Why editors should use structured content
Stop building pages, start building reusable, consistent, and flexible content instead!
Written by Vegard Ottervig on
Many content editors and marketers are exultant about the notion of building pages. This makes sense on one level: It is fun to build web pages, as it (usually) is a visual and intuitive experience where you are in control—you decide how things look, feel, and function!
While creation certainly is fun once in a while, continuous long term maintenance does not sound so appealing. Why is that?
Returning to the same old page to tune and adjust minor details multiple times over the course of months and years can of course be a tedious and monotonous chore. Gone are the grandeur of building something fresh, new, and exciting! Instead you are left with an almost janitorial task (no offense to janitors!), which may not be what you originally had in mind.
Also, you may have found that managing complex pages with a variety of layouts and several special elements can prove a difficult task for both yourself and especially for other editors coming in later. Brand and content strategies may even have changed since the inception of the page, and rearranging multitudes of items within just one page, not to mention if there are additionally dozens or hundreds of pages, is a nightmarish scenario.
Is there a solution to this? Yes, and it’s called structured content.
It might be a poorly understood term, but structured content is like a well-organized pantry! Just like how you keep your groceries neatly arranged on different shelves or in labeled containers, structured content keeps all the information on a website or app organized and easily accessible.
This makes it easier for both humans and machines to find and use the information they need. Think of it like finding the perfect spice in a well-organized spice rack, except it's all the information you need in a digital experience.
So, “structured content” refers to information that has been organized and labeled in a consistent way, making it easier to find, use, and manage. It involves breaking down content into smaller, reusable pieces and applying a consistent structure and hierarchy to those pieces.
This allows for more efficient content creation, management and delivery, as well as enabling easier integration with other systems and platforms. It's like organizing a bookshelf with labeled sections for fiction, non-fiction, and reference books, making it easier to find and use the books you need.
In a content management system (CMS), a practical use case of structured content could manifest as e.g. a service for finding relevant books. Such a digital experience would include content items of the content type “book,” whose form, or schema, could include the following fields:
Now, all content items of the type “book” will include these fields, and all of them can be treated in a predictable fashion. If you have a website, you could for example offer a list view showcasing the title, cover, intro text, and tags of the different books, and the search could be granularized even further with categories, authors, and the rich-text description.
If you have a commercial app in addition, this could for instance show the book list in a grid view, with just the title, cover, and a “buy” button leading to the vendor link in the field “vendor.”
Thus, structured content doesn’t need to be difficult or boring. But exactly how can it—with its forms and fields—help you manage that ever-growing depository of content and digital assets?
We have hinted at several benefits already, but now we will dig deeper:
Firstly, structured content allows for reusability, which can save considerable time and effort for content editors. With structured content, contents previously blended together on e.g. a landing page are broken down into smaller, reusable content items and are labeled with fields in a consistent way.
This means that content editors can create a content item once and reuse it in different places on a website or an app, rather than recreating the same content multiple times for different pages and channels.
Every new change to that one content item from the “one source of truth” in the (preferably) headless CMS will consequently “trickle down” onto every place it is being shown, whether it’s on different pages on your website, on your app, and even in third-party services.
For example, a description of a pathology like “chickenpox” can be created once and reused on multiple pages where the disease is featured—like infections, viruses, blisters, and airborne diseases.
Secondly, structured content ensures consistency in content items across different pages and channels. With a consistent structure and format, content items can be easily sorted and filtered, making it easier for content editors to maintain information integrity, as well as a consistent voice and tone throughout the digital experiences.
For instance, an important update to the prognosis of chickenpox can be instantly reflected across multiple channels, instead of editors having to painstakingly go through each page and app the information appears on, as well as notify external providers showing the same data.
Also, if all medical descriptions follow the same format, like with the internationally standardized SNOMED CT taxonomy, content editors can structure the data more efficiently. This again makes it easier for healthcare professionals to retrieve relevant information and make informed decisions.
Content consistency can also help to build trust with users, both professional and private alike, as they can rely on the website or app to provide accurate and reliable information.
Thirdly, structured content allows for scalability. As the number of content items and digital assets steadily and inevitably grows, structured content allows content editors to easily manage and organize them.
With a consistent structure and labeling, content items can be sorted and filtered, making it much easier to find and update them.
For example, if a website has thousands of medical descriptions, structured content allows content editors to find and update specific descriptions without having to sift through all of them.
Fourthly, structured content provides flexibility for content editors. With structured content, content editors have the flexibility to create different combinations of content items and digital assets to meet the needs of different users and use cases. This allows for more personalized and relevant content experiences.
A healthcare organization can e.g. construct a dynamic system for different combinations of symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, prognosis, pathophysiology, and epidemiology of chickenpox, in order to create different pages meant for different types of users.
For instance, surgeons and nurses might need a more actionable set of content collections—focusing on e.g. treatment—compared to researchers—who might be looking primarily for pathophysiology and epidemiology.
This flexibility can help to improve the user experience and drive engagement with the digital experience.
Finally, structured content enables easy integration with other systems and platforms. Structured content is available through an API using standard formats such as XML or JSON, which allows for integration with other systems and platforms, such as external websites, content platforms, and automation tools.
This enables content editors to streamline their workflow and manage all aspects of their own and third-party digital experiences from a single interface.
For example, content editors can use structured content to create and manage correct and reviewed medical content indirectly at an end user patient or pharmaceutical website, while still maintaining consistency with the same content on their own website.
Structured content provides content editors with several benefits that can greatly aid them in managing a growing number of content items and digital assets in their digital experiences.
Structured content enables reusability, consistency, scalability, flexibility, and integration, ultimately leading to a more efficient and effective content management process for everyone involved.
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