Intelligent, or structured, content is nothing new. We’ve been talking about it for years, particularly in relation to creating and storing technical documentation. But intelligent content’s importance has grown well past the management of technical documents. Intelligent content is stepping up as a main component of creating and managing great customer experiences and delivering a more agile approach to web experience management.

What do we mean by intelligent content? And how can businesses use intelligent content to deliver the experiences that customers expect today?

Understanding Intelligent Content

Ann Rockley, author of "Managing Enterprise Content" and founder of the Intelligent Content Conference defines intelligent content as:

“… structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.”

Intelligent content has nothing to do with where content is displayed or how it looks, rather it’s about the type of content it is. Content can be defined using tactics such as metadata tags or DITA (for more complex structures). This is also known as structured content.

Traditional web content is HTML-based, but HTML only describes what the content looks like. New approaches to managing web content provide the structure of the content, be it XML, JSON (Java Script Object Notation) or XHTML with additional tag sets and describes what the content means.

Most organizations fall in the middle of where they use structured content in web content management, not going the full XML object model, but also not relying on a pure HTML Page-based model. A middle path to structured content can look as simple as page-based content management where you structure the content within the page for multi-channel reuse.

Intelligent content has applications in content marketing, but wider applications exist across the organization for all types of content.

Why Intelligent Content is Important to Web Experience

According to Scott Abel, the Content Wrangler, there are seven rights to delivering exceptional customer experiences:

  1. Content
  2. Person
  3. Place
  4. Time
  5. Format
  6. Language
  7. Device — actually, device, device, device, device ...

With so many channels and devices to provide content to your customers, it’s impractical, if not impossible, to manage different versions of your content for every one of them. And if that’s impractical, consider how impossible it would be to create content for every permutation of the seven rights listed above.

You need to create your content in such a way that it can be created once and used anywhere — your website, your customer-facing business application, your social networks, mobile device, etc.

And each channel/device requires content to be displayed differently, whether it’s how the content is formatted or how much of the content is shown.

Intelligent content is adaptable. You can adapt it based on its surroundings (where and how it’s displayed) and who is looking at it. This ideal — “content in context” — supports the personalization requirements of digital experiences today.

Intelligent Content and Web Content Management

Look at each element of Ann Rockley’s definition of intelligent content, and then think about how this would play out in a content management system.

Structurally rich

You know exactly how your content is structured, what each piece means in the broader context of the full piece of content. There is no definition of how the content looks, but by structuring the content, you can easily apply different styles to display the content in each channel or device. In a web CMS you create a content model and content types to define the structure of your content.

Learning Opportunities

Semantically categorized

When taxonomy and metadata is applied to content, the content gets more meaningful. You can add additional information to describe the content not included in the content item, such as behaviors, processes, rules, structure and descriptive information. In a web CMS, metadata is applied as content elements (e.g. a title is one element of a content type, a name is another) and tags. Other metadata can be workflow or publishing status, language or locale, segment or audience, content lifecycle information, such as author, date published, expiration date, etc.

Structure and metadata models must be consistently applied or machines (like search) will not be able to understand and use them properly.

Automatically discoverable

Findability is critical for great experiences and is tied tightly to search in web experience. A search that is based on structured content, a strong taxonomy and metadata supports discoverability of the best content through faceting by category, content type or other facets. In addition, a search based on structured content can easily pull in different content repositories across the organization to deliver even greater search results.


When a web experience platform offers the content it manages as a service, integration is greatly simplified. You can manage any and all content for your website and business systems in your CMS, and deliver it on demand to whatever front-end interface requests it, whether it’s directly to a website built on top of the web experience platform or to a completely separate web application.


You don’t always want to see a content item the same way every time, so it needs to be created in a way that enables people and machines to configure it — how much of the content is displayed (e.g. the entire product listing or just the product name and price), if all the same content is displayed (only specific product types or all products sold), the order in which it’s shown (alphabetically, by date, by author), etc. In a web CMS, faceted search is a great example of configuring content, navigation is another.


We live in a more contextual web environment. Logic may be applied to structured content at the application layer. Contextual content can be rendered dynamically based audience segments, visitor behavior, devices, business rules and other factors. In this case structured content supports personalization across multiple channels.

Preparing Your Intelligent Content Model

Designing a structured intelligent content model is no small undertaking, but the benefits far outweigh the time and effort.

Take the time to understand all the content your organization creates and manages. Define detailed content types, including their metadata elements and how they are related to each other. Your content model should be able to describe how your content is created and can be reconfigured and reused.

If you are starting from scratch, consider working on parts of your content model first. If you have content that you know you need to reuse in multiple locations, start defining the structured content model for those first, and then slowly incorporate additional content.

Once you’ve made the decision to adopt an intelligent content strategy the business benefits become clear: efficient content creation and delivery, consistent content experiences across channels, and improved findability within your own web properties and across search engines. Isn’t it time to start looking at your content strategy more intelligently?

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