Content authors and editors are users too. You shouldn’t ignore them. What they think of the website can make or break the long-term success of a project more than its design or external user experience. Will they think entering content is simple and enjoyable? Or do they feel authoring content is like walking through a labyrinth where a monster might lurk around the next corner?
The more complex the website and the larger the content team, the more critical it is to create a good authoring experience. More things can go wrong. More elbows are bumping together as people work. You want to reduce friction, keep your people happy, and ensure a free-flowing content pipeline.
No two authoring experiences are exactly alike because goals are different, websites are different, and teams are different. But these are some best practices to put you on the right path.
Start identifying and addressing challenges as early as possible
The best authoring experiences take time and effort to implement. They are also easier to create if you have been planning and researching from the very beginning of your project. You might have some big challenges to overcome, and many of the best solutions are much easier to implement early rather than late. They aren’t impossible to roll out on a current website, but you must overcome entrenched technology, interests, and habits.
If you are going through a re-platforming or a website upgrade, start thinking about the authoring experience as soon as possible. Strategy and design expertise can offer valuable insights before you start pouring the concrete. In addition, developers can help you determine feasibility within your budget to help you prioritize building the proper tools.
Get a good map of the landscape before starting your journey. It’s beneficial to run a lot of exercises to help uncover potential problems and to make sure every voice is heard, all before a single line of code has been written. Find out the largest pain points and most important goals, then discover ways to resolve conflicting desires. Again, don’t ignore your internal users.
Don’t assume every problem has a technological solution
Jumping immediately to a technological solution can sometimes be like adding elaborate locks on a door when there’s a gaping hole in the wall right next to it. If your content teams don’t trust each other, implementing a strict approval workflow on your website won’t solve the problem. It might hide it for a little while, but that’s it.
Technology can help implement, enforce, and maintain specific solutions. It is rarely the solution itself. A well-built form will have the correct help messages and error checks to help prevent editors from making silly mistakes. A well-built form is not a replacement for training. Nor can it replace deep knowledge of how the content model fits together.
One way this has been done is to lock down access to the administration interface of the website until there’s confirmation that someone has gone through the documentation and training required. Technology helps enforce this, but documentation still needs to be kept up to date. Editors who haven’t logged in for a long time might forget some of the training. There are all sorts of challenges that have to be addressed at an organization’s cultural level or process level.
Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems, for example, are examples of this trap. Organizations think they can improve asset reuse and findability by buying a tool and are surprised a year later when they have the same hodgepodge of images and PDFs that they did before. But now, they are paying more for the chaos.
Consider having content specialists AND content editors
The content needs of organizations have become more complex over time, and content entry has become a professional skill of its own. As content models grow and content reuse becomes a concern, you need people who understand how everything connects. You want content writers writing content. You don’t want them worrying about the implications of the content model or asking questions such as:
- How will editing this article affect everywhere else this article is referenced?
- Is it safe to roll back to a previous revision?
- What metadata is appropriate for this content?
- Do we need another taxonomy term, or should we reuse a previous one?
- If I edit this image caption, will it only affect the image embedded in the current article, or will it change the caption everywhere?
Every time subject matter experts have to stop and think about these questions is more time they are not writing valuable content. Entering content into modern websites is not just “data entry.” It’s a specialized skill all on its own. Let the subject matter experts write the content, and let a content entry specialist enter the content.
Splitting responsibilities usually allows you to have a smaller team directly editing the website. This group specializes in the website itself, which helps solve many potential problems upfront. In this scenario, it helps to have a robust preview system for writers and subject matter experts to see their content before publication. Great previews provide a natural point of communication between content specialists and the editorial team.
The authoring experience of your website can make or break its success. A website that the content team hates using will never reach its highest potential, no matter how much money you pour into the UX and front-end. The less friction your content team experiences, the better. Plan as early as possible to overcome potential problems, don’t assume technology will solve your problems, and consider splitting up content writing and content entry responsibilities.