The Ultimate CMS Content Architecture Tutorial

Edward Wilson
Edward Wilson
Feb 13, 2018

Content architecture affects how easy (or how difficult) it is for you and your team to transform your content into money. With the right architecture in place, creating content and managing content delivery can happen smoothly in the background while your end users enjoy the quality experience they are looking for.

This post demystifies how content architecture can help you deliver amazing experiences and gives concrete examples of how it can help you improve your ROI.

Part 1 clears up what content architecture is and why it matters.

Part 2 breaks down the key benefits you get from working with the right content architecture.

Part 3 looks at how content architecture can help future-proof your CMS and reduce costs later down the road.

Part 4 finishes by reviewing how to choose the right content architecture for your needs and how to optimize your editors’ time while the content architecture is being built. 

By the end of the post you will know exactly how content architecture impacts your bottom line. Want the less-detailed version? Check out our post with recorded webinar on How content architecture helps your bottom line.

Part 1 - What is content architecture

Content architecture is essentially the organization behind the scenes that delivers your content. It comes down to getting into your editors and developers minds and anticipating the workflows, hurdles and questions they will have, then creating a system that allows them to do their best work.

When done right it makes it easy for your editors and designers to do what they need to do and get work submitted in time. It incorporates all the other software integrations you depend on (like ticketing or apps or other API integrations). It’s also easy to build on for future additions and adjustments and features.

A robust content architecture is something like taking your family to an event where everyone running the event knows their role and works seamlessly with everyone else behind the scenes to deliver a top-notch experience.

On the flip side, poorly designed content architecture makes it difficult for your editors to enter content into the system. Your integrations may fail or not work well together. And it may be challenging for your developers to add new features, address security risks, or make site-wide optimizations.

It's like taking your family to an event where the organizers behind the scenes threw a bunch of people together with little planning or preparation and said ‘make it work’. The event could have all the right draws but delivering the experience could turn into a disaster.

That is the secret to understanding content architecture. You can have great content, but that is only part of the picture. Developing and delivering that content can be frictionless, or it can be stressful, inefficient, and nearly impossible to get right. Content architecture is the engine behind the scenes that makes great experiences happen. Or not happen.

A customer-centric culture depends on quality content architecture

This is an essential element to any quality experience. Yet as anyone who has organized an event knows, in order to deliver on being customer-centric you need to spend time building the right processes behind the scenes. If the managers don’t have timely meetings with front-of-house staff, the customer experience is going to suffer. If there is no process in place for front-of-house staff to alert the right people about an unexpected situation unfolding in real time, the customer experience is going to suffer. Delivering a true customer-centric experience requires careful development of the delivery team behind the end user experience.

The same principle applies to quality content architecture. Customers see only the front-end of your app or website, but it’s the security updates and designers working with the UX team and the A/B tests and the new features that constantly need to be added that make that front-end look good. Whether it be front-line staff or websites and apps, if the bottom falls apart, the top is going to crumble too. There are many jobs underneath the surface that need to work together to keep your content operating smoothly. Good content architecture creates a place for each of those jobs and keeps those jobs working well together. Focussing on the 80% here is what makes the 20% the customer finally sees really shine.

Part 2 - What concrete advantages do end users get from good content architecture?

Security updates happen quicker. Almost every week the news is full of another company that gets overwhelmed with bad publicity because of a security breach of some sort. Site-wide updates need to happen quickly in response to these threats. Good content architecture makes it easy for your team to deliver those updates across all your digital content.

Site Performance stays high. As more content gets added to your site and design changes are integrated, your page speed and down times can suffer. With good content architecture performance updates can be tested, applied, and rolled back much quicker and easier.

Onboarding costs are lower. The easier it is for editors to start creating content and designers to start implementing changes, the less budget gets spent getting new team-members ready for their role. Poor content architecture has a steep learning curve that pulls money towards training manuals and onboarding. Good content architecture gets new employees generating ROI quicker.

Team morale stays positive. If the editors and designers experience unnecessary friction every time they try to do their everyday tasks, aggravation goes up and morale goes down. That ripples through to the quality of work they deliver and how much work they get done. It also affects the people they work with – we all know how challenging it can be to be productive around individuals who just doesn’t want to be there. Good content architecture makes it easy for editors and designers to the work they need to do. This ease-of-use pays dividends that go through the entire organization.

Managing the software is easier. Overall, a CMS that is easy to manage is more valuable than a CMS that is difficult to manage, and not just from a stress perspective. The success of the entire project comes down to hundreds of small details, and when it’s a constant struggle to do things like change user notifications or upload new success badges, the end user suffers in the long run. When the backend is difficult to work with, over time the front end begins to suffer. Good content architecture is fundamentally easy to manage.

The CMS grows with you. When you do take that step and pour your budget into a new CMS, you could just accept that in a couple years you will struggle with using an outdated system or buy a new platform in order to keep up with your company as it grows and adapts. You could also invest in making changes to the CMS you are using now. A good CMS is relatively inexpensive to add new features to.

So far we’ve looked at what good content architecture looks like to the people who use it. What does good content architecture look like to the developers who may need to come in and make changes?

Part 3 - Future-proofing your CMS

Good content architecture is about making it easy for your team to deliver a great customer experience, but there is more to it than that. A truly good content architecture is good for today, and good for tomorrow. It isn’t static. That means a good CMS considers the needs of the agency or inhouse developers who are going to make changes to the CMS.

Ease in adding new features. As consumer behaviors change and new competitors emerge, your company needs room to grow and adapt. You may want to tack on ecommerce or enhance personalization or add an API while maintaining site speed and integrating with your SEO and other everyday optimization tasks. A good CMS provides a stable foundation that makes it easier for your developers to do whatever you want them to do.

Structure that minimizes risk. Implementing changes can always result in things breaking or integrations not working. Sometimes the things that break aren’t immediately apparent and you only find out about them when your end users begin complaining. A good CMS is built on a robust architecture that makes it easy for developers to isolate changes and track effects in order to mitigate those risks.

Benefit - Less customer support required. The easier it is to add new features as your customers demand them, the less budget needs to get allocated to customer support. When the developers are able to respond quickly to customer needs without anything breaking along the way, the end result is customers who get the experience they came for. This benefit applies to ongoing maintenance or integration hurdles as well. An overwhelmed CMS requires you to put money towards putting out fires. A structurally robust CMS prevents the fires from ever starting and allows you to invest in features that make you money.

Part 4 - Choosing the right CMS for your needs

Know your editors skill sets. If they don’t know HTML or CSS, they need strong templates that let them focus on creating the content and provides the tools they need. They may benefit form drop-down lists that let them color-select the background they are looking for. Editors who are more comfortable with coding may want optionality that lets them enter in their own CSS styling for better customization.

Know your editor workflows. If you review your editor workflows you can integrate key steps like simplifying approvals prior to publishing and build in required security options like view, comment, or edit only. Ensuring your CMS facilitates these workflows helps avoid margin-punishing bottlenecks.

Choose Structured vs Unstructured Content. With structured content, various types of content gets put into tables, similar to an excel spreadsheet. Each type of content can then get pulled to specific parts of an app or website using API calls or other export requests. Unstructured content is more like a word document where everything is lumped into one package. This is where you would see a rich text editor that gives you all sorts of flexibility in creating your document. The downside of unstructured content is it is almost impossible to parse it and send specific parts to specific digital properties.

A news item that needs to get pushed to both a website and an app is a great example. With unstructured content, the way it looks on the website may end up looking very differently on the app. Structured content allows you to send the content in whatever form works best, allowing it to be optimized for whatever screen it will end up appearing on.

Do you need content relatedness? Articles can be tagged in a hierarchy, or be identified as being related or not related. This functionality may need to be built into your CMS.

How important is future flexibility? The long-term direction your company is going. You may end up hiring editors with a different skill set in the future. As your company adjusts to industry forces, your editors may have different workflows. You may need only unstructured content now, but as your content offerings change you may need to more towards structured content. As the complexity changes, your import and export needs may change. Consider how easily you want to incorporate new integrations and future enhancements.

How to maximize CMS development time

Get editors started early. If editors can be entering in real content as the CMS is being developed, you make less changes later as you go.

Adjustments to workflows. Getting feedback from editors as the CMS is being built and adjusting the screens so they see what they need to see is a great way to ensure the final CMS succeeds in making your editors jobs easy.

Summing up

The ultimate advantage to a good CMS is increased margins and happier customers. Ultimately, when you start with a good base, your editors and designers are able to get their work done with nothing getting in their way. Your developers are able to respond quickly to customer needs and add features as they are required. Your digital content gets delivered to your end users with few maintenance or optimization hassles. And you get to focus on putting your energy towards new responsibilities and new tasks, rather than getting swamped under a steady stream of problems and expenses.

You may be ready for a complete site overhaul. You might be planning to add some new functionality to how your content gets delivered. You might be working with a system that has been around for several years and without realizing it has potential to be much more efficient. Or you might have a situation where your company has thjree times the content it had before and a bunch of new workflows. Whatever the circumstances, content architecture will always impact your customer experience. With the right CMS, you can leverage your content architecture as a way to reduce expenses and optimize content across all your digital properties. Hybrid CMSs are uniquely positioned to help you do that.

With industries constantly going through disruption, content architecture plays a big role in adapting to changes and preparing for future enhancements. A Hybrid CMS offers the strengths of a Headless CMS and their ability to work with structured content, while also offering the strengths of a Traditional CMS and their ability to present flexible non-structured content. With this type of CMS, it isn’t hard to develop a content architecture that supports your business goals, since they are designed from the ground up to help your content make more money.

Check out the recorded webinar below on "Deciding Between Headless, Traditional, and Hybrid CMS" to learn about how Agility CMS’ Hybrid solution provides flexible building blocks that can help you optimize your content and improve profit margins. You can also read up on more information on our blog

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