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An editor is for life, not just for Christmas

10th December 2015

You’ve seen the adverts. Some adorable, young Labrador racing through the house, leaving a trail of unravelled toilet paper in its wake. Despite this outrageous act of canine delinquency, we are implored to remember that a dog is for life and not just for Christmas.

The same could be said for editors. We spend huge amounts of energy focusing on delivering outstanding user experiences for our audience yet too often the humble editor is left in the corner like Baby Houseman. Delivering that user experience is incredibly important but we have to remember that someone has to maintain that experience and deliver the content that is going to keep users coming back for more.

So, as the festive season sets in, we encourage you to spare a thought for the editor…

Nothing should be hardcoded.

A clear space, a clear mind

In recent years, there have been all manner of articles preaching the value of a clean workspace to help focus your energies. It makes sense if you think about it. Clutter can be distracting and take your focus away from where it should be. We all have busy days and never enough time to get through it all.

The same rings true for website editors. They have content to get on the site and often this is only a small part of what they do. Making it quick and easy for them to get to the tools they need can make a big difference to their efficiency levels and thus productivity.

Your content management system has the power to make this a reality. Let’s take Kentico for instance. There are three key areas we can tackle to help clean up the editor’s workspace:

  • The UI
  • The dashboard
  • The content tree

Those familiar with Kentico will know all about the UI personalisation module and how it can be leveraged to rein in the user interface, stripping out the modules and items that the editor doesn’t need, including items within the WYSIWYG editor.

There’s also the dashboard. Users entering Kentico will land on the dashboard and this simple interface provides useful real estate for quick links into the tools that editors will use every day.

And you can go one step further with document permissions to help strip out pages and sections that aren’t relevant for particular users so that they focus on the pages that they need to maintain.

The tools are there but it is vital that this exercise is performed in collaboration with your clients. They have the insight into what particular editors are responsible for (writing blog posts, editing content pages, etc.) and can help inform the decisions you make.

Have you got it in blue?

Content management is a commodity and there are more systems out there than you can shake a stick at. However, the definition of what is manageable content is a tricky one. In its simplest form it is about giving the users the ability to add text and images to their page. But there is so much more…

If we think about roles and responsibilities then developers should be developing and editors should be editing. But if your website is delivering the bare minimum of content management then the reality is that your developers end up haemorrhaging time adding bits of content into areas that are off limits to editors and tweaking colours. The efficiency aficionados amongst you are undoubtedly weeping at the sheer thought.

"Nothing should be hardcoded." This mantra should drive development, particularly in the case of working with a CMS. Our clients have chosen to use a CMS so that they have control over their website and can customise it as their business changes and grows. There is arguably nothing as frustrating for an editor as finding out that their hands are tied as soon as they enter the admin area of their own website. Editors don't need to be exposed to the technical sides of development but they shouldn’t have their hands tied either.

Kentico is a powerful tool and gives us a number of development options when it comes to providing editorial interfaces. However, herein lies the danger. As developers, it is all too easy to put together robust solutions that meet all the criteria but editors then require a 10 minute instructional video to understand how to use it. The common solution is to add some instructional text but this is often an afterthought and may not be as helpful as originally thought.

All of this can be solved by simply working with editors during the user story/specification stages. Get hold of the wireframes and talk through them. Think about every single element of the page and what needs to be editable. Before long you’ll move past the images and text to uncover a whole range of other items that should be content manageable as well, e.g. widget colours, text colours, etc. All of a sudden we are putting the power into the hands of editors, giving them the ability to do their jobs properly without waiting on a developer to do that one little thing that is stopping an entire section from going live.

However, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. We want editors to feel empowered but the brand and the visual identity must come first. This is where the smart thinking comes in (and it helps to have a good CMS!). If you’re offering editors the ability to manage colours on a side panel (think a simple call to action box with text and button) then limit the colours to those used by the brand. If you have strict policies on font sizes and styles for particular areas of the site then limit your text areas.

Mind your language…

So far we’ve focused on single language sites but, when you introduce multiple languages, it introduces another level of complication.

Most content management systems provide you with some sort of multilingual feature. Take Kentico for instance. We have the concept of cultures which enable us to add translations for those fields we gave to the editors. But that’s not the end of it. If you think about a typical site then there are always likely to be little snippets of text squirrelled away in the master page or in common calls to action.

Most of the time these elements are in areas that editors cannot gain access to which brings us back to the issue of roles and responsibilities. We don’t really want to have to rely on developers to have to change these bits and pieces so we need a better option.

Enter resource strings (a handy little feature in Kentico that allows you to submit translations for any piece of text outside of the editable areas). Using these snippets in place of static text makes it easy for editors to retain control and manage content across different language versions.

In conclusion…

Enterprise level CMS platforms such as Kentico have made editors’ jobs better than ever. You have a whole range of tools at your disposal to give editors the control and flexibility to make their jobs as easy as possible. However, it’s not just about the tools. The interaction with editors at early stages in the project is invaluable.

The biggest piece of advice we can give is to think about the editor. They have to work with the solution day in day out. Step away from building what seems logical and move towards building in collaboration with editors to give them the Christmas present that keeps on giving.