A key feature of any CMS is usability. This means ensuring that the system is fit for purpose, is easy to use, effective and efficient. Whilst the functionality, cost (if a propriety CMS) and support are important factors in deciding upon which CMS to use, usability is just as important.

Usability is essential in regard to websites as it means that users can successfully achieve their goals within a particular context of use. Users are able to navigate their way around a website and with the minimum of fuss.

It is important to build usable websites but if these websites are built with a CMS then it is important to choose a system which is also usable. The result is a usable CMS and a usable website.

Importance of usability in a CMS

What can not be denied is the importance of using a CMS which is usable. However powerful the CMS is such as the extensive range of features, the ability to maximise performance or customise the templates; it will not be successful if it is difficult or awkward to use.

This is particularly important when one considers that it is content authors/editors who use a CMS more than anyone else and many of these are likely to come from non-technical backgrounds.

The usability of a CMS is one of several criteria, used by people who are looking to use, purchase a CMS. This is taken into account alongside accessibility.

There is also the fact that newer, more powerful and therefore complex types of CMSs are being released onto the market which means striking a balance between this increased functionality and usability.

The bottom line is that if a CMS is difficult to use and unwieldy then it will take longer for it to be adopted by the content authors/editors. These people undergo training in how to manage content via a CMS and if they find this difficult then they will experience similar, if not worse difficulties using the actual CMS.

Examples of CMS usability

Many CMSsinclude an intuitive, easy to use interface as part of their remit which adheres to both usability and accessibility standards.

But some CMSs are more usable than others. They are easier to install, manage and extend which is usually due to some foresight by the developers.

The user interface is a major factor in regard to CMS usability but there are several other factors which determine if a CMS is easy to use or not. These include:

  • Appropriate documentation and support
  • Support for new and experienced users
  • User manuals, online training/tutorials and access to a community.
  • Adhere to known usability guidelines, e.g. ease of use
  • Enables the user to become self-sufficient with the system
  • Mature, robust and free from bugs or errors
  • Design and structure conforms to the user’s mental model
  • Logical and intuitive
  • Ensures that users only have access to the features they need

Content management systems (CMS) are known for their range of features which include menus, templates, buttons, links etc. Whilst this enhances their appeal it can also be overwhelming to users especially novice users.

In response to this it is a good idea to have set access rights which enable a certain number of features to become available to a certain type of user. An experienced user will want access to a greater range of features than a novice.

Examples of usable CMSs include WordPress, Drupal and Joomla to name but a few.

Importance of ensuring that a CMS is usable

We all understand the importance in ensuring that websites are usable and accessible but it is equally important that CMSs fit these requirements as well.

A CMS is a good, cost-effective way to build and maintain websites but success rests upon whether it is eagerly adopted by content authors/editors and visitors to a published website. Part of that success is ensuring that the CMS is user-friendly which will prove beneficial in regard to its long term investment.

Choosing a usable CMS

Use the usability guidelines mentioned above (examples of CMS usability) when deciding upon which system to choose. If you are thinking about a commercial CMS then many of these state that their system conforms to current usability standards. This is also the case with many open source CMSs so it is a case of trying several versions before you buy.