Guide

Why content modeling is important

Content modelling is a great way to gain consensus, unblock interdisciplinary work, and uncover hidden opportunities. Learn how working with well-structured content benefits organisations of all kinds.

Knut Melvær

Knut runs developer relations and support at Sanity.io.

Ronald Aveling

Ronald works with content for Sanity.io

In part 1 of this guide we introduced you to what content modeling is, and who’s involved in it.

We're now going to focus on the importance of structured content and the value that content modeling offers. We’ll work through the technical, administrative, and audience-facing advantages of aligning content to the realities of what you do.

Content modeling creates consensus

Content modelling is a great way to develop a shared understanding of:

  • The context (or domain) that your organisation exists within
  • The value it brings your audience
  • The methods and channels through which that value is expressed to them
  • How workflows between people and departments can be improved to promote more effective movement of ideas and assets

Protip

What is the “domain”?

In the world of content and information architecture - the term “domain” refers to the context that your organisation or project operates within. Another way to think of it is:

  • The things your organisation does
  • The audiences it does those things with

Here are some examples:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) operate within the domain of humanitarian aid.
  • Netflix operates within the streaming media domain.
  • Toyota are situated in the domain of automobile manufacturing.

The context, products, services, and audience needs of these three domains are all very different.

While a single person may interact with all three organisations as a client, customer, or owner; their needs and the framework of their interactions with the business will vary greatly depending on who one they are dealing with.

Content modeling spans organisational silos

Content permeates all departments of an organisation. It can exist within web pages, legal documents, ideas, marketing stuff, accounting records, and social media posts – to name a few.

A successful content modeling exercise will address to the needs of all departments, and pave the way for a centralized source of structured content – your single source of truth from which to operate.

When you give a voice to all of your deparements, you gain insight into how their particular needs relate to the demands of other teams within your organisation. This sharing often identifies areas of common interest, and highlights inefficiencies (that may have come from silo-based thinking) which can be fixed with a centralized content platform.

Content modeling unearths hidden opportunities

The content modeling exercise often unearths valuable relationships between things. These things may have been previously overlooked due to:

  • The way your organisation has organically evolved
  • Limited perspectives on how content can and should work
  • Bad content habits that have come about due to years of working with ill-fitting and opinionated content management tools.

Content models are a bridge to better content strategy

Content Strategists love well-structured content because it makes their job easier. When content is rooted in the domain of your organisation and made accessible from a central place – strategists can coordinate and fulfil content tasks much faster, and with less repetition.

Organizations are becoming more aware of the impact that rhetorical quality has on their business.

The web has made it easier for users to access your information, but it has also made it easier for them to detect content that is inconsistent in tone and style, outdated, redundant, incomplete, or just plain useless.

The web did not create these flaws, but it made them painfully apparent. It has also given organizations a much more direct way to see and to measure the impact of their content and of its flaws.

Organizations can no longer ignore major rhetorical faults. This has led to the emergence of content strategy – as organisations feel the impact of poor content quality and see content quality as a strategic value.

Mark Baker, Structured Writing: Rhetoric & Process

Content models are a great primer for database structures

A well-defined content model can be an extremely valuable asset for developers. A good model will fast-track the creation of data structures and relationships that are in aligment with the real-world needs of your organisation and audience.

The model saves developers from making best guesses as to what your organisation actually needs. They can take the model and get straight to work on implementing it.

Structured content captures value better

When content has been structured to fit the way your organisation works, your content increases its scope and utility. It travels farther, does more things, and requires less repetition along the way.

Less technical debt

Content that is rooted in the logic of your domain can also reduce your exposure to "technical debt". When your needs change (as they inevitably will) your burden will be reduced to fine-tuning how your content is presented and distributed, instead of being stuck with the job of rebuilding data structures.

Protip

Durable core, flexible exterior

We live in a world of rapidly changing technologies, devices, and consumption trends. Modern organisations need to operate with a certain amount of agility in order to remain viable in the midst of so much change.

When it comes to change – what you do, and who you serve changes a lot less than the presentation and distribution trends of today. That’s why rooting your content in the fundamentals of your business and domain is so important, because these aspects are relatively speaking – perennial.

A centralized content model can become a durable core from which to operate. As consumer and distribution trends change, your model can flex a little at the edges to meet them. But the foundations of your operations, audience, and domain vocabulary will be preserved at the heart of your well-thought-out content model.

It pays dividends over time.

Gotcha

When domain and database structures don’t get along

Organisations often experience friction between the reality of their needs, and the way that their data has been structured.

A common scenario is when you choose off-the-shelf software out of a sense of perceived convenience, or cost savings. One-size-fits-all products often fulfil a bassic or immediate set of requirements in the short term, but often end up being a source of frustration and unnecessary expense in the long run.

The issue is not the software per-se, but the lack of compatibility between:

  • The business model behind the software’s development (they're often built to serve as many customers as possible)
  • The unique domain-specific needs that nearly every business has.

This friction is commonplace with many opinionated Content Management Systems (CMS). They lock you in to their perspectives of “what content should be” from the outset. You start out content types and taxonomies that you don’t actually need, then wrap what you do need around them – creating patches and workarounds in order to get things done.

Over time this superficial work leads to the shouldering of unnecessary maintenance and constraint. This debt would not have existed if the content had been rooted in your unique domain from the outset.

Content operators also pay the price because it takes them longer to publish, and their content doesn’t reach as far, or last as long as it should.

There is no one structured writing system that is a perfect fit for every organization. The attempt to create a single system to meet all needs has been a large factor in the poor partitioning of many content systems.

Mark Baker, Structured Writing: Rhetoric & Process

Structured content makes content people happier and more efficient

When your content is structured in harmony with your organisation and audience, the process of creating and maintaining content becomes more fun!

  • Editors will be able to locate things where they’d expect to find them.
  • The content types, fields, and attributes of your model will relate to vocabularies you already use.
  • Content types will also relate to one another in ways that are intuitive to organisational operations.

This increased resonance between data model and organisation can also reduce the complexity of employee onboarding and content documentation efforts because things:

  • Are labeled the right way
  • Live in the right places
  • Do what you expect them to

Believe it or not – working with content and software doesn’t have to be repetitive and onerous. It’s never been easier to tailor content the way you need , collaborate on it in real time, and send it wherever you like from a single source of truth.

Summary

This article made a case for the importance of content modeling for organisations of all kinds. It brings people together, captures more value, and is a great primer for database design.

In the next article in this series will shed light on the best time to undertake content modeling for projects young and old.

Protip

Got questions? Join our Slack community

Because content design is highly contextual, it’s hard to provide blanket answers for every situation in this guide.

So if you have a question that we haven’t answered, consider joining our Sanity Slack community. We have a channel dedicated to #content-modeling, and love to talk about the many ways you can solve content problems by design.