While user experience (UX) has grown up since the '90s, the same can't be said about author experience (AX).
I often consider authors as the lost generation, whose needs have been ignored in favor of more technical developments. But the time is right for you to stand and take your proper place in the world. You have more power than ever before.
Inbound marketing exploded in recent years, when marketers recognized it as an efficient and cost effective way of not only driving people to their sites, but building priceless relationships.
According to HubSpot, 93 percent of companies using inbound marketing increase lead generation. Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics co-founder Neil Patel writes that content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads.
The growing popularity of content marketing is forcing IT departments to grudgingly accept that author experience impacts the bottom line.
Contently reports the vast majority of companies will embrace content as a component of their marketing strategy in 2016. In fact, 50 percent of B2C companies say they plan to increase their content marketing budget this year.
It’s time for you authors to get yourselves heard.
Why Have We Neglected Author Experience For So Long?
Traditional barriers between marketing and IT departments have a lot to do with this. The people who actually work the most frequently with the CMS are often the last to be consulted during the request for proposal stage. Even when authors do get a chance to speak up, they sometimes hesitate to criticize things, feeling that it’s their fault for not being technical enough.
Believe it or not, the reason you're stuck with a difficult CMS isn't because your IT department hates you.
In many cases, developers get so excited by the infrastructure that they don’t consider the AX. They’ve simply forgotten all about it, as Creative Director of Webinsation Caleb Mellas explained: “As a creative web community, we haven’t put much thought into creating a system for our end users.”
The irony of it all is that the people who design CMSs are never the same people who edit them, so they lack the crucial empathy. Author experience consultant Rick Yagodich said, “Too many CMS’s are designed by people who understand coding, but with no grasp of how content is used. The people building most CMS’s do not deal in the message. We need a CMS with the Author Experience at its core.”
Developers often neglect AX in order to focus on other, more interesting (to them) priorities, such as extensibility, security and open source. Software developers are not UI or graphic designers, but they end up doing it by default. They look at functionality rather than the relevance of UI, and the end result has never been good for authors.
What Happens When We Ignore Authors?
Too often solution architects obsess over accessibility for the end user, without thinking of the author in the middle. But when developers create a below par author experience for your company’s web properties, author productivity suffers.
Solution architects should consider authors as customers who also require a seamless experience. And developers need to build that experience, in close collaboration with end users.
As Senior UX Designer at Valtech, Rise Vestergaard, pointed out, “Author Experience (AX) is a design discipline that too often is neglected. As an experienced UX designer, I strongly believe that any CMS should be built with AX as a priority.”
Not only should it be easy for authors to carry our basic interactions on the CMS they work with, they should be able to handle all elements of the workflow, with the help of an intuitive interface that supports their content strategy.
With content marketing driving sales, companies need to stop making it hard for content producers to do their jobs well.
What Makes a Good AX?
According to i-scoop, “content marketing software enables you and your team to collaborate and plan/deploy/monitor/optimize your content marketing strategy in a professional and optimized way.” At least that’s the way it should be. Developers need to design content management systems to please the users, not just themselves.
Webinisation's Mellas noted giving authors a great experience doesn’t always mean giving them a lot of freedom — a CMS should help content editors make good decisions, while also protecting the design and architecture decisions of the site.
Whether it’s user experience or author experience, making things easy isn’t always about making them eye-catching. A consistent UI framework is more important in a CMS, so that even if it looks boring, it’s always recognizable. A rigid framework also ensures predictability for all users.
Just as the iPhone transformed the mobile world by hiding complexity and making the user experience easy and fun, CMS vendors need to break down complexity and offer authors a clear interface that allows them to deal with their most important tasks quickly and easily.
This isn't about a ‘one size fits all’ solution though. CMS vendors and implementers need to ensure that authors have the tools they need for their specific industry and needs. This can only be done by creating a full listening process that ideally begins before the RFP process.
Back End vs. Front End
We recently examined how the concept of a headless CMS seduces front end developers. The same holds true for authors, who long for more agility and speed. A headless CMS promises authors to get back to basics and cut out complexity. The appeal for the long-ignored authors is clear.
Vendors heard this need, and focused on the one idea: to create a perfect author experience. However, these players deliberately ignore complexity, which can cause problems further down the road.
Companies need both front end content strategy and back end strategy, as Ann Rockley, founder of the Intelligent Content Conference, explained. Front end content strategy focuses on customer experience and great content, while back end strategy focuses on the structure, scalability and technology to handle all that content in efficient and powerful ways.
The increased importance of content marketing teams means that CMS vendors and IT departments are finally hearing their voices. This has resulted in exciting new ways of agile development that help companies get to market quickly. But there's still room for progress. Authors need to be put at the heart of the CMS experience.