A lesson in content types
A key task in conducting a content audit is determining what content types exist. Creating and managing content by type is essential to an effective website.
“Content type” captures regularly occurring kinds of content found on a website. It is founded what the content is ABOUT. (Developers tend to equate the term “content type” with “template” – and some CMSs use it this way too. Designers and information architects tend to use “content type” to describe content that follows a common design pattern. But neither of these definitions help the content itself meet the user’s needs or achieve the organization’s business goals, which are the concerns of the content strategist.)
There are several purposes for identifying the types of content on a website:
- Identifying content models, which enable better presentation on multiple devices and power dynamically created collections
- Enabling rules for content creation, review, promotion, and expiration
- Making it easier for content creators to choose effective metadata
Before a website’s content types are identified, these are typically unstructured pages with minimal or no business rules. This makes it nearly impossible to manage them in an orderly fashion. If any contributor can create any kind of content, which fosters frustration for users.
One-question content type assessment
Is there more than one instance of content like this? If there is, it is a content type.
There are three varieties of content types:
Collections are aggregations that exist to list and highlight underlying content. Examples:
- Landing page
- Publication issue
Often, collections do not expire, but instead get updated. They may sometimes be created dynamically via business rules, but often are manually curated by editorial staff on a web team.
Other content types are “leaf level” pages that serve to convey information. Identifying and classifying a website’s leaf-level content is incredibly helpful in bringing order to what was previously a chaotic set of information.
- Press release
Leaf-level content types follow common patterns of behavior:
- They are (or usually should be) generated by the same people within an organization
- They have a consistent presentation
- They follow common workflow/review processes
- They have a common lifespan
- They may live in a common area of the website
- They may share subsets of metadata (while slightly more complex to set up, this makes it much easier to train taggers on choosing effective metadata, as well as to maintain the metadata)
Before an organization identifies its content types, a significant portion of a website’s pages are unstructured, unclassified pages; the goal of an audit is to keep this pool of content to a minimum. However, there will probably always be content that does not fall into any existing pattern.
Content that falls into the general content type probably contains a standard set of fields – headline, summary, body, author. But beyond that, it is inconsistent in purpose, workflow, lifecycle, etc.