How to improve your content governance with great CMS design

Content governance isn’t just about process, it’s about design. After all, content editors are users too, says Zone content strategist Ryan Cordell…

A lot of our clients are the biggest in their respective fields. They operate on truly enormous scales with masses of content. At this level, content governance is mission critical. After all, keeping your content consistent and up to date builds trust in your organisation, whereas inconsistencies and mistakes diminish trust, frustrate users and reduce conversion.

Essentially, mistakes cost money. But so does inefficient governance. Big organisations can’t afford guidelines and processes being misunderstood or worse, a content editor who doesn’t even check them. When a website is redesigned or built, agencies often supply accompanying documentation to explain the processes and teach editors how to use it.

But why waste time writing out instructions when you could make the product itself more usable and intuitive? This aspect of content governance shouldn’t be an afterthought. The real issue is that lurking behind many a beautifully designed website is a monster of a content management system (CMS).

A poorly designed CMS is a black hole of time and money. Tasks take forever. Errors crop up in published pages. Job satisfaction suffers. In short, content maintenance can suck. And this can be a major inefficiency in content governance.

Content editors are users too

So why is it so commonplace to neglect half the user base when designing a CMS based solution? After all, a digital product, such as a website, is as much a product for those building and maintaining it, as it is the end user. Content editors are users too.

Time should be invested in a project to design a fantastic experience for your CMS users. This will help reduce overheads on governance as well as implementation. Content governance isn’t just about process and guidelines, it’s about design.

And there’s a few ways great CMS design can improve your content governance:

  • Design editorial guidelines into the CMS itself, not as separate documentation
  • Establish rules around structure and style for your CMS to validate against
  • Design feedback loops into the approval process that allow users to write, amend, approve and publish all in one place

So let’s start with that first point.

Design guidelines into the CMS itself

One way to make governance run smoothly is guidelines. But whether it’s a digital document or a printout, guidelines are only ever any good if anyone bothers to read them.

If content guidelines live within the product itself, and relevant parts are served at the right time, you reduce the cognitive strain on the editor and those checking the content. They don’t have to open up another document and skim it for the information they need.

This could be editorial, like a label instructing you to “Only use two images per page” when selecting an image module. Or more general ‘how-to’ help. For example, when a field requires a YouTube ID to display a video, explain how to find that: “On a YouTube video, click share, copy the unique 11 character code and paste into the field below”.

Little instances of well-placed microcopy massively help on-boarding new CMS users as well as keeping content in line with any design guidelines. If you don’t want to patronise the experts in your organisation, you could consider progressive disclosure that supports new recruits and allows advanced users to skip ahead.

Choose human-friendly, not developer-friendly, names for your CMS fields to reduce error, rounds of amends and time your users spend pondering what they’ve done to deserve this.

Design in validation, prevent abuse

Flexibility is a great thing for a content editor. Being able to mix and match modules of content can give you the opportunity to make the user experience as rich as possible. Yet, this can be problematic if editors get a little too creative and break the design.

That’s why you should think about designing in some rules to help enforce consistency and adherence to style guidelines or strategy. This could be something like “max. number of modules per page” to ensure page lengths never get too long. Or “max. character length is 140 characters for titles”, if your strategy is to encourage social sharing of your content.

The CMS should then prevent you from saving anything that doesn’t meet this criteria. But remember, it’s absolutely vital that you write a friendly error message that explains why the user hasn’t been able to publish.

“Titles should never exceed 140 characters. If you can’t tweet it, you can’t publish it.”

This will save time in the feedback process and prevent errors slipping through that contradict your chosen style and strategy.

Build your approval workflow into your CMS

The whole point of a CMS is to allow collaboration across multiple users. So it always surprises me when publishing processes still rely on a word doc attachment going back and forth between writer and approver. And then someone who hits publish in the CMS.

Do the whole thing in there! And give everyone involved CMS credentials.

Set up custom rules such as:

  • Content editors can create/edit/save pages and send them for review
  • Content approvers can create/edit/save/publish pages
  • Subject-matter experts can send feedback/publish pages

This helps avoid long email chains where feedback or documents can be missed and time can be wasted. If you want, this also gives complete transparency to the process for any CMS user and doesn’t rely on you cc’ing in the right people.

Additionally, if you’ve designed guidelines into the CMS itself, the feedback/amend loop is all carried out there and then. If you’re an approver you don’t need to review the page, double check the guidelines in a separate doc and then send an email with print screened amends. It’s easier and better contained, making your governance process more efficient.

I understand that time and budget may deprioritise the content editor’s experience over the end user. However I urge anyone about to embark on a CMS-based website or product, to make the investment and design for both. If you don’t, you may find the process of maintaining content far more costly in the long run. Plus, a clear, well-designed and user-friendly CMS will also help ensure consistency in your end users’ experience too.

Have any questions for Zone? Contact them here

Ryan Cordell

Guest blogger: Ryan Cordell

Content Strategist