Comments on Training the CMS

42 Reader Comments

Back to the Article
  1. @webmeadow, this is a stunningly insightful piece. Of course, include content authoring instructions in the CMS. Good common, practical advice. Danke, lady.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  2. Yes! I’ve been telling people to customise the CMS in this way for years, I’ve very rarely seen it done or even found anyone who wanted to face the issue! So strange in this age where so many social apps and websites are very usable CMS themselves.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  3. You nailed this article. We have our own custom CMS and have made it extremely easy for clients to update their site with very specific fields however we have also realized that there is no substitute for good help text that speaks directly to the people updating the website.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  4. Amazing article. I have been implementing a similar CMS setup for my clients.

    I highly recommend MODX http://modx.com as a CMS it is developer friendly and perfect for this exact usecase.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  5. Most CMS now have the ability to have the ability to have custom fields added quite easily.

    WordPress has probably one of the more clunky ways of achieving this but some CMS like Drupal, ExpressionEngine, ModX and Craft have some really fantastic interfaces to achieve what Eileen is saying pretty effortlessly.

    Craft has a particularly powerful feature called “Matrix” which allows the content editor to build a page from predefined content types which can include instructions Matrix as described by their developers

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  6. In my own instructional writing, I’ve made a point of reminding people that when building an app of any kind, the developers should always remember that for the user, it’s all about the payoff.

    Priority expresses that in a CMS backend, but sometimes it helps too not only to explain inline how to Do It Right, but also to remind the content writer/producer briefly (space permitting) of the payoff they’ll get when they correctly populate this obscure field or that.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  7. I didn’t do this on the first few sites I built in ExpressionEngine but I eventually started using NSM Publish Hints and placed an Instructions field at the top of EVERY publish page. I included a thorough description of each field and what was expected. For the more important fields or fields I felt would cause more problems I added a brief description when I set them up. This made it hard to ignore and if you forgot what you were supposed to do you could always expand the Instructions field. I also made heavy use of Title Master to rename the default title fields and in some cases hide it altogether so I could concatenate multiple fields (i.e.{ First Name}, {Last Name} becomes {First Name Last Name} as far as the entry title is concerned) and clients didn’t have to repeat any information.

    For the couple of CraftCMS sites I’ve built I used the Instructions section for the field which places all helper text below the field title. I balance the need for instructions with keeping the publish page less cluttered here so only the fields I think will cause confusion get directions. I haven’t found a replacement for NSM Publish Hints for this CMS but perhaps one will become available eventually.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  8. Back in 2011 I wrote about using your CMS as curator of content, so it will come as no surprise to know that the CMS I am co-founder of - Perch - has structured content at the core.

    One of the things that has been part of the template language from the start has been the ability to add help next to fields and also at the top of the form in the CMS. The content blocks at the top can accept HTML so you could even record a little video to help an editor.

    I’m always really interested in talking about how to improve the CMS experience for editors. They often feel like the forgotten users. People worry about site visitors; they worry about the ease of development of the CMS and then forget about the poor soul who has to battle with the thing to update the site every day!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  9. Great article.  The Kit CMS tries to walk a fine line between an edit-in-place philosophy, so that editors can see what they’re putting and how it will look, with a “prompt them to do it right” one, whereby they’re guided as to the nature of the content they’re adding.  We also go to great lengths to strike a balance between giving editors all the formatting flexibility they need whilst allowing the designers to create whatever they want and limit editors ability to mess that up.  The final piece of the puzzle is being able to view and edit not just in a Desktop view but a Tablet or Mobile one too.  I’ll refer our clients to this article for why we did it this way, so thank you for that!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  10. Great set of tactics! Maybe it’s my clients, but they’ve never been able to follow instructions from me, AKA “Mister Cranky Web Designer”.

    The best thing is for me to monitor their posts and fix them. They would much rather pay for this (ludicrous) service than invest in interface modification.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  11. This is a great article. I have been going the “training document” route for a while, always realizing its limitations. I have held one training session after another with no significant improvement. So… I am looking into your suggestions for WordPress right now. I really appreciate this piece.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  12. Excellent. A lot of common sense but also made me think about ways I can improve my forms for clients a bit more. Must share this with other people in my outfit.

    The choice of CMS is really important to act on much of this stuff.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  13. This is good stuff. Anything that can make content authors’ lives easier is a huge win. But the most important piece of this puzzle is the Ongoing Adjustments section this article glosses over.

    Somebody at the organization—or even outside—needs to be responsible for what goes out on the web and hold content authors accountable… kind of the brand police if you will.  Sounds like a no brainer for us but often draconian to the client.

    Oftentimes clients bring us into the fold because their in-house staff is inadequate.  Over the years, we’ve preached the merits of what a good CMS can do—make changes to your own website, no need to call us on us!—and they’ve seen the light. But now that they can wield ultimate editing power on their websites, once the “job” is done, they feel they don’t need the original CMS/designer anymore. When we broach the subject, clients can feel it’s even a money grab since we already “did the job” even when the scope changes.

    Client: “We need to make this headline red and green for the holidays…” Designer: But it’ll clash with your orange and blue website.  We can try and change the color scheme/template maybe for that page or section… “Well how much is that going to be?”  Probably $xxx. “Forget it. Can’t we just make the headline green and red? How come other fields we can choose color but not this one?”  Designer concedes and makes the headline field a WYSIWYG field. Barf.  Not the optimal solution.

    Then, once the website gets beaten up over the years from multiple junior-level designers—or even great designers—often at the whims of their bosses who have zero web and sometimes design experience,  rinse and repeat.

    I think a lot of clients still think of the web as print. We need to ultimately educate them and have them realize this “CMS/website thing” is an on-going process and it needs someone either within the organization or outside to step up and do great work. As we all know, a “small” change in their heads can often mean a “big” change for us when it comes to actually implementing the design.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  14. Very nice article. It is time we focused on the authoring experience. The view also fits into the 4 view of content modelling: map, list, table and authoring view…http://www.pebbleroad.com/perspectives/4-view-approach-to-content-modelling

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  15. Eileen, love the article! You hit the nail right on the head!

    At Roundedcube, I work to increase the learnability and usability of our products in this way. Of course, a bulk of the work is rooted in good content strategy and user experience design, but we go beyond by integrating a module we made into the Sitecore CMS called Help Center for Sitecore. It extends Sitecore’s existing functionality of help text and field descriptions by linking the content model into knowledge articles, HTML-based style/branding guides, how-to videos, downloads and other solution deliverables, all within context to the particular template or component the content author is using. It really helps reduce the change management and training efforts of our clients.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  16. Eileen, fantastic piece. I am wondering if you have any specific tips on the best way one might approach a Drupal developer to buy in to Label Help? I have a hard time convincing developers of the merits of modules that they don’t think will help them with the backend but would be enormous help for designers and editors.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  17. Hi, I am working as Web Developer in SAG Infotech (SAGIPL). I am having the knowledge of Wordpress, Drupal. But here after reading your post, a query originated in my mind. You mentioned that the description has to be written within the filed (textbox, lablebox, etc). but I am confused in the state when the textfield is of small size and I have to add a 2-3 lines of description. In that case what I have to consider.
    I am currently writing that type of description above the filed. So is it correct?

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  18. Very useful Article!. Thanks

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  19. This is a great article. It happened many times that we delivered a site with a perfect crafted CMS, to find out only later that the client was totally misusing it. We ‘fixed’ this by adding little tooltips that would show up on hover. But still, even hovering over a tooltip wouldn’t educate our clients. I guess the ‘in your face’-approach is better suited. I agree that a CMS should only show the fields that matter and are descriptive and explaining about what they’re for.

    The only drawback is that most out-of-the-box CMS’s don’t allow extending the existing fields with tooltips, or it’s very hard to do so. Perhaps a great gap to create plugins for?

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  20. Yes! There’s so much “someone-gets-it” validation in your post I wanted to respond and add notes from my CMS niche:

    http://www.createandbreak.net/2014/10/training-your-sdl-tridion-cms.html

    Tridion’s typically found in companies with lots of websites and multilingual needs. It has configurable descriptions, pop-up help, and even visual hints like previewing a page before creating it and icons for templates. But the challenge I see is getting the business, CMS editors, and technical teams to work together so the authoring side makes sense.

    Oh and there’s one more point I also see in CMS setups: “just in case” fields for “future use” that don’t actually get used. Maybe worse than unhelpful help are invalid options and fields that aren’t used? We don’t put “Under Construction” signs on websites but it’s okay in the back office. :-|

    Great article, thanks for the inspiration! I’m compelled to share this with my colleagues and future projects.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  21. I think half the battle is getting developers to care about how their clients will use the CMS platform. I was fortunate that early in my career I was responsible for training on the CMS. This gave me valuable insight into how clients use a CMS to update their site. The questions that they asked after the training and the problems that they ran into taught me a lot about what clients have trouble with and I began to see the CMS through the client’s eyes as I built out a site.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  22. This is great advice. I’ve done this with success when adding custom content types in WordPress. I’ve also found these are great ways to add human warmth to a sometimes off-putting CMS interface. You can remind an editor that somebody was thinking of them, there’s a person putting this together.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  23. Nice article and advices, thanks!

    Most of the time, we don’t call them CMS anymore (even if it is one :) ), we prefer the expression “site manager”. Customers really enjoy them, they are more closer from their activities, so they’re more likely to use it (correctly).

    Be strict to be cool would be the key point :)

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  24. Great article! We have been struggling with this a lot as an agency before, until we built a tool that provides inline help/tutorials right within the CMS. Then we were able to see what is happening with the CMS and editors if you had the tools to track it and see where they struggle or what kind of things they are inputing. Actionable metrics, that not many people care about, especially in web industry, web agencies build a CMS, but they don’t care much about the usability or the customer support behind, yet the customer support is essential part of our services - probably the most overlooked.

    ( Shameless plug - the service is http://inlinemanual.com )

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  25. Good article.  I am stuck with wordpress for good reasons :) I always customize the cms for each of my client without touching the core.. you just need to know what to use.. e.g wp types plugin and some css/js code.. cool tips etc.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  26. The choice of CMS is, as you say, vital. From my point of view, the first thing to do is separate out the AMS - article management systems. By this I mean systems that are primarily aimed at the creation and management of articles using a single core field, but then have to be radically adapted to achieve anything more precise or detailed. Although these can be used to create the kind of site you describe, they are really not a very good starting point.

    To my mind, a true CMS out of the box makes no assumptions about what the content might be, how it might be presented or even much about how it might be managed beyond a basic logical structure.

    There are several powerful options that fit in this category like Modx, Expression Engine and the one I know, Processwire. All of them are highly customizable Content Management Frameworks that allow for very precise developmental control.

    With the Processwire blank profile, for instance, you only have one field - Title.  From that point it is up to you to create what fields are required to fit the type of content being presented.

    That means that you can walk your author through what is required of them in stages. Fill a headline in here please. Add a start time here. Write 50 words here. Add an image here please. And so on. In theory, you could avoid a RTE completely, if you wanted to, reducing a lot of potential formatting headaches. Since you are designing the form from scratch rather than trying to adapt an existing system, you can add as much or as little hand-holding help as you wish. Though finding the balance between informative and patronising is something that no CMS can help with, however well conceived!

    Likewise, when it comes to presentation, the Blank profile doesn’t have any template files other than the needed home.php file. The system does not have any templating system or special templating language, so you effectively construct your theme in the same way you would a static website, and with the same tools and language.

    This allows you to present your very precise content in a very precise way, really nailing down those potential site busting problems like image sizes at the point of delivery, while being able to take advantage of any CMS framework, JQuery dancing sheep or anything else you like.

    I think it is vital that when approaching a business website for a company, that the system being used does not dictate or shape the message that the company needs to convey. The advantage of the old-fashioned static HTML website was that it could be moulded to fit the needs exactly.

    The modern CMS/CMF must give the developer the control and freedom of expression they have with a pure static site, while backing it up with powerful content management tools so that the continued growth of the website has the same sort of clear controls that was taken for granted in the print world.

    This is not only fair to the developer as their hands are not tied to one particular route to find a solution, but also fair to the client who can now worry about their business and their brand messaging without fear of breaking their website.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  27. Hi,  great combination of all possible techniques which can be applied to a templating engine of cms.
    I do feel there should be a system in place to analyse the data input over a period of time and suggest back to content master and authors both what’s is going wrong and how to revert back to original guidelines.
    For new joiners there should be easy video tutorials to describe fields.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  28. Nice conclusions and references, @webmeadow, I have been working similarly with ProjectFork, a free joomla Project Management Software, for updating and creating new articles. Your views will guide us to produce content more efficiently.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  29. Very good article. It helped me chose between a bunch of CMSs and it guided me to the improvements my choice needs. Thanks!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  30. @webmeadow excellent article!
    We are just implementing instructions in our CMS and reading your insights helps a lot.

    Thank you Eileen!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  31. Very good article. It helped me chose between a bunch of CMSs
    thx too much

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  32. We did similar things in a previous team with SquizSuite, creating many forms to add content to make it easier and to ensure some consistency by using dropdown menus and embedded instructions for adding different content types which we modelled, but I’m currently working with SharePoint and it’s much harder. Sigh.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  33. Good article Eileen. I recently started adding instructions directly in the CMS I use and it’s proved incredibly more useful than in a separate stand along document.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  34. Excellent article Eileen! You have mentioned some really important points for incorporating content guidelines in a CMS. It is mandatory that one must provide the context, explaining what a field is for and how it will be used.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  35. Very good article. but i still prefer wordpress .

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  36. very good article thank you very much
    http://egy.help/maintenance/صيانة-هيتاشي.html

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  37. your post is very important for me

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  38. CMS powerfull for build another web - Harga Ban Mobil Bridgestune Untuk Avanza

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  39. Very useful info. Thanks for sharing. -Shay Smith

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  40. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.