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What is structured content?

Why you should focus on creating structured content and not building web pages in the age of headless and omnichannel.

Create once, use anywhere. That is the essence of structured content. But why? And how? In this article, we will explain what structured content is, the wider context, some use cases, and how your organisation can benefit from using it. Let’s roll.

Context: Omnichannel and headless

In the early 2000s, only a few digital channels were available for distribution of content—the browser on laptop and desktop computers, and the PDA are two classical examples. During this era, most digital content focused on websites only, with no separation between content and presentation—they were regarded as one.

However, with the rise of the smartphone and connected devices from the 2010s and onward we saw a dramatic increase in the number of available channels and devices. Today we’ve got everything from IoT and wearables to digital signage and the good, old internet browser—not to mention the many ways content can be used and reused within and between sites.

Learn more: Atomic content design »

This omnichannel reality has paved the way for headless CMS—the separation of content and presentation. You obviously can’t send a web page meant for big screens to a small smartphone or smartwatch screen. This is why headless has gained popularity in recent years, because with it you create content once to be reused anywhere and distributed to any required channel.

And if you want the content you have created to be delivered smoothly to any channel, it needs to be structured.

Definition of structured content

“Structured content” is information that is organised in a predictable way and is usually classified with metadata.

This means that each content item of the same type has the same structure in the form of the same fields, the same metadata, and the same logic. This way, all content items of the same content type can be treated in the same, predictable way in different scenarios. Thus, a true headless CMS not only supports the presence of content types, but requires it.

Structured use cases

If your organisation regularly hosts events, it would be meaningful to have a content type called “event.” In addition to standard fields like title and image, this content type could include fields for “date,” “location,” “map,” “program,” and “speaker.” With all these fields filled out properly, the information could then be shown in an article format on your website with all fields present, as part of an event overview on an app with only selected fields, as a list on your site with just title and date—or as part of a grid with the addition of an image. The flexibility and possibilities with structured content is limitless.

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Example of how a structured content type can feed information into another page.

A structured content item could also be really simple. If you run a cooking website and app, a natural content type would be “recipe.” This could just include a rich text field for the recipe, but with additional metadata specifying where it belongs (“breakfast,” “lunch,” “dinner,” or “supper,” as well as “meat,” “vegetarian,” “dessert,” etc.). With the metadata, you could decide where to deliver the recipe automatically—whether to different parts on your website, app, as a text recipe for making an espresso on your connected coffee machine, or even to external sites.

See also: Don’t choose headless when building a website »

Reuse of structured content does not limit itself to whole pages, blog posts, recipes, case studies, reports, and events. This is where the principle of atomic content design comes into play. Here, content is broken down into its smallest possible parts which still make sense. A real example of atomic content design in practice is the Norwegian Directorate of Health.

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For example: a page about uncomplicated rhinosinusitis would traditionally consist of symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. With the atomic content design model, all these different elements are now standalone content items, with corresponding content types grounded in metadata. In this way, users can retrieve information on diagnosis alone in the search results, or as part of a traditional recommendation article, a larger guideline about antibiotics, or even as part of an external apothecary site. Again, limitless possibilities.

Into the future with headless and structured content

The benefits of using structured content should be obvious. Your marketing and IT teams save time and resources by creating, publishing, and maintaining content centrally, while it can be sent and updated to any given channel as deemed fit.

Not only can structured content and headless delivery save your organisation money, they can also create new business opportunities by providing the right content fast to any digital touchpoint in the customer journey—thereby delighting potential customers and partners.

The future is fragmentary in terms of channel and customer experiences, so make sure your digital platform reflects this fact by offering true structured content.

Test: Headless CMS or hybrid CMS?

Topics: 
structured content
omnichannel
customer journey
content management
headless cms