Content model: Why you need one and how to make your colleagues take notice

Content model: Why you need one and how to make your colleagues take notice

6 minute read

Content model: Why you need one and how to make your colleagues take notice

6 minute read

Content model: Why you need one and how to make your colleagues take notice

Lauren Pope

Content Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultant
Content modeling is useful and important. However, content modeling is typically a complex, detailed, dense spreadsheet… the kind of thing that will make your colleagues’ eyes glaze over if you can get them to look at it all.

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If you want them to engage with the content model, you’ll have to do some work to get them on board.

In this post, we’ll share a content model template to help you create your own as well as some ideas for how to get your colleagues to care about it as much as you do.

What is a content model?

A content model documents all the different kinds of content you have on your website. It breaks content types down into their component parts, describes them in detail, and maps out how they relate to one another.

Content modeling involves building a taxonomy structure for any of the content that you’ve published online. This goes beyond just website pages. It also includes blog posts, images, videos, PDFs, and even things that aren’t published yet.

A content model is an important step in working out the finer details and practicalities of how you write and manage your content, and how you will present it on the page. If you’re building a new site or refreshing an existing one, it’s a vital part of that process.

Why is content modeling important?

Content modeling is important because it allows strategists and developers to visualize how your content works together. Understanding the purpose and connections between content is vital for keeping your content management system organized.

The process of building a content model typically ends up in the hands of a technical team member like a developer or a content manager. However, it’s important for the whole team (e.g., content strategists, content creators, content marketing professionals, and any other stakeholders whose jobs impact content management) to understand how and where their content is used.

Content modeling can also help you see the gaps in your existing content. As you are able to visualize how web pages and other pieces of content work together, you’ll start to see areas where you can improve content production to fill in the gaps, answer FAQs, and improve SEO.

💡 Read more: See how an agency used GatherContent to simplify the content modeling process.

How to create a content model

At the heart of any content model there are two important elements:

  • Content types: A content type is like a template you follow to make multiple pieces of content in the same vein. For example, a university might have a content type ‘template’ for course pages, subject areas, and academic bios. You reuse the ‘template’ to create multiple pieces of content in the same format.‍
  • Content attributes: Content attributes are the different elements that come together to make up the content type ‘template’. For example, your course page content type might consist of attributes like course name, description, modules, fees, etc.

This article by Rachel Lovinger is a brilliant read if you want to get into more depth about content types and content attributes.

"A content model is a powerful tool for fostering communication and aligning efforts between UX design, editorial, and technical resources on a project."
Rachel Lovinger
Group Director, Content Strategy, Publicis Sapient

As a first step in creating a content model, I start by sketching out a content map. I’ll list out the content types and then break them down into the attributes they’re made up of, adding lines and labels to show the relationships between them. Scott Kubie’s writing on content ecosystem mapping has some great ideas on how to do this.

Example of a university content map for course page content types
A content map can help you identify content types and attributes.

I find the mapping process really helpful for working through breaking down a content type into all of its attributes. Drawing out the relationships between those attributes is an important step too because it’ll highlight opportunities to reuse content across multiple content types.

Once I’ve got as far as I can with the map, I start the laborious process of putting it into a spreadsheet and capturing a lot more detail about each attribute. I’ve made a template you can download here.

Capture the following details about each attribute:

  • A label or descriptive name to help you identify it
  • Whether it’s an H1, H2, or H3, etc.
  • Potential content type(s)
  • Whether it’s compulsory or optional
  • Who owns the information
  • Who can edit it
  • Whether it comes from a feed or needs to be written
  • If it comes from a feed, what the source is
  • Word count or character limit
  • Format (image, video, etc.)
  • Purpose (i.e., what it should do, what the user should get from it, etc.)
  • Its layout (full-width, two-column, etc.)
  • How it should it be written (editorial guidance)
  • Any rules it needs to stick to
  • An example of the copy

This is a significant task and it can take time. The good news is that you can—and should—enlist some help with it. Working with your colleagues will help you get through the task faster, and it will help you do it better. It can also help them get through any spreadsheet-aversion and see the benefits of a content model.

Content model template
Download our content model template to help make the process go faster.

Selling content modeling to your colleagues

If you want to persuade your colleagues to help you with your content model and get them on board with using it in their work, you need to sell it to them. How you do this depends on what they do and what they care about. To sell it, think about the issues they might have had with content in the past, and then work out how a content model might solve it.

UX and design should probably be the first groups you try to get involved in the content model. Ideally, you’d create a content model alongside, or even before, the wireframes. For this audience, you might want to talk about content challenges as they relate to user experience and design.

Explain how many times you’ve ended up playing ‘Copy Tetris’ (trying to manipulate the words to fit the boxes or vice versa) in the past with finished designs because the UX team didn’t realize just how many words a section needed to have or that it would be a bullet point list.  With a content model, you can have discussions up-front and get a clear picture of what the content will actually be and even design with some prototype copy.

Developers and/or whoever will configure your content management system should also be on the list. Your content model will help them because it provides lots of details about content reuse, permissions, how fields should be set up, and more. It can be beneficial to get this team to look at how you’re setting up your content model spreadsheet right at the start so they can suggest extra fields and data you can capture to help them do their part later on.

For product owners and subject matter experts, you can talk about the opportunity that content models present for them. They get the chance to have their say and build their expertise and guidance into the content at a template level. This reduces the chances they’ll find things they don’t like further down the line.

And finally, for content writers, a content model will help because it gives them the chance to get involved in creating the prototype copy. They’ll be able to ensure that the templates and guidance are workable for them before the process goes too far.

Ready to make your content model?

If I’ve sold you on the idea of content modeling, then it’s time to make your own. We’ve made a really easy-to-use content model template that will help you get started. It tells you all the information you need to record for your content items.

Once you’ve got your spreadsheet filled out, it’s time to build out the structure. GatherContent makes it easier to create accurate content models using the Components feature. This feature helps you create consistency and scale your content modeling decisions across your content workflow.

GatherContent Components
GatherContent helps you stop reinventing the wheel when it comes to your content.

Define the Components with the fields that you typically use for each type of content. Then, reuse the Components across different templates so you have a standardized structure.

Learn more about Components or start a free GatherContent trial to see for yourself.

If you want them to engage with the content model, you’ll have to do some work to get them on board.

In this post, we’ll share a content model template to help you create your own as well as some ideas for how to get your colleagues to care about it as much as you do.

What is a content model?

A content model documents all the different kinds of content you have on your website. It breaks content types down into their component parts, describes them in detail, and maps out how they relate to one another.

Content modeling involves building a taxonomy structure for any of the content that you’ve published online. This goes beyond just website pages. It also includes blog posts, images, videos, PDFs, and even things that aren’t published yet.

A content model is an important step in working out the finer details and practicalities of how you write and manage your content, and how you will present it on the page. If you’re building a new site or refreshing an existing one, it’s a vital part of that process.

Why is content modeling important?

Content modeling is important because it allows strategists and developers to visualize how your content works together. Understanding the purpose and connections between content is vital for keeping your content management system organized.

The process of building a content model typically ends up in the hands of a technical team member like a developer or a content manager. However, it’s important for the whole team (e.g., content strategists, content creators, content marketing professionals, and any other stakeholders whose jobs impact content management) to understand how and where their content is used.

Content modeling can also help you see the gaps in your existing content. As you are able to visualize how web pages and other pieces of content work together, you’ll start to see areas where you can improve content production to fill in the gaps, answer FAQs, and improve SEO.

💡 Read more: See how an agency used GatherContent to simplify the content modeling process.

How to create a content model

At the heart of any content model there are two important elements:

  • Content types: A content type is like a template you follow to make multiple pieces of content in the same vein. For example, a university might have a content type ‘template’ for course pages, subject areas, and academic bios. You reuse the ‘template’ to create multiple pieces of content in the same format.‍
  • Content attributes: Content attributes are the different elements that come together to make up the content type ‘template’. For example, your course page content type might consist of attributes like course name, description, modules, fees, etc.

This article by Rachel Lovinger is a brilliant read if you want to get into more depth about content types and content attributes.

"A content model is a powerful tool for fostering communication and aligning efforts between UX design, editorial, and technical resources on a project."
Rachel Lovinger
Group Director, Content Strategy, Publicis Sapient

As a first step in creating a content model, I start by sketching out a content map. I’ll list out the content types and then break them down into the attributes they’re made up of, adding lines and labels to show the relationships between them. Scott Kubie’s writing on content ecosystem mapping has some great ideas on how to do this.

Example of a university content map for course page content types
A content map can help you identify content types and attributes.

I find the mapping process really helpful for working through breaking down a content type into all of its attributes. Drawing out the relationships between those attributes is an important step too because it’ll highlight opportunities to reuse content across multiple content types.

Once I’ve got as far as I can with the map, I start the laborious process of putting it into a spreadsheet and capturing a lot more detail about each attribute. I’ve made a template you can download here.

Capture the following details about each attribute:

  • A label or descriptive name to help you identify it
  • Whether it’s an H1, H2, or H3, etc.
  • Potential content type(s)
  • Whether it’s compulsory or optional
  • Who owns the information
  • Who can edit it
  • Whether it comes from a feed or needs to be written
  • If it comes from a feed, what the source is
  • Word count or character limit
  • Format (image, video, etc.)
  • Purpose (i.e., what it should do, what the user should get from it, etc.)
  • Its layout (full-width, two-column, etc.)
  • How it should it be written (editorial guidance)
  • Any rules it needs to stick to
  • An example of the copy

This is a significant task and it can take time. The good news is that you can—and should—enlist some help with it. Working with your colleagues will help you get through the task faster, and it will help you do it better. It can also help them get through any spreadsheet-aversion and see the benefits of a content model.

Content model template
Download our content model template to help make the process go faster.

Selling content modeling to your colleagues

If you want to persuade your colleagues to help you with your content model and get them on board with using it in their work, you need to sell it to them. How you do this depends on what they do and what they care about. To sell it, think about the issues they might have had with content in the past, and then work out how a content model might solve it.

UX and design should probably be the first groups you try to get involved in the content model. Ideally, you’d create a content model alongside, or even before, the wireframes. For this audience, you might want to talk about content challenges as they relate to user experience and design.

Explain how many times you’ve ended up playing ‘Copy Tetris’ (trying to manipulate the words to fit the boxes or vice versa) in the past with finished designs because the UX team didn’t realize just how many words a section needed to have or that it would be a bullet point list.  With a content model, you can have discussions up-front and get a clear picture of what the content will actually be and even design with some prototype copy.

Developers and/or whoever will configure your content management system should also be on the list. Your content model will help them because it provides lots of details about content reuse, permissions, how fields should be set up, and more. It can be beneficial to get this team to look at how you’re setting up your content model spreadsheet right at the start so they can suggest extra fields and data you can capture to help them do their part later on.

For product owners and subject matter experts, you can talk about the opportunity that content models present for them. They get the chance to have their say and build their expertise and guidance into the content at a template level. This reduces the chances they’ll find things they don’t like further down the line.

And finally, for content writers, a content model will help because it gives them the chance to get involved in creating the prototype copy. They’ll be able to ensure that the templates and guidance are workable for them before the process goes too far.

Ready to make your content model?

If I’ve sold you on the idea of content modeling, then it’s time to make your own. We’ve made a really easy-to-use content model template that will help you get started. It tells you all the information you need to record for your content items.

Once you’ve got your spreadsheet filled out, it’s time to build out the structure. GatherContent makes it easier to create accurate content models using the Components feature. This feature helps you create consistency and scale your content modeling decisions across your content workflow.

GatherContent Components
GatherContent helps you stop reinventing the wheel when it comes to your content.

Define the Components with the fields that you typically use for each type of content. Then, reuse the Components across different templates so you have a standardized structure.

Learn more about Components or start a free GatherContent trial to see for yourself.

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About the author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a freelance content strategy and digital transformation consultant, working with organisations that make the world a better, fairer, more beautiful place.

Lauren has been working in content and digital since way back in 2007 and since then has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including adidas, American Express, Microsoft and Tetra Pak.  

She lives in Brighton, and loves the Downs, the sea, dystopian fiction and bold lipstick.


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