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Choosing the right rich text editor for your product

Elise Bentley

June 30th, 2021

Written by

Elise Bentley

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Product Management

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Building a truly great product is hard. You need to focus on strong technical foundations, great user experiences, and finding the gap within the market. But, when there are so many big picture, game-changing aspects to focus on, things like selecting the rich text editing component can often be an afterthought.

If that's the case, your editor may not be doing your product justice.

With that in mind, we were recently inspired by Sitecore's article on why they switched to the TinyMCE rich text editor. It prompted us to think about - why do people change editors? What changed for them?

This all promoted the big question, how do you make sure you’re picking the right editor for your product and needs, both now and in the future? And, how should you actually go about assessing what is the right editor for your product? 

But why even bother, aren’t all rich text editors the same?

We’ve been in the rich text editing game for quite a while. That experience tells us that once selected, most people don’t look at changing or assessing their rich text editor for 10 years! So, when you’re going to live with a component in your product for 10+ years, you need to spend the time it takes to assess and pick the right one for your long-term needs. 

Rich text editing components are often left alone during major revamps and only ever reassessed when your users begin to get frustrated with the editing experience in your product. But usually, it’s not a great idea to wait for users to complain before you fix an issue…

Taking a longer-term view of your rich text editor is surely the answer.

After all, a product undergoes a lot of change in 10 years, and your editor needs to keep up with you, and your product. Choosing an editor that’s scalable, transformational, and flexible enough to grow and evolve with your product is the key to winning the long game. 

Do you really need to do an in-depth technical review? 

The key to adopting the right editor is to ensure it: 

  • meets your current needs
  • is sufficiently future-proofed so it can handle whatever you may throw at it. 

That's why it’s crucial to take the time to complete a full technical review. 

We’ve all been in situations where your engineering team is always busy, there’s only so much room in a sprint and the backlog is piling up. It’s all too easy to say “let’s just do a quick review” and not dive into the details. 

However, it’s a decision you’re going to be living with long-term, so it’s not something that you want to do a quick review on – especially considering not all rich text editors are created equal. After all, a rich text editor is a deceptively complex component to create, maintain and enhance. 

Shortlist of popular rich text editors

To help, here’s a quick shortlist of the more popular rich text editors on the market:

  1. TinyMCE; licensed under LGPL with a fully open source core, with additional premium features and support for your professional software team
  2. Froala; a fully commercial solution with subscription or perpetual based pricing 
  3. CKEditor; licensed under GPL with a mixture of free and paid features and support
  4. SlateJS; an open source solution perfect for straightforward use-cases 
  5. Quill; an open source editor with a number of nice UI features and great for simple use cases 

Where most editors begin to get unstuck, however, is when you need to scale, you have an edge-case, or you need to keep up with innovation. It’s a reality that almost every product has edge-cases built-in – because they’re built to service and resolve a specific problem. To test that ability, your engineering team needs to jump into that benign consideration – the editor – and test if it really is built to handle anything you (and they) can throw at it.

If it can’t, move on to another option.

Questions to ask when deciding on a rich text editor

To help guide your decision-making process, it’s worth asking yourself a few important questions. Does the editor…

  1. Fit your use-case; not all rich text editors are equally great for email builders, or CMS’s etc. Is the editor you’re choosing really going to be able to meet your use case? 
  2. Scale to your heights; again, not all editors are equal in this department. Will this editor still work as well with 100, 1,000 or even 1+ million users at the same time?
  3. A seamless fit; a truly great editor will organically and seamlessly fit into the look, feel, and flow of your product. Does it support the UX and UI you need? Not all editors are built to fade into the background and in so doing become a vital support component in your workflow. Ask, does the editor support you, or themselves?  
  4. Supported and maintained; your development team is great at what it does, but do you really want to select a product that doesn’t have a track record of regular updates, patches or even support? Do you really want your team spending time fixing bugs in another product, maintaining it and doing all of the legwork? The less support provided by the component creators means more maintenance and development for your team.
  5. User-focused; hand in hand with the use-case, can you truly customize the editor to be whatever you need it to be, where you need it to be, or are you stuck with an approach where you ‘make it work’? Has the implementation been built so that it’s all about making the editor look good, instead of creating a better experience for the users and developers that work with it?

In answering these five questions, you’ll have clearer direction when you're scoping your editor needs.

Does it help you execute your product roadmap? 

The next big consideration is whether it fits your roadmap. 

Now, no one truly knows what products will look like in 10 years –we may have an idea, but given how fast the world of technology changes, evolves and innovates, it's likely that the future speed will be faster than ever. But, with a long-term commitment in mind, the editor you select needs to move with you. 

In the many years since we launched TinyMCE (or even our legacy editors, EditLive and Textbox.io), things have changed. Dramatically. Given that, is the editor you’re selecting keeping up with the innovation and user demands? Or is it (and by extension, you) being outpaced by the market?

Buying, or choosing an actively maintained editor is like hiring a supplementary development team (at nowhere near the cost). That supplementary dev team is actively working on keeping the editor up to date with any market changes, by working on strong, future-proofed innovations that you can pick-up, drop into your product, ship and get into your customers' hands within hours of release (if you really wanted to). With them on your side, you’ll know every release is “enterprise-grade”, tested, supported and ready to deploy in your environment. Those new features can complement the work you’re doing, by helping you ship features and functionality without having your in-house dev team developing it themselves.  

That supplementary support gives you greater security and peace of mind when it comes to your product roadmap.

Will it help increase revenue or product adoption? 

If you ask anyone that’s in the commercial arm of a company, this is what they care about most. The common phrase “it takes money, to make money” is never truer than in product development. 

There are numerous costs to consider when bringing a product to market, or undertaking a significant technological upgrade. Those costs don't just come in software purchase costs, or even development costs – they should also be measured in terms of the opportunity lost.

There are very few developers and few product managers that are true experts within the realm of rich text editing. The benefits that come with accessing 10+ years experience – sometimes even 20+ years of rich text editing development – aren’t something that’s easily bought in one-off hires or teams. 

Does it make your users' lives easier?

Many people discount the value of a truly great rich text editing experience, and instead, believe a standard solution may suit their customers' needs. This in some cases may be entirely accurate, but adoption and surpassing great editing experiences can improve the usage of your product. 

We all know engaged usage generally means more value, which flows into more revenue. 

Is it worth your time and cost?

Is it really worth your development, and product team, to be focusing on rebuilding the rich text editing wheel, when they can have access to some of the world's leading experts in the field who develop, maintain, and innovate on rich text editing on your behalf? After all, if you leave it up to the experts, they can build something brilliant that will increase the value of your product – thereby increasing the amount you can charge. 

Do you want to side-track your development team to focus on a single component when you can instead focus on building the next feature, upgrading the UI or developing the latest improvement that will help take your product to the next level?

A great rich text editor isn't something that’s a one and done piece, it’s something that needs to be constantly maintained, something that when there is a single update to a web browser or framework needs to be updated, improved, tested, re-tested and deployed. If you pick the wrong editor and end up getting your team to spend time working on it, improving it and maintaining it, you could be spending hundreds of thousands a year, giving up that next feature. 

Is this something your team really needs or wants you to be focusing on?

Where to from here? 

There’s not a one size fits all editor that will meet every single use-case out there. That's why you need to investigate and research which one is right for you. 

Choosing a rich text editor is something that needs to be highly personal to your product and your needs. Regardless of which editor you choose, you need to do the groundwork, make sure they will be your partner for the long run and is not an anchor that weighs you down. 

A rushed decision is not worth 10 years of pain. 

Considering Tiny? 

A shameless plug, but if TinyMCE is an editor that you’re considering, we proudly offer an open source, with the ability to add on support and additional features ideal for professional software teams. 

You’re able to give all our premium features a try, plus support to help get you started, during a 30-day free trial, after which you will return to the open source editor. 

If you have more questions or want to explore how TinyMCE can help your product, you can also chat to our sales team who are here to help. 

TinyMCE
byElise Bentley

Senior Director of Marketing at Tiny. Elise has marketing experience across a range of industries and organisation sizes, and loves to blend the creative aspect of marketing together with data to develop engaging and effective marketing strategies and campaigns.

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