First Step in Designing Content Entry Forms

The first step in setting up authoring forms in a CMS that lets you create your own content types isn't making the content definitions or schemas. The first step is defining and naming the content.

I recently posted on how to model an example page for practically any Content Management System (CMS). But I didn't explain why the first step of naming the page and content types was important.

8 Reasons to Start with a Name

Here's what I've learned in the last few years and why I think naming types of content is very important:

  1. Names mean something to the business that will have to manage the content. If the team calls something "rich text" it implies authoring freedom whereas a "product" has completely different requirements.
  2. Names imply owners, a process, and possibly a content life cycle.
  3. Naming a type of content lets you define where it is allowed, how it displays, and additional processes or functionality associated with it.
  4. Names let you compare and contrast with others. For example, are you using the same schema names that Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, and Yandex use for defining "content?" If so, should you consider (some) of the same fields?
  5. Names give you relationships and priority when viewing options in an alphabetical list.
  6. Names tell you if you're mixing content structure with presentation. For example a schema called accordion suggests how it will present. But an accordion is basically repeated headings and subsections. Schemas should drive structure and control re-use rather than functionality simply because it is much easier to make a new accordion template (or update an existing one) than it is to move existing content into an accordion schema for a presentation change.
  7. Plural names suggest content relationships and whether you should group sets of fields (with embedded schema) or keep them in separate components. You have different approaches if the business updates "the FAQ," versus several "FAQs," or even many "Q&As."
  8. Finally, a name gives you a way to interpret the significance of content by quantifying, planning for, and confirming its business impact. My favorite non-CMS example is the Million Dollar Homepage, where 100 pixels cost $100. The business case included pixel-perfect placement, no text, and no changes; so no CMS required. When implementing a CMS, the homepage for a major retailer will have different requirements than a microsite or even a corporate homepage. Terms like "product," "tool," or "gallery" all at least imply different approaches.

Difference a Name Makes

Without a name, you can get lost trying to make sense of the best approach. For example, I practically lost my voice discussing how you might set up the following (based on a mock-up that didn't have these actually labeled):

So image and text on a given page that may feature several of these. What is it?

You really can't tell and it wouldn't matter in an un-managed scenario where it would just be some markup:

<div class="nameless">
  <img src="somepath/someimage.png">

But if we name the content types as something such as summary, biography, or promotion (promo) we can start identifying potential fields.


Article Summaries can relate to full articles with a one-to-one (1:1) relationship.
If you can confirm how the summary and thumbnail relate to the entire article, then you can consolidate schema fields and maybe use two templates: article summary and article full, for example.


Biography previews or summaries are similar to article summaries, but have more specific meaning for the managed elements.
A biography is a clearer example. Most of my customers recognize the portrait, name, and title should be centrally managed. If there's an adjective qualifying this as with "Executive Bio" you can start exploring different use cases and requirements, as compared with "Staff Profile." "Meet our team" type content may warrant a CMS "person" or "biography" schema, whereas profiles might be self-managed by staff, but possibly integrated with the CMS or intranet.


(Product) Promotion can break all "CMS best practices." Don't underestimate them.
The promo, however, seems to confuse those new to either managed content or content modeling. The two assumptions I've seen are:
  • CMS professionals or template developers might think, "this is a summary and description similar to full and summary article presentations"
  • Content authors and businesses not used to re-use or the ability to create your own authoring forms might think, "this is an independent item with its own image and text"
Some might abstract too far, as see everything as combinations of images and text, or worse as key-value pairs where even the meaning of the fields are configurable. If this appeals to you, please read Joel Spolsky's explanation of Architecture Astronauts. Though authors may author generic content for sure, not all content is generic. Your websites reflect your business, hopefully letting visitors accomplish meaningful tasks. All-purpose, generic content everywhere makes it easy to create but not manage, change, or program against.

A Promo by Any Other Name...

Let's revisit the exception, though. Knowing something is called a promo tells me the following. These are generalities, but notice how the name influences and helps support these suspicions:
  • Promotion suggests something temporary, this might change with the next campaign promoting a product or service (e.g. ""holiday blowout sale!")
  • There may be more than one product or campaign, possibly targeted at different customer segments or profiles (e.g. "student discount")
  • As something that may drive revenue, this will likely include additional requirements including:
    • Tracking or analytics
    • Prices and possibly product integration
    • Multiple links and/or hot spots
    • Strong visual elements or interactive features
    • Possibly dynamic publishing/rendering -- authors may need to update these independent of the pages they present on
    • Profiling, personalization, and targeting possibly including control of the rules that drive what presents in promotional regions for given pages
Ironically, if you follow trends in content strategy, user experience, or have developed "ad blindness" like I have, you might notice that promotional content (advertisements) aren't as effective as straight-forward techniques such as:
  • Providing helpful content, allowing visitors accomplish their top tasks (read Gerry McGovern for a refresher on top task analysis)
  • Using text over images (also Gerry McGovern)
To be clear, paid advertisements differ from self-managed promotional content. See a more comprehensive look at ad practices and note how unit size names reflect prominence, presentation (size), and placement (sidekick, skyscaper, billboard).

Now if you can't name the type of content, then you're possibly dealing with new content requirements. Part of this naming process includes Information Architecture, User Interface, and User Experience input in the form of sitemaps, wireframes, and possibly mockups. But don't let wireframes or mockups alone determine your content modeling requirements for managed content. Collaborate with the business and to an extent, those that have to live with the CMS implementation--they shouldn't be surprised when it comes time to updating content.

And for scenarios where the business and IT aren't sure of the requirements, before all else, start by naming things.

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