Insights /

Your forgotten website user

16.02.24InsightUser Experience
Two members of the Freestyle team sitting down and reviewing work on a laptop.

When planning and designing websites, we all understand the importance of getting 'real life' users involved. So how come one of your most influential audiences - your CMS users - are regularly overlooked?

The success or failure of your website can be judged using a number of different metrics. Of course, you need the website to hit its KPIs and provide good return on investment, but softer factors can be just as influential. In our experience, there's one such factor that determines success more than any other, and you won't find it in your data dashboards or custom GA4 reports. It's your CMS admin experience. 

It's obvious when you think about it. Which group of people has more interactions with the website than any other? It's the group that manages site content, creates pages, posts news stories, manages workflows, uploads images and launches campaigns. If your website's admin interface isn't working for this audience, it will not only impact the effectiveness of day-to-day management, but also damage your whole organisation's perception of the site. 

So how can you make sure that the needs of your often forgotten CMS users are considered and met at critical times throughout the lifecycle of your website?

CMS support that goes beyond functionality

When a new website is launched, the CMS users are too often given all the pieces of the puzzle and left to create the experience themselves. Picture it - you've got some old content, some new content, your new site designs, and now you have the CMS blocks and templates to make it a reality. You’ve had your CMS training on the functionality, but now that it's time to build out this dynamic new website you can't remember how best to format the content, or which blocks work best in which ways, from the research and thinking that happened months ago… Sound familiar? Robust training on how to use your shiny new CMS is something you can expect, but the support shouldn't end there. 

Something else we've seen regularly overlooked is that CMS editors are not designers. They don't have the eye for detail that designers do when creating pages from carefully crafted design outputs. If this isn't acknowledged, the quality of your UI becomes compromised from the moment new blocks and pages are created with inconsistencies building at a rate of knots. Individual design elements like white space, exact hex colour numbers, text hierarchies and button formatting might not sound like the hill you want to die on, but we’re not just talking about your UI here. We’re talking about the usability and accessibility of your website; how the sophistication of your website builds trust; how an intuitive experience fosters loyalty; how the overall UX represents your brand and drives the results you need.

You can set your new website up for success by arming your CMS admins and editors with the support and resources they need to realise the UX vision.

  • Ask your digital partner to create key page designs in the CMS itself as a reference for what good looks like.
  • Ensure you have thorough style sheets with every granularity of UI variation and interaction state to eliminate any guesswork.

  • Don’t stop at clickable, high fidelity designs - ask for documented rationale and instruction on the content formats, messaging hierarchies and purpose so you don’t need to remember it from discussions long ago.

  • Go one step further and request a content matrix that sets out the what, why, format and indicative word counts that will work best for each page or block.

  • Get comfortable with the content structures and information architecture with documented rationale so that primary navigation and site sections are expanded in complementary ways that doesn’t compromise or convolute journeys.

A CMS editor experience to be remembered

If the first time your CMS editor is included in a website project is after the build has begun, it's too late. Part of the scoping process should include time spent with CMS users to understand their workflows and needs. Without this step, there's every chance you’ll receive a CMS admin experience that presents blockers and frustrations. 

There has been careful thought put into the 'out of the box' editor experience by most CMS providers, but not all organisations work in the same way and the reality is that your workflows will benefit from some customization. The good news is that most decent content management systems have highly customisable admin interfaces. The experience can be tailored in a number of ways, including logical grouping of content templates and setting of sensible default values to aid the content creation process. We recently customised the admin search capabilities for an organisation that needed absolute certainty that legal and regulated content was always accurate across their website, as it was regularly updated. The content for your website may come from multiple sources, requiring further customisation to manage effectively, be it via csv or direct (API) integration. At Freestyle, we primarily work with Optimizely and Umbraco, as well as fully headless CMS platforms (Strapi and Prismic), which all offer great flexibility and customisation to help streamline your workflows.

Whether it's removing barriers from the default set up, or making the CMS work harder for admins and editors, there is time, buy-in and UX success to be won in recognising workflows and addressing needs.

  • Think of your CMS users as a persona to document and recognise their contexts, frustrations and needs.

  • Make sure your digital partner includes your CMS admins in scoping and requirements gathering for buy-in and future success.

  • Ask your digital partner to explore customisation of the admin interface to alleviate core workflows and remove any barriers of default set up.

Content governance

It's worth working on the assumption that inconsistencies, barriers and compromises in the UX will slip through the net. That's not because your team is doing a bad job. It's simply the reality of websites once they're out in the wild; workloads get stretched, objectives evolve and teams change. 

Documentation, support and resources will help in these scenarios, but they won't make your UX fail-proof. What we don't want to do is wait for the inconsistencies and UX debt to rack up. As we noted earlier this not only ends in a poor experience, but all the accessibility, trust and KPI shortcomings that come with that. It's easily avoided by small, incremental check-ins to stay on top of how the experience is performing and what additional support might be needed to keep the CMS team on track. 

Regular governance attention will also play its part in keeping your CMS team positive about the website, preventing it becoming a thorn in their working day. If the CMS doesn't help to make their lives easier, then this influential group will be quick to let the rest of the company know about it, and before long the internal credibility and perception of the website is at stake. Whilst your admins are the only ones working in the CMS itself, it takes a village to keep a website running effectively, across content creation, audience insight and marketing. Many of these areas are often fed into or managed by internal team members, meaning collective internal engagement, positivity and pride in the website can go a long way in motivation and prioritisation of website related activities.

With ease of CMS use and regular admin support having such an influence on the success of your website, governance isn’t an optional add-on. It’s a must have.

  • Don’t wait until a huge backlog of UI inconsistencies rack up to get governance in place.

  • Maintain regular resource and expert check-ins with you digital partner to ensure your website is successful and avoid accruing UX debt.

  • Keep the website a good news story internally with check-ins on CMS admin workflows and interface needs as the organisation evolves so that everyone is engaged and motivated to contribute where applicable.

  • Ensure UX and UI resources are kept up to date and accessible so that the quality of your UI and UX is maintained as the organisation (and website content) grows.

Respect the workhorse behind your site's success

In summary, whilst providing an intuitive front-end experience might have the biggest impact on your KPIs, the long-term success of your website in the eyes of your internal team will live or die by the CMS editor experience. 

Consider your CMS admin users throughout the UX, design and build process. Set them up for success with thorough training and governance. And most importantly, don’t let them become your ‘forgotten users’.

If your CMS isn't giving your admin users a flexible and intuitive experience, or if your site's content is starting to look fragmented and off-brand, we'd love to help. Get in touch for an informal chat. 


Becki Hemming UX Strategist at Freestyle

Rebecca Hemming

UX Strategist

Contact us:

+44 1926 652 832

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