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

4 minute read

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

4 minute read

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

Lauren Pope

Content Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultant

No one will want to look at your content model - but you still need one, and to make your colleagues care about it.

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.

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.

A content model is useful,  important and once you’ve created one, you’ll probably feel pretty excited about it. There’s a ‘but’ though... but it will be a big, 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. If you want them to engage, you’ll have to do some work to get them on-board.

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

How to create a content model

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

  1. 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.
  2. Content attributes: the content attributes are the different elements that come together to make up the content type ‘template’. For example, your course page content type might comprise 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.

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.

An example of content attributes (course name, course description, modules and fees), content type, and a content map showing course, fees, academic, course description, modules, module description and module name.

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. I would typically try to capture the following details about each attribute:

  • A label - a descriptive name to help you identify it
  • Whether it’s an H1, H2, or H3, etc
  • What content type(s) it can be part of
  • 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 feed, what the source is
  • Word count or character limit
  • Format (image, video, etc)
  • Purpose - what it should do, what the user should get from it
  • The layout it will use (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.

Selling content modelling 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. Ideally, you’d create a content model alongside, or even before, the wireframes. For this audience, you might want to talk about 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 they didn’t realise just how many words a section needed to have, or that it would be bullet point list.  A content model will mean 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 CMS 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 this represents to have their say and build their expertise and guidance into the content at a template level, reducing 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, and ensuring 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 modelling, you can download a content model template here.

No one will want to look at your content model - but you still need one, and to make your colleagues care about it.

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.

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.

A content model is useful,  important and once you’ve created one, you’ll probably feel pretty excited about it. There’s a ‘but’ though... but it will be a big, 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. If you want them to engage, you’ll have to do some work to get them on-board.

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

How to create a content model

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

  1. 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.
  2. Content attributes: the content attributes are the different elements that come together to make up the content type ‘template’. For example, your course page content type might comprise 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.

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.

An example of content attributes (course name, course description, modules and fees), content type, and a content map showing course, fees, academic, course description, modules, module description and module name.

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. I would typically try to capture the following details about each attribute:

  • A label - a descriptive name to help you identify it
  • Whether it’s an H1, H2, or H3, etc
  • What content type(s) it can be part of
  • 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 feed, what the source is
  • Word count or character limit
  • Format (image, video, etc)
  • Purpose - what it should do, what the user should get from it
  • The layout it will use (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.

Selling content modelling 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. Ideally, you’d create a content model alongside, or even before, the wireframes. For this audience, you might want to talk about 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 they didn’t realise just how many words a section needed to have, or that it would be bullet point list.  A content model will mean 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 CMS 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 this represents to have their say and build their expertise and guidance into the content at a template level, reducing 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, and ensuring 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 modelling, you can download a content model template here.

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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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