The Content Corner: Helping Your Content Contributors

Woman typing on laptop.

Recently, I shared some suggestions and personal lessons learned for agencies either shopping for a new CMS or preparing to revamp their content strategy and workflow.

Let’s take things one step further and focus on arguably the most important parts of your CMS: the content creator or user. Arguments can be made that content is the most important, but the user creates that content, so either way we have a tight first and second most important ranking.

By applying some good user experience practices, you can help make your content creator’s job as easy as possible and also ensure you get the best content as efficiently as possible.

Content Contributors Are Users Too

Maybe everyone else gets this and I am showing scars from bad CMS implementations in my past, but I still feel like this point cannot be made enough. In several of my past CMS implementations, the content contributors have been discounted because they are “staff” and are not given the same consideration as we would for external users completing an online form. But a CMS is essentially an online form for your internal users and its ease of use should be given the same priority as your results from an external survey.

At my agency, we have recently wrapped up a project to streamline the CMS form our court HR representatives use for internal job postings.

After user interviews, wireframing and a recent migration to a Drupal CMS, we were able to really simplify the job posting process for this group of content contributors dispersed across the country (and U.S. territories).

Field Names

One of the first areas where we took user feedback and made significant improvements was the form field names. I am still amazed at how quickly jargon can creep into the form or content creation process. In the rush to get a project or a form into the hands of users, you somehow end up with things like “Advertise a Position Vacancy” instead of “Post a Job.”

This is where exchanging information with your content contributors is key. We had several users come back and say “What does this mean?” or “Can’t it just say X?”. The initial version of the form had fallen prey to the “more complex words makes it more official and important” trap.

Some simple guidelines for naming form or content entry fields are:

  • Be specific and describe what the field is going to be used for such as “Speaker Bio.”
  • Keep it simple and reflective of how the user works, not how you think they work.
  • Find a naming convention and stick with it.

Help Text

One of the best improvements presented by our choice of the Drupal platform was the improved ability to add help text to each form field as needed. If whatever CMS you are using offers the ability to provide inline help text for your form fields, I highly recommend it.

Several guidelines we followed were again to keep it simple. I advocated for not providing help text for everything; simple fields would only be cluttered by unnecessary help text.

However, always assume that the user may be confused or is in a hurry and may not have time to think in-depth about what a field is asking for.

Help text can act as a nudge or guide in the right direction. Our help text covered a broad range of topics including:

  • Formatting expectations, like full URL (http://…)
  • Notification that the form will alter numerical input correctly, such as 45000 will become $45,000
  • Policy related information, such as what will need to be done for a job posting that will remain open longer than typical.
Screencap-of an Audience Tooltip on CMS form for structured content.

This great article on A List Apart goes into greater depth on help text, including various ways to assist the user when uploading images (an issue we didn’t deal with on the job form), guidance on editorial decisions (such as the suggestion to refrain from using “Click Here”) and lots of other great ways to use help text to make the user feel confident in the process and the job they’re doing.

Provide Some Structure

A final consideration that can get lost in the focus on form functionality and required fields is that the form itself is content. A user is reading and navigating the form just as they would a blog post or product description.

Providing structure to the form fields and creating groupings of fields that make sense can provide flow to the form, just as you would with an article or other content.

In our job form, we leveraged Drupal’s field grouping to create clear sections dedicated to the main components of the job posting, such as contact information and court location. We also used a field grouping that would be closed by default, but could be expanded by a user if needed. This helps reduce clutter and confusing additional form fields that many of our users wouldn’t need to even see.

Similar guides for the user can be created using the standard tools of good content formatting such as clear headings and breaking up information in a way that improves scanning.

This type of attention to content formatting is always critical, but I would argue that when you are providing instructions to a user it’s even more important, especially when the end result will become live content.

Be sure to treat your CMS as you would any Web content or product and always seek feedback from your users. Make changes, as needed, to make their jobs a little easier and make your CMS an even greater aid in implementing a consistent content strategy.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.