Structured content has been a top-of-mind topic for Tahzoo, with highly capable employees such as Bob Johnson leading the discussions. Earlier this week, we sat down with him to discuss the importance of structured content to help capture its usability and impact on businesses. Would your company benefit from a structured content model? Keep reading to find out!

Start us off with the who, what, and when of Bob Johnson.

I am the Senior Content Strategist at Tahzoo. My main responsibility is to work with clients to understand their content, how they want or need to use it, and what challenges they face in achieving their content goals. My particular area of expertise is technical content. That includes a broader category of content that supports professional practices in areas like insurance, financial services, and even medical reference content. Anytime content supports a professional making a decision or completing a task, that is technical content.

Additionally, I help clients evaluate their content management needs to select and implement component content management systems (CCMS) that meet their organization’s goals. This typically includes Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) implementation.

Content can mean a number of things depending on the audience, situation, or task. Can you tell me what content means in your area of expertise?

In my world, content means words and images that inform or support a user to make a decision or complete a task. It’s not much different from other uses of the word, whether that be marketing or technical; it’s just the end goal is somewhat different. Content strategists typically classify content into two categories: structured and unstructured.

What do those mean?

Structured content is organized in a predictable way. It's based on a template, a framework, or architecture which we often call a content model. The structure makes it easier for both humans and computers to understand and process content.

Unstructured content does not follow any kind of defined framework or architecture. The author is free to organize and format content according to their whim. They might have a structure in mind, but that structure is usually implicit. In other words, there's no imposed structure on that content.

For businesses, the two can vary in impact. Structured content is more about long-term benefits: longevity, consistency, and sustainability. In contrast, unstructured content is very often unmaintainable, unsustainable, and inconsistent because content gets duplicated, and the duplicated content sometimes drifts where minor changes are made.

We’ve heard about the comparison between structured content and Lego bricks. Can you elaborate on this?

Just like you can build a lot of different models using Lego bricks, you can assemble a lot of different documents using a collection of content “bricks.” With Legos, you can build something specific like a model helicopter; with structured content, you can break down content into components which are then mixed and matched to make a meaningful document.

What industries benefit most from a structured content model? Do some benefit more than others?

Yes, some do. Any industry that's regulated will benefit highly from leveraging structured content. It helps you enforce the consistency of your content. It also helps you keep track of changes. Regulated content, such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, financial services, insurance, and aviation, not only requires changes, but also requires a record of what was changed, when, and why.

Then, there are industries that are not as tightly regulated but act like they are, so the benefits of a structured content model are valuable; some examples include construction equipment, capital goods, and manufacturing. Essentially, any time an industry has a strong economic incentive for ensuring consistency, or quality of content, it will benefit from structure.

What challenges can a structured content model solve?

One of the most frequent content challenges I see involves consistency. For example, I’ve seen organizations that have acquired multiple sub-organizations and need to make company information consistent across departments and channels. With structured content, we can define consistent architectures for those sub-organizations to follow, and further produce consistent content that effectively fits together for all users or customers.

Another content challenge I frequently run into is regarding content cost. If the cost of creating and maintaining content in an organization is high, moving to structured content can often rein in those costs. Rather than recreating content and going through new approval cycles each time, structured content allows for reuse opportunities. Content that’s already created and approved can simply be fit into other areas, thus saving developing costs and approval times for new content.

For businesses, should the goal always be to structure their content?

The ultimate goal, once your company reaches a certain size, is to have structured content. A smaller organization that is still in an exploratory phase might not benefit from structure as much as an organization that is approaching productization and needs consistency.

I’d like to finish by adding an important consideration about the types of structure. There are organizations that prefer to go with a lightweight structure, like markdown or ASCII doc, which are simpler to author. However, they lack the robust flexibility and content management options available in a robust format like XML. The drawback to XML is it's often more complex, so you pay a cost for that flexibility. Ultimately, I think a robust structure has more utility and longer shelf life than a lightweight structure that does not offer as many options.

Interested in learning more about the benefits of structured content? Connect with our team today so we can explore the best option for your business.

  • Claire Gugerty

  • Claire Gugerty User Experience Consultant