The Difference Between Structured and Unstructured Content

Why Leverage Structured Content in your CMS?

John Doyle
John Doyle
CEO, Technical Architect, Drupal SME, Open Source Champion
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Content is the core of most functions of sales and marketing that helps companies get their message or product in front of prospective customers and generate leads.

The problem many businesses face today is that they have to distribute content across more channels than ever before, necessitating an agile approach to structuring content so it reaches its intended audience. Additionally web experiences are continuing to advance at staggering rates, and as a result, businesses either need to adapt their web content to meet the market where it is or risk falling behind their competitors.

Websites are most businesses' primary digital touchpoint, and web and marketing teams know that making these touchpoints adaptable is critical to ensuring that they remain relevant to customers. What many enterprises fail to recognize however, is that the way they architect their web content today will determine how effective they are tomorrow in adapting that content as web experiences change.

In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of designing web content in a structured way, and how that approach can improve the process for iterating and improving web content without the need for massive content migrations and web rebuilds.

The Benefits of Structured Content

Website content can be grouped into two distinct buckets: structured or unstructured.

Unstructured content links the content you post on your website directly to the web display – think WordPress page builders. These platforms combine the front-end presentation layer with the back-end content management system (CMS), meaning that every page is built from scratch and lives on your website as a standalone page. While this approach offers a fast and simple way to get off the ground and begin posting content on your website, it creates significant bottlenecks down the road when it comes to scaling and updating the content. Additionally, your web team is executing one-off page builds on every page which can quickly rack up hours of costly labor.

Structured content on the other hand, takes a bit more time to define the model, but introduces the ability to scale content as needed. Structured content means that instead of every page being a one-off, your website is composed of defined page structures – blog, product detail page, solutions pages, and more, with defined content fields. These content structures can then be used across multiple displays on the website such as through sidebar teasers and search results without manual or duplicative effort.

Unstructured content tied directly to display is inflexible and one of the main reasons website migrations and redesigns are required, whereas structured content allows for continuous improvements to be made on an ongoing basis. Need to add a new disclaimer to your blogs? No problem, add the disclaimer field or build a dynamic disclaimer rule against that page type. Additionally, a structured content model allows for interactive experiences to be built in aside or in addition to the website’s current state. For example, you can build a new front-end for blogs to enhance engagement without rebuilding a new backend or performing a full content migration.

This does not suggest that companies are not structuring their web content – many companies do leverage structured data on their websites. However, one of their biggest challenges is taking the time to better define their content, and collaborate between their various web platforms. Often, there are silos of information that get duplicated, resulting in stale, outdated, and flat-out factually inaccurate content published in different places due to the challenge of modern omnichannel marketing. Content originally published on your website could be ripped and used on an Ecommerce channel, or on a mobile app for which it was not originally intended.

Say for example that I have a product, and I render that product information page on my website. Then, I want to add the product to an Ecommerce platform. This product would need to expand in its content model to include more information like an SKU, shipping info, availability, and more. Because we have structured our content, we don't need to duplicate the product information like its title, description, and features – we can just add new data required for the new publishing platform and use the info we need in each instance.

The take-home point is that structuring your content in a structured way allows it to be reusable and scalable, while unstructured content is limited to the one page it was built for. If you want to make a simple update to your product detail pages, you would have to edit every page of unstructured content (often in the order of dozens or hundreds of pages). But if content is built in a structured way, this simple fix could be made once and applied to every page of its type.

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To learn more about how to structure your web content in your CMS, visit our blog: 

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