing page but it wasn’t available. That being said, I still think measuring conversion rate for each landing page is a bit easier on Leadpages.
Alternatively, you could probably track results by creating a conversion goal in Google Analytics for each landing page.
Do you use Google’s keyword tool? If you publish content on your site and want more people to find you, you should definitely consider it.
It’s a web-based tool to understand the volume of search for the month. The benefit is that you can let this information inform whether a topic is worth covering and provides a clue as to exact terminology you should use to reach your target audience.
Rainmaker takes it a step further and grades search volume and competition for a keyword. Plus, this info is right on your website dashboard.
Built-in Google analytics
Similar to keyword tool, Rainmaker gives you some of what Google Analytics has to offer. It’s a 30-day quick view of analytics right in your website dashboard. Google Analytics has way more functionality but having a quick view when you log into your site is helpful.
Google analytics gives you insight into traffic but doesn’t give you suggestions on how your content could be improved to perform better. Content analysis identifies the keyword of the current page or post and analyzes that and your whole site performance for that keyword. It was eye-opening. You hear people talk about focusing on one thing or “niching down” and content analysis tool lets you know how well you execute on that concept.
A/B testing is when you have a page or post and want to test changes to elements (one at a time) to see what performs better. For example, you may want to test different headlined on a post or different button colors of your call-to-action. Once there is a clear winner you go with that.
Under my self-hosting set up I could do A/B testing on email headlines in Mailchimp. I could bump up my Leadpages package to enterprise if I wanted to A/B test landing pages, but there are so many more things to test!
Rainmaker having this built in opens up a lot of opportunities to collect empirical data. People’s behavior doesn’t lie.
Learning Management System
Online courses are where it’s at right now. With the rising cost of traditional education and rapidly changing nature of technology and the workforce, people are looking for ways to stay at peak performance. Online courses provide an efficient and cost-effective way to do that.
When I first made the switch to Rainmaker I was underwhelmed by the functionality. They have these types of LMS posts (course, lesson, module) with no real differentiation between them after I inquired with the support.
Still, they’ve already scheduled enhancements I know I want to use, primarily the ability to insert quizzes as a “knowledge check” at the end of each module. What this tells me (and should tell you) is that the Rainmaker team is listening to audience feedback and doing something with it.
Rainmaker has a massive knowledge base of reference material on how to do just about anything within the platform. That in itself has proven to be quite useful since I’m can be a little impatient and would rather work out issues myself than wait for reply to a support email.
Perhaps the biggest thing for me is knowing I have another set of eyes watching out for the well-being of my site. They regularly backup everything and help to optimize your site for speed and make sure it’s not vulnerable to security weaknesses.
With all the time you put into your site, it’d be a shame to have it compromised, costing you the trust of those who frequent your site. At least that’s how I think of it.
I’ve never been a believer in worrying about every possible negative outcome but I’m a big believer in hiring professionals to do what they do best. I’m no expert at building sites, so getting some help from Rainmaker helps me sleep quite a bit easier at night, especially when it comes to handling transactional data through the site.
Innovation (Rainmaker Labs)
Earlier I mentioned course quizzes as an example of Rainmaker listening to users. Other examples that have me excited about future versions are:
Landing page for 404 error allows you to make an offer to readers and capture emails instead of having would-be readers bounce from your site…forever.
Rainmaker autoresponders/email service provide for powerful segmenting so you can tailor the experience based on what they click on the site, not just in email, for members of your community. Brian Clark, founder of Rainmaker, frequently talks about the “logged in experience,” and this feature, currently in beta, is a great way for you to take your site next level.
Growing library of premium WordPress themes for you to choose from. If you want to change up your site every now and again, you have many (maybe all?) Studio Press options available to you. These are some of the prettiest theme designs you’ll see AND you receive the support that made it easy for me to trust Rainmaker as a higher tier product in the first place.
Potential to Expand (Stuff I don’t use yet but might later)
In some instances, you may want to have your own Forums to facilitate group discussion. A lot of people currently opt to use private Facebook groups since everybody except my mom is using the social network. Facebook could kill groups tomorrow, though, and you’d have no recourse. So you may want to rethink that if creating a community that interacts with each other is central to what you do.
Podcasts have seen a surge in popularity across all genres. It’s amazing if you take a look at the success and can see completely unscripted podcasts to the professionally produced podcasts like Startup. I’m not there yet but will be happy to have access if I get bit by the podcasting bug.
Time to Make it Rain
Take the free Rainmaker training and see what you think for yourself.