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The Case for Structured Content

Content Strategy

Structured Content Matters

You check the news on your desktop. You review company policies on your laptop. You browse products on your tablet. You check the weather on your phone. At home, at work, and on the go the way you interact with content is becoming increasingly diverse. You expect seamlessness in your experiences. You expect information delivered how and when you need it. You expect adaptive content.

The challenge every organization faces is how to deliver the right content, to the right people, at the right time. A responsive design is good, but it isn’t enough. Achieving true flexibility in content design, adaptive content, requires structured content — information organized in a predictable way. Structured content, coupled with tools that can take advantage of that structure, lends itself to strategic, intelligent uses.

Blobs and Chunks

Content strategy industry leader Karen McGrane refers to “blobs” and “chunks” when talking about content. In order to create seamless experiences we must move away from “content blobs” — unstructured content — and move towards “content chunks” — structured content. Without structured content, we can’t have adaptive content.

Blobs – large fields of text — tend to be a by-product of most content management systems and web production tools that rely on WYSIWYG editors. While handy for content publishers, content created in this way is constrained by the page format, is not device agnostic, and lacks opportunities for content reuse. It cannot adapt. It may look good on a web page, but chances are that’s the extent of its value. This one-size-fits-all approach to content design no longer works.

Chunks, on the other hand, are discreet pieces of content that, when combined in different ways, create unique content experiences. Content structure is more than just individual paragraphs – it’s a strategy. A structured content strategy considers factors such as content reuse, device and platform usage, audience variability, content maintenance issues, and more. Once the strategy is established, content models are created to support a structured content design. This process is iterative and involves a team of cross-functional expertise, including content strategists, UX designers, architects, and engineers.

What can structure do for me?

The benefits of structured content are many. As stated above, it makes content flexible. When content is structured into chunks, the discreet content pieces can be combined in different ways, for different devices, contexts, and audiences. Because it’s easier to create, manage, and deliver, it can reduce costs. (Although structured content takes a lot of up-front time and work, the payoff comes later when efficiencies in publishing and content reuse are realized.) Structure unifies content, regardless of who is writing it. This is important as most organizations rely on content authors who work individually, across divisions, and are often producing content secondary to their primary jobs.

Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes.

While most organizations have a long way to go in realizing a structured content environment, there are many opportunities to move in the right direction. Opportunities to take outdated, poorly presented, difficult to use content and make it better. Consider, for instance, life events – getting married, having or adopting a baby, getting divorced, retiring. Each scenario requires different information, e.g., an introduction, a list of “things to do”, various (and sometimes numerous) supporting documents, a related transactional system. While the information will be different, these elements are the things the scenarios have in common. This is an opportunity to apply structure, to see the content in “chunks”, define those chunks, and apply this new structure across all life events. In doing so, your content will be more adaptive, more accessible to all users.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but given the changing demographics of the workforce, planning today how your content could be used in the future is also liberating – and users expect it.

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