Many factors play into a successful Sitecore implementation, but having a high quality content authoring experience is one that stands out. Because content authoring is such a fundamental, day-to-day task in Sitecore, it is crucial that the authoring and editing experience is consistently great. I’ve written before about how to improve the Sitecore editing experience, so now I am looking at why it is important for your business to invest in a well-built, high quality content authoring and editing experience.
A quality content authoring experience is the culmination of many things working well together:
- a robust Experience Editor, free of errors and frustration
- an intuitive information architecture, which leads to a discoverable and searchable content tree
- permissive user roles and security settings that balance user freedom with tenant security needs
Doing all of these things well greatly contributes to happier content authors, more productive work being done, less time wasted, and content getting in front of customers quicker.
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Creating and placing content for a webpage generally ranges between two extremes: rigid design and flexible freedom.
Rigid design limits how much of the page design content authors can affect. At a minimum, content authors will fill in predefined fields (titles, body text, images) to create content – as if filling out a form. These rigid fields are validated and used in components, and components are limited to certain regions of a page. This ensures that content authors cannot “break” a page or design by placing content where it shouldn’t exist.
Flexible freedom opens up almost all aspects of a page design (including layout). Content authors will typically have to use Sitecore components to create a page design from scratch, then use dynamic placeholders to add components to build up a structure and content.
Sitecore is capable of implementing either of these two extremes. In most cases, a great implementation falls somewhere in the middle. By striking a balance between rigidity and flexibility, content authors can create all the content they need without fear of breaking existing design rules.
Rigid design ensures your brand design remains consistent. Flexible freedom allows for creativity in content choices. If more components need to be implemented in a rigid design, or pages fixed because of errors in flexible freedom, developers, testers, and dev-ops need to be involved. Striking the correct balance during initial implementation is worth the investment to minimize the number of times these expensive resources are involved in day-to-day content updates.
Reduced Training Needs (or: Lower the Barrier for Entry)
Training costs money and time.
A well-designed, balanced authoring experience lowers the barrier to content creation. By having a capable-but-unbreakable Experience Editor in Sitecore, new content authors can come onto the platform with minimum training. While I would not advocate skipping training (this is a big no-no), providing a set of “quick start” instructions into your authoring experience is a feasible option when the whole system is well built.
Content authors will also spend less time reading through documentation to accomplish a task with a well built authoring experience. While documentation is a requirement for all Sitecore implementations, an intuitive and easy-to-use Experience Editor and well designed content tree will reduce (or ideally remove) the need for extensive documentation. This saves in more ways than one – time spent writing documentation and time spent reading documentation. Allowing content authors to get into Sitecore, make content updates, and get out quickly adds up to time saved and quicker time-to-market for business messages, content updates, and product changes.
The easier a content authoring system is to use, the greater the number of people that can partake. Technically-inclined users may have no problem writing or editing HTML snippets, but this raises the price (both monetarily and technically) for the role of a content author. By comparison, a simple-and-robust “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” authoring experience allows less technically-inclined users to use the system and confidently accomplish the same tasks as more advanced users.
Fewer Errors Going to Production
Technical errors in production are never fun. Errors caused by content are egregious.
A quality content authoring experience will never allow content errors to bring down a webpage (or a website). At worst, content might be displayed incorrectly, but there should never be a server error (HTTP 500) or “yellow screen of death” message displayed. A solid Sitecore implementation won’t just gracefully handle these errors on the website, it will actually validate all content going into Sitecore to ensure it is displayed in the right places in the correct ways.
Less Time Wasted Correcting Errors
Mistakes are part of being human. Even with a well-validated authoring experience, sometimes errors will make it to production.
Automated validation in Sitecore only goes so far. Sitecore cannot automatically validate the context of your content (example: “Save on cat treats!” being presented on a page about dogs). The same authoring experience that tried to prevent an error can also help it get fixed. Robust search tools can help editors quickly find erroneous content. Well-designed item templates and fields will allow errors to be fixed directly in the content tree, which saves time. An Experience Editor with appropriate editing controls can quickly swap content or change components if they were selected wrong.
Content Gets To Customers Quicker
Content on the web moves faster than ever before, largely thanks to social media. Opinions change. Fads come and go within weeks, not months.
Quickly getting content in front of customers is more important than ever before, and the content authoring experience is crucial to this. Entering content, uploading media, placing it on a page, reviewing the final content, pushing through workflow, QA testing, and finally publishing – these are all steps that must happen before a customer ever interacts with your latest and greatest ideas/sales/video/etc. Having content authors get stuck at the first step – entering content – is not a great start to the rest of the process. Doing content entry right the first time ensures that review processes don’t have to kick back issues and have content re-authored multiple times before going all the way to production.