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Creating content models with GatherContent

Creating content models with GatherContent

4 minute read

Creating content models with GatherContent

4 minute read

Creating content models with GatherContent

Aaron Hausman

Content Strategist at NewCity

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In our work at NewCity as a digital agency partnering with complex organisations (like Higher Ed and Health Care), we often recommend atomic design as the foundation of a pattern library. The atomic design approach, developed by Brad Frost, demonstrates how websites can be broken down into their most fundamental elements (atoms), combined to form compound components (molecules), which are ultimately configured and reconfigured as complex digital interfaces (organisms).

We use a similar approach with content modelling, although it isn't as easy to define the atoms, molecules, and organisms. But we do break things down into their most elemental forms as we build a content structure. And GatherContent provides a toolset for this process.

“Product design” in higher ed

In recent years, Higher Ed clients have been focusing a lot on the presentation of their program (or degree) detail pages. These are the destination pages that prospective students use to determine whether a particular college or university is the right fit. Therefore, they are a top priority for marketing and communications, as they are directly linked to strategic goals for increasing enrolment. Although higher education is very different from e-commerce or B2B sales, programs and degrees are the “product” -- and a good higher ed website will reflect as much in the content, design, and flow of program detail pages.

In the two following examples, you can see just how much information can be contained in a single program detail page. Here's a page from the Oklahoma State University website:

The psychology undergraduate program page from the Oklahoma State University website.

Here's a page from the Pomona College website:

The Neuroscience Major page from the Pomona College website.

Content elements = building blocks

In the commercial space, product pages may contain a lot of information: images, videos, specifications, and variations in colour, size, and features (depending on the product, of course). It’s actually quite similar in Higher Ed. With all of the competition for students, colleges and universities are promoting their programs with multiple data points.

Our first step in the content modelling process is to define these data points. From our own user research, and through competitive analysis, we make a wish list of content elements (atoms.. if you want to refer back to our original metaphor).

Making our initial list can be a very analog exercise; we use sticky notes, scribbles on a whiteboard, or sometimes tools like Miro.

A comprehensive list, representing every bit of content that can possibly be used to market an institution’s programs or degrees, might look like this:

  • Program name
  • Degree type (ex.: undergraduate, graduate, or PhD)
  • Credits, or hours
  • School, college, and/or department
  • Courses
  • Requirements
  • Location
  • Introductory copy (usually marketing-focused)
  • Detailed program description
  • Career paths
  • Skills
  • Testimonials (from students, parents, faculty, staff, etc.)
  • Media (photos, video)

Creating content fields for structured templates

And here’s where GatherContent comes in, as we begin to turn a simple list into a structured content model. First, we need a template.

In the Structure tab, we set up templates for each unique, structured content type. Higher Ed projects have some standard ones, like faculty profiles, student profiles, news articles, and events. And, obviously, we need one labeled "Program Detail."

A list of content templates in the NewCity GatherContent account. Example page templates include location, program detail and standard content.

Within our Program Detail template, we set up a content field for each item in our list. (Most will be text boxes, although check boxes will make more sense for taxonomy-driven fields.) The content fields provide a framework for contributors to keep all of the information consistent – whenever the template is applied. That’s important because different departments, schools, and units may assign different users, with different skillsets, to create their program detail pages. We keep this in mind by adding detailed help text to guide the writing, as well as suggested word and character limits.

Example of content fields in GatherContent. Image shows the field name, character limit and guidelines to content should meet.

Model then repeat

GatherContent gives us the framework to take a tangled list of content ideas, and convert them into structured, repeatable content types.

We build these content types from the ground up, modelling systems that can be applied to Higher Ed websites, or any other complex web properties.

In our work at NewCity as a digital agency partnering with complex organisations (like Higher Ed and Health Care), we often recommend atomic design as the foundation of a pattern library. The atomic design approach, developed by Brad Frost, demonstrates how websites can be broken down into their most fundamental elements (atoms), combined to form compound components (molecules), which are ultimately configured and reconfigured as complex digital interfaces (organisms).

We use a similar approach with content modelling, although it isn't as easy to define the atoms, molecules, and organisms. But we do break things down into their most elemental forms as we build a content structure. And GatherContent provides a toolset for this process.

“Product design” in higher ed

In recent years, Higher Ed clients have been focusing a lot on the presentation of their program (or degree) detail pages. These are the destination pages that prospective students use to determine whether a particular college or university is the right fit. Therefore, they are a top priority for marketing and communications, as they are directly linked to strategic goals for increasing enrolment. Although higher education is very different from e-commerce or B2B sales, programs and degrees are the “product” -- and a good higher ed website will reflect as much in the content, design, and flow of program detail pages.

In the two following examples, you can see just how much information can be contained in a single program detail page. Here's a page from the Oklahoma State University website:

The psychology undergraduate program page from the Oklahoma State University website.

Here's a page from the Pomona College website:

The Neuroscience Major page from the Pomona College website.

Content elements = building blocks

In the commercial space, product pages may contain a lot of information: images, videos, specifications, and variations in colour, size, and features (depending on the product, of course). It’s actually quite similar in Higher Ed. With all of the competition for students, colleges and universities are promoting their programs with multiple data points.

Our first step in the content modelling process is to define these data points. From our own user research, and through competitive analysis, we make a wish list of content elements (atoms.. if you want to refer back to our original metaphor).

Making our initial list can be a very analog exercise; we use sticky notes, scribbles on a whiteboard, or sometimes tools like Miro.

A comprehensive list, representing every bit of content that can possibly be used to market an institution’s programs or degrees, might look like this:

  • Program name
  • Degree type (ex.: undergraduate, graduate, or PhD)
  • Credits, or hours
  • School, college, and/or department
  • Courses
  • Requirements
  • Location
  • Introductory copy (usually marketing-focused)
  • Detailed program description
  • Career paths
  • Skills
  • Testimonials (from students, parents, faculty, staff, etc.)
  • Media (photos, video)

Creating content fields for structured templates

And here’s where GatherContent comes in, as we begin to turn a simple list into a structured content model. First, we need a template.

In the Structure tab, we set up templates for each unique, structured content type. Higher Ed projects have some standard ones, like faculty profiles, student profiles, news articles, and events. And, obviously, we need one labeled "Program Detail."

A list of content templates in the NewCity GatherContent account. Example page templates include location, program detail and standard content.

Within our Program Detail template, we set up a content field for each item in our list. (Most will be text boxes, although check boxes will make more sense for taxonomy-driven fields.) The content fields provide a framework for contributors to keep all of the information consistent – whenever the template is applied. That’s important because different departments, schools, and units may assign different users, with different skillsets, to create their program detail pages. We keep this in mind by adding detailed help text to guide the writing, as well as suggested word and character limits.

Example of content fields in GatherContent. Image shows the field name, character limit and guidelines to content should meet.

Model then repeat

GatherContent gives us the framework to take a tangled list of content ideas, and convert them into structured, repeatable content types.

We build these content types from the ground up, modelling systems that can be applied to Higher Ed websites, or any other complex web properties.

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About the author

Aaron Hausman

Aaron is a content strategist at NewCity. He's a writer at heart, bringing a unique perspective to projects at the intersection of liberal arts and technology. His circuitous career path through the digital world has taken him from content management to information architecture, user experience to project management, before ultimately finding his niche in content strategy. He has a simple philosophy: use plain language, always be user-focused, and cater to short attention spans (like his own).

He’s worked for all kinds of clients and organisations: higher education, non-profit, finance, legal, advertising, marketing, branding, start-up, government, small business, Fortune 500 — you name it.

Aaron has settled in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, after stints in northern California, Colorado, and New York City. When not at work, he enjoys hiking, skiing, road tripping, reading, and discovering new podcasts.

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