When your company chose its Enterprise Content Management system (ECM), no doubt, people sat through polished presentations and were promised substantial flexibility and ease of maintenance. Maybe you were one of those people. Well, now that you have the ECM, a solid understanding of your content is the first and most critical step to making those promises of flexibility and ease a reality. Whether you’re moving your site to the new ECM or creating a brand new site on the system, understanding your content needs is the key to developing templates, data structures, and a content strategy to make your content management job as efficient as possible.
In our article, Know the Content Gaps, we discussed some common pitfalls related to content and web development. One of the core issues is that modern users are accessing your site from desktop computers, smartphones, physical kiosks, wearables, and connected-home devices. Making content consumable from such a wide variety of devices and screen sizes requires a comprehensive understanding of the types of content you’ll be delivering to those users.
Examples of content types include:
- a product listing
- a blog post
- a video
- modeling tools (like mortgage or retirement calculators)
- user profiles
Identifying and inventorying your content types is the first step, but then you need to break it down further. You’ll want to document the elements within each content type.
The elements of a product listing may include things like:
- product name/title
- available sizes
- available colors
Ask questions like:
- Are all of these elements always part of the content type, like the title and description?
- Are they variable, like displaying a color selection only when the product is available in more than one color?
- Do all product listings include an image?
- Do they all have a size and color choice?
A detailed understanding of the content at this level allows the design and development teams to find the most efficient way for these content elements to be structured in the ECM. Additionally, chunking out content this way allows content to be used and combined as needed in other sites and contexts. You may not yet know how and where your content may need to display in the future. Structuring your content gives you the best chance of preparing for that quickly changing landscape.
As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, trying to shoehorn content into a template that was developed for another content type is ill advised. As a stopgap, many design and development teams will provide an unrestricted single column content template that allows the admin to use HTML to create pages that don’t fit in an established template. Unfortunately, this can lead to what many content strategists call ‘content blobs’. Content blobs are just that, blobs of content with unstructured or incorrectly structured elements. If the various content elements aren’t ‘chunked’ or structured appropriately as headers, images, descriptions, etc., they can’t be easily pulled out by the system and reused elsewhere.
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Start as soon as possible. It’s never too early to start pulling examples of types of content and making sure you know who manages and updates what. It can also be helpful to start understanding, if you don’t already, what content may be pulled in from external sources. Make sure you document your requirements and understand the limitations of the technology. It is unlikely that content from an external source is going to display seamlessly on your site without a little cajoling. Give yourself enough time to review, test, and refine any integrations with external databases or APIs.
If possible, you’ll want to complete a comprehensive content evaluation before you begin your UX and Design work.
If this work can’t be done in advance, it should happen in lock step with the UX and Design effort. In order to provide the right templates, the UX team needs to understand all the content types and elements.
This is not a solitary exercise! You will have to collaborate with other members of your team in marketing, customer service, product development, IT, etc. to get a full understanding of the types of content you have and how and where they’re used. Make sure the team understands the content types and elements and the content strategy so good decisions can be made as you work through design and development.
Starting with a deep understanding of the range and structure of your content is the critical first step to help your team to develop a content strategy, site structure, and suite of templates that meet both your business goals and content management needs.
We’d love to talk about your next interactive project, our process for developing a comprehensive content strategy, or the overall importance of user-centered design. If these topics are of interest to you, please contact us.
By Rebecca Grazzini
Senior User Experience Specialist
Rebecca has worked on user experiences in a variety of industries including online education, health care, financial services, tourism, energy, and agriculture. She has spent much of her career developing complex transactional experiences under strict regulatory constraints.View Rebecca's Bio