Make the Most of Your Content Authoring Options in Sitecore

Authoring content in Sitecore can run the gauntlet from frustrating to fantastic. I previously looked at why you should care about a quality content authoring experience and provided a few tips for how to do that in Sitecore. While a good authoring experience in Sitecore generally involves smart use of the Experience Editor, it is important to consider the other interfaces and tools in Sitecore that can be used for authoring, editing, and managing content.

Content authoring and the experience that drives it is the sum of many parts coming together well:

  • Interface usability describes how accessible and user-friendly UIs are for content authors.
  • Component flexibility refers to how well architected and configurable Sitecore components are for authoring and displaying content.
  • Authoring process defines how Content Authors move through the system to make content additions/changes – from draft to review to publishing.

Content authoring should always play to the strength of each interface, component, or process that relates to the particular task at hand. In other words, the Sitecore Experience Editor isn’t the final word in content authoring. Let’s consider what makes each of the two most common Sitecore interfaces great for their role in authoring – the Experience Editor and Content Editor.

Experience Editor

All Sitecore websites should make heavy use of the Experience Editor. It excels at the following:

  • Content placement. The EE allows content authors to select where a component should be placed on a page. This visual placement is a huge upgrade over the alternative of using Presentation Details to manually assign a rendering to a placeholder (and don’t even think about trying to use dynamic placeholders through the Presentation Details dialog).
  • Inline editing. Entering content directly into fields of a component allows content authors to see the result of their work right away. This also provides some basic validation, since authors can see if their content will overflow the design of the component or not work well with adjacent content.
  • Bolstering author confidence. Because they can visually see the page, its layout, and its content all at once, content authors can be sure that their latest changes are accurate and safe to publish to the web. This increases the confidence of an author that he or she has made the right changes, and helps build confidence in Sitecore as a content management system.

Content Editor

The Content Editor is the classic, de facto interface for managing content in Sitecore. Because it is based on a tree structure, the Content Editor excels at the following:

  • Managing lists of content. Content that is stored in lists – such as slides in an image rotator – can be quickly updated and re-arranged by dragging and dropping items around the content tree.
  • Copying/moving/ordering items. Organizing and re-organizing content items (and managing folders for those items) is best done with the drag-and-drop interface of the content tree. For components that display content items based on their order, context menus and/or button on the ribbon provide ordering options. Sitecore’s duplication function makes copying items trivial.
  • Bulk item updates. The Content Editor displays all items in the same interface – a list of fields with logical groupings. Because of this common interface, making bulk updates to many items can be done quicker, especially when the items are based on the same template. By comparison, authors would have to open each webpage in the Experience Editor and visually find the individual component utilizing each content item before making the same updates.

The 80/20 Rule

When designing an editing experience for content authors, I typically start with something I call the “80/20 Rule” and develop from there.

What is the 80/20 Rule? In short, it’s the idea that content authors should spend 80% of their time in the Experience Editor and 20% in the Content Editor. In my years as a Sitecore developer, I’ve learned that content authors can accomplish most of their tasks in a well-designed Experience Editor (hence the 80%), but it should never be the only required option for managing content. Because the Content Editor can do certain tasks better than the Experience Editor, you should embrace that 20% into your authoring experience, components, and processes.

Obviously specific client needs will play into which of the two interfaces drive content authoring, but I have found the 80/20 Rule to be a good starting point.

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