On-Site or Off-Site: Hosting Your Content on Platforms (Part 3)
For the purposes of this blog post, we define a platform as a Content Management System (CMS) platform where content creators can create, edit and distribute their work across a social network that houses billions of content. Unlike a self-hosting platform (like WordPress.org, which is a CMS but not a hosting service), these platforms are discovery content hubs. Think: YouTube, Medium and Tumblr, among many. These platforms carry the burden of managing the servers, customer support, site security, bandwidth—all of that technical time-munching stuff.
Recently, platforms have emerged as an enticing alternative to host your content on. Like self-hosting, social platforms have plenty of pros, including:
- Money, money, money … MONHEY (*). Self-hosting can incur plenty of costs—the hosting fee, website design, plugins, domain names. Using a platform instead can save on many of these costs, but still make your content look professional. In many cases, the only major cost is a domain name fee for your blog (which costs $10-15 per year).
- Time well spent. Speaking of, building and running a content hub takes a lot of time and resources. Whether it’s a blog or a branded publication, brands need to think about what’s right for the resources they have available. Working with a platform frees content marketing teams from technical support and design since these platforms cover that for you. For many smaller teams with limited resources, it makes sense to ditch the designer and webmaster for a cheaper yet still professional alternative.
- Visibility and discoverability. Building an audience from the ground up takes time and a lot of hard work, and even then it’s no guarantee it will be found by said audience. For platforms like Medium and LinkedIn, the audience is built-in—or at least, there’s already an audience waiting to discover your content. If you create good content, people can discover and share it better on said platforms to maximize reach.
*Not a typo. A reference to this wonderful song.
However, for every pro of hosting on platforms there are more cons that could be deal breakers, including:
- WYSIWG aka what you see is what you get. With most of these platforms, you are working with both their strengths and their limitations. If you don’t like a certain feature on the site? An updated design? A wonky bug?(*) Too bad.
- Traffic. Brands dive into content marketing for many reasons, but the selling point is to increase traffic to their site. The site, of course, just so happens to house their products, services and information about both. However, if you’re using a platform to get your content noticed, the bulk of your content’s traffic is eaten up by the platforms.
- SEO. Search engines really love websites that update and they really love content. If you host content elsewhere, it can hinder your SEO. (Here’s how.)
- Vitality. Remember MySpace? Vine? Facebook? Twitter? Okay, Twitter is still around but it’s been in jeopardy for quite awhile now. But back to my point: while those platforms are still around and kicking, there’s no guarantee that any platform will be here in 10 years or five years or even next year. By hosting all of your content off-site, you risk losing all of your content and manually backing it up somewhere.
Before we get into analyzing that pros and cons list, let’s talk about the platforms you can use to host your content.
** You can report bug issues to customer and tech support, of course. The issue is that they might not answer right away (or at all).
Need a clean canvas to publish great content? Why not try Medium? With over 600,000 power users, Medium has become the go-to hub to publish anything from ideas, stories, PR blitzes, news and more. With an easy-to-use standardized template and clean interface, it’s simple for any blogger, brand or publisher to start publishing right now. It also boasts some cool features, including recommendations, in-line comments, highlights, responses and, best of all, it calculates how long each post will take you to read.
With Medium, brands can scale their content effort with relative ease by creating publications that collect categorized content into one place. For instance, Slack exclusively hosts their branded publications and content on Medium.
However, it does have major drawbacks. For one, its analytics software is basic at best and is difficult to measure your content thanks to its generically named metrics. Two, it’s difficult to transfer your domain name to Medium without reaching out to them. (Brands can do so here.) And finally, it may not be where your audience is. Medium is supposed to attract everyone, but more often than not the power users are young and in tech or startup careers.
Bottom line: Medium is ideal for brands who want to publish stories but want to avoid the hassle of setting up, designing and hosting their own site. For best practices to use the platform, head here.
Unlike other platforms, Tumblr’s flexibility allows brands to better brand their content. Consider Denny’s blog, for instance; it looks and feels like a Tumblr blog but features Denny’s signature strange, hilarious branding. Provided someone on your team knows some code, it’s simple to design a Tumblr (and make it look however you’d like it to). If not, you can scour through these free and premium themes which are very easy to apply. The great appeal of using Tumblr is that you can transfer a purchased domain name over to the platform. Of course, when Tumblr goes down, your site also goes down; it’s up to Tumblr to get it back up again.
For all its flexibility with branding, Tumblr fails to live up to other CMS based platforms. Though it’s made steps to become less weird, Tumblr is still not a long-form writing platform or a video platform or a photo platform like it’s long been promised. Instead, it’s more of a content curation platform or distribution platform. Similarly, its CMS capabilities are very limited if you want to incorporate multimedia elements. Not to mention that Tumblr has a tight-knit community that has had longstanding copyright issues with stolen content or content that isn’t properly attributed.
However, Tumblr does boast a large user base (over 500 million blogs exist on the platform) and it’s easy for other people on Tumblr to find you, follow you and like or reblog your posts via the platform’s tagging system. (For a full guide to Tumblr best practices, head here). Though Tumblr has made some updates to make the site less weird and more like everyone else.
Bottom line: Tumblr is the best platform to maintain branding, but its CMS capabilities are frustrating and limited if your brand wants to scale their content.
These honorable mentions are options that plenty of brands like to turn to, but aren’t technically considered CMS platforms. Regardless, you can still use them.
LinkedIn: The social network for professionals, LinkedIn allows anyone to publish anything on the “platform” with a bare-bones and clean text editor. LinkedIn isn’t the place to scale your content into a branded publication nor does it allow for easy collaboration at this point. It is, however, for the lone professional who wants to showcase their writing skills on their LinkedIn profile. Plenty of professionals use the space to talk thought leadership, industry news and more.
YouTube: The internet’s favourite place to create, post and watch video content is the number one platform for video makers. If you’re planning to branch out and create videos, you’ll need to understand the nuances of creating video, understanding video metrics and YouTube analytics. But you also need to know that despite boasting impressive tools and analytics, brands can use this platform as both a homebase and a launchpoint to their main site. Still, hosting all of your video content on YouTube isn’t a bad way to go.
Which brings us to our next point:
You Should Self-Host and Use Platforms
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: if you’ve been keeping score at home, you may have noticed that we definitely came in on the side of self-hosting over platforms. Tallying up the pros and cons list, you can see that there are more positives for self-hosting content and more negatives for hosting your content on platforms.
The truth of the matter is, we’d caution against using platforms as a sole place to host your content. Why? Well, for all of the cons listed above, but also because in our minds, platforms work best as a place to interact and syndicate content—not just hosting it.
In reality, the best option for hosting your content is by self-hosting and using platforms. Your website can act as a homebase for your content while you experiment with platforms like Medium and Tumblr and LinkedIn to maximize the reach of your content. Self-hosting allows brands the freedom and flexibility to scale their content while platforms allow brands to promote their content and interact with their audiences. It’s a win-win, really, because you’re not putting all of your eggs into one basket. And though you may sacrifice traffic to one central location, you’re maximizing reach. Honestly, you’re playing the smart game by letting your content live in more places than die in one.