Keeping Things Semantic

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Does this sound familiar: "I like how my website looks, but I hate updating it" or "When I update my website, things just seem to break"?

An integral part of Content Management System (CMS) development is investing the needed time and consideration into ensuring that site administrators are provided with editing tools that instil a sense of comfort and confidence when managing their website.  This is done by creating a CMS architecture in the most intuitive and semantic structure possible. There is tremendous value in designing usable CMS admin workflows, for the client and developer alike.

Create content nodes by type

A CMS structured with the path of least resistance for the developer does a disservice to both the client and provider, the only result being a website that may look stunning, but often falls into disuse because the client looks at the editing interface with disdain and fear; and there is nothing worse than leaving your new website to die because of an unusable CMS.  Another outcome of poor CMS architecture is that the development agency can become bogged down with medial updating requests if the client hasn't been delivered the best tools possible to self-administer the website.

How about an example: let's say your organization has a company directory with biographies, photos, and contact information.  The very basic approach to making this content editable would be throw in a long list of name headings, bio text, contact info and floating images into the directory page's HTML editor.  Well it's 'editable', technically, but it's likely that at the first possible chance a site administrator will throw off the formatting when using the visual tools provided by the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor.  The provider and client are then equally upset that the content looks poor and unprofessional.  The solution is to setup the ability for admins to 'Create a New Bio' process which consists of a comprehensive interface that prompts the administrator to enter a name, bio text, upload an image, select the employee's department and enter contact information into appropriate and separate fields.  It's a safe environment for the client, and the developer can take this data, disseminate it to various areas of the websites (a directory page, a specific department page and perhaps a contact page, for example) and format it per content location.

Gone are the days of thinking about CMS editing as 'page edits'. Content, whether it be text, images or videos, is collected in bits (often referred to as 'nodes') through intuitive admin workflows. Engineering semantic CMS architecture isn't an easy task but it should be of primary focus when in production.  Not only does it empower the client, but it also equips the designers and developers with advanced front-end development possibilities because they won't be relying on the false hope that markup code, accessible through WYSIWYG editors, won't be broken by the client.

We preach this and practice it. Outset Media's new Drupal CMS website allows them to easily create content nodes that we format and disperse throughout the website. Outset and Upanup are happy with the result.

By Richard Hammond
Partner & Lead Developer
June 8th, 2012
Disclaimer: Our team members contribute to this blog in their own voices. As such, opinions expressed in this post are not necessarily shared by Upanup. If you are curious or concerned, please contact us.
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