I’d like to share a tool that I recently put together to address a common content problem.
This tool is not a substitute for a comprehensive content strategy. However, if your organization has not yet decided to create a content strategy, this tool could help nudge teams in that direction while solving some important content issues.
The problem: Working without clear content types
Thanks to the Internet, we’re all publishers now. But creating quality content is hard.
If you work for an organization that consistently publishes excellent print or digital content in house, you’re lucky. These organizations have learned how to think and act like publishers do. They hire editorial design professionals. Then they empower them to execute a reasonable strategy within a logical workflow that promotes high standards.
A lot of organizations hire qualified employees but then treat their publishing team like a vanity press. Here are some signs that your organization might be publishing like a vanity press:
- Staff members create print and digital content that doesn’t serve clear objectives.
- Teams create content in silos, leading to gaps and duplication.
- The quality of the content varies widely.
- There is little consistency in structure, message, tone, style, or other editorial considerations.
- The organization’s website seems like a scrapbook of one-off web pages rather than a cohesive and consistent resource for visitors.
- Content is frequently disorganized, outdated, or unreliable.
A preliminary solution
One important step is to establish clear content types. Here’s the template that I’ve used. I hope it will serve as a useful starting point for your own content types.
To get started, fill out this form once for each content type that your organization wants to produce.
Template for content types
Content type: Some examples are news story, product page, how-to article, case study, and blog post. Different types of content need to be written and designed in different ways so they send the right signals to your audiences. (Everyone knows that a textbook shouldn’t look or sound like a paperback novel or a newspaper. That would be confusing to readers. The same is true for digital content: each type of digital content has its own conventions.)
Rationale: Why should the organization create this type of content?
Objective: What should the content achieve? The objective should be measurable, and it should address a business goal and a user need.
Audiences: Who do you want to read the content? Be specific.
Tone: Should the content be formal or informal? Serious or humorous? Factual or emotional?
Criteria: How will you decide which content merits publication? (It often helps to create a checklist or a rubric.)
Information to include: Create an outline or a list of subjects, topics, and supporting information that must appear for this type of content.
Calls to action: What calls to action are appropriate or mandatory? What calls to action are inappropriate?
Metadata: What attributes about the content do you need to capture to allow content management systems, users, and employees to search, filter, understand, and manipulate the content? (For example, including the publication date for each piece of content could allow the system to arrange content in chronological order. Including subject and topic tags could allow a single piece of content to automatically appear on several relevant pages.) What controlled vocabularies will you use?
Promotion: How will the organization share this content with the intended audience?
- Identify: Who will nominate new pieces of content?
- Write: Who will write the material?
- Edit: Who will edit the content?
- Design: Who will design the material?
- Approve: Who will approve the material before publication?
- Update: Who will update the content? How frequently will this occur?
- Archive: When will the organization remove the content? Who will do this?
Some additional considerations
I’ve found that this template can facilitate decision-making by lowering the stakes. This isn’t a tool for “creating an entire content strategy.” It’s just a list of questions to help the organization produce better content.
At the very least, documenting these prosaic issues can reveal areas of broad agreement, even if a few questions remain controversial.
If the term content type is confusing at your organization, you could consider calling it a content framework, a content checklist, or a content kit instead.
After defining content types
Once you answer the questions in the template, it will be much easier to create content models and content templates (also known as page tables). These are excellent tools, but they assume that you’ve already addressed the types of issues that I’ve described above.
Sometimes the process of creating content types can help organizations realize that they need to address even broader content strategy issues. Ultimately, that’s a great outcome, even if the organization needed to work through the process in a way that seems out of sequence to a content strategist.
"A Template for Content Types" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.