By Jo Fraser, on Feb 15, 2019

What’s in it for me? 6 of our favourite features for editors using Contentful

Someone higher up decided to change your content management system (CMS).

You’ve got the dreaded email announcing the change, your developers are scrambling with their content model, and you’re being thrust into tutorials and training again. We get it.

It can be frustrating to be forced to learn something completely from scratch, especially if you feel like you just got the hang of the last software that management dropped in your lap. When you're adapting to a new system and workflow, there will be awkward moments. Change can be difficult, even when it’s the best thing for everyone involved.

While you might know why Contentful is better than the legacy or monolith CMS you’re using now, you might not really get what Contentful can do for you, the editor. To help you navigate this change, and to set you up for a positive transition to Contentful, here are six reasons why you’ll love using it:

1. You can store 100 percent of the content you create in Contentful.

Unlike typical content management systems, which favor pages and posts, Contentful stores and distributes every type of content. Video, music, images, text and structured documents are all supported. In Contentful doesn’t tie content to a particular design or layout. This makes your content completely reusable and portable.

Creating landing pages, polishing product descriptions, tweaking a signup form, and publishing regularly on the corporate blog –– you can do all these tasks in the same place with Contentful.

While in the past you might have had to switch back-and-forth between different CMSes to push your content to various apps, websites, and displays, now you can manage your content from a single hub. Whereas you might have had to log into multiple platforms to manage your content, with Contentful it’s just one. Time to forget all your passwords once and for all.

2. Contentful decouples content from the presentation layer

One of the most important and beneficial things about Contentful is that it separates content from the presentation layer. This is a huge win for editors! Why? Because your developers can happily plug the same content to any digital platform on the market. Your job might have involved a lot of copy-pasting between systems but with Contentful, this chore becomes a thing of the past.

If you’re coming from another CMS, you’re probably used to using a WYSIWYG editor where what you see on your editing screen is exactly what your finished product will look like. Contentful does away with the WYSIWYG format, ensuring that your text will easily adapt to new devices better without breaking formatting. The simple fact is that WYSIWYG editors are an impractical way of managing content that needs to be pushed to multiple channels and a huge variety of devices. Given that HTML standards continuously evolve and rendering HTML/CSS tags across all platforms is a pipe dream, structuring text into meaningful elements like headlines, quotes or lists, ensures that text can adapt to new devices better and live on without breaking for longer.

While a developer’s preferred solution to a WYSIWYG editor is to make everyone use markdown, it’s not the only way to go. A recent addition to Contentful –– the rich text editor –– helps you create content as if it was a WYSIWYG editor. This includes visual formatting, bullet points, inserting media, quotes and standard formatting.

3. Dependencies be gone!

Contentful gives editors full access and responsibility for their content. Once developers and designers create a content model and presentation layer, editors have free range to publish, unpublish, make all copy changes, create new pages and more.

There is no longer a need to request changes from your developer. This might seem strange at first –– you have the power! –– but it dramatically reduces wait times and content bottlenecks. Whereas once you might have gone back and forth with your developers to make small changes, now you have free reign to make those changes yourself.

The key to killing dependencies is setting up your content model correctly. Contentful is a wonderful solution that allows you to work seamlessly –- but your content models needs to be customized to your workflow. As long as your team invests proper resources to set up a proper content model, the possibilities are infinite. You can mix and match, add and remove page elements, vary layout options and create the landing pages that really work, without relying on developers to constantly hit the approval button.

But how can you, as an editor, contribute to the setup of a content model? Communicate! The key to getting it right is open communication with your developers and Contentful’s solution architects.

4. A simple, customizable web app

Contentful includes a simple, distraction-free web app for content creators to create, edit, manage and distribute content. It allows editors to create rich text content, matching the user experience of most traditional editorial platforms. And your web app functionality and layout isn’t set in stone.

If Contentful’s built-in fields don’t meet your business needs or suit your workflow, we empower your teams to create extra functions with UI extensions.You probably already have your tools for managing projects, doing translations, storing videos and managing merchandise. The good thing about Contentful is that you can continue using a lot of these same tools directly from the Contentful web app. This is all achieved by custom widgets, or as well call them, UI extensions.

UI extensions enable your developers to replace the components with HTML5 applications, essentially creating a custom editing experience. What does this look like? Popular third-party extensions include the Shopify’s storefront API for browsing products and triggering a static site rebuild with Netifly. Recently one Contentful user developed an Apple Music search extension using UI extensions.

5. You can manage permissions easily

If you’re working in a big team that includes multiple admins, developers, editors, freelancers and translators, Contentful provides an straightforward way to monitor and organize roles and permissions.

To explain how permissions work within Contentful, we need to touch on spaces first. Spaces are integral to working with Contentful, but alongside all of your other considerations when first starting out, they can get lost.

So what is a space? Think of a space as a discrete workspace shared by a single team. In small companies, the same team does a lot of different things, so you might see a space to host your website, blog and mobile app content. In big companies, individual teams tend to own only one specific type of content. For example, the legal team might be the only people to touch your legal terms. Your product team might be the only team concerned with product descriptions. Typically, each of these teams would manage their content in a separate space. When writing this blog post in Contentful, as a member of the marketing team, I’m in the marketing space. Get it? If not, that’s okay. It can be hard to start moving away from conceptualizing content in the form of pages and posts.

If you think of your space like a private area just for your team, it makes sense to control who you allow in, and what they’re able to do. You need rights and permissions, especially if you work with freelance contributors or have to follow a multi-step approval process before publishing content. Within Contentful, we talk about this is terms of roles and permissions. Roles resemble job roles. They include editors, translators, legal reviewers, freelancers and so on. Permissions are more granular and let your setup roles with a more narrow focus. For example, you can set up your permissions to limit people to only publishing one type of content, or protect certain content types from unwanted editing.

Roles and permissions are something you, or your content operations manager, have full control over –– Contentful doesn’t dictate them. You’re given the ability to set them up as you see fit. If you’re working with a lot of translators, you’re able to give them access to relevant spaces, and explicitly define what actions they are allowed to take. These include only being able to work in the assigned language, without permission to create, delete, (un)publish or (un) archive entries.

6. Access to the preview API

Previewing your content before you hit the scary publish button gives you an excellent safeguard against mistakes and formatting issues. Contentful’s content preview API allows you to preview your content before you publish it. The preview link when you’re creating an entry will help you see the changes you've made (or the fresh content you've created) without first publishing the entry. It can do so because it fetches draft entries rather than published ones from the Contentful API. If you’ve gone to use it and it doesn’t work, there is a good chance your developer didn’t set it up for you.

So what do you need to do?

This functionality isn’t exclusive to browser and mobile — it also allows you to review your content across mobile apps, large monitors, digital signs and whatever other use case you need. It will show you your content as though it were published, allowing you to see it wherever it will be displayed post-publishing.

Jo Fraser

As managing editor of Contentful's blog, Jo is a power user of Contentful's product as well. She collaborates across our product and customer success teams to help editors and content creators find their way around Contentful and elevate the authoring experience.