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Usability and friendliness of CMS

You all know these questions - how quickly and easily will I be able to publish press releases? Does inserting a picture take me a minute or four? Will updating terms and conditions on the website bring me nightmares or is it just a click of a button? Can I make it all by lunch today?

All this affects the usage of CMS (Content Management System). Therefore, let's look closely at its usability and friendliness at a time when we are still choosing which one to use.

What is the scope of usability of CMS when it comes to using the website? Let’s assume an ideal situation when the system is capable of everything you need. For the user (administrator or content editor), there is one very important aspect - how quickly and easily he’ll be able to perform the task. Although experience and know-how of the user play a certain role here, there are some general principles that affect the overall usability of the CMS:

Easy navigation through the structure of the site

How easily can you find what you're looking for? For example, you need to edit a specific page, how long does it take to find it in the admin system? Some systems will "render" transparent trees, others have all the pages at the same level and you have to scroll down and read the names of them or use a filter / search so that you won’t need to go through tens or hundreds of pages or content, but only just among a relevant few. Although, when the system has a tree structure can you clearly see which page you are currently editing?

Location of frequently-used controls „at hand“

Think about it, while you’re working, do you have buttons and other controls where you expect them to be and where you need them? The most frequent actions – such as insterting text and images or  creating links should have the controls (buttons or links) in an obvious and accessible place when editing. However, if there are too many buttons and links "at hand", the interface becomes too cluttered and harder to find what you need. The line between "too little" and "too much" is thin and some systems allow you to change the current view (you either see more or less, depending on what you currently need).

Buttons for actions that follow logically should be placed in a row and close to each other. For example, if you‘ll want to insert a link and you’ll have to "travel with the mouse" three times across the screen (and scroll while at it!) because each subsequent step is controlled from another location, you are wasting time by working with such a system. Hardly anyone wants to compete in the 100-kilometer mouse run around the screen!

Number of clicks needed for common operations

Let’s start with an example of inserting an image into text. You are editing the text right in the spot where you would like to see the picture. Click on „insert image“ and:

Case #1 – you can choose the image from anywhere (either from your computer or from any directory of your site - on the server). The picture’s size can be reduced, you can also add an alternative label and title and the image itself pasted directly into the text and see the result immediately. Estimated time: 45 seconds.

Case #2 – the image can only be loaded from a specific web directory, so you have to first upload it there. Though, this action is doable without the need of closing the original edited page. Estimated time 1.5 minutes.

Case #3 – images can be uploaded to a directory on the site. They can be only uploaded there from another subpage of the system admin. Therefore, you must leave the edit page, upload the image to the correct directory, go back to the edit page and insert the image. Reducing the image size can be done only by going to another dialog box (or not through the CMS at all), so you need to switch and resize it. And then describe the image title, if needed. Estimated time: 3 minutes or more.

So, as you can see, while doing the same operation you can spend four-times the time! That means if the system works like that globally and you would be using case #1 CMS, you can manage the same by 2 hours in comparision with case #3 for the entire eight-hour work period. And that's a very expensive difference!

Switch between the admin view vs. visible side of the website

Usually when making adjustments, of course you use the admin panel (usually it’s called back-end), but when you want to see the complete result, it’s best to see it by the eyes of visitors – the "outside" of the website (front-end). Therefore it‘s important that you’re able to switch easily between these two views - the work and the preview. It‘s a step that you‘ll use very often (in both directions), but only some CMS have a simple "one-click" switch.

System response time

For most events there’s a delay when the system is processing your request. If it is done ​​within 2-3 seconds, we perceive it smoothly. If the waiting time exceeds five seconds, our system starts to delay and above 10 seconds or longer, the delay becomes unbearable. You should, however, take into account whether it’s a problem of the CMS or your current insternet’s speed.

Readability and text comprehension

Even the back-end needs to use suitable, legible and sufficiently large (preferably sans-serif) fonts. The font’s size helps us intuitively determine what is more important or less. From underlined texts we expect that they will work as a hyperlink. From texts that aren’t otherwise specially emphasized or highlighted we don‘t expect anything more than their informational function. You can‘t assume that users hover over them with their mouse and trying „what if“...

Controls and help

Another criteria of user-friendliness is the appearance of the interface and placement of controls, which I’ll talk about in a separate article.

Sometimes when there’s an emergency, you’ll be looking for help. Does your CMS has a help section? Read about this topic in a separate article.


Bottom line is, you expect functionality that suits your needs, but don’t forget how ergonomic the system can be. This not only affects your feelings, but also your work


Usability and friendliness of CMS


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