As someone who provides advice on personal branding, I often get asked by business owners and clients about good website platforms. WordPress? Squarespace? Wix? If you’ve never heard of the New Rainmaker website platform, it may be because the platform is relatively new and less well known. However, if you’re thinking about hosting your website there, I’m here to warn you against it. Save yourself the trouble, and just use WordPress. After the past year I’ve had with Rainmaker, I felt compelled to share my experience so others can be aware of the limitations and issues Rainmaker may cause for you and your business. Let me go back in time and explain how I ended up choosing Rainmaker, eight major limitations of the platform, and why WordPress is so much more versatile. Note, I’ve included a few affiliate links below, but only on services I trust, use myself, and can wholeheartedly recommend.
Why I originally decided to build my site on Rainmaker
About a year ago, I relaunched my career consulting business to be focused much more on content creation in the form of online tools, podcasts, and other media. I decided to invest in relaunching my website to support this new content strategy, so I began looking into platforms like that could provide a slicker interface. I was willing to pay for convenience, solid functionality, and an all-in-one solution that could support my content. Prior to this, I had always hosted my sites on WordPress.org, using free pre-built templates, and creating those sites myself with my rudimentary understanding of site design and HTML. This time, I had more money to invest, less time to fiddle with it myself, and a desire do it the right way once and for all. I stumbled across a platform called the New Rainmaker, which I realized was used by some people I followed, including content marketers. The platform seemed promising. And reviews on Rainmaker’s homepage like the following seemed compelling, like this one: Sounds great, right? A year ago, I knew very little about web development, so after doing further research, and discussing with my former developer, we decided to go with Rainmaker given my intended focus on content creation. It was a tough call, but we felt good about what Rainmaker was advertising—a “Simple, Powerful, and affordable all in one complete solution.” So we went for it. I end up regretting it.
Rainmaker ended up being the wrong choice
Building my site on Rainmaker ended up being one of the most costly, time consuming administrative mistakes I’ve made since starting my business. After using the Rainmaker Platform for a year, I realized the platform’s processes, functional limitations, and inflexible policies were creating insurmountable, unnecessary hurdles for me as a business owner. Having used Rainmaker extensively over the past 12 months, I couldn’t disagree more with the Jelle’s comments above. I absolutely could not “do more with Rainmaker than you can with WordPress and WP plugins.” Below, I’ll delve into why this is sentiment is simply inaccurate. Also, I’m a Mac user myself. I switched from a PC to a Mac years ago. I agree that like a Mac, Rainmaker does offer a set approach to doing things, ready to use out of the box. However, unlike a Mac, you cannot fully extend or customize Rainmaker in the same way. On a Mac, you have access to settings, the Mac Store apps, and lots of third party software, which allows you to optimize your Mac to suit your needs. On the other hand, you can’t alter the Rainmaker environment in any way. More on that later when I walk about plugins. Even though the thought of migrating all my site’s content and podcasts back to a self-hosted WordPress installation seemed like a HUGE hassle, I bit the bullet and hired a team to do it. The process was costly and time consuming, but I couldn’t be happier to be back on WordPress. The migration was worth it. Since returning to WordPress, I haven’t missed a single thing about Rainmaker. In fact, I’ve felt a huge sense of relief being on a more open platform again. While the list of my issues with Rainmaker is long, here are the eight key reasons that convinced me Rainmaker is not the platform for my business, which I hope can help you decide whether it’s right for you.
- Cumbersome custom theme updates
- No direct access to files via cPanel or FTP
- Convoluted feature activation processes
- Expensive with rising prices
- Difficulty sourcing developers
- No way to upgrade
- No additional plugins allowed
- Limited back-end customizations
If these things don’t bother you, Rainmaker could be fine for you, but if these factors are of concern, go with WordPress. For your background, I’d consider myself a novice when it comes to web coding, so keep that in mind for context.
1. Cumbersome custom theme updates
On WordPress, you can make theme updates on the fly, in real time, and see your changes immediately. In Rainmaker, if you ever want to make an update to your custom theme, you have to:
- Gather any changed files
- Navigate to your admin custom theme review request
- Upload those modified files
- Send for approval to Rainmaker using this form, pictured below:
- Wait for approval before changes are live
Rainmaker states the approval process takes anywhere from a couple days to “a week,” which was fairly accurate. We generally waited anywhere from a day to a week for every theme update we wanted to make. During site development, this becomes a very frustrating bottleneck, especially if you want to make iterative, sequential, and/or minor changes. In fairness, the process has sped up a bit over the past 12 months, but still slower than the instantaneous updates you have with WordPress. I never had a theme rejected, but I had theme updates get approved that ended up breaking my site, which we had no comprehensive way of testing because Rainmaker didn’t offer a way of previewing changes in their environment prior to submission. So if you make a mistake, your site may be broken for the duration of time between your next submission and Rainmaker approval. There’s no instantaneous option to revert to prior versions as would be the case with WordPress. In fairness, Rainmaker kindly offered me a workaround for this, which was a staging site that duplicated the main functionality of my current live site, where we could test out my code first. However, to make any changes live, we still had to “schedule” the update to go live with the Rainmaker review team, so that presented yet another bottleneck. Moreover, the staging site & live site can fall out of sync, causing confusion or room for error, where it works fine on the staging site, but doesn’t on the live site due to some stray inconsistency.
2. No direct access to files via cPanel or FTP
Your website host (I use A2) should offer FTP or cPanel File Manager access to your site files, which provides a handy way to manage all your content. After all, they’re your files, so being able to access them seems reasonable, right? With Rainmaker, you are NOT given full FTP access to your files. That means you can’t easily or directly tweak your theme or site files. This causes unnecessary complications that make every file-related task take longer because–you guessed it–you have to email in a request with Rainmaker’s support team to make any modifications. For example, if you want to make a quick tweak to the .htaccess or robots.txt file, you can’t. If you want to simply upload a verification file into your website’s root directory to connect Google Analytics, Pinterest, YouTube, or other platforms, you can’t. If you want to update your style.css file after spotting an error on your website, you can’t. Instead, you have to put in a support request, send any necessary files and instructions to Rainmaker, wait for them to approve your change, then wait for them to push the changes out to your live site. So these sorts of simple tasks that take seconds in WordPress can take days in Rainmaker. The difference in convenience is like night and day—many nights and many days in some cases. No file access also means you have:
- No direct access to your content files.
- No way of easily adding/deleting many files at once.
- No way of knowing if unnecessary files are cluttering up your folders.
- No way of downloading a back-up copy of your site’s content on your local drive.
Anything related to files has to be done through the Rainmaker backend or via their support team, which ends up being unnecessarily time consuming and complicated.
3. Convoluted feature activation processes
One of the benefits Rainmaker touts is convenience, including the following: “Mobile Responsive HTML5 Themes, Landing Pages, and Membership Areas … All Without Code. Evolve from “no code” to “no problem.” It’s a bold promise, and one of the reasons why I bought into the platform. I’m a novice when it comes to web design and development, so anything to make my life easier as a user is welcome. So Rainmaker seemed promising. Unfortunately, although inserting shortcodes and arguments isn’t technically coding, you need to have a lot more patience and coding know-how compared to what you need to navigate WordPress. For example, here’s what you have to do to create a checkout page in Rainmaker: Now, while that may not require “coding” knowledge, I wouldn’t call anything that requires that much explanation, shortcode manipulation, and manual input to be “no problem.” I’m reasonably well versed with basic shortcode usage and page creation (I created my first 2 websites myself) but I found this to be very complicated and prone to error, (e.g., leaving out a single bracket or accidentally using a curly quote instead of a straight quote breaks the code). If you want to customize the checkout page so it doesn’t look completely amateur, you need to add in manual customizations like these: Okay, so not TOO horrible. Okay, how about making further customizations . . . Now, I’m no advanced coder, but I still consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. I also consider most of my business owner clients really sharp, but I don’t know many of them who would be able to easily decipher this on their own. Even if someone could figure it out, all it takes is one typo to break the whole thing. The idea of “without code” is also a bit of a stretch. That checkout page design is just one of the many knowledge base articles you have to sift through to do anything that utilizes the content marketing functionality. That goes for membership groups, login pages, selective content visibility, etc. It’s all incredibly convoluted, manual, and confusing. For example, controlling content visibility: You get the point. All of this has to be entered in manually. Every single time. It’s cumbersome and prone to user error. And after all this, the end result can still end up looking rather amateur. No thank you. I’ll stick with things like Woo Commerce where the process is so much more user-friendly.
4. Expensive with quickly rising prices
One of the reasons I considered Rainmaker was the potential savings compared to paying for individual WordPress plugins. However, Rainmaker quickly became more expensive.
- When I joined Rainmaker in Nov 2015, it cost $79/month with the option to upgrade to the “Pro” version for an additional $46/month for a total of $125/month.
- In late 2016, Rainmaker no longer offered the lower tier offering. It cost $145 per month ($125/month if billed annually). The non-Pro plan also disappeared. So whether you want to use none or all of the “Pro” features, you’ll still need to fork over theh full $145/month, which is more than the former Pro upgraded price.
- As of Jan 27, 2017, Rainmaker further increased their prices AGAIN. The monthly price went up +$20 to $165 per month ($145/month if billed annually).
In the past 12 months alone, the monthly fee for Rainmaker has more than doubled from $79 to $165. Yikes.
Now, if you go to the New Rainmaker platform trial site sales page, you’ll see that they claim a $4,600+ per year savings when compared to piecing together the same functionality with paid plugins. Note, this image below was the screengrab I pulled as I was drafting this. The $1500/year has since risen to $1740/year. Rainmaker suggested fees for “The Old Way” is a slight exaggeration–borderline misleading–especially since some plugins are a one-time rather than monthly fee. I’m no online marketing pro, but with even 5 minutes of quick plugin Googling, you can easily find free or low cost replacements that get your ongoing WordPress fees to be much lower than Rainmaker’s. For example:
- Security– Rainmaker claims $17/month for “security.” I’m assuming they’re talking about preventing malicious attacks or fraudulent logins. Free WordPress plugins that provide 2-factor authentication like Google Authenticator or security against brute force attacks or intrusion attempts like iThemes Security can provide similar if not better protection to secure your site. On WordPress, you can also layer further protections on top of that if you want to be even more secure.
- SEO & Keyword Research– Rainmaker claims $59/month. Yoast SEO, the #1 SEO plugin on WordPress offers the same functionality for free.
- Redirect links: Rainmaker claims $37/month. Free plugins like Quick Redirect can easily handle this.
- StudioPress Pro Plus Pack– Rainmaker says this costs about $500. Well, there are literally hundreds of free WordPress themes out there so you don’t even have to worry about Studiopress. In fact, even the generic 2017 WordPress theme is pretty solid. Alternatively, Themeforest offers plenty of amazing themes under $30.
- Marketing automation: Rainmaker claims this costs $199/month. Well, yes, if you want to go with the most expensive options out there. However, two of the most reputable, popular email service providers, AWeber and Mailchimp, offer automation at a fraction of this cost (<$30/month).
- SSL Certificate– Rainmaker claims this costs $65/year. My host of choice, A2, charges $50 for an equivalent certificate that enables secure transactions (they offer a basic SSL for free).
I could go on. But you can quickly see that Rainmaker doesn’t necessarily offer the kind of savings they’re advertising. Without compromising any functionality, I’m now saving more than $80/month compared to what I used to spend on Rainmaker. Those savings would be around $120/month vs. the latest Rainmaker rates.
5. Difficulty sourcing developers
To make matters worse, because plugins are not allowed, I had to resort to finding developers who could create custom code for me as a workaround to the Rainmaker restrictions. Finding WordPress developers is not hard. If you look on hiring platforms like Upwork or PeoplePerHour, there are literally thousands of WordPress developers. However, when I did a search for developers comfortable with Rainmaker on Upwork, I found zero. Although Rainmaker is built on a WordPress & Genesis platform, even when I found developers comfortable working within the Rainmaker platform (most had never heard of it), in every single case, they got frustrated by the long-winded, cumbersome process of having to manually submit theme updates for every little tweak we made that couldn’t be covered by custom CSS. Even when I found Genesis or Studiopress developers who could be adept at Rainmaker, they quickly got annoyed by Rainmaker’s limitations and restrictions, and walked away because it wasn’t worth their time.
6. No way to upgrade
With other hosting providers, you often have the option to upgrade site memory, speed, or resources. Not an option with Rainmaker. You just have to hope your site works fine within the confines of their platform’s resources. Let’s say your site starts to go viral, or your site ends up demanding more resources (space, speed, memory) over time. You’re locked into Rainmaker’s systems, server speeds, and resources. Granted, I’ve never had any speed issues with my Rainmaker site to-date, but if I ever did have performance issues, I’d be stuck with nowhere to go.
7. No additional plugins allowed
The beauty of WordPress is that you can find an infinite amount of WordPress plugins or add-ons from sites like Envato to enhance and expand your site’s design and user experience as your business needs evolve. Yes, plugins can be hard to find and cause slow your site, but it doesn’t take long to find those that work efficiently. If one really doesn’t exist, you can have one created. When you sign up for Rainmaker, you can’t install any external plugins. Be prepared to work within the confines of their system with no room for expansion or added functionality. If you’re happy with everything Rainmaker offers, that’s okay, but if you have ANY interest in ever extending the functionality of your site beyond what Rainmaker offers, you’ll be stuck. The irony here is that Rainmaker is actually built on WordPress, but they won’t allow you to use any other WordPress plugins.
Rainmaker does not allow you to install any other plugins. No exceptions.
This restriction quickly becomes very limiting and time consuming. For example, I wanted to create some Click-to-Tweet functionality on my site. Instead of just being able to install a simple, convenient Tweetable plugin like Tweetdis to cover off the functionality, which takes a couple minutes to install, I had to find and hire a developer to custom code a workaround shortcode, submit the theme update, and test out the functionality. Then, I manually entered the shortcode and arguments every single time I want to use the functionality. Here’s exactly what this developer told me before I explained how plugins weren’t allowed on Rainmaker: “Joseph, I can create this for you. But to be honest, you would be better off just installing a plugin like Tweetdis that already does exactly what you want. I’m going to end up charging you much more for my time than the cost of the plugin.” Unfortunately, installing this simple plugin wasn’t an option, so I ended up spending much more time and money having this developer custom code a workaround (via shortcodes). I suggested Rainmaker consider integrating this functionality since they’re platform is all about content marketing. Here’s what they said: I wanted to install a basic testimonial plugin. Couldn’t do it. I wanted to install an AWeber subscriber counter. Nope. Not allowed. My developer came up with a workaround but required the use of cURL or Python with external APIs. After proposing this to Rainmaker, I ran into more roadblocks: You get the point. Whenever you try to do anything that deviates from the built-in functionality of Rainmaker, you’ll run into time consuming, cumbersome roadblocks that leave you wishing you were just on a self-hosted WordPress platform, where you could click a few buttons and be all set.
Whenever you try to do anything outside of Rainmaker’s functionality, you run into roadblocks.
8. Limited back-end customizations
This is what the Rainmaker “New Post” back-end looks like: Nothing that different from WordPress. However, if you ever want to add in a new button or adjust the button layout using a popular plugin like TinyMCE Advanced, you can’t. For example, because that Tweetable plugin had to be custom coded, I then had to manually enter in the shortcode syntax and arguments everytime. In WordPress, this can be done by using one of the many shortcodes plugins that integrate simple buttons into the visual editor that automate inserting in shortcodes. I tried to do this in Rainmaker, but that’s a no go . . . I asked if there’s ANY way I can simplify inserting shortcodes. Nope. Their response summarizes one of the main issues with Rainmaker:
Rainmaker limits you to only those options already in the admin area.
And that really is the crux of the issue here. You can’t easily do anything that goes beyond the preset Rainmaker functionality. Even if you’re willing to jump through hoops, custom development, and endless reviews, you’re stuck with clunky solutions and workarounds that are time consuming and costly.
Can Rainmaker still work for some users?
With these issues in mind, you may be wondering why Rainmaker even exists if it really is so limiting. Surely, the platform must have its benefits, right? Yes. I’ll concede Rainmaker has at least three things going for it. First, I actually found their customer support team to be extremely helpful whenever I had questions, and I will go as far as to say they went above and beyond what I would have expected, especially given the confines of the platform. If you like having access to a support team–albeit only accessible via email, not phone–Rainmaker’s pretty solid. Second, I found the back-end admin interface to be much slicker, modern, and easier to navigate than WordPress’s. The overall navigation is pleasing, and it feels more “current” than the somewhat old-school WordPress design. So if back-end design and simplicity matter a lot to you, you’ll be happy with Rainmaker’s aesthetics. Finally, Rainmaker could work for basic users who don’t want to hunt for plugins to replicate the functionality it already offers out-of-the-box. After all, according to Rainmaker’s own website, the platform is intended to be a “complete digital marketing and sales solution” for the “non-technical content creator and entrepreneur . . . who want to focus on their business, not their technology.” When I left the platform, Rainmaker’s CFO actually wrote me a parting email to gently remind me that “The Rainmaker Platform was designed to meet the needs of online marketers that did not want to spend excessive time in tinkering with the underlying code of their website.” Fair enough. I’m not going to sit here and say Rainmaker is wrong for everyone. If you fall into that camp of people who find an all-in-one, ready-made website solution appealing, you might consider Rainmaker. However, I would caution you to ONLY proceed with Rainmaker if you agree every one these 5 statements:
- “I’m 100% certain my business will NEVER evolve in a way that requires additional web functionality or resources beyond what Rainmaker already offers.”
- “I’m 100% comfortable navigating all the custom codes (examples above) to build my web pages.
- “I’m 100% comfortable with the idea of being locked into a single, closed platform.” (because migrating to another platform later will be a huge hassle)
- “I’m 100% okay with being at the mercy of any price increases Rainmaker mandates as long as my website exists.”
- “I’m 100% fine with not being able to make real-time updates to my site design if I ever need to tweak anything.”
If you’re comfortable with these statements, Rainmaker could do the job for you. However, most of the solopreneurs, freelancers, and business owners I know, including my own clients, have businesses and lives that rapidly evolve, often in unexpected ways. So versatility is often more important than simplicity.
My recommendation: avoid Rainmaker and use WordPress
You can quickly see how these individual Rainmaker issues exacerbate one another. There are numerous other annoyances with Rainmaker (limited podcast stats, outdated social icons, podcast player embed issues, rigid landing page templates, inability to track subscriber sign-ups, etc). I won’t get into these here, but keep in mind that the list I’ve shared above covers only a fraction of the issues I’ve had. If you’re on the fence between Rainmaker or WordPress, as I was over a year ago, do yourself a favor and just go with WordPress. You won’t regret it. And any developers you work with will thank you too. I entrusted my website and content to Rainmaker believing the platform would simplify my life as a business owner and non-technical website user. I thought it would provide a robust, convenient platform that could support my business’s growth. I even promoted Rainmaker on my site’s recommended resources page. Unfortunately, I quickly realized I had made a costly mistake. If I could do it all over, I would just set up a self-hosted WordPress.org site and add in the plugin functionality as my business grew and my needs evolved. I really cannot convey in words just how much Rainmaker distracted me from my business during the past year. I managed to work with a great team to migrate my site to WordPress, but I would have preferred to spend that time building my business.
If I could do it all over, I’d avoid Rainmaker and just go with WordPress.
Although the all-in-one solution Rainmaker offers may initially be enticing to help save time, money, and development hassle, it can end up doing the exact opposite. You can end up wasting time from theme review processes, overpaying for functionality you could cover with less costly WordPress plugins, and dealing with hassle when trying to develop workarounds that fit within the confines of their systems.
I now recommend all my clients avoid Rainmaker and use WordPress instead. If you want to save yourself potential hassle, I’d advise you do the same. Do you have thoughts on Rainmaker vs. WordPress? If so, I’d welcome your views.
June 2017 update: Well, it turns out that Rainmaker is now shutting down its standalone platform offering, now requiring new customers to sign up for its “Digital Marketing Service.” Sounds like a benefit for Rainmaker, but a complete 180 from the initial proposition of providing customers with an easy-to-use, self-managed web platform. Another reason why you should get off of Rainmaker now if you haven’t done so already.
Get my free Wordpress plugins cheatsheet
If you do end up using Wordpress, be sure to download my Wordpress plugins cheatsheet that lists 5 of my favorite plugins to keep your site running efficiently and securely. Some of these functionalities are built into Rainmaker, but others are not.