What is Structured Content?
Structured content is content that is organized and designed to be reusable and flexible for a variety of different end projects. This requires content to be modeled in a modular way which allows teams to create a central content repository where content is treated as data and can be called upon in a variety of different circumstances.
The goal of structured content is to create cleaner content, both from an external and internal perspective.
From an internal perspective, workflows will be rid of having to change similar content across platforms and pages while trying to optimize content. Structured content is well organized and bite-sized making it discoverable, searchable, and reusable. This will save both the developers and the content teams time. Developers are able to spend more time at the beginning of the project creating a flexible dataset or set of content models that can be used for a plethora of different projects. Content that has repeatable, reusable elements that can be grouped together will form the content model or the backbone of the structured content.
Structured Content vs. Unstructured Content
While unstructured content is normally intended for single-use, structured content is highly flexible and reusable. Unstructured content comes with a rigid structure that’s difficult to adapt and evolve to new circumstances with the highest priority on the context of how information is consumed. In contrast, structured content is intended to function across different frontends, and the highest priority is on relationships between content pieces, not context.
To build on that further, structured content does not consider the context of how the content is being viewed to be the most important element the way that traditional web CMSs do, instead it considers the content itself and its relationship to other pieces of content to be more important. Unstructured content is when content creators are creating content for a single purpose and to be viewed in a specific context. One example could be teams building a template for a landing post that includes information that is used from other parts of the website, such as a value proposition. A structured content approach would separate the information that is repeatable and create a separate module, such as value propositions. That way, any time value propositions are used on the website it is possible to link the same model rather than creating the same content over and over again.
Externally, users will see better consistency across channels and a higher velocity of content created. It will be easier to begin new projects because of the existing dataset and frontend agnostic content modeling. When optimizing the content, teams are able to change the content in one place and have that change reflected throughout the project. These efficiencies will leave more time to focus on user experience and optimization. While making the shift to a structured approach to content can require an initial time investment and a shift in the mindset of content modeling, the benefits make the initial investment worth it.
Just getting started with content modeling, check out the “What is content modeling?” Academy Piece here.
Why is Structured Content Important?
Structured content is important because it enables teams to work quickly and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for projects. Teams using structured content can begin to create content that is reusable throughout the project using modular content models that house smaller pieces of content that can be put into a variety of contexts. With this approach, teams are able to create content one time and then connect it to a variety of relevant presentation fronts. As this content goes through different iterations, content editors can edit the content once and the changes will be reflected everywhere in the project where the model is used. This expedites content managers' workflows and saves time when correcting or updating content and lets them get back to creating new content.
The iterative approach to content production benefits greatly from structured content because it is much easier to build out new projects, refine existing projects, create new projects while reusing some of the existing content. Instead of needing to start from scratch every time your team wants to tackle a new project or presentation layer, using structured content enables teams to build off of existing content shortening the amount of time an idea takes to come to fruition.
API-driven content management allows teams to create an omnichannel ready, flexible tech stack with a content hub at its core without weighing the system down with unnecessary functionality. One of the best practices when taking the API-driven content management approach is to use structured content for the content models. Working with structured content also enables teams to easily integrate with external APIs to populate content. When teams want to create a new project but want to avoid having to import all of their data into yet another system manually, programmatic content management gives teams greater flexibility to work with the most current tools without needing to migrate fully away from older legacy systems. Connecting with external APIs can not only speed up timelines for projects but also unlocks new possibilities for project types and their scope. Structured content can simplify workflows for both the content team and the development team making it a tempting approach for many teams to experiment with.
Applications of Structured Content
Removing the page-builder mentality
Adapting content to structured content in many cases requires a shift in the mentality from presentation centric structure to a modular approach. When WordPress democratized building websites to the everyman, it instilled within content editors the idea of thinking about content in terms of how it will look when it is presented on a website. In today’s digital age, users expect content to be available across platforms and to have a consistent experience whether they are consuming content on a website, mobile application, or from a voice assistant. Implementing content modeling based on structured content makes this possible without creating repetitive extra work for the project teams. Teams are able to create a modern, omnichannel presence that works for the frontends which are en vogue today but also those which rise to prominence in the future.
Creating an omnichannel-ready tech stack
Even if your team has no immediate plans to build an omnichannel presence, using structured content gives teams the opportunity to leave their options open for future endeavors. Here is how an omnichannel tech stack will look in an ideal setup.
At the core, there will be a content hub, typically powered by an API-first, headless CMS, like GraphCMS, which will treat the content like data. These content models hold the structured content and organize the content into models that contain the most relevant information to that model but do not rely on the context in which this information will be viewed. For example, when building a case study landing page, the models will include a landing page model which will be more contextual and page-based. But, information like the customer name, customer quotes, and specific value propositions will have their own models as well. When the rest of the project is being built out, information like quotes and customers can be used throughout the project while being stored in one place. In other words, make once, use everywhere.
Content for the content hub should be treated as data as it will be sent via JSON and in the case of GraphCMS will be accessed programmatically through the GraphQL API. The structured content management system can populate models with data in two ways. Manually where the content team will create new content or add in existing content by hand into the CMS, which usually works well for new projects or small projects. Alternatively, the data can be retrieved by connecting an existing system via an API to the CMS which will programmatically add content that corresponds to content models to the system. Content that is shared across several frontends can be stored in a modular, structured way and styled in the front ends according to the requirements. This is also true for images and other media types which can be optimized based on the frontend it is rendered on. Creating a core of structured content that can be adapted to fit the use case de jour will make it easier to get new projects off the ground as well as quickly make changes to existing projects.
The Benefits of Structured Content
There are many benefits of structured content compared to unstructured content. These benefits range from increasing the lifespan of expensive legacy systems, to drastically shortening timelines for creating new projects by treating content as data that is organized making it searchable, reusable, and flexible.
In the past, teams had to make small changes throughout the CMS and it was common for errors to occur or changes to be overlooked. However, a key benefit of using structured content as opposed to unstructured content is that by divorcing the content from a traditional page template approach to digital content modeling to a modularized structured approach which treats content like data teams are able to be much more agile. Content teams are able to test and optimize content and then make global changes that affect the various frontends using the content hub. Marketing teams appreciate this approach because it is faster to make changes to content and by ensuring that important content is consistent throughout the project, ensuring the messaging is uniformly communicated.
Employing a structured content hub, increases the team’s velocities to produce new content quickly and push it to the global project with ease and security. Projects can easily store a variety of different types of data without the content becoming cumbersome or unsearchable, rather than teams being limited to text fields. It is easy to query for the content that is stored in the project which helps ensure that duplication of the content does not occur. Because content is highly modularized, it continues to be much easier to query, change, and add content programmatically. In fact, data can easily populate the CMS programmatically which helps increase the lifespan of legacy systems while still enabling teams to create modern digital products.
Structured Content in the Real World
How do popular companies benefit from Structured Content?
If your team is still skeptical about adopting a structured content approach, it can be helpful to see the broad range of projects that are unlocked with such an approach. Gone are the days of being limited to simple webpages or implementing buggy plugins when functionality is needed. Structured content is at the core of any project that is working to future-proof their data set and be trailblazers in the up-and-coming frontend type without having to start from scratch.
Video Streaming Platform
Video streaming platforms have become increasingly popular after the rise of Netflix and HBO. After the start of the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that they have shifted the way many people consume television and film for the foreseeable future. Video streaming services can store the metadata associated with films in a CMS and programmatically connect the database which stores the films using one schema. From this single schema, the projects are able to be rendered according to the specifications of the end device, whether that be a TV or mobile app. Assets are transformed to be consumed by each end device as well. This approach will save teams time as more and more content is available on streaming services that need to retain a high level of organization, discoverability, and searchability compared to the previous approaches which often included countless spreadsheets of XML.
Ecommerce has quickly become the industry standard. In fact, many retailers are experimenting with an eCommerce first approach with brick and mortar stores only supplementing where they are absolutely necessary. It is common for eCommerce shops to have at least two end products, a website, and an app, but many companies are also expanding to voice assistant commands as well. Teams building an eCommerce ecosystem can do so with a single schema of highly modularized content that is optimized for voice assistants. Layout changes between the website, app, or other presentation layers can be handled on the frontend. Depending on the complexity of the dataset, it may be necessary to feed data from other systems such as PIMS or order management tools. This is easy when using an API-driven CMS.
GraphCMS and Structured Content
GraphCMS is an ideal choice for structured content because of its flexibility, powerful GraphQL API, and sleek UI. The schema builder makes it easy to build highly modular content and visualize the relationships between the models due to the clean UI which matches powerful flexibility with a straightforward UI.
When building schemas with modular, structured content, it is easy for a single model to be used across platforms. Content such as inventory for an eCommerce page can pull content from an “item” model and render it to suit the desired platform. Asset transformations to meet the parameters of the specific frontend are easy to implement and are a powerful way to keep content omnichannel ready, without sacrificing functionality. Content can be enriched programmatically through mutations, which allow teams to add, delete, or change content on a large scale.
This feature can be particularly powerful when trying to add large amounts of new content without disrupting current content or having to go through the process of migration. Customers that successfully employ a structured approach to content include enterprise heavyweights such as Telenor and BioCentury to prominent industry players like DTM and Burrow.