Content Modeling- From Audit To Strategy

Sharon Smith, Director of Product Management

So you’ve done your audit of the content currently on your site, you’ve determined what new content you’re going to produce, and you’ve put it all into a well-thought-out design. Now the trick is to get that content into a CMS.

That’s where content modeling comes in.

Content modeling is really just:

  • Identifying the types of content you have
  • Breaking your content down into its smallest pieces
  • Drawing relationships between types of content

 Identifying Your Content Types

Since you’ve already done your content audit (right?), you should have a good idea of what types of content you have (articles, photo galleries, videos, etc.). These are your buckets of content, which we’ll call content types (sorry to use a Drupal-centric term but, hey, it fits). Sometimes you can combine slightly different content into one bucket – blog posts and articles, for instance, may have all the same information assigned to them (title, author, summary, body, etc.) but are just grouped differently – but don’t force it.

“A lot of bad content management implementations homogenize vastly different content types into the same bland template.

The problem in those situations, paradoxically, isn’t too much structure. It’s not enough structure. By defining more content types and modeling them more fully, we can strike the right balance between flexibility and uniformity.”

~Karen McGrane, Bond Art + Science

Figuring Out Your Fields

Whether you’re just into the wireframes stage or if you’ve already completed the visual design, it’s time to take a look at your content and break it down into its attributes. These are what will become fields in your CMS that will hold all the pieces needed to put together a visual representation of your content on the front-end.

A simple example of this would be a news article. There would be a set of fields like:

  • Headline
  • Sub-head
  • Publication Date
  • Author
  • Body

Well, it’s not really that simple. One thing you have to consider is all the different ways your content will be used on your site (e.g., in a list, as a full-page, with an image or without) and through how many channels your site will be delivered (e.g., desktop, tablet, phone). Start to think of your content as packages of information, from which any points of data can be grabbed and used in a multitude of visual displays. So your list of fields for your news article might expand to include things like:

  • Alternate/short title
  • Main Image
  • Thumbnail image
  • Summary

You’ll also need to figure out what types of information are going to go in each field. For example, will the author field just be a text field into which a random name can be filled in – or will you want to allow the person creating the article to select from a set of established authors?

Drawing Relationships

Connecting content in meaningful ways is a pretty critical concept when talking about websites. Now that you can see your content in all its finest detail, you can start seeing where it might fit together. A good example is that same author field we were just talking about. Authors generally write more than one article on a site, and readers might like to read more articles by the same author. So by allowing (or forcing) the person creating the article to select from a set of established authors, you have now started to create a relationship between that author and all of his content, giving you the ability to create things like a page listing all the articles written by that author.

These may sound obvious, but when these simple pieces are overlooked, the overall user experience is sure to suffer.  Check out Josh Cooper's blog post on the recent content strategy Penn state implemented for their redesigned responsive website.

Sharon Smith

Sharon Smith

Director of Product Management