Often, the concept of “content types” is one of the hardest things for clients to wrap their minds around. They begin talking about content types and instead begin talking about their different products, their target audiences, or their CMS fields. Of course, all of these are related, which makes the whole mess even more difficult to untangle.
What is a Content Type?
A content type is a thing or entity that is represented in some way on your web presence. They are things, or entities, that are made up of various content attributes. If you run a hardware store, you might have a Screw Driver as a content type. If all of the tools you sell have the same attributes (Color, Size, Weight, Price) then they might fall under a broader content type, Tools.
Edit as of May, 2018: Carrie Hane has since published an extensive article explaining content types in far more detail, with additional examples.
What Isn’t a Content Type?
I often here clients refer to things as content types when what they mean is a channel, or a content format. For example, an Event, a Book, a Video, a Tweet, or a Product.
Some of these could be content types, (likely Event, or Book) but some are not (such as Tweet). It will depend on the client. For example, if I run a hardware store and I’m thinking about running an event to sell more hammers, that doesn’t make the event a content type. It makes it a marketing channel.
I tend to hear clients refer to Twitter as one content type and Facebook as a different one. Again, they’re referencing channels that require different types of content. Yes, I can see where the confusing comes from.
Who Cares What Content Types Are?
Clients don’t need to understand what content types are, but content strategists need to set up their CMSs to accurately serve up the right content to the right people.
Since content strategists and clients need to be able to communicate, we need to reach agreement on what terminology to use. That means ensuring that “content types” mean the same thing to everyone.
For more information on finding the right content types for your project, read about Domain Mapping, published in September 2017.