The mantra of modern online publishing is create your content and leave it to your readers to decide where they want to consume it.
It’s a noble sentiment but the reality of enabling this approach can be daunting, as well as time and resource intensive if not planned properly.
So, how feasible is it for smaller publishers to create a content api as Zach Seward, executive director at Quartz, The Atlantic Monthly’s hugely successful digital news site, calls it?
Before we talk about creating your content api and the role, not surprisingly, that WordPress can play in that, let’s talk about what a content api actually is.
Or rather, what it isn’t.
Make versions of your content available for selected platforms
It isn’t a create-once-send-everywhere. It’s not the hub that’s capable of publishing to multiple destinations. That’s quite a departure from traditional thinking and is worth stopping and thinking about.
Rather the content api is about creating content and making versions available for selected platforms be they the website, an app, social media, good old email or even offline.
It’s more pull than push.
What’s interesting about Quartz is that they freely admit that they can’t just create the content in a single repository. Different channels or endpoints have different requirements which sometimes just need specific attention.
All well and good when the size of your audience justifies the extra work and you have the resources to assign but what about the small-to-medium publisher?
Building Your Own Content API
Step 1 : Design your content api
The first step is to come up with your version of a content api.
Start off being aspirational. Use the Quartz api as inspiration and define the endpoints that your audience might want to use both now and in a couple of years.
Consider the rise in the use of mobile devices to access content. Think about your audience and their platforms of choice: are they email users, or strictly social media? Long-form stories on a tablet or short blog posts? Email digests or a phone app complete with notifications?
It’s also worth pondering about content formats, which surprisingly the Quartz api didn’t really address: text, images, video or audio.
For most of its 10+ year history, podcasting has taken place on the periphery of media creation but that’s starting to change.
Whilst pure-podcast publishers are still a rarity, many organisations are starting to add podcasting to their mix as another channel, another touchpoint to maintain engagement with their users.
Like podcasting, video is well within the technical capability of most publishers and some of the statistics about video’s power are truly astonishing.
Once you’ve got your aspirational api mapped out (your endpoints), the next step is to think about how you are going to implement it.
The first step is picking your primary platform.
Step 2 : Pick your primary platform
Your content api is obviously going to be driven by content and that content needs to be created and stored somewhere.
Naturally, we think that WordPress makes a compelling argument to be the platform for managing your content.
If you are already a WordPress user then it certainly makes sense to stick with a platform you are familiar with.
As the world’s most popular content management system there are off-the-shelf solutions for integrating WordPress with every major publishing destination including social media and email managers such as MailChimp.
What really elevates WordPress, though, is the ability for other platforms, with appropriate permission, to directly access the stored content.
WordPress’s ability to facilitate a pull of content – where it can control the format for example – is the enabler for mobile apps and syndicated websites that can all use a single content store.
In fact, such is WordPress’s reach that it would be difficult to find an endpoint that doesn’t already integrate with WordPress. Email, of course. Social media, certainly. Apps, tick.
Of course, not only does WordPress act as your content creation tool and content repository but it’s also highly capable of driving your primary website.
Step 3 : Integrate existing endpoints
As you travel along your roadmap, how you integrate your new endpoints into your api and its workflow is going to be critical to your success, so practice with existing endpoints.
Resist the temptation to bring everything into WordPress. What you need to be building is a sustainable api, one that will be able to handle your growth and so you need, wherever possible, to pick best-of-breed services.
Email is a great example. Using WordPress for email is tempting (it’s free, after all) but fraught with all sorts of issues and technical limitations. You are far better off, now and in the long term, to use purpose-built, industrial-strength email service such as MailChimp.
And it’s not just the set of features and ease-of-use that makes MailChimp attractive: it’s the fact it’s maintenance-free. Set up an RSS campaign and it’s done.
Using WordPress for email means another plugin to manage and integrate, worries about blacklisting, concerns about throttling and incurring the ire of your hosting company.
All time better spent on creating content.
Step 4 : Add new endpoints
As you start to bed down your api and streamline your workflow, you’ll be ready to add new endpoints.
Pick the simplest first. And treat every new endpoint as a trial.
Most endpoints will be a hunch on your part. You might have plenty of metrics and anecdotal evidence that an endpoint is required – or you might be going completely left-field – but until you trial it, you won’t know for sure.
For this reason, you might want to take a temporary approach to creating and distributing the content. For example, if you are producing a podcast, you might host it on Soundcloud.
If it’s a success then you might consider later moving it to your own hosting, or a third-party file hosting service such as Amazon S3.
But keeping it simple during the trial period means that it will be easy to remove if that hunch wasn’t proven to be correct.
Small steps to a giant leap
Creating your content api is neither quick nor simple. It requires plenty of planning, testing and pragmatism.
You know your audience and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what will appeal but the only real way to find out is by trial and error. It’s painful, it’s unscientific but it works.
The trick is to keep it simple. Too many small publishers rush into solutions without fully exploring them and often find that they don’t match their needs or their audience needs.
If you take the right approach, though, size is no impediment to having a content api that extends your reach and provides your readers with plenty of choice when it comes to consuming your content.
Using WordPress as the platform for your content api is the perfect first step.