WordPress Alternatives for Self Publishers
By the end of 2016 I felt WordPress was not working for me as a self publisher. I've been creating and maintaining my own sites since 1996, in one format or another. What I want in a CMS is a word processor for the web. Marketing, SEO, and fancy gimmicks are secondary to creating, publishing, and distributing content. I don't want to spend time learning and relearning how to use software. I'm picky about web design and I don't jump on trends just because they are new and flashy. Yes, I want my site to be read, but SEO and marketing are a slippery slope when it comes to ethics and trust. People don't read sites that focus on marketing - the more marketing hype, the less real readers.
WordPress is definitely geared to pleasing web developers and marketers, people who offer services like beginning a site, curation, maintenance and running a site for people who don't want to run a site themselves. People want automated sites to sell stuff. But, that's not what I want to do. So I left WordPress.
Over most of 2017 I tried alternatives to WordPress. I wanted a CMS (content management software) to be user friendly, rather than having to understand API and REST and other things I don't need or want to learn. I wanted something with the features WordPress keeps eliminating like keeping a list of links, having a bookmarklet to post links and content from other sites via my web browser. Very important was to find a CMS which was not mothballed and not focused on how they can make a buck from me. Also, self hosted.
I had a very hard time moving my sites out of WordPress and into anything else. Most other CMS do not have a way to migrate your sites, reliably. I've realized the best way to move sites from WordPress is not to migrate anything. Leave the old site up, just change it to a subdomain and start fresh on the main domain with which ever WordPress alternative you want to start using. You can move posts over manually, one by one. Or, you can use your old post content and create an updated post based on what you had written before. This would be simpler than trying to bring back your entire old site, especially if it was huge.
I have tried far more CMS than I am adding to this list. To be honest, I don't remember most of them well enough to give a review. Several were complicated to install which did not seem like a good beginning to use them to publish a site. So this list is mainly the highlights and lowlights of my CMS adventures beginning in 2017 and still ongoing in 2020.
Before WordPress I was a dedicated Movable Type publisher. Then Movable Type changed, they dropped the free. At some point Melody, an open source Movable Type, tried to get a foothold. But, for whatever reason, it did not get far. You can still find it, abandoned. These days there are stirrings about a free or open source Movable Type. But, they never turn up to be anything but old software, inactive and fairly useless. If you want to run Movable Type these days, it starts at about $1000, depending on your currency.
I tried to find the mythical open source Movable Type, but, it proved to be just a myth in reality.
I like Blogger. I know it's not very actively updated and people (snobbishly) think it is for amateurs, etc. Wrong. Blogger is a decent CMS, still. Not a lot has changed over the years since Google took it over, but it is not dead enough to consider abandoned. Blogger works, like a little tank of a CMS.
You can run a site with Blogger, even from your own self-hosted domain if you don't want a site with blogspot.com. All the basic functions work, it is still free and you don't have to work hard to learn how to use Blogger. You can even create your own templates (themes) without being an HTML expert.
If Google stopped thinking of Blogger as a place to run more Adsense ads and nothing else, Blogger could shine as a dependable, creative and simple to use WordPress alternative. But, Google seems to forget about Blogger, except to add support for using Adsense.
If there is a negative it is only the flat file issue of making sure you do backups of your site. Not a big issue as everyone should be backing up their sites. Bludit is free, open source, genuinely easy to install and run. Also, unlike many other CMS I have tried, Bludit uploads and posts images inside your post without opening more screens, needing to upload and then post it in another window. This is one of the things I especially like about it.
Bludit is a CMS people can learn in minutes and run themselves. It will not take up a lot of time you could be spending writing, working on your business, or whatever it is that you would rather spend your time on.
Bludit is free and open source. You can pay per month to support the developer and get Bludit PRO, but so far I don't see any real difference between standard and PRO. I paid to help keep it active and evolving.
I liked Textpattern until I actually started using it. There were small things which just became annoying. Plus, it did not seem active as software. Writing this today however, I see the site has just had an overhaul (in August). Could there be hope the software has been given some TLC too? I reserve full judgment until I take another look at the Textpattern CMS, partly because I like the look of the site even more than I did before.
I really wanted to become part of the TYPO3 community and one of the devoted users of this CMS. But, it was just a little too complicated to get started with. Tutorials did not help but I searched Amazon and eBay until I found a book about using TYPO3, in English. Even though the book was seriously outdated I was hopeful and installed TYOP3 a third time, determined to get the hang of it. I did not get far and the book was almost no help, of course.
I'm not sure I would try TYPO3 again, even if it did have a recently updated book, in English. I think part of the problem was my own impatience to get started with this CMS. It seemed to have everything I wanted and an interesting community behind it. In the end, I couldn't figure it out and I couldn't find enough help to get past the hurdles.
I tried concrete5 at least twice over this year. I did not get far with it. Installing was difficult. Then trying to deal with it, find my way around... I wanted to like it but it was just not user friendly enough for me. There are enough other CMS options that I am not likely to try concrete5 again.
So young, so hip and so trendy when you first take a look. But, MODx would not install. Even their own tech support could not figure it out, though they did try. I gave up on something I could not install after a third try. Your experience may differ.
Tricky and confusing, is it free, or not. My conclusion was that it was not free. This eliminated it for me because I just don't have that kind of budget. I have bought software and donated to software but I prefer open source or free software because it leaves me with less hard feelings when the software suddenly stops being supported or does not do what I expected it would. (I tend to be stoically, politely Canadian and not ask for returns, refunds or exchanges).
Known seemed to be wonderfully simple, especially for content curation and making quick note sort of posts. But, I did not feel good about the free/ not free aspect of the software. It's not easy to trust software when I pay for it and less so when it starts out as free, but actually isn't.
Jekyll is not user friendly. I could not install it, though I really did want to see more than tutorials and reviews, I did not.
Ghost and Jekyll were both headaches. In addition, Ghost is not free to use. So, I just didn't try very hard when it came to understanding how to install it or go beyond that. As with Jekyll, it looks like something intended for developers, not publishers or writers.
Publii is different. You can run Publii without a database, no SQL required. Sometimes called a flat file or a static website, this means you can run Publii from your desktop. You need a web host for the domain but all the files can be kept offline.
I like Publii but, at the time I was working with it, I could not migrate my sites from WordPress. Since then they have added this feature. So I am very likely to try Publii again, for smaller sites. I'm not sure a static site is the way to go for my larger, older sites with a lot of content to work with.
But, Publii is on this list because I had zero problems with the software. It is actively developed and a better alternative to Word|Press for self publishers. You really do have full control of your site and your content when it is right there on your desktop (laptop, etc.).
If you really want a change from WordPress, the atmosphere and the software, Publii is the one which really is different and reliable.
I recommend Pagekit to anyone who wants to run their own site and keep it simple. My only problem with Pagekit were my own expectations and lack of patience. Pagekit was not hard to figure out, though it was a different experience from WordPress.
First, know that Pagekit is still evolving and fairly new. Second, the editor is not what you will be used to with WordPress, Blogger, etc. A silly thing, but it would annoy me that I could not cut and paste things into a post. Also, I did not work with Pagekit steadily so I kept having to remember what I had figured out the time before. I lost patience and that was my own problem.
Pagekit is on this list because it is a very good alternative to WordPress, but it did not suit me.
I really liked Composr. I found Composr when it was evolving from ocPortal. So, Composr felt new, fresh and pretty wonderful. A great start.
However, I could not import my WordPress content (other than manually which would take a very long time for my bigger sites). Also, I had trouble with setting up links as a directory. But, Composr was one of the first I tried, early in the year. I get updates from the mailing list and I would try Composr again. So, I have hope Composr will grow and be a strong alternative to WordPress.
Update 2020: Composr continues to be active and it does now have a feature to import your WordPress site. If you want a lot of features, like a community, for your site, I think Composr is a great.
A huge list of features. I have tried Tiki Wiki more than once over the years, not just this past year. I found it required time to figure out the software and then it was hard to understand what should go where. On the plus side, it is very adaptable because you can make a lot of your own decisions with the software.
But, when I really decided to use Tiki Wiki I discovered how outdated it is. Reading tutorials was not a lot of help because the software had changed from the time the tutorials were written. Yet, the software was not as actively updated as I expected, or hoped. So, I left Tiki Wiki behind.
Update 2020: Tiki Wiki has since been updated. I haven't tried it again since I wrote this post.
I invested a lot of time in learning how to use Joomla (afterward I tried Drupal and due to my experience with Joomla I did not put in as much time). I bought 2 books to help me figure out Joomla. It is quite different from working with WordPress, even though I have worked with other CMS software and thought I knew how a CMS works. Joomla (and Drupal) are not simple if you have a background in WordPress, Blogger and most other software I have used to publish my sites online. I don't think of that as a negative point, just a fact to be aware of. If you want to try either of these, know you won't be set up and running your site without taking time to learn the software.
Once I felt I had an understanding of the software I began trying to get my old WordPress site up. This required buying more software, through Joomla. Just as WordPress has plugins listed on their site, Joomla does the same. Most of the software was outdated and did not work or required a credit card. Some software were both not free and not functional.
Overall, I did not find any good reason to stick with Joomla, or Drupal.
Update 2020: I did end up using Joomla. I got to the point of understanding how it works and I began reloading my site content to it. I found great help with working with Joomla from Tim Davis in particular. His YouTube videos and live posts had me decided on Joomla. But, I kept having minor problems and three times software updates stalled out and left me having to start over again. My web host, Hosting Matters, said they found Joomla to be too fussy and they would not recommend using it. So, after several months, buying a couple of Joomla books (which were only sort of helpful) I stopped using Joomla. I found it not reliable enough and pretty time consuming.
Drupal and Joomla were very alike I found. I ended up buying a book to learn each of them. I found them both just as commercially focused as WordPress.
A few months after trying Drupal I can't remember anything important enough to add to a review. I was disappointed but, at least this time I did not spend money on extras to set up my sites.
Free and open source. A good alternative and it looks good too. I don't remember why I didn't stick with Bolt. I liked it and it was not hard to get started with.
Another simple CMS to try. I really liked it at first and it was easy to get started with.
It's Canadian, so am I! But, it's kind of complicated. Installing it was simple enough. Setting it up (I thought) should have been easier. But, it was do-able. I felt muddled around and frustrated with the learning process when I tried to start pulling a site together. I'd try it again because it's evolving, growing and Canadian.
Update 2020 - I'm posting this ahead of my first review. b2 has had a pretty big update with a lot of changes to how it works. Several things I wrote about in my review will no longer apply. So, read (below) with a grain of salt.
I found b2 the best alternative to WordPress. It is free to use, open source and has not become commercial (targeted to web developers and marketers, not writers and publishers). b2 is user friendly and has a lot of function and features for publishers. A plus for me is the history behind b2, it is not a new start up. b2evolution was here when WordPress was starting.
My only problem is how images are loaded. When you write a post and want to include an image you have to open a new screen and upload your image to your site. Then, go back to the screen you are writing your post in and add the image there. It is an extra step. I do understand that using images this way means I can upload them exactly where I want each image in my site files. But, when I'm writing a post, opening another screen interrupts the flow of my writing. Really, I just need to adapt and add images after the post is written.
WordPress is not a lot better at this, still no way to really deal with images when you have a lot of them (unless you try more plugins to organize and edit them). At least with b2 you don't need to add plugins.
However, b2 is actively evolving and developing. Support for anything I asked about was quick and very good at fixing problems. Also, b2 is one of the few CMS alternatives which does work to import your WordPress site. I tested it on 3 different sites of my own. The only problem I had was one site which failed due to some added code/ glitch in the WordPress imported files (possibly generated by a plugin at some point though I tried with all plugins deleted or disabled).
Unfortunately, b2 does not have what I wanted for keeping links as a resource directory. WordPress doesn't either, unless you use a plugin to bring the link manager back.
b2 does have the bookmarklet for adding posts from your web browser. This is another feature WordPress decided to remove. I use the bookmarklet often! I can write a post while I am still at the source of my inspiration and link to the source site. Content curation and writing a short post when and where you find your inspiration makes publishing so much easier than returning to your site every time you want to post anything.
For a lot of reasons, b2 is my favourite WordPress alternative. It is user friendly, not drastically unlike WordPress in how it works, not commercial or abandoned software. Help is great and the tutorials on the site are kept fairly up to date with the software.
Plus, it is easy to have multi sites and users on your domain, if you wanted to get help running all your sites. I consider help, but no one does everything just the way I do everything and I really like doing everything my way.
The easiest CMS to choose if you just want to move out of WordPress and keep working on your site. This is a fork of WordPress, which still works with WP plugins and themes. It dropped Gutenberg and kept going.
If you've skipped to the bottom for results - my top alternatives are Publii, Bludit, Composr, and b2evolution. Quite different from each other but the best for running your own sites with few headaches. Or, there's ClassicPress. I hope more WordPress forks come along. I think we need them.