A Guide to Structured Content for Headless CMS'
This short guide outlines why adapting a structured content approach can help you scale more efficiently.
Co-Founder / CEO
December 14, 2022
Structured content describes the process of breaking content down into smaller components to facilitate reuse and to enable the content to be interrogated more easily - in essence you are treating the content as data. The content is supported by metadata that assigns meaning to small “chunks” of the content so it is clear what a piece of content is and what its function is. A common analogy is to think of structured content like lego bricks that can be reused, repurposed, moved around, and used as building blocks.
Today, more and more marketers are discovering the utility of structured content as a way to scale their content marketing efforts. Structured content is a technology-agnostic way of organizing and tagging content in consistent, predictable ways. Think of it as a way of enabling people and systems to take advantage of patterns across a body of content, making it easier to find, mix and match, and redeploy content components at a moment’s notice to any device, channel, or format.
— Source: Getting Started With Structured Content
It is gaining popularity as an approach used by marketing leaders to manage content on websites where there is a desire to accelerate growth through inbound marketing i.e. producing high-quality content to educate and inform.
This article is thus intended to raise awareness amongst Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) as to what structured content is, why it is important and why you should care about it. The good news is the approach is one the content creators are probably already familiar with and after an initial decision is made to embrace the approach the impact on workloads is negligible.
Structured Content - A Definition
The following represent two definitions that help to explain what it is in a little more detail:
Content, whether in a textual, visual, or playable format, that conforms to structural and semantic rules that allow machine processing to meet specific business requirements. The Language of Content Strategy: Rahel Anne Bailie
“Structured content” means content that is broken into smaller parts, or “chunks” that can be mixed and matched in multiple ways. Essentially, it turns content into data.
— Source: Carrie Hane
In terms of breaking it down further, structured content consists of:
content types (reusable containers for content or self-contained entities),
content modules i.e. pieces of text and
content models (the representation of content types and their relationships.)
For example, a content type is the definition someone gives a piece of content e.g. as part of a schema. You can then connect content types using rules e.g. an SEO module needs to have a URL/slug, a meta title, a keyword, and a meta description.
The content model is made up of content types, which are the containers for your content based on similar structure and patterns. They allow you to design and create the content resources first before knowing how they will be represented in an interface. A content resource is a specific example for a type of content. For example, a Porsche 911 is an example of a Vehicle content type.
— Source: Carrie Hane, Designing with Content
Why is Content Modelling Important?
The “old way” of building websites meant that content was often hard-coded into the HTML and was thus difficult to manage, maintain and reuse. If you needed to update something like the name of a corporate entity, you may have needed to update content on hundreds of pages across the site, which would entail a significant overhead in terms of resources but also an increased likelihood of error.
In layman’s terms, the content model is a way of defining and cataloging raw ingredients (e.g., content attributes and interdependencies) and detailing how those ingredients combine into multiple content “recipes.” Because content modeling can be tackled in small, manageable increments, it’s an excellent introductory activity for an organization overwhelmed by a large volume of unstructured, uncategorized content.
— Source: Getting Started with Structured Content
Over the years as sites have grown, and as companies have pursued an inbound marketing or content-led approach to lead generation, the number of pages on websites has grown commensurately. Deploying a structured content approach has thus emerged as a way to manage legacy content and content debt, as well as an approach that offers numerous other additional benefits (as outlined below) future-proofing your content especially in an increasingly data-driven “AI world”.
In short, there are multiple benefits from using a structured content approach, particularly for large or complex websites i.e. those with lots of pages, different language versions, or those keen to deploy personalization at scale.
Structured Content Adoption
So where are we in terms of adoption?
Structured content is increasingly being used by companies with a lot of content that needs to be updated and maintained. As it allows users to “create [content] once and [to] publish everywhere” (COPE) the value for larger sites is obvious. As Carrie Hane argues in 3 Reasons You Need Structured Content Now, you need structured content if you want to:
Make omnichannel publishing possible
More easily and cheaply scale content publishing
Be findable by third parties, including search engines
As these motivations are common for most B2B and SaaS scaleups, structured content is becoming popular for those working with larger websites where there is sufficient resource to adopt the approach.
Where is a structured content lead approach not suitable?
It is not suitable for smaller sites
Investing in structured content does not make sense if you are a smaller, more resource-constrained company with a small number of pages to manage and maintain. Adapting this approach takes time, and the benefits are of most value for larger sites with a lot of content. A key benefit relates to efficiency when updating content, and smaller sites can be updated more quickly without the need to invest in a structured content approach.
It is not supported by some Content Management Systems
While the structured content approach works well with modern approaches like utilizing a Headless CMS, it may not work well with legacy CMS applications.
In short, a structured content approach is a relatively significant initial investment so there needs to be a recognition that the payoff is “down the road”, after the initial pain of designing and executing.
What about Content Reusability?
For those of us working in marketing, “unique content” has often been a key requirement as part of a content strategy to ensure strong Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Within a structured content world, this principle still holds. What is different, however, is having a keen awareness of the significant number of content types that will routinely appear on different pages across a site.
Company Boilerplate “About Us”
Customer Reviews etc.
When it comes to copy on a page the fields can include:
Meta Title (SEO benefits)
Meta Description (SEO benefits)
Summary or Abstract
Main Body Copy / Body Text
Boilerplate “About Us”
Primary Call to Action (CTA)
Secondary Call to Action (CTA) etc.
These content types may appear on multiple pages and if they can be easily identified in the Content Management System, one change there can flow to all references without needing to manually edit every page on the site.
In short, ensuring you have unique blog content and a variety of different pages will help ensure you don’t fall foul of any SEO penalties. Structured content plays well with SEO and is thus well aligned with SEO best practices.
Key Benefits of a Structured Content Lead Approach?
1- Increased Efficiency
A primary benefit of structured content is the increased efficiency it brings to marketing and content teams responsible for managing and maintaining content. With unstructured content, the update process can be pretty laborious between the search costs of trying to identify what needs to be updated plus the inefficiencies of having to update everything individually.
With structured content, one change should flow throughout all instances of that content type. So for example a global change to the company address would be more easily facilitated with structured content where one change updates everything.
Reduction in search costs
Reduction in time spent managing and maintaining content
Reduction in content duplication
However, a word of caution is needed here. If content writers use a company address in “free text” for example in the body copy of an article for example, without adhering to the ‘structured content’ approach then this copy will fall outside of the “global change” update process.
2- Structured Content is Good for SEO
A structured content approach is well suited for SEO as you are essentially flagging content for search engines like Google that aligns with how their bots crawl sites. Utilizing a structured content approach you’d look to set the URL/slug, the H1, meta title, and meta descriptions in the CMS as well as Alt tags for images. You can also use Schema markup (Schema.org is the most commonly used approach to structured data markup for SEO purposes) again helping major search engines to assign meaning to the content. Finally, when structured content is used in conjunction with a Headless CMS, you are aligning best practices in terms of content structure and performance optimization.
3- Structured Content Facilitates Omnichannel
A structured content approach makes it easier to choose which content parts can be reused and repurposed across various devices and channels by structuring your content and maintaining a boundary between the content and the presentation layer. Structured content enables you to publish once and to use it elsewhere. Again this aligns well with the API lead approach of Headless CMS solutions like Contento.
4- Structured Content Supports Localization
One benefit of a structured content lead approach is that it works well with localization where you may want multiple versions of the same content in different languages. For example, you may want to repurpose your blogs such that a French version of an English-originated blog is deployed dynamically when an IP from France hits the site. A structured content approach is ideal for repurposing existing content. For example, you may want to reuse the image from the original English language blog and just change the text.
5- Structured Content Works Well with Personalization
With structured content, you can serve content based on IP data e.g. based on country or some other data points that indicate a specific persona.
In an ideal world, we’d all be ‘chunking’ content into constituent pieces and applying appropriate metadata so that personalization is made more meaningful (and, in turn, provides a good return on the time and resource investment made to get there).
With a Personalization API from the likes of Ninetailed, it is also easy to personalize experiences for website users, without impacting performance or reliability.
6- Structured Content Helps With On-Site Search
When you have a structured data approach to managing content it also means that the on-site search capability is enhanced as you can then filter, sort, and search based on predefined fields.
What is the Link between Structured Content and Headless CMSs?
Structured content is particularly important for those companies using a Headless CMS [What is a Headless CMS?] like Contento, to manage their content. A Headless CMS acts like a data repository of content that is served via an API.
Structured content is essential for making the switch to a ‘headless CMS’ — a content management system that does not come with an out-of-the-box way to render content in a web browser.
With a structured content approach, you can create specific rules like - every testimonial needs to include; an image, a quote, a job title, and a person's name. This then makes it easier to create testimonials as they all follow the same convention. With rules, these components can then be deployed across the site.
A structured content approach is also important when redesigning or launching a new website. If the approach hasn’t been used historically, it represents the perfect time to do so.
Content-first" is really an approach to the design process. It means that before deciding what an interface looks like, you determine what content should be part of the interface. That means the structure of the content as well as actual words that will be part of the interface.
Structured Content and Contento
Contento has been designed with structured content in mind. We use content types that allow you to define a collection of fields that defines what content you can store against that content type. Take the example of a blog post, we've got a title and an image, and a body. And we want those fields to have certain validation rules on them. All of that attaches to the content type. We can say that the title field must be no longer than 180 characters. We can say the image field must only have one image in it, and it must be an image i.e. it can't be a PDF, because we need to display that image on the front of the website. So the content type allows us to define rules around what fields exist on it, as well as defining the fields themselves. And then we can use that content type wherever we like on our website. And we always know when we're using that content type. We always know that it's got that set of fields on it and that the rules that have been attached to that content type have been applied, otherwise the thing won't have been saved. So validation rules are a key part of structure content.
You can also use Contento to structure smaller pieces of content. You may want to build a very rich page with lots of modules, cascading down. One module might simply be an image on the left and a piece of text on the right, another module might be a video with a caption, another module might be a big “call to action” banner with a background image, a color that you can choose, a title, and a link. And they've got their own structure that needs to be stored and validated against. In short, you can create a rich ecosystem of reusable modules that you can use to build pages on your site.
— Source: Josh Angell, CTO of Contento
In summary, working in marketing for a growing B2B or SaaS company is demanding. There is always a never-ending list of tasks on “to-do” lists. It is also difficult to go deep on obscure and niche topics. One could argue that ‘structured content’ falls into that bucket - it is not a mainstream topic most marketing leaders will be familiar with. However, as sites grow and scale and the demands on content management increase, it is worth tasking the content or editorial team with learning about structured content. The team can start using the approach with new content, and it can then be rolled out on a wider basis over time. It also represents an approach to managing content that works well with the continued growth of using a Headless CMS to manage modern websites.