What is structured content and why is it important when selecting a CMS?
In my last blog, I discussed taxonomy and how it can play an important role to set your content strategy to a good start. This time I want to introduce you to another content strategy topic: structured content, what it is and how you can plan your CMS efforts so you can benefit from this approach. That reminds me…
Do you know these people?
Laura heads the copyright efforts for a local theatre’s website. She wonders why every year, when a new play is being added to a site, she ends up copying and pasting actor biographies from previous plays into the new play’s page via their CMS.
Rob is head of IT in a non-profit organisation and is facing once again a content migration because of the introduction of a new CMS. Rob is frustrated because he thinks this is a good chance to reduce content but nobody seems to want to own the content auditing.
Clara works in the same organisation as Rob. She heard of the new ‘site redesign’ and wants to talk to her manager about it. She talks quite often with prospective donors who can’t find key information on the site despite being there. Clara believes the hierarchical navigation of the site is causing visitors to struggle finding content.
You might know similar stories and what they all have in common is the way that content is treated – or lack of thereof.
What is structured content?
Structured content is content that has been broken down into pieces of reusable units, classified using metadata and connected through meaningful relationships.
Laura could save time during both content creation and maintenance if she is able to create actors as content items, add their biographies in these and link them to a new play anytime is needed (Content repurpose).
Structured content would give Rob’s team the tools to sift through the content auditing effort and reduce content before migration. We will introduce domain and content modelling in this article. These will inform the approach you might take with your existing content when auditing (Content planning).
Clara’s issue – buried, hard-to-find content – could be also resolved as structured content helps surfacing content through their own intrinsic relationships. These go beyond rigid top-down, hierarchical navigation (Content discovery and linked data).
SEO / machine-readable
If your content is all part of a blob of text (stored in a single text field in your CMS), robots won’t be able to make much sense out of it. Instead, by breaking down your content into meaningful chunks and relating these appropriately, computers are better able to make sense of the data.
Structured content requires storing content relationships at the database level rather than page level so you can introduce better semantic meaning in your data. This in turn makes your content ready to any type of device or screen size.
Structured content is based on real-world concepts and relationships. This is an important aspect of a sound content strategy as this approach helps content publishing activities to remain valid and in line with the organisation’s knowledge over time.
How to plan for structured content
Step 1: Research
Structured content starts with research. You need to start by talking to subject matter experts. They will help you map the domain by providing an overview of their world, describing what things are called and how they relate to each other.
Then you need to talk to users, they are the ones that will help you make the content more accessible. It is very likely they will have a different view than the experts: they might call things differently for example. Also, talking to users should help you prioritise what content elements are more important to them.
Step 2: Map the domain
With your findings from research you are set to create a domain model. A domain model is a representation of the key concepts in your domain and how they relate to each other.
Concepts are the things that make up your domain. For example, in a theatre website you might have concepts such as seasons, plays, actors and venues.
Relationships connect these concepts together. Following our theatre example, a domain model will describe how ‘seasons’ feature ‘plays’. ‘Plays’ have ‘actors’ and are played at ‘venues’.
Step 3: Model the content
A content model will develop the abstract concepts in your domain model further into more descriptive objects as you add properties to these. Think of content modelling as the stage where you create your content types – the ones that will inform your CMS.
Again in our theatre example, an ‘actor’ content type could describe their name, biography, picture and, why not, their own Twitter account.
Step 4: Planning content
If you are working on any kind of redesign project involving a large amount of content you would need to perform a content audit. This can usually be a large task but having a domain model in place can help you expose opportunity areas. You might need to expand your content to support content types identified in your model or, also likely, reduce the content by decommissioning those pages that don’t support it.
We have looked at the benefits of structured content and were introduced to a user-centred approach to uncover a domain model through research with both domain experts and users. We then expanded the domain model into a content model to define the various concepts attributes which defining content types in the process. This exercise is key to plan the structure of your CMS.
With both models in place, you are better positioned to plan an effective content audit. With this approach, you can uncover content areas to be improved or, in many cases, removed as they no longer support the domain model.
Diego Lago is Head of User Experience at Digirati. Diego works with Digirati’s clients to develop content strategies including approaches to information architecture and semantic enrichment. He is particularly focussed on the convergence of user experience with information management. Prior to joining Digirati, Diego worked for a number of leading Digital agencies applying a broad range of User Experience practices.