Structured Content

By | November 19, 2020

A streamlined process for delivering content to your customers

In a perfect content world what is the most effective way of structuring your content so that it can be delivered seamlessly to your customers? And what’s the most efficient way for content designers to create that content? Let’s consider the concept of content “chunking”.  This curious term was coined during a project which is described below as a case study example. It’s an apt description and has been adopted widely throughout the organisation.

Breaking the digital content into discrete components or fragments enables total flexibility in the way that content is deployed. This enables the delivery of content which is focused on specific user types, products and lifecycle stages for example. A “chunk” is therefore naturally concise, modular and expresses a single meaningful message which is relevant to the user’s context and to their particular device.

Multiple chunks can be deployed, using pre-defined rules, dependent on a customer’s criteria, to ensure they enjoy the best possible experience and most relevant content. The biggest upside to the content creators and to the business is that there is a single source of content, just one point of update across all digital platforms. It is used for the written word but with wider implications, including, for example bots and video content.

The mechanism

From a technical perspective the content management system (CMS) has to be device agnostic. The content itself should be stored separately from the presentation layer which delivers the content to users. This is, in effect, a headless CMS whereby the format is applied during the publication process and “it doesn’t concern itself with presentation layers, templates, site structure, or design, but rather stores its content in pure format and provides access to other components” (Source: Wikipedia). This allows for the format to be applied independently of the content creation, not as it is being written.

Such a CMS enables the straightforward creation of the deliverables, the chunks or blocks, without the need to create multiple versions in different formats. Each component can be written, approved and deployed once only. The editing and management of the content from that point forward is then less complicated as the content is findable and only requires a single update (for deployment in multiple places) as it is a single source of knowledge and is, above all, reusable.

There is a dependency here on the careful use of metadata, developing a taxonomy to ensure that the content is effectively categorised and tagged, using unique IDs for each chunk of content and focusing on the type of information each component contains with a view to its potential usage. Putting in the legwork during the ideation and set-up phase is key to the successful management of multiple fragments as the naming convention is fundamental to the mechanism enabling searchable single elements to be pulled together to publish the final output.

The benefits

In addition to the obvious benefits for consumers; personalised, relevant and useful content, the business will enjoy:

  • Consistency of message, terminology and brand, generating improved customer awareness and trust
  • A focus on the quality of a specific message, forcing the creation of concise content
  • A reduction in the overall volume of content as it’s not being recreated in different formats – it’s reusable and can be used on any device with any design
  • Flexibility in the way that content can be shared with customers
  • A simplified workflow as the each content component only has to be created, approved and deployed once
  • Forward-compatible content which can be used on any future devices and is scalable
  • Plus lower costs in the creation and management of the content and the additional benefit of reduced translation costs if an organisation creates content for multiple markets

Long-form content is harder to read, more difficult to manage and is not appropriate in every context. Given that content has only a few seconds to attract and inform its users, poorly written and inconsistent content isn’t going to achieve the same results as carefully-tailored and meaningful content which serves a specific purpose.

Authors create content chunks, working sequentially through the ideation process. From a creative perspective the creation of granular structured content is more difficult to achieve as it doesn’t allow for ‘flow’ and the individual elements can appear disjointed when viewed in isolation. However, with the correct use of metadata, the results when all the relevant fragments come together speak for themselves with an improved customer-centric content experience.

The case study

Working on a large digital transformation programme during the last couple of years, the content team was fortunate enough to be involved early in the project and to be able to define how the content would be structured.  As the organisation was undergoing a review and renewal of many of their systems, this was an excellent opportunity for all of the content to be re-written, refined and restructured. It’s rare that you get such a chance to approach such a significant content redevelopment project with the full support of stakeholders to recreate the content rather than retrospectively updating it to ‘fit’ the new technology.

To add some context, the content types considered during the project were knowledge management and support content, commercial and video content. Content Designers and Editors were brought in to work closely with the design and UX teams, ensuring that content knowledge, experience and expertise were embedded in the core creative process.

The concept of structured content was new to the business and had to be explained not only to the stakeholders but also to the existing content team. However, once the principles and benefits were more widely understood, the approach was embraced by the organisation. The creation of content elements sat well within an Agile framework and, although it was a large project, managing chunks was a relatively straightforward methodology to follow. The content team worked closely with subject matter experts, designer/UX teams and across functions to ensure the effective delivery of the new content.

Does it work?

A resounding yes, it does work. There are some simple rules to be followed which govern the potential uses of the content. These may include style and tone of voice guidelines, a terminology glossary and guidance on how to structure the content. These should be appropriate for all content types across the organisation so that any successive elements can easily fit in with those that have already been created.

The creation of structured content is a collaborative activity. It requires meticulous management yet is effective, rewarding and delivers huge benefits to both businesses and customers alike.