A Content Model Is Not a Design System – A List Apart

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Do you remember when it was enough to own a great website? Now, people are getting answers from Siri, Google search clips and mobile apps, not just from our sites. Forward-thinking organizations have adopted a Multi-channel content strategy, Whose mission is to reach audiences across multiple digital channels and platforms.

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But how do you set up a content management system (CMS) to reach your audience now and in the future? I learned the hard way you created a Content model– Defining content types, features and relationships that allow people and systems to understand content – With the more familiar thinking of system design, you will become my client’s multi-channel content strategy. You can avoid this result by creating models of content that are semantic and also connect related content.

I recently had the opportunity to lead the implementation of CMS for Fortune 500. The customer was thrilled with the benefits of a multi-channel content strategy, including re-use of multi-channel content Marketing, And supply of robots – content design that will be understandable to bots, Google knowledge boards, code snippets and voice user interfaces.

A content model is a critical basis for a multi-channel content strategy, and in order for our content to be understood by multiple systems, the model needed semantic Types – Types called by their meaning instead of presented. Our goal was to allow writers to create content and reuse it wherever relevant. But as the project progressed, I realized that supporting reuse content on a scale my client needed required the entire team to identify a new pattern.

Despite our best intentions, we continued to draw from what we knew better: design systems. Unlike web-focused content strategies, a multi-channel content strategy cannot rely on WYSIWYG design and deployment tools. Our tendency to approach the content model with our familiar design-system thinking has constantly led us to deviate from one of the main goals of a content model: delivering content to audiences across multiple marketing channels.

Two principles are essential for an effective content model#Section 2

We had to help our designers, developers and stakeholders understand that we were doing something very different from their previous web projects, where it was natural for everyone to think of content as visual building blocks that fit into layouts. The previous approach was not only more familiar but also more intuitive – at least at first – because it made the designs feel more tangible. We discovered two principles that helped the team understand how a content model differs from the design systems we are used to:

  1. Content models must define semantics instead of layout.
  2. And content models need to put together content that belongs together.

Semantic content models#Section 3

A Semantic content model Uses names of types and characteristics that reflect the meaning of the content, not the way it will be presented. For example, in a non-semantic model, teams may create types like Teasers, Media blockages, And Cards. While these types may make it easier to deploy the content, they do not help the delivery channels understand the meaning of the content, which in turn would open the door to the content displayed on each marketing channel. In contrast, a semantic content model uses type names like product, service, And Certificate of Appreciation So that every delivery channel can understand the content and use it as it sees fit.

When creating a semantic content model, a great place to start is to look at the types and characteristics defined by, A community-driven resource for types of definitions built into platforms like Google search.

A semantic content model has several advantages:

  • Even if your team does not care about multi-channel content, a semantic content model Disconnects content from its presentation So that teams can develop the design of the site without having to change its content. This way, content can withstand the disruptive designs of websites.
  • A semantic content model also provides a competitive advantage. By adding Structured data Based on the types and characteristics of, a website can provide clues that will help Google understand the content, display it in search sections or knowledge panels, and use it to answer voice interface user questions. Potential visitors can discover your content without even stepping on your site.
  • Beyond these practical benefits, you will also need a semantic content model if you want to provide multi-channel content. To use the same content across multiple marketing channels, Supply channels need to be able to understand this. For example, if your content model provides a list of questions and answers, it can be easily displayed on the FAQ page, but can also be used in a voice interface or by a bot that answers frequently asked questions.

For example, using a semantic content model for articles, events, people, and placements allows List separately Provide search engine structured data cleanly so that users can read the content on the site, in Google’s knowledge boards, and even with hypothetical voice interfaces in the future.

Content models that connect#Section 4

After struggling to describe what creates a good content model, I realized that the best models are the ones that are semantic and also connect related content components (such as a pair of frequently asked question items), rather than cutting the content topic across different content components. A good content model connects content that should stay together so that multiple delivery channels can use it without having to first assemble these parts.

Think about writing an article or an essay. The meaning and usefulness of an article depend on keeping its parts together. Would one of the headings or paragraphs be meaningful in itself without the context of the full article? In our project, our familiar design-system thinking has often led us to want to create content models that will divide content into different sections to fit a web-focused layout. This had a similar effect to an article that was supposed to be separated from its title. Because we divided content into independent pieces based on layout, content that belonged together became difficult to manage and almost impossible for multiple delivery channels to understand.

To illustrate, let’s look at how a related content connection applies in a real world scenario. Our client’s design team presented a complex layout to a software product page that included a number of tabs and sections. Our instincts were to follow the content model. Shouldn’t it be made as easy and flexible as possible to add any number of tabs in the future?

Because the instincts of our design system were so familiar, it felt like we needed a type of content called a “tab section” so that multiple tab sections could be added to the page. Each tab section will display different types of content. One tab may provide an overview of the software or its specifications. Another tab may provide a list of resources.

Our tendency to break down the content model into “tab section” pieces would lead to an unnecessarily complex model and a cumbersome editing experience, and it would also create content that could not be understood in additional delivery channels. For example, how would another system have been able to know which “tab section” refers to a product’s specification or list of resources – would that other system have had to resort to counting tab sections and content blocks? This would have ever prevented the reordering of the tabs, and it would have required adding logic to each other delivery channel to interpret the layout of the design system. Furthermore, if the customer no longer wanted to display this content in a tab layout, it would be tedious to switch to a new content model that would reflect the design of the new page.

An illustration showing a data tree flowing into a list of cards (data), flowing into a website navigation menu
A content model based on design elements is unnecessarily complex, and is not understood by systems.

We had a breakthrough when we discovered that our customer has a specific goal in mind for each tab: it will reveal specific information such as an overview of the software product, specifications, related resources and pricing. Once the application started, our tendency to focus on what was visual and familiar hid the intent of the designs. With a little digging, it did not take long to realize that the concept of tabs was irrelevant to the content model. The meaning of the content they planned to display in the tabs was what mattered.

In fact, the customer could have decided to present this content differently – without tabs – elsewhere. This understanding led us to define content types for the software product based on the significant features that the customer wanted to present on the web. Had clear semantic features like Name and Description As well as rich features like Screenshots, Software requirements, And Feature lists. The product details of the software remained together because it was not deployed across separate components like “tab sections” derived from the content presentation. Any delivery channel – including Future – will be able to understand and display this content.

An illustration showing a data tree flowing into a formatted list, flowing into a website navigation menu
A good content model connects content that belongs together so that it can be easily managed and reused.

In this multi-channel marketing project, we discovered that the best way to keep our content model on track is to ensure that it is semantic (With type and attribute names that reflected the meaning of the content) and that is Preserve content that belongs together (Instead of splitting it). Both of these concepts have reduced our temptation to design the content model based on design. So if you’re working on a content model to support a multi-channel content strategy – or even if you just want to make sure Google and other interfaces understand your content – keep in mind:

  • A design system is not a content model. Team members may be tempted to combine them and make your content model reflect your design system, so you need to protect the semantic value and contextual structure of the content strategy throughout the application process. This will allow any delivery channel to consume the content without the need for a magical decoder ring.
  • If your team is having a hard time making this transition, you can still reap some of the benefits by using built-in data on your website. Even if additional supply channels are not on the immediate horizon, the benefit of search engine optimization is a compelling reason in itself.
  • In addition, remind the staff that detaching the content model from the design will allow them to update the designs more easily as they will not be delayed by the cost of content transfer. They will be able to create new designs without the hurdle of compatibility between design and content, and they will be ready for the next big thing.

By strictly supporting these principles, you will help your team treat content as it deserves – as the most critical asset in your user experience and the best way to connect with your audience.



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