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How Structuring Your Content Saves You Lots of Time

Have you ever played the game “quartet”? Where you had to collect cards of a sort and compare different attributes of cars, animals or action figures in order to trump your opponent to win? There you go, that’s the perfect example for structured content right there. 

Let’s see how you can use this example to learn how to optimize your content operations game.

What is structured content? - The quartet example

Our card game perfectly shows what structured content is: Content broken down into its smallest pieces. In the example of a zoo animal quartet game, you get different categories of animals, e.g., bears. In each category, there are four examples of these animals, e.g., polar bear, Grizzly, panda, brown bear. And for each of these bears, the same set of attributes is listed, for example:

  • size
  • weight
  • speed
  • life expectancy (in years)
  • days of pregnancy.
I found this quartet game at - this is an excerpt of it.

In order to present the information on the bears in the way it is presented, the game developer must have first thought of how he could structure his content. He started off by defining the content types (= reusable containers storing content with the same structure) and attributes (= characteristics, here of the animals). 

To transfer this to the non-animal world, in terms of this blog post, some of its smallest components are its title, the publishing date, post categories, author, header image and larger teaser text – all elements of structured content.

Breaking down content in components like that helps you separate the content itself from its presentation format – a quartet game card or web page, in these examples. If stored centrally, the same content pieces can then be outputted on various platforms. Elements of this blog post, for example, could be used for a social media post as well, or in a glossary.

The benefits of structured content

You might have already noted one advantage of breaking down content in its bits and pieces: The content pieces can be mixed and matched as needed to provide the right amount of detail for each display scenario.

One other benefit of structuring content is that it can be stored and managed in one place. Once it is updated, the changes are applied wherever it appears. This helps structured content to be adaptive in terms of different screen sizes or user contexts.

  • Benefits for authors:
    When a structure for the content has been developed, this can give guidance to those, who are in charge of writing or gathering the information. Depending on the structure and its specifications, the content created can even be validated automatically, sometimes already while writing. Thus, the schema works as a guideline for editors for them to adhere to the rules.
  • Benefits to organizations:
    Structuring content provides the benefit of helping them to better control content consistency and quality. Hence, this reduces the manpower needed to revise and format content, which can lead to increased productivity, as employees can spend their precious time doing more valuable work.
  • Benefits for consumers:
    They benefit from structure as they oftentimes want to quickly skim a content piece for the information needed. Structure leads to better comprehension and enhances predictability to the reader. This, again, results in the reader to be less stressed, which increases brand loyalty and less support needed.

The process: How to structure content

Now that you know WHY you should structure your content (and why the quartet game is a perfect example for that), you might want to know HOW to proceed to do so. These are the steps:

  1. User research within the domain
    User research is the foundation for structuring content, as it helps to figure out what the domain looks like. The goal of conducting user research is to create personas and customer journeys that are aligned with the business goals tackled in the operations optimization project. You can choose from various methods, such as user or subject-matter expert interviews, field studies, requirements and constraints or task analysis.

  2. Domain model creation
    Once we have gained a decent understanding of the domain, we can start to map it out – to create a domain model. The goal of creating a domain model is to take the most useful parts of the domain and to make sure the content addresses user needs. It should be done in discussion with stakeholders and audiences. The domain model consists of objects and their relationships.
  3. Content model creation
    A content model provides even more structure to the domain objects and visually represents the content types of a subject domain, as well as their properties and relationships. The content model zooms in to map the structure of the actual content to be published, whereas the domain model stays on a very wide level. The content model should thus include all objects that matter to the success of the business and are of interest to the audience.
  4. Content type specification
    Once the content model has been defined, the former objects can be codified in content types, thus reusable groups of elements for a consistent form of content patterns, with attributes assigned to them. One content type can have various attributes that further describe it. We choose attributes depending on the context, so what matters in this particular content model.
  5. Structured content display
    After modeling the content in its types and attributes, we can finally start to think about how to display the single instances we’ll get for each chunk of content. By developing dynamic templates, we can create an interface design that displays the values for each instance. Within the template, we prioritize and lay out the attributes in a way the users will perceive the content – e.g., our playing cards from the example above.
So, in case you want to design your own quartet game, you now know how to start off and structure your content. 😉 And if you want to dig deeper into content models, attributes and such first, I can totally recommend you the book “Designing Connected Content” by Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton – this book and different lectures by Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina taught me how to structure content well. Enjoy learning!