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Structured content is one way businesses are handling the demands of frequent channel updates PHOTO: Levi Saunders

In a multi-channel world with dynamic content, how do you keep up with the need for regular edits without pulling all-nighters? 

One answer is structured content.

The Downside of Co-Mingling Content with Layout

Picture this scenario: you manage product feature descriptions for your B2B company’s website.

A product update requires a new feature description on fourteen pages of your CMS, found in four different sections.

The process is time-consuming: open a page, update it, publish the page, then repeat thirteen more times. 

Now imagine you have not one feature description to update, but 10 — that brings you up to 140 page edits. 

Not only is this extremely time-consuming, it’s prone to error. And when you provide inconsistent product information, it can lead to confusion at best, and lost sales at worst.

Don't forget, you also need to address the other channels in which your product information appears: mobile apps, microsites, landing pages and more. 

You thought updating 140 pages was a chore? At least that scope was confined to your CMS. Now you need access to numerous systems outside your CMS to make the same updates.

Defining Structured Content

Businesses face scenarios like the one I described above on a regular basis. And many are turning to structured content to help them solve these issues.

I asked two experts how they defined structured content. 

Carrie Hane
Carrie Hane
Carrie Hane (@carriehd), principal strategist at Tanzen​, described structured content as, “Content that is​ planned, developed and connected outside of an interface so it’s ready for any interface. It treats content as data, so it makes sense to people and computers.”

In our scenario above, if your website used a CMS that supports structured content, the product feature descriptions would be created, managed and organized separate from each page and include meaningful metadata to help systems understand how the feature descriptions should be used. 

In this case, updating the feature description in one place would immediately update the 14 pages in which it appears. You've gone from 14 content updates down to one, and ensured that your content is consistent throughout the site. 

Colleen Jones
Colleen Jones
Colleen Jones (@leenjones), CEO of Content Science, defined structured content as, “Content that is engineered for technology, such as content management and marketing automation, to enable dynamic delivery of powerful customer experiences.”

While we all expect web and mobile experiences to be personalized to our interests, few brands do this really well. Jones suggests that brands using structured content have the potential to present compelling, dynamic and meaningful offers to customers. In other words: personalization done really well.

According to Jones, “Personalization, search engine optimization, merchandising, oh my! Structured content will help you reach more of the right people at opportune moments, with less effort.”

Explaining Structured Content Benefits to the C-Suite

When content strategists talk to their marketing peers about structured content, most marketers will understand the benefits. But the C-Suite may not understand the value structured content provides, particularly if additional technology costs are involved.

I asked Jones and Hane how they’d communicate this value.

Jones pointed out that structured content helps marketers do, “Much, much, more with less time, money, and hassle to maximize your investment in content technology.” Time savings, higher productivity, cost savings and a higher return on existing technology investment are benefits the entire C-Suite will sign up for.

Hane explained structured content to the C-Suite as such: “Structured content gets content out of silos and reduces duplication of the effort and cost to create and publish content.​” 

Like Jones, Hane’s explanation touched on productivity and cost savings, but also focused on organizational efficiency. Siloed content can stem from siloed groups. By breaking content out of silos, organizations gain a higher return on their investments in content technology and in content itself.

How to Get Started with Structured Content

Your team is on board and you’ve successfully convinced the C-Suite to buy in — where do you start? 

Rather than going “all in” and expecting to migrate your entire site to structured content, take a phased approach.

Start with a small project that includes measurable goals. Map out the scope of later phases, but adjust along the way, based on results from each earlier phase.

Jones advised, “One important early step is to audit the content you already have to identify what content assets (or chunks of content assets) have strong potential for reuse.”

Hane recommended a three-step process to get started:

  1. Model your content, without any implementation in the back-end. 
  2. Work on one content type at a time. Model the content and its relationships and modify your CMS and design to work with the new structure.
  3. Make new content types structured. It takes longer and is more expensive to retrofit something than to create it with the proper structure in the first place.

My colleague Will Morgenweck works with customers to migrate their sites to structured content. In customer implementations, he sees many parallels to Hane’s process. 

According to Morgenweck, “Selecting one content type at a time is smart. I have customers pick a section first (e.g. webinars, press releases, etc.), and that guides the selection of content type. Also, we’re intentional about content re-use as part of the migration. Before we migrate, we identify additional areas of the site where that content can be re-used.” 

As a marketer who manages content on my company’s website, I’m excited about the potential of structured content for re-use of my content across my site, and on all the other channels where it will land.