Content Modeling

The Key to a Successful Website

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Digital Polygon
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All too often we come across organizations who are struggling to manage their open-source content management systems due to poorly architected websites. Today, I want to take some time and walk through a few things to help end this cycle of despair for both agencies and customers alike.  

After reading this blog you will be prepared to take on your next website build with confidence. You should leave here with an understanding of: 

  1. What is content modeling? 
  2. Why is content modeling important?  
  3. Who is responsible for your content model?

Content Modeling - What is it? 

For the purposes of this blog post: 

Content Modeling is an exercise of mapping out how your pages are going to be built inside of your content management system (CMS). 

Content Modeling is an important (and often overlooked) part to any CMS implementation. Without this, your developers have free reign to design your content authoring experience. Nothing against developers (I am one!) but we all know “it works” != “it's user friendly”. 

Content modeling allows us to:

  1. Define your data model and content reuse requirements.
  2. Outline how your pages are going to be constructed. 
  3. Define how different types of content or data relate to each other. 
  4. Define the reusability, flexibility, and limitations of each data structure/entity. 

That sounds great right? Now that you know what a content model is, let's talk about why it is important. 

Content modeling is important because it is a core connection point between design, information architecture, and CMS development. The content model allows the cross-functional groups working on the build to get on the same page. A successful content model is the result of collaboration between creative, development and content teams. 

Designer/IA Inputs for Content Modeling: A content model provides designers the ability to think through and accommodate the different types of content that will go into their designs. 

Some key inputs that a designer will provide are: 

  1. Content Restrictions: Provide input on important aspects of the content model such as maximum character lengths for fields. If they should be open text or constrained. If there are a maximum of 3 items or 10. 
  2. Content Flow: Provide the team with input on how content is provided to users on the page. Are listings ordered alphabetically or sorted by date? Users can search by X, Y or Z. 

Technical Architect Inputs for Content Modeling: A content model provides developers with the understanding of how the system needs to be used and what interactions the content needs to be able to support. Developers should understand the CMS they are working with and be able to identify problematic areas and flag them for discussion. 

Some key inputs that a developer will provide are: 

  1. Data Structures: Provide input on the type of data structures that should be used for each set of data. For example, if we are talking about Drupal we would identify what is a Node vs. Paragraph vs. Block vs. Taxonomy Term. 
  2. Field Definitions: Field reuse is important for performance and management. Reusing the same fields is also important for aggregated lists of content. For example, if I want to include a listing of Press + Blogs, they need to use the same date field in order for them to be ordered properly. 

Content Manager/Product Owners Inputs for Content Modeling: A content model provides a content manager with the ability to guide the flexibility vs ease of use of the application. Content managers will be the ones using the system the most and they should absolutely be included in the discussions when defining the content model. 

Some key inputs a content manager will provide are: 

  1. Field Labels and Help Text: Content Managers will help define what labels and help text are intuitive to their team. The more intuitive the fields are, the less training/confusion there will be. 
  2. Content Reuse: What types of content should be reused across the website and what is 1-off content. 
  3. Meta Requirements: What additional information is required to be present on pages. This includes things such as tags, metadata for SEO, etc… 

A content model is a powerful tool when used correctly. Avoid the costly mistake of skipping this step and being stuck with a website that is rigid and impossible to manage. Striking the right balance between flexibility and ease of use is key to the successful adoption of the CMS and ultimately the success of the website. A system that doesn’t provide flexibility will leave your team stagnant and frustrated, always behind the curve trying to keep your website running and preventing them from their real goal: growing the business.

Are you looking for help with your website? Contact us today!