Not phase two…

Everyone involved in content management knows that the Author Experience needs attention. As part of my talk with Eileen Webb, we tackled the question of why so many clients think they can do it later…

Eileen Webb

Eileen Webb

Director of Strategy & Livestock, webmeadow

Article: Training the CMS

Twitter: @webmeadow


Rick: What shall we talk about, today?

Eileen: There’s one issue I come up against repeatedly. It’s like the backbone of so many projects. The client always wants to defer the author experience until after the system is launched. They think of it as phase two.

For some reason, they don’t understand that the author experience is what will make or break the project, the site.

Rick: I know what you mean. And as we all know, phase two never happens.

Eileen: Exactly.

Rick: I’m facing something similar with a current client. It’s not the author experience per se being marked for phase two. They want me to outline the direction to migrate their content to a new set of presentational elements. What can be done with the new set they have, and what will need development?

But I am finding that the content has far greater problems than its presentation. It needs a strategy. It needs governance. It needs to be focused on the audience rather than the organisation. It needs to be rewritten so it’s readable.

That’s the real challenge. And while it will take a little longer than a lift-and-shift would, it makes far more sense. Because it needs doing anyway. The return on effort will be considerably higher. And they won’t need to develop nearly as many new presentational elements.

Eileen: That seems like an awfully tall order. To actually think about the audience? To communicate something meaningful that they want? I dunno…

Rick: I know. It’s the mythical beast of web work: that one thing that will make the client realise that they should do it the right way. In this case, I may have found it. At an interim catch-up, I asked them what they thought the most common word on their site was.

Eileen: I hope it was “the”.

Rick: That’s fourth or fifth; “and” being the other of that pair.

Scarily, the company name comes in third. “We” is second. And “our” takes top honours! You can pretty much take any pair of lines from their site and they are (almost) guaranteed an “our” between them; I’ve seen cases of four.

Eileen: Very nice.

There’s usually something that helps people have that aha moment. Unfortunately, it’s different in just about every situation. It would be really nice if there were only three options: you just have to find which one works for a particular client. But it’s like an Easter egg hunt; it could be anything.

Rick: Exactly. So, coming back to the authoring side of things, I have a tool that might help accomplish that aha moment.

Eileen: Do tell.

Rick: At Content Strategy Applied USA, I presented on the value of author experience. It shows who really benefits from a good author experience. And while the authors themselves do fairly well, the business is the real beneficiary, both from a financial perspective and a workflow perspective.

Paying attention to the processes of content management – putting the right tools in place to enable it – will save an organisation money, and massively improve their communications efficiency.

Eileen: Well, yeah. The author is just a representation of the business.

Rick: Exactly. We somehow have to package that statement in a way that they realise that, “Yes, we need to make this work as a communication platform. We need the author experience part done up front.”

It is as important as – or, if we’re being brutally honest, more important than – the front-end UX.

Eileen: And it feels to me that it should be easier to get right. You’ve already got all the stakeholders on hand, as part of the team. You’ve got authors and admins, subject experts, whatever. These people are already on your payroll. You can just iterate for days and days. You can get real feedback. People don’t feel weird about telling you what’s wrong with their jobs, and the tools they have to do them.

Whereas if you’re dealing with the front end users, there’s more guesswork. You’re dealing with people outside of real contexts.

It’s not like you can just ignore the front end experience. But it’s far easier to turn the conversation to the front-end user when you have a decent back-end in place than it is to convince a client who already has the front-end presentation done that they should care about how stuff gets into the system.

Rick: “We’re talking to our audience with a sock stuffed down our throats. Can we remove it, please?” / “No, no. You’re doing just fine.”

Eileen: That sounds familiar.

Rick: I think a lot of it has to do with the perception of digital. Twenty years on, it is still seen as the business panacea. As long as you have the digital channel, everything will be just fine.

Eileen: Yes. I was wondering if a lack of understanding about how the back-end administrative experience affects the front-end experience played a part in it. Even those who appreciate it as a business tool: if they have no experience of how the back-end stuff can impact the front-end stuff for better or worse, to what extent does that influence their willingness to concentrate on the author experience?

Rick: Without that experience, they are susceptible to the marketers’ arguments. For many, the web is still just an advertising medium. (And they don’t really understand the different between advertising and marketing.) So they fall prey to the advertisers’ mantra of “It’s all about the presentation.”

I’ve seen a few articles recently that remind me of how insidious that mind set is: they speak of web projects. The agencies go in and build a full site: packaged and delivered. The web is therefore still seen as a project space. (And the agencies like this, because the client is back six months later for a new version.) With that narrative, no one is thinking about managing the content. So there is no chance of selling in a phase two.

But that’s the wrong story. The web isn’t about projects. The web is about business as usual. We need to be talking about developing platforms that will allow the client to communicate on an ongoing basis. Up front, they need to understand that they will be using it, changing the content. Then, the focus will be on the author experience.

Eileen: Yes, the problem isn’t that they think the authoring experience is unimportant; it’s that they don’t recognise that it is relevant to them (or exists at all).