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Live from CSForum: Content Modeling

Content Modeling: Make Content Smarter, by Angus Gordon

Take a look at the Facebook fields for creating an account. There are fields, one for each content piece. This is different from if they just provided a giant field for everything. If they did that, they would still collect the information, but it would be far harder for them to then use that information to deliver content related to your users, connect you to other similar users, know when your birthday is, etc.

All those things are structured content.

  • Structured content is chunks -┬ábreaking down content into components
  • Structured content is constrained – formatted, with set allowed values, sizes, character counts, etc

What is content modeling?

Content modeling is the process of turning unstructured content into structured content.

  • Identifying opportunities to “chunk”
  • Documenting those opportunities as content types, fields, and relationships

Although we see information on a page, it can exist in multiple related chunks.

Why is it important?

  • Structured content is more likely to work with mobile/tablet design
  • It helps avoid content silos on a website – pulls together related content in many ways
  • Helps authors keep content consistent
  • You only need to enter information in one place, and it can appear in multiple places

Most clients aren’t looking for future-ready, omnichannel, IoT things. But these reasons are far beyond that one benefit.

Why does a content strategist do this?

A typical workflow is that a developer creates a content model made out of the wireframes and guesswork. They have to reverse engineer and make assumptions about what the business is trying to do. They overcomplicate some things, and they may create ambiguous or unclear labels.

A content model is about communicating intention, and creating a shared language for designers and developers.

What makes someone good at content modeling?

It’s not about knowing how things work on every CMS. It’s about being empathetic to business, content authors, developers, and users.

How do I start?

Three questions:

  • What are my content types?
    • Conduct a high level audit
  • What fields do they need?
    • Do a deep selective audit to understand the content types
  • What are their relationships?
    • Diagram using sticky notes

Then begin refining it.

Remember, a content model should not capture everything. Just identify what we can foresee being useful. Don’t label fields according to a specific form of presentation (i.e. “left column content”). Test everything with real content. No content model survives the first test with real content.

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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