Website admins deserve better!

Earlier this week, Susan and I attended a fascinating talk about content strategy by Karen McGrane. You can read more about the talk - and content strategy in general - at our friend John Ryan's blog.

While the talk was aimed at user experience professionals, a lot of it was also relevant to website owners and administrators. In particular, one of Karen's points struck me so much that I had to take a photo:

The people who maintain the site deserve a good user experience too.

It's true! As web professionals, we put a huge amount of effort into making sure the experience of the "end user" (that is, your customers) is seamless, non-frustrating and, if possible, enjoyable. We design interfaces that make it easy for them to do what they need to do; structures that help them get to the information they're looking for; graphics that are nice to look at.

(True, the average web professional doesn't spend as much time giving end users content they want to read - that's where content strategy comes in, and that's another post!)

But with some honourable exceptions, we spend almost no time thinking about the experience of the person or people who actually have to run the site. We'll install a content management system (CMS) that supposedly helps them manage their content, but we think almost exclusively about what features they need. We don't think hard enough about making admin tasks quick and simple.

If you've used a content management system, you probably know what I mean. Is adding content to your website as easy as updating your Facebook status? Shouldn't it be?

Why it's important to look after admins

This is not just a cosmetic point. The more unpleasant it is to use a piece of software, the less people will use it. For a website, this means content won't get added or updated as it should. And that means the website will FAIL - simple as that. This is especially true when you have a large website with multiple contributors, not all of whom are as patient or tech-savvy as you might be.

What you can do

So what can you do as a website owner or admin to make your own user experience, and that of your fellow website contributors, better than average? If your CMS is already up and running, probably not much, at least until your next major website refresh. But if you happen to be in the process of gathering requirements for a new or redesigned website, here are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion with your web developer about how content will be added and managed on your site. If content is going to be written by one person, edited by a second, and approved by a third, your developer needs to know about it.
  • If your web developer recommends a particular CMS, ask to see a demonstration. Make sure it works on your preferred browser and operating system. (Yes, there are CMSs out there that only work in Internet Explorer!)
  • Whenever you're being shown designs for a new site, ask to see what the admin pages will look like too. You might get some blank stares from the other end of the table, but if we keep getting asked this question, we'll change our ways!
  • If a publishing task looks too difficult or cumbersome, ask if your developer can create an easier solution. The answer might not always be yes, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
  • Make sure your budget and timelines include training for every person who has to use the CMS.

Have I missed anything? Got any admin horror stories you'd like to share?

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