The Structure of Content — and why its so important.

Flannery Jefferson
Apr 11, 2016 · 5 min read

“Structured Content” has become a buzzword; a term you hear so often it loses its meaning. But it’s a very powerful idea. It determines how we find, understand, share, and use information.

What is Structured Content?

Structured content is a kind of metadata — information about information.

Content structure can provide information about content TYPE. For example, content can be classified as an Exhibit or a Blog Post or an Event. Each of these content types can have specific pieces of information associated with it, like an Author or a Date or Place. This is all part of the content’s structure.

From the Chicago Public Library Homepage

Content structure also defines HIERARCHIES. Hierarchies start with general content and work inwards towards more specific items.

Content structure also defines RELATIONSHIPS between content.

Tags are a great example of this. If two items are tagged with “health”, then that content is now connected based on a defined relationship.

My List on Pocket

Structured Content in the Digital Age

In a book, content structure exists only through its presentation. A heading differs from a paragraph only because it is bigger, bolded, coloured etc.

On a website, structure is still communicated through visual cues. But while this is what we see…

…here’s what’s really going on:

<h1> Heading </h1>

What the Internet allows for is the separation of content structure from content presentation — and this is a very important idea.

Enter Wordpress.

Wordpress is a Content Management System. It has three central features that allow content type, hierarchy and relationships to exist independently of content presentation.

You can manage content types using Wordpress’s Post Types.

By default, Wordpress comes with just one post-type (called “Post”). But you can add as many new ones as you like. For example, I can create a post-type for Events, News, Blog Posts and Podcasts.

Custom Post Types on Wordpress

You can also create hierarchies of content using Wordpress Categories.

The same categories can be used across any of my post types. For example, I could create an Event and a Blog Post and categorize both of them as “Lifestyle”.

Categories on Wordpress

And you can create relationships between content of any type or hierarchy using tags.

Tagging on Wordpress

The information contained by Post Types, Categories and Tags is completely separate from how content will be presented.

And all this matters because…?

Create once, Publish everywhere

For one thing, structured content means that you can display the same information — with the same content structure — in a thousand different ways.

Whether its through different templates….

…or different screen sizes….

…Whatever container you use, the content keeps its meaning.

NPR’s is philosophy to “create once, publish everywhere”. They want their content to travel freely across every social media platform and device.

Getting the right content to the right user

Its much easier to navigate content thats clearly organized. Tags let you quickly assess whether content is relevant for your purposes. Hierarchies create sitemaps that let you zoom in on a specific item.

Not only is it easier to reach a destination, but you just might find something better than what you were looking for. Types, tags and categories all serve to group content so that users who click on one thing can stumble upon something else. The smarter content structure gets, the more intelligent and useful sections like “Further Reading” or “Recommended For You” will be.

Content structure enhances the worth of content by getting it to the individuals who will value it.

More Meaning

Finally, content structure gives you added perspective and insight.

Creating structure is kind of like storytelling — its a pathway through information based on a subjective understanding of similarities and relationships. And like a story, the value this adds is not technical or scientific, but editorial.

Structure that someone else has built becomes a huge part of the message and purpose of content. It helps you make connections you might not otherwise have seen. Its what turns facts into a meaningful whole.

Structured content transforms how people find, understand, share, and use information. As content structure gets better and better, the Internet as a whole becomes richer and more usable.

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