Why I (mostly) like using the new CMS

Posted in: Staff experiences, Staff insight

I've had a long hiatus from using the new CMS, but with our Faculty pages finally live, it feels like things are moving again and I've been reacquainting myself with the new system. I'm reminded every time I log into our old CMS what a better system we now have for those who update the website and those who read it. Here's why:

It forces you to write coherently

Before I even create a page in the new CMS I have to select a content type. This involves a good 10 minutes of working out what will fit my purpose. If I'm telling a story I'll probably select the case study content type, but I'll use a campaign if I'm writing persuasive content with lots of calls-to-action or a guide if I'm explaining something.

Once that's sorted I have to fill out a user need. I find this a really (really) tiresome job, but it's a good check to see if you are actually about to create a coherent page that someone will find useful. It's pretty tempting to stray into writing something you want to say and adding in content that is perhaps related but not directly relevant. When I scroll back up the page to check its user need, it helps me to refocus my writing on the intended audience: why am I doing this? Why is it important to someone?

It provides a structure to guide you

I'm not a fan of filling in boxes and until they introduced a preview button I really struggled to use the new CMS. I am often driven nuts by the word limits. For me the most annoying box of all is the one under the title, which is limited to 160 characters. I agonise over that box for about half the time the rest of the page will take. Then I turn around and show Becky and we agonise some more. The secret is, when you've got that sentence or two right, the rest of the page will follow. Getting it right in 160 characters means that you really know what your page is going to be about.

Screenshot of a page title and tag line
The 160 character tag line

I see now that other than the really useful things word limits ensure (not least how the pages are displayed in Google search results) they are actually helping me to write better. They force me to really get to the point and be concise. They are challenging me (quite literally, the page won't save if I've written too much) to take my time and really think things through. What I once raged against I see now is a support (still a frustrating one though) to guide my content and stop me settling for the quick win and a quiet life.

It demands better content

Pages need to have real substance now with information that delivers value or answers a question. Even the photos have to be better, a 16:9 ratio is unforgiving to non-professional shots. Using the new templates makes me realise how much we have been able to hide behind HTML styling in the old CMS. I was pretty horrified when I found out I wouldn't have access to the code in the new system (there's a part of me that would still like to have the option) but it really does make me focus on the quality of the content rather than spending 5 minutes faffing with a boxout. What I once saw as crushing the creativity of the content producer I now understand to be for the benefit of consistency.

Why you should find out more about it

Change can be a brutal process. I have often felt disheartened and confused during this CMS transition project. I still despair on a monthly basis, but when I look at a new page on a mobile I find my answer: the content and the design are so much better. I know the way to overcome many (not all) of my CMS frustrations is to learn more. Find out the rationale behind the compromise, the reason why my status quo has been challenged, what benefit a perceived sacrifice has been made for. I follow the Digital's team blog, 'watch' their release notes wiki page, attend their Show & Tell sessions, and most importantly click that 'suggest an improvement to this page button' and just find out why.

Once you know the thought behind the content strategy and the coding you will feel reassured as to the talent working on this new system and have faith in its ability to get better. I once used to ask myself "why is this happening on our watch?" Now I understand what an opportunity it is to question, to rethink, to reflect and improve. I wouldn't give up the past difficulties or the ones to come because it only makes us think more. With understanding it's impossible to return to before, there's only new ways, better ways.

Posted in: Staff experiences, Staff insight