On-site or off-site: 5 questions to answer before choosing where to host your content

Where should your content live (or go to die)? That’s the question on every publisher’s mind at the moment, thanks to the rise of “platform gentrification.” Instead of brands self-hosting content on their sites, they are turning to platforms like Medium to host their content in a “clean, well-lighted place on the internet.” Indie publishers and blogs like Pacific Standard, The Awl, and Electric Literature have migrated over to Medium in hopes of creating new ad revenues.

As more traditional and online publishers move to these platforms, brands are asking: should we?

Before your brand can get passionate about one platform or the other, or self-hosting content on their site, you need to look within. Whether a brand is starting from scratch or repositioning where their content lives, here are five questions to answer before choosing where to host your content.

1. How does this help achieve our goals?

Remember that every marketing decision needs to answer a question: how will this help us do X or Y or Z? It’s easy to get caught up in the latest hype for platform X. Currently, in many ways, it makes sense for brands to hop on the latest internet invasion. Exhibit A: platforms like Facebook, Medium, and LinkedIn have stepped up to the plate to provide publishers and brands with the right CMS tools that rival the likes of self-hosting platforms like WordPress. Exhibit B: these “gentrified” platforms can attract large, returning audiences and are relatively inexpensive to use and promote. Exhibit C: cost-effective. It’s free to create accounts and often free to use these features; the real cost comes down to advertising and marketing campaigns.

But really ask yourself: does joining platform X help us get closer to achieving our goals?

If your goal is to get as many people to your site as possible so they’ll buy your product or service, is hosting your content on X going to achieve that? If your goal is to establish a mini-publication on another platform, is self-hosting going to achieve that? (Maybe…)

To choose where your brand should host their content, you need to think of the big picture. As always, it’s important to ask what value a platform can bring to your brand and how it helps serve the larger mission.

2. How much will this cost us?

Does your brand have millions to spend on marketing? A few dollars? No matter where you are on the spectrum, the cost of hosting your content is always top of mind. And the cost of hosting your content is wildly different across the board, save for paying a domain name and hosting fee every year.

Self-hosting your content (re: a blog on your brand’s website) is generally considered cost-beneficial. It can be as simple as creating another page for your marketing website and using a CMS platform to power it. Depending on the scale of your content (see below), the costs will go up or down. Of course, this does not include the cost of a webmaster or designer to maintain the site, but if you have talented personnel on staff this can keep costs down.

Elsewhere, the prices vary. Brands on Medium, for example, pay nothing to start creating, publishing, and sharing content. Some choose to use their domain name on Medium, like Slack; others, like Starbucks, do not.

Look at your marketing budget to determine a baseline price for setting up shop for your content’s home.

3. Which CMS features do we want/need to create content?

Not all publishing platforms are created equal. For every WordPress, there’s a basic text blogging platform out there somewhere. No matter which one you pick, you are at the mercy of your platform. The trick is to determine which CMS features you need and which you can live without. What are the capabilities, tech specs, limitations, etc. of your platform of choice?

At its most basic, a good CMS platform has:

  • A what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor
  • The ability to create, edit, manage, and delete pages and posts
  • The ability to save drafts and revert to previous versions
  • The ability to assign roles to writers and editors with a range of content access permissions and responsibilities
  • Website support
  • Rolling bug fixes
  • Integration with other tools, plugins, software, etc.

Every platform you’ll find should have these features, but there’s a give and take between these features and the platform.

For example, WordPress is known as a powerful platform because its capabilities, tech specs, and more are so customizable. With tons of plugins, widgets, specs, and other features, WordPress can be shaped and molded into whatever you want. It virtually has no limitations, but it does require knowledge of code and expertise within the platform. Medium, on the other hand, has lots of limitations, as you can’t mess with the code—but its clean interface and WYSIWYG editor may be enough for your content. Tumblr is an interesting combination of the two, in that you can easily adapt code, but you still have to use Tumblr’s rigid CMS platform to create different types of posts.

There are pros and cons to using each platform day-in and day-out. Choose wisely.

4. Does this platform align with our branding?

It’s kind of a left-field question, but still an important one to answer. Essentially it boils down to answering how this platform meets the needs of your branding. Is it important to your brand that you have control of the design? Platforms that lack a lot of customization (re: Medium, LinkedIn) may not be the best fit if you want complete control over design—or features or plugins or anything else that affects branding.

It’s important to remember if the platform’s brand is in sync with what your brand aspires to. For example, LinkedIn and Medium are both known as thought leadership hubs. As a B2B brand, which platform better works for your branding and theirs? Most likely, that would be LinkedIn. Alternatively, as a B2C brand creating long-form content, Medium is a better fit than LinkedIn would be.

5. Can you scale your content efforts?

In other words, are you thinking of the future? While it’s true that you can jump ship to another shinier looking ship at any time, hopefully, you chose an option that can adapt to your future needs. Ideally, your content efforts will grow in years to come. Maybe you’ll want to create a branded publication or add new verticals; maybe you’ll need more bandwidth or design options or other features and capabilities your current platform does not have. That will cost money and time and maybe your soul. Just kidding on the last part.

Now that you have some questions to consider, it’s time to dig into where specifically you should host your brand’s content. From self-hosting a subdomain or a subfolder to microsites to shiny new platforms, here’s what you need to know about places where you can host your company’s content:

Image: Charles Forerunner/Unsplash

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