Three Steps To Planning Your Content Architecture

Cristina Ferrandez
Cristina Ferrandez
Aug 18, 2017

The various components of content architecture can seem daunting, but when you break them down it becomes clear that they are simply a series of interconnected systems. These systems are comprised of the content itself, people (your team members and the audience), workflows, and technology (your content management system). In this respect, building a content architecture is nothing more than devising a strategy for managing interactions between these systems in order to maximize the value of the contribution from each of them. 

Effective content isn’t just created; it has to be managed

If there’s a primary difference between organizations that excel at content marketing and those that flounder it’s this: the latter think that creating content is an end unto itself, while the former know that managing the content process is just as important. Content marketing is a proven strategy for engaging audiences and improving ROI, but that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The true value of content only comes when it is backed up by a systematic process and its messaging can reliably be delivered to the intended audience.

Successful content architecture on the backend reaps frontend rewards

Ultimately, this means that you have work to do on the backend if you want your content strategy to be successful. Putting up a website and expecting your leads to find your content and gain value from it is not sufficient. 

The good news is that this effort pays dividends as you progress. By devising systems for content distribution and management on the backend, your digital persona will be more agile, you will be positioned to connect with individual customers through personalization, and you’ll be able to expand the reach of your content.

The following steps can send you on your way to a successful content architecture strategy:

1. Set your goals and objectives

Decide on your big-picture goals for your content strategy

What your content architecture eventually looks like will largely depend on what you hope to accomplish from your website and your content strategy in general. Therefore, it’s best to start by defining your objectives before moving on to more specific components. For example, if your primary goal is to increase brand awareness through thought leadership, the way you lay out and manage you content is going to look quite different than if you are trying to drive leads to make an online purchase.

Optimize content for a omni-channel environment

Omni-channel content delivery is a must in an era that is dominated by mobile devices and ubiquitous broadband connections. The tricky thing for marketers is that not all types of content translate across all platforms. Your content architecture has to be set up to recognize this reality and take advantage of it, by exploiting the specific attributes of different channels and diverting certain types of content away from others. 

Consider your objectives from a content editor’s perspective

The structure of your content architecture will end up largely defining the experience for your editors. Think about the processes that will need to be accomplished on a regular basis, and ensure that your framework includes a plan to optimize them. Remember: your content can only do its job when it’s presented in the correct way, and your editors will only be able to reliably reach your audience with it when the system meets their specific needs.

Begin to map the high-level content workflows

Once you have outlined your objectives, set concrete benchmarks and evaluated the needs and capabilities of your end-users, then you can begin to piece together the ways in which your content, technology, people and workflows will interact in order to maintain equilibrium. Each of these four factors are essential to building a long-term, effective content architecture.

2. Map out your internal workflows

Focus on processes that will yield the greatest efficiency improvements

After outlining the high-level processes, you can finally begin to dig deeply into the workflows that will define your content management strategy. As you do this, the need for efficiency will become clear—your content editors are going to be working with limited resources in order to meet the exacting demands of the audience.

Start by looking at the tasks your editors will be doing many times per day, every day of the week. Find ways to automate or speed up these tasks so that your team members can focus more on engaging the audience. 

Build a content architecture for the future, not just the present

So far, we’ve discussed how your content architecture needs to be based on specific objectives, structured around workflows and user-friendly, but there’s still one component lacking: you must also make sure that it’s adaptable.  Your goals, audience composition and size, capabilities, and technological infrastructure are going to evolve over time (to say nothing of market forces). You can’t predict the future, but you can make sure your content architecture can be adapted to fit new realities. 

Look at the process holistically to minimize bottlenecks

Unfortunately, content management is only as strong as the least efficient workflow contained within. If research, drafting and copyediting a piece of content can be completed in 4 hours, but it takes three days to create a page, it’s easy to see how inefficiencies will eventually cause mounting problems. 

Don’t put your content editors in this position. Use this time to outline workflows that address the inherent inefficiencies in your process. Shift greater resources to tasks that other facets are dependent on, so that you can minimize the amount of inactivity and be prepared to engage with your audience at the exact right moment—after all, timing is everything in marketing.

Pay close attention to talent and resource management

You have a detailed knowledge of your audience, your content editors and your resources, so put it to good use when designing your content management workflows. You may benefit from giving your editors a significant amount of creative freedom, knowing that there are many different ways they can provide value to the reader. Or, your audience may have a very narrow range of interest, necessitating layers of creative control to keep things on track. Also, you may need to consider whether or not there any potential security gaps involving proprietary information. In any case, your editors will benefit from a clearly-defined set of workflow standards that allows them to achieve their best.

3. Configure your CMS

Have your CMS set up to take advantage of your specific workflow structure

The functions of your content strategy will largely be run through your content management system (CMS), and how well your CMS aligns with your internal workflows will play a big role in the success of your campaigns. Setting your goals and mapping out your workflows can be done independently of any CMS platform, but now it’s time to choose a system and set up its functions with your specific processes in mind. The software developers who configure your CMS should be given guidance in terms of how they can position the various capabilities for your benefit.

Ensure the system is user-friendly

Your CMS will be in the hands of the end-users, which in this case will likely be your content editors. Make sure you choose a platform that is aligned with their skill level and makes their job easier.

For example, modern HTML and rich text editing platforms offer unparalleled creativity and nearly limitless possibilities in terms of design. However, they typically feature steep learning curves, and require more time to avoid looking unfinished. Alternatively, there are many CMS platforms that take plain content and structure it automatically. These systems are simple enough for anyone to use instantly, but they also inhibit freedom of design and creativity. 

Think about how your CMS will accommodate future needs and capabilities

Just as before, adaptability is paramount. You want your CMS to be usable right out of the box, but you also want to ensure that it can grow with you, and won’t inhibit you at a critical juncture. A bespoke platform may fit your content strategy like a glove right now, but how much will it cost to add features when you need them? Open source platforms offer incredible flexibility in terms of modifications, but they require more work to tailor specific functions to your exact standards.

Make a plan for all components of your content—large and small

The big aspects of your content architecture, such as your goals, the perceived value of the audience and brand integrity, are likely to occupy your thoughts as you build your processes. However, the details often matter just as much in content management as the big-picture issues.

Things that seemed small in the past—including image re-sizing, load times for large media, SEO and accessibility—will become vital as you begin to configure your CMS. Make sure the platform is set up so that any of these issues that are important to your content are addressed every single time you publish something. 

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