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A content model isn’t a design system (2021)

Can you remember when having an excellent website was enough? Now, folks are getting answers from Siri, Google search snippets, and mobile apps, not only our websites. Forward-thinking organizations have adopted an omnichannel content strategy, whose mission would be to reach audiences across multiple digital channels and platforms.

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But how can you create a content management system (CMS) to attain your audience now and in the foreseeable future? I learned the hard way that developing a content modela definition of content types, attributes, and relationships that let people and systems understand contentwith my more familiar design-system thinking would capsize my customers omnichannel content strategy. It is possible to avoid that outcome by creating content models which are semantic and that also connect related content.

Not long ago i had the chance to lead the CMS implementation for a lot of money 500 company. Your client was excited by the advantages of an omnichannel content strategy, including content reuse, multichannel marketing, and robot deliverydesigning content to be intelligible to bots, Google knowledge panels, snippets, and voice user interfaces.

A content model is really a critical foundation for an omnichannel content strategy, and for the content to be understood by multiple systems, the model needed semantic typestypes named in accordance with their meaning rather than their presentation. Our goal was to let authors create content and reuse it wherever it had been relevant. But because the project proceeded, I realized that supporting content reuse at the scale that my customer needed required the complete team to identify a fresh pattern.

Despite our best intentions, we kept drawing from what we were more acquainted with: design systems. Unlike web-focused content strategies, an omnichannel content strategy cant depend on WYSIWYG tools for design and layout. Our tendency to approach this content model with this familiar design-system thinking constantly led us to veer from among the primary purposes of a content model: delivering content to audiences on multiple marketing channels.

Two essential principles for a highly effective content model#section2

We had a need to help our designers, developers, and stakeholders recognize that we were doing something completely different from their prior web projects, where it had been natural for everybody to take into account content as visual blocks fitting into layouts. The prior approach had not been only more familiar but additionally more intuitiveat least at firstbecause it made the designs feel more tangible. We discovered two principles that helped the team know how a content model differs from the look systems that people were used to:

  1. Content models must define semantics rather than layout.
  2. And content models should connect content that belongs together.

Semantic content models#section3

A semantic content model uses type and attribute names that reflect this is of this content, not how it’ll be displayed. For instance, in a nonsemantic model, teams might create types like teasers, media blocks, and cards. Although these kinds will make it an easy task to construct content, they dont help delivery channels understand the contents meaning, which could have opened the entranceway to this content being presented in each marketing channel. On the other hand, a semantic content model uses type names like product, service, and testimonial in order that each delivery channel can understand this content and utilize it since it sees fit.

When youre developing a semantic content model, an excellent place to begin is to go over the types and properties defined by, a community-driven resource for type definitions which are intelligible to platforms like Google search.

A semantic content model has many perks:

  • Even though your team doesnt value omnichannel content, a semantic content model decouples content from its presentation in order that teams can evolve web sites design without having to refactor its content. In this manner, content can withstand disruptive website redesigns.
  • A semantic content model also offers a competitive edge. With the addition of structured data predicated on Schema.orgs types and properties, an internet site can offer hints to greatly help Google understand this content, display it browsing snippets or knowledge panels, and utilize it to answer voice-interface user questions. Potential visitors could discover your articles without ever setting foot in your site.
  • Beyond those practical benefits, youll also require a semantic content model in order to deliver omnichannel content. To utilize exactly the same content in multiple marketing channels, delivery channels have to be in a position to understand it. For instance, if your articles model were to supply a summary of questions and answers, it might easily be rendered on a faqs (FAQ) page, nonetheless it may be found in a voice interface or by way of a bot that answers common questions.

For instance, utilizing a semantic content model for articles, events, people, and locations lets AN INVENTORY Apart provide cleanly structured data for se’s in order that users can browse the content on the site, in Google knowledge panels, and also with hypothetical voice interfaces later on.

Image showing an event in a CMS passing data to a Google knowledge panel, a website, and a voice interface

Content models that connect#section4

After struggling to spell it out what makes an excellent content model, Ive arrived at realize that the very best models are the ones that are semantic and that also connect related content components (like a FAQ items question and answer pair), rather than slicing up related content across disparate content components. An excellent content model connects content which should remain together in order that multiple delivery channels may use it without having to first put those pieces back together.

Consider writing articles or essay. An articles meaning and usefulness is dependent upon its parts being kept together. Would among the headings or paragraphs be meaningful by themselves minus the context of the entire article? On our project, our familiar design-system thinking often led us to desire to create content models that could slice content into disparate chunks to match the web-centric layout. This had an identical impact to articles that were to possess been separated from its headline. Because we were slicing content into standalone pieces predicated on layout, content that belonged together became difficult to control and extremely difficult for multiple delivery channels to comprehend.

To illustrate, lets look at how connecting related content applies in a real-world scenario. The look team for the customer presented a complex layout for a software product page that included multiple tabs and sections. Our instincts were to check out suit with this content model. Shouldnt we ensure it is as easy so when flexible as you possibly can to add a variety of tabs later on?

Because our design-system instincts were so familiar, it felt like we’d needed a content type called tab section in order that multiple tab sections could possibly be added to a full page. Each tab section would display numerous kinds of content. One tab may provide the softwares overview or its specifications. Another tab may provide a summary of resources.

Our inclination to breakdown this content model into tab section pieces could have resulted in an unnecessarily complex model and a cumbersome editing experience, also it could have also created content that couldnt have already been understood by additional delivery channels. For instance, how would another system have already been in a position to tell which tab section described a products specifications or its resource listwould that other system need to have resorted to counting tab sections and content blocks? This might have prevented the tabs from ever being reordered, also it could have required adding logic atlanta divorce attorneys other delivery channel to interpret the look systems layout. Furthermore, if the client were to possess no longer wished to display this article in a tab layout, it could have already been tedious to migrate to a fresh content model to reflect the brand new page redesign.

Illustration showing a data tree flowing into a list of cards (data), flowing into a navigation menu on a website
A content model predicated on design components is unnecessarily complex, and its own unintelligible to systems.

We’d a breakthrough whenever we found that our customer had a particular purpose at heart for every tab: it could reveal specific information like the software products overview, specifications, related resources, and pricing. Once implementation began, our inclination to spotlight whats visual and familiar had obscured the intent of the designs. With just a little digging, it didnt take long to understand that the idea of tabs wasnt highly relevant to this content model. This is of this content they were likely to display in the tabs was what mattered.

Actually, the client could have made a decision to display this article in another waywithout tabssomewhere else. This realization prompted us to define content types for the program product in line with the meaningful attributes that the client had wished to render on the internet. There have been obvious semantic attributes like name and description along with rich attributes like screenshots, software requirements, and feature lists. The softwares product information stayed together since it wasnt sliced across separate components like tab sections which were produced from the contents presentation. Any delivery channelincluding future onescould understand and present this article.

Illustration showing a data tree flowing into a formatted list, flowing into a navigation menu on a website
An excellent content model connects content that belongs together so that it could be easily managed and reused.


In this omnichannel marketing project, we found that the simplest way to keep our content model on the right track was to make sure that it had been semantic (with type and attribute names that reflected this is of this content) and that it kept content together that belonged together (rather than fragmenting it). Both of these concepts curtailed our temptation to shape this content model in line with the design. So if youre focusing on a content model to aid an omnichannel content strategyor even though you would like to ensure that Google along with other interfaces understand your contentremember:

  • A design system isnt a content model. Associates could be tempted to conflate them also to make your articles model mirror your design system, and that means you should protect the semantic value and contextual structure of this content strategy through the entire implementation process. This can let every delivery channel consume this content without needing a magic decoder ring.
  • If your team is struggling to create this transition, it is possible to still reap a few of the benefits through the use of Schema.orgbased structured data in your site. Even though additional delivery channels arent on the immediate horizon, the power to find engine optimization is really a compelling reason alone.
  • Additionally, remind the team that decoupling this content model from the look will let them update the designs easier since they wont be held back by the expense of content migrations. Theyll have the ability to create new designs minus the obstacle of compatibility between your design and this content, and theyll be equipped for another big thing.

By rigorously advocating for these principles, youll help your team treat content just how that it deservesas probably the most critical asset in your user experience and the ultimate way to connect to your audience.

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