Level up your content operations with structured content templates

5 minute read

Organisations are expected to deliver content for multiple channels, consistently. This puts pressure on production and so without efficient content operations, or ContentOps, the content that ends up being published may not be effective.In his webinar, structuring content strategy in higher ed, Rich Prowse stated that universities are faced with:

  • Limited time and resource.
  • Differing levels of digital literacy.
  • Lack of standards and structure.
  • Duplication of information.
  • Clunky online processes.
  • Multiple CMSs.

This is true far beyond higher ed too. Let’s focus on that point about lack of structure. In relation to content, having templates for different content types and an agreed structure to follow as standard allows for content to be used and reused, it makes content future-friendly and able to be used across different channels. In this article we’ll look at this in more detail along with why content templates are a key element of ContentOps that can help teams work more efficiently and produce more effective content as a result.

Elements of ContentOps: Content types and templates

Content is easier to create using templates and structure that is scalable and repeatable. In their book Designing Connected Content, Mike Atherton and Carrie Hane define structured content as:

Content that is planned, developed, connected outside an interface so that it’s ready for any interface.

This is important for our digital, on-demand world. Information is accessed on more devices and via more apps than ever before. Imagine having to create content for every single instance? Many organisations do! Content types and templates force teams to give more thought to the experience that users will have when they access content. This visualisation from Rich Prowse’s structured content webinar brilliantly shows the difference in the effort required from these two approaches to content production:The inefficient way:

Inefficient content operations

The more efficient way:

Efficient content operations

Using content templates allows organisations to:

  • Scale content delivery across different platforms and devices.
  • Improve the accuracy of information.
  • Reduce duplication of information.
  • Prepare content for future formats.
  • Avoid expensive and manual migrations.

Bad habits lead to bad best practices

Organisations need to change to get themselves into the position where content types and templates are the default. People need to change how they work, so processes must be refined or changed, and often the technology and tools they use aren’t the right or best ones for the job.

Imagine being tasked with writing content and being presented with a big blank canvas. Imagine being asked to edit or review content and being presented with a 12 page wall of text with no structure.

Filling in that big blank space and editing that big wall of copy takes time. A lot of time. Often Word Docs or Google Docs are used and there is no discussion around the structure of content, no templates created, no rules and guidelines are imposed, no word counts committed to.

Word processing tools serve a purpose, but when the content being created is published online, there will be chunks, call-outs, headings, call-to-actions, links, accompanying assets and even metadata that are needed. We’re not looking to create linear narratives. Our content must be useful no matter how the user finds it.As Padma Gillen stated in his webinar about content led digital transformation:

We need to stop seeing content as big blocks of text and start seeing content as components of data that can be used and reused and combined in different ways to benefit users based on the channel. This makes it easier to update and maintain websites and allows a higher level of quality and a more efficient way of managing content on a site. It also means the same content can be pushed out on different channels.

Padma added:

Thinking about content in this way makes use of the possibilities of digital content in a more effective way.

When content is delivered in one big chunk with no structure, there is little or no consideration for the technology that will be used to publish that content, nor for how it will be presented visually. Content, meet design.So much time is wasted when people have to spend time trying to make sense of content when it is delivered this way (once you’ve found it amongst your emails or in the shared folder overflowing with different versions of the same document). This means an organisations content operations (ContentOps) are inefficient.Because the truth is, Word documents and Google Docs weren’t designed for producing structured content. This results in:

  • Inconsistencies in style and format across content.
  • Having to edit and change content to fit the design.
  • Having to change the already signed off design to accommodate the content.
  • Missed opportunities to reuse content.
  • Lack of scalable and repeatable processes for efficiency in content use.

3 benefits to content templates

Structured content brings together content and design. It also means there is consistency in content provided and less time wasted re-formatting and editing. More efficient ContentOps for more effective content.

1. Get consistent content from your authors

Consistency in format and style is especially important when writers are spread across the organisation or external and third-party writers are hired. An organisation may have subject matter experts without a writing background, or writers without subject matter expertise.Content templates can keep everyone on track because parts of the content won’t be forgotten, like headlines, links, job titles etc, when there’s a required field for it in your template. They also allow teams to identify content patterns.Gone will be the days when you get sent one staff bio that’s 300 words and one that is 30 words. (If you use GatherContent you can also add rules and guidelines around style and formatting of content for even more consistency!).

The benefits reach beyond consistency:

  • If you involve your subject experts in defining the content templates they will already be engaged and more likely to deliver the right content.
  • Designers and developers know early on how content will be structured, allowing them to make informed decisions, creating less back and forth down the line.
  • Structures for different content types ensure content can be easily re-used across an organisation.

This leads to efficiency in how content is produced and delivered on an on-going basis.

2. Future proof content by ensuring it is delivered in the right format

Having a structure for particular content types will ensure that any new content will be delivered in the same way. The existing templates can be used for new content of the same type. More consistency - win!

Thinking about the governance and future proofing of your content will give you a huge head-start post-launch to maintaining this consistency. Templates also ensure ongoing efficiency in content operations.If someone new joins the team that needs to produce content, they have a template to work from. If content writers are decentralised, having content templates can connect silos in the sense of ensuring everyone is working from the same page. Literally!

3. Get content ready for your CMS by structuring it in the same way

Without rules for structure, writers will deliver content in formats of all shapes and sizes. You then spend (lots of) time reformatting the content which is completely mismatched from what is needed in order to populate the CMS. The design or content will need to change when this mis-match occurs.Content templates make it easier to map content to a CMS (Again this is easy when you use GatherContent). Every step of the way you are thinking about where the content will end up and that allows you to start creating content in the way that you need it from the get-go.This is also the perfect opportunity to bring different disciplines together with content in mind. Content has already met design, and now they can meet development. Having a content person, designer and developer all discussing the structure of content together is the best chance for content to be effective. The user experience will thank you for it, as will the business goals which are now being met through content.

Getting started with creating content templates

There are a few simple steps you can follow to start creating content templates:

  • Identify patterns.
  • Define the structure.
  • Define the content type.

Deciding what content types and templates you need starts with identifying patterns. You can look at your existing content and identify those patterns such as reviewing help centre articles and seeing what the common components are that make up those articles (headings, related articles, images of the product etc).Identifying those patterns allows you to define the structure of each content type which will in turn, define that content type.How this is achieved will depend on what technology and tools you use. You may want to create your content templates by:

  • Sketching wireframes (can’t beat pen and paper).
  • Sticking post it notes to a wall.
  • Using a content model template such as this one.
  • Using GatherContent to create templates.

Whatever method you choose, you’re setting yourselves up for efficient ContentOps through scalable and repeatable processes through:

  • Providing a framework to guide authors.
  • Ensuring content is delivered in a consistent way.
  • Creating content that is future-friendly for different channels.

To achieve this you need to make it easier for people to produce, organise and publish content in a structured way. This can be achieved through:

  • Connecting different disciplines such as content, design and development.
  • Using the most appropriate tools for the job.
  • Training team members.
  • Putting user needs first (and considering how they will consume the content).

No one new tool or one change in process will solve everything. Moving towards content templates as a way of structuring and producing all of your content is a long game, but one that will also yield long gains.

Using GatherContent for structured content templates

GatherContent ensures content is in the right structure and style. Teams can create templates to help contributors know how content needs to be structured and create content ready to map to the CMS, making the migration process easier. Guidelines and rules also ensure your content is delivered in the right format.

Structured content in GatherContent

With GatherContent:

  • Build custom templates so it’s easy for authors to provide content.
  • Consistency is made simple using a library of custom templates for your content types.
  • Setting rules such as word or character limitations ensures content is structured to be easily exported to your publishing tools.

This means all new content will be provided in the correct structure and savings can be made in time and money with a repeatable process for day to day content operations.


Content Model Template

A template to work out the finer details and practicalities of how you write and manage your content.

About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.

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