Do 3rd-Party Content Creation Apps Stack Up For WordPress Site Owners?
The WordPress admin interface, for all its flaws, does its job well enough for millions of posts to be published every day.
Despite that, the Ghost writing interface caused quite a stir and no shortage of longing, and front-end editing continues to be the flavor of the month.
So what about going the whole hog and moving your content creation out of WordPress completely? Does using a purpose-built third-party app to manage the content creation process make any sense?
This is not one of those posts where I list all the problems with the WordPress admin interface and then suggest abandoning it altogether for some shiny new thing.
The WordPress admin interface, for all its flaws, does work. I’ve written multiple posts a week, every week for the last 9 months using nothing else.
Just because it works, though, doesn’t mean that alternatives shouldn’t be explored or might even, in some circumstances, might be a better option.
It’s also a mistake to think that all the problems with the WordPress admin interface are simply that it’s too unfriendly for the uninitiated. This trivializes the content creation process and fails to recognize that there are many reasons why you might want to use a separate app or service to create content for your WordPress site.
7 Reasons To Create Your Content Outside WordPress
New Build, Separate Site Build From Content Development
The most obvious reason for wanting to create content outside of WordPress is that the WordPress install is not available: a remarkably common situation for new builds and redevelopments.
And even if it is, then trying to create content in a development environment doesn’t seem entirely like a good idea.
Neither does storing content in Word documents or even in Google Docs and the prospect of having to cut and paste across to the site once it’s ready is enough to delay any content project.
Security – Keep Access To WordPress To A Minimum
As far as security is concerned, the fewer people who have access to a WordPress site the better. After all, authors are just getting a restricted view of the same interface as administrators.
Using a separate app keeps your content creators out of WordPress altogether with no possibility of accidentally giving them more privileges than they need.
Managing The Plugins For Advanced Content Creation
There are a number of great plugins such as EditFlow that will dramatically enhance WordPress’ content management capability.
Every plugin, though, comes with a management overhead and if you are replicating this across multiple sites then the cost, as well as the unavoidable risk, will quickly add up.
Desire To Be CMS Agnostic
There may be some advantage of creating and storing your content in a tool that is largely CMS agnostic.
The interface is obviously consistent regardless of where the content is being published and does allow the swapping of CMS without the major headache of exporting from one application to another.
You’ve also got the added bonus of having your content backed-up in a separate app.
Better Workflow – Split Creation And Production
As WordPress gets used in ever more sophisticated publishing environments, there is plenty to be gained in splitting content creation (the authoring of the text) from the production (the laying-out of the content for publishing).
An entirely feasible, and perhaps sensible, workflow would see authors creating content in 3rd party tool which is then imported into WordPress to be laid out by a content producer.
Content creation apps are specifically built with a sole focus on content creation: for WordPress (in fact almost any CMS) this is just one of a number of functions.
Hardly surprisingly then, that these tools do a better job than a barebones WordPress install or are more usable than a WordPress install loaded with the plugins to provide the desired functionality.
It’s also worth remembering that these tools are often the sole purpose of their creators. New functionality will be added and a level of support will available that is not always possible or can be expected of a free WordPress plugin.
Publishing To Multiple Destinations
If you have multiple publishing destinations then a centralized app could be a huge benefit.
And don’t just think this means multiple WordPress sites (although it could) – Mailchimp and social media are all publishing destinations and being able to create, workflow, review, approve and publish to multiple destinations from a single interface could save considerable time and resources.
A Look At Two Collaborative Content Creation Tools
So, given that there are a range of scenarios in which using a 3rd-party app to create content actually makes sense, are the available tools up to the job?
Draft is focused on being a “better writer” and although the About page says you don’t need version control, distraction free editors and real-time collaboration that’s exactly what it provides and more, including team collaboration and commenting.
The editor is very clean and simple with a clear focus on creating content. It might seem sparse but it works really well (I’ve written this article in Draft)
Publishing to WordPress is very simple. Set your site (or sites) up as a publishing destination (enter the URL, username and password) and then select it from the list when you publish.
The publish process allows you to specify a title, select the categories for the post, add tags and whether to set the status to draft (it will be published, otherwise).
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All content is exported as a post type.
The major downside of Draft is that it doesn’t push images and other media across to the publish destination, so you’ll need to load these up in WordPress.
How much of a downside this is will depend on the type of content you produce.
Also interesting to note is that Draft’s integrations include LinkedIn, Twitter and Mailchimp. Potential to write all your online comms in the one interface, perhaps?
Draft is available for free but you can also purchase a subscription ($3.99/mth or $39.99/yr) which is based on a pretty unique model. Rather than getting access to premium features (there’s no difference in the feature set) a subscription gets you access to the Draft subscriber community, a 20% discount on Draft’s professional editing services and invites to subscriber-only events such as webcasts.
It all really fits with Draft’s philosophy that, in the end, it’s not the tool that helps you become a better writer but advice, help and good old fashioned human interaction.
For Draft to be useful, you have to buy into the simple-is-best approach and be prepared to do some post production on your content (like inserting images).
If you do, and perhaps you are producing content for multiple sites (easy to do with Draft’s folder approach) and you fancy the idea of getting feedback on your writing then Draft is well worth a test drive.
GatherContent from the UK-based company of the same name, is an entirely different beast to Draft both in approach, level of sophistication and capability.
It necessarily has a steeper learning curve as well but is certainly not difficult to pick up. It’s clearly easy enough for GatherContent to have picked up “over 7,000 customers in 133 countries”.
This tool is much more focussed on the corporate and on agencies, particularly content agencies, in particular.
GatherContent lets you build your content structure including creating custom content types so that any content can be created. The workflow is configurable and works well with email notification to ensure that the process keeps moving. You can group users and apply roles as well as granting access on a project basis.
GatherContent will let you also manage non-text assets such as images.
There’s a host of features including versioning and an editorial calendar and perhaps unlike the equivalent WordPress plugins, it all feels integrated – not surprising for a purpose-built tool.
Publishing to WordPress is actually a pull rather than a push – that is, you do it from your WordPress site using a plugin, rather than pushing it to your site from inside GatherContent.
The plugin allows you to select a GatherContent project (useful if you want to publish to multiple sites) and then select the content to be published – you can use filters so setting a status to “Publish to WordPress” can be really useful for quickly finding content that needs pulling across.
For each post, there’s the opportunity to map the GatherContent content to WordPress post fields including featured images and custom fields, making custom post type creation a breeze.
Multiple GatherContent fields can also be assigned to the one WordPress post field (such as the Post Content). This allows you to break the content creation into its components and then combine these when creating the post. The order of the components can easily be changed by dragging and dropping them in the import page.
The mapping can be stored for subsequent updates.
GatherContent handles attachments, so images, for example, get added to the media library and linked locally in the post.
Content can be imported as either a post or a page but annoyingly the status on all imported content is set to published which will mean publishing to an obscure category if any post production is required.
If only one status was possible then draft would have been a better choice.
Despite that, GatherContent is a very solid, is easy to use,integrates well with WordPress and is a tool that you’d have no issues sharing with a client.
GatherContent is not free (they do have a 30-day no credit card required free trial); the recommended Studio plan which provides for unlimited active projects, unlimited users, SSL and 100GB file storage is $79 per month.
Ditch Creating Content In WordPress?
Both Draft and GatherContent bring something worthwhile to the content creation table particularly when it comes to teams working collaboratively.
In any of the scenarios outlined earlier in the post, GatherContent would be an excellent aide to managing content – you’ll just to workaround the publish status issue.
If you are managing multiple sites, with multiple clients then arguably the tool would quickly work out to be cost neutral at best – just the overhead of managing the plugins in each site to provide the functionality of GatherContent would cost more than $80 a month.
Draft, on the other hand, is really a writing community with a content creation tool and the considerable value is going to be in participating in that community.
Draft is, then, perhaps more suited to the writer who wants to interact with like-minded individuals; if you are in this category and if you also use Mailchimp then $40 has to be a punt worth taking.
Keeping authors out of WordPress itself solves a lot of the problems commonly raised with the WordPress admin interface as well as quite a few general content management issues.
In the end, it all depends on your particular scenario and whether the pain of using two applications is offset by benefits that the arrangement brings.
For a number, it clearly does.