The Author Experience: Part 1

Co-Authored by Ben Rogers, Senior Strategist & Brett Berliner, Lead Developer

PART 1: THE AUTHOR EXPERIENCE IS KEY TO YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY

Content is the reason your website exists. It’s why people visit your pages; it fuels your social outreach. And, it’s typically the reason a website succeeds or fails. Something this vital needs careful consideration, planning, and execution to align to the goals of the business; this practice is content strategy – and it’s been an increasingly hot topic on the agency and brand sides of the business for a number of years now.

Most of these conversations center on the content itself: where it will focus, how it will be organized, what the hierarchy will be, how to create the interface and tools that will most effectively connect with the end user.

These are all crucial conversations. After all, like Kristina Halvorson, author of the influential Content Strategy for the Web, says “…Unless you treat your content with strategic consideration, you can’t fix your website.”

But, with content strategy taking center stage, there is still one critical component that is often overlooked – the author experience.

WHAT IS THE "AUTHOR EXPERIENCE?"

Most digital web properties in 2015 are built within a Content Management System (CMS).

Rick Yagodich, writer of Author Experience and content management consultant states the purpose of a CMS is to “to facilitate the human process of managing the content lifecycle from creation, through use, to archiving.”

But, at the end of the day, a CMS is still a tool; one that needs to be managed by people. And, all too often, the team in charge of choosing and implementing the CMS isn’t the team that will be managing it on a day-to-day basis. In most scenarios many users, with varying skills and backgrounds, will be working within the system to update content.

The way those individuals engage with and manage that content is the “author experience.” And, it’s something we at Mindstream Interactive have become particularly passionate about – making it a central focus when we plan the overall user experience for any site we build.

WHY IS THE AUTHOR EXPERIENCE SO IMPORTANT?

Mostly gone are the days where we build and design for the end user based solely off of our “gut.” It has been a long time coming, but our industry is finally starting to adopt a user-focused culture.

User input and usability testing is becoming the new normal. With services like UserTesting.com leading the way, user research is being met with great success and provides invaluable insights to project teams.

We’re listening; we interview the user, design for the user, test with the user. We’ve become advocates on the user’s behalf. But, when it comes to the content author, all too often that progress goes out the window and we as an industry fall back into our old ways.

If 100% of our focus is to ensure the needs of the end user are met, the project could go smoothly and find success upon launch. However, what happens in 3, 6, 12 months post-launch? The ongoing governance of web content – and the user experience that is created for those managing it – is just as important (if not more) as its initial creation and setup.

Governance of web content - and the experience for those managing it is just as important as the initial creation and setup.

It is all too common that a web property launches with much acclaim and accolades but then slowly degrades as the months pass it by. No one buys a beautiful brand new home and expects it to start falling apart when you replace the furniture or update the décor within the first few years.

Without planning and consideration given to the long term creation, evaluation, and maintenance of content, as well the workflow to publish that it, the post-launch phase can be significantly more burdensome on the team than it should be.

Authors will sometimes be reluctant or even outright refuse to use a site due to a poor content creation experience. Building the system so that the author feels empowered, and has the necessary tools to implement her design in the easiest way possible is well worth the effort.

The effect is clear – design the site so that it works better for the author, and they will create content that is better for the user.

Design the site so that it works better for the author, and they will create content that is better for the user.

For the developer, the author’s interactions with the content management feature of the system will heavily influence the application’s structure and design. Building a cohesive application depends heavily on defining the interactions between both how authors and users interact with content as well as how content interacts with other pieces of content. These relationships are the core of software development and the process of redefining these relationships after initial creation can create a significant amount of rework and redesign.

Traditional software processes often lead to systems being nearly completed before they were passed to the author, which limited their impact as the timeline prevented any significant changes from being fully implemented. By including the authors in design and regular system reviews, we build familiarity and provide an application that they are prepared to use on a regular basis.

A system designed correctly from the beginning can enhance their efforts and become a tool that helps create better content, instead of a hindrance.

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

We need to be building platforms that make the content author’s job easy so that they, in turn, can provide users with the information they want and need in a timely, easy-to-read fashion.

That can be easier said than done, of course. So, in our next post we’ll discuss how to put the concept into practice and set authors up for success post-launch. Read Part 2.

Date:

09.24.2015

Authors

Ben Rogers

Ben Rogers Senior Strategist

Brett Berliner

Brett Berliner Lead Developer