One of the big challenges we face as part of managing web content is to keep up with capturing and maintaining the content’s underlying framework rules and logic in a place where it can be accessed by everyone. We are not talking about documenting the various business logic validations that occur on a webpage but rather how different components interact and come together to display a page. Let me illustrate this issue with a simple example.
Let’s say we have an office supplies merchandizing website. So what do we have here from a content management perspective? Let us take a look at the list below:
a) Website content. Source: Web Content Management System, henceforth referred to as WCMS in this article
b) Labels and drop down static values. Source: WCMS
c) Payment and shopping cart content. Source: either WCMS and/or different system
d) Customer loyalty program content. Source: WCMS, managed by different teams; rules might originate in a different system
e) Personalization rules, if any. Source: personalization system
f) Rules for breadcrumbs if any. Source: content is from WCMS. The actual rules would reside in the presentation layer.
g) Layout/UI of page. Source: Presentation layer; sometimes some aspects of layout are controlled via WCMS
h) Images and videos displayed. Source: Digital Asset Management aka DAM
i) SEO content. Source: probably WCMS
j) Corporate Taxonomy. Source: Taxonomy system which can be either a separate system or sometimes is managed within WCMS.
k) Multivariate A/B testing. Source: content is from WCMS; rules are present in separate system
l) Web analytics options. Source: web analytics system
The above is by no means a complete list but it gives us an idea of the issue we are grappling with here. The question here is, is there one place a user can document all the various rules and logic affecting the display of content? The answer is yes, and it is the content model.
What is a content model?
The content model serves as a reference to how content is structured and displayed to the user. It deals with the various components and its umpteen attributes that are applied according to the underlying framework architecture. In other words, content model is like a blue print that tells us how all the various pieces of content are assembled together to be displayed on a particular page or channel or device. A very import point to be noted here is that the content served might be coming from various sources as shown in the above section. A content model is not a copy of the web content maintained outside of the WCMS.
Depending on how the framework is structured, a content model must articulate the following:
a) The layout of the content. Depending on the framework, one can have multiple versions of the description content and have rules related to each of them
c) The location of the content – both in the source and on the site/channel/device
d) Display rules. There are various rules that affect the way the content is presented, depending on either the customer level, personalization, A/B testing etc.
e) The applicable locale(s) to the content. If a specific section of the content or the attribute of the content is available only in select languages, it needs to be documented.
f) Workflows used to manage the content (for publishing, retirement, translation, approval, synchronize etc.)
g) Various aspects of the content that may reside outside of the WCMS, like taxonomy, controlled lists, layout used, coded components etc.
h) Metadata and SEO tags used as well as the url naming convention followed, if any.
i) Documenting specific do’s and don’ts pertaining specifically to the framework, system or domain. Sometimes not all validations are enforced so it becomes necessary to properly document the proper choices to be made and the limitations of the system.
Advantages of content model:
A content model can be useful in many ways. Some of them are:
– Understand how the framework works
– Trouble shooting
– Content migration from one document/content type to another
– Content migration from one framework to another
– Content migration from one system to another (can be within two different CMS systems, can be between
– Content Analysis & Metrics
– Useful to create or give requirements for reporting needs
Almost all teams involved benefit from having a content model – ecommerce, business, IT (development and maintenance), Testing etc.
Maintaining a content model:
Updating and maintaining content models are not challenging if proper process is in place and the workforce is trained to use and maintain them. Content Models are usually dynamic and keep evolving since either the content structure and or the underlying framework or technology change over period of time. The frequency of change varies depending on the changes. SEO tags might be updated monthly whereas the personalization rule might be changed only during specific release cycles.
A website may have multiple content models associated with it. Even within one framework, you can have multiple content models. One of the common questions I get asked is about maintaining documentation from the source perspective (like Taxonomy system, Personalization rules engine etc.) as well as from the content perspective. This is a valid concern since we do not want to maintain multiple sources of documentation. A content model is not always referring to one document. The content model can refer to multiple documents that are properly cross referenced and easily identifiable.
The content model really empowers the business side by documenting how various components interact to display content on the site. It allows business to have less dependency on the IT side for either trouble shooting or from an information perspective.
Felix Simon is a Senior Consultant with Avalon Consulting, LLC