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December 14, 2020

Steps to structured content (podcast, part 2)

In episode 86 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Gretyl Kinsey and Bill Swallow continue their discussion about the steps to structure, how to move from unstructured content to structure, and what each level of maturity looks like.

“Step five is when you’re  thinking even your structure is structured. You’re really thinking about how to take this to the highest possible level, how to get the most out of your automation, and how to make sure that the way you’re delivering your content is maximum efficiency.”

– Gretyl Kinsey

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GK:                   Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we talk about the steps to structure, how to move from unstructured content to structure and what each level of maturity looks like. This is part two of a two-part podcast. Hello, and welcome. I’m Gretyl Kinsey.

BS:                   And I’m Bill Swallow.

GK:                   And today we’re continuing our discussion about the steps to structure. So we previously covered steps one and two, which are unstructured phase, and step three, which is getting to structure. There’s step four, which is customized or specialized structure. So could you tell us a little bit about what that means compared to just sort of the baseline structure?

BS:                   Sure. So once you have everything in your structured format, chances are you’re going to start finding little bits of differences or dissonance between the type of content that you’re producing and what the structure will allow you to use. You may say, “Well, we have this very specific type of paragraph, or this very specific block of content that doesn’t really fit into the structure in its own native form.” We want to be able to handle it, and we want to call it something unique. We want to be able to structure it uniquely as well, yet still use it within the framework of everything else we’re doing. So this act of specialization or customization is kind of the next step because now you’re looking at the structure and saying, “This is great, but we can do more with this.” So you’re fine tuning and tailoring things a bit more so that you can label your content more appropriate to your needs and be able to handle that content specifically for the types of uses for that content.

GK:                   Yeah. Absolutely. And I think this is an area where we start to really see a lot more work on the kind of metadata and taxonomy side of things because that’s when you start thinking, “Okay. Now that everything actually is structured, now we can think about how this content needs to be organized, how it needs to be sorted and filtered, how both our authors and our customers need to be able to search for the particular information that they need within this content set, how we might need to do something like personalized delivery.” So once you kind of have that foundation laid down with just the basics of structure, that’s where you really kind of start to think about: Okay, how do we want to customize our metadata? And how do we want to build out some sort of a taxonomy that we can support with metadata so that the content is not just tagged in structure, but it’s also organized? And there is information about the content itself being captured in a way that makes it a lot more flexible.

BS:                   Right. And what’s really driving a lot of this is not only the different types of content that a company might produce, but it’s also starting to hit that personalization note with people and being able to drive content dynamically to them that is of their immediate interest, rather than generic content that might be suitable for any audience.

GK:                   Yeah. So this is where, if you’ve got that structure in place and you’ve started to do those customizations, that you can do some kind of dynamic delivery. So your users might sign into a portal, and it can pick off information about that user based on their login, and then feed them the content that they need without them having to kind of dig through and search for it. So that really kind of takes your use of content to a higher level than you were able to do before, even though this is still a structured step, but it’s just really kind of enhancing it and taking it to the next level.

BS:                   Yep. And that next level beyond that would be something that uses, or that next step, so step five. Once you have everything in step four done, which is all of your customization, step five is kind of building upon that even further and implementing a lot more additional dynamic capabilities to your content.

GK:                   Yeah. So step five, we’re kind of thinking of this as even your structure is structured, so you’re really thinking about how to take this to the highest possible level, how to get the most out of your automation, how to really make sure that the way you’re delivering your content is maximum efficiency. And this is kind of what I think of as the differentiating factor between just simply moving to structure versus true digital transformation of content. I know that’s something that we’ve talked about in some of other webcasts and podcasts and posts is this idea of digital transformation has kind of been an industry discussion as well. But this is where we tend to think of truly transformed content is content that is a lot more personalized, where you’re really making the most out of your automation and your efficiencies. And the content itself is kind of not just one single digital delivery, but it’s something that a user can customize, mix and match, and it can be really, truly personalized.

GK:                   So this is where you’re really, really looking at: What is the most that we can do with structured content beyond even steps three and four? How can we really continue to take it to the next level and make sure that it keeps on scaling as the company grows?

BS:                   Yep. Step five tends to be incredibly specific from implementation to implementation, so one company will be doing things one way in a structured environment. Another company might be using the same exact underlying structured framework, but be organizing their content and doing completely different things with it. This is where essentially every single case that we’re seeing of companies that are at or looking to move to a stage five in their structured progress, it’s a unique engagement. It’s a unique way of looking at content based on what that company specifically wants to do with their content.

GK:                   Yeah. And this is really where if you’ve got most of your content problems solved with structure, but then you just have a few of these edge cases and unique requirements, where some additional customization would really take it to that next level, that’s kind of what we consider for that step five. And as you said, it is unique from company to company. But it’s something that’s also important to consider when you’re still in stages three or four, thinking about what your future requirements might be, and making sure that you kind of don’t lock yourself out of that. So if you are, let’s say you just get to stage three, you’ve just moved to structure, and you sort of know what your five year plan is, maybe not necessarily specifically, but you have some ideas of things you want to be able to do with content in the future, it’s always important to keep that on your roadmap and keep an eye on it because you don’t want to build something in a way that when you do get to that maturity point of being at the step five, that you’ve done something with your structure earlier that then requires a massive amount of cleanup or lots of tedious fixes here and there to get to that point.

GK:                   And I know we’ve talked about this on at least one of our other episodes about how it’s really important to plan, to be very careful, and to spend a lot of time on that planning. I think especially when you’re kind of going from step three to step four, and you’re thinking more about your metadata and your taxonomy, that has a lot of implications when you get to something like step five as well, when you’re really maximizing your content potential and your efficiency. Just that when you are building those structures and when you’re thinking about a taxonomy and how you want to organize your content, that you don’t lock yourself out of those future requirements.

BS:                   Yeah. You always want to keep some options open there because things will continue to shift and change, especially as your requirements change, or if you acquire another company, or acquired by another company. You want that nimbleness still built in and room for improvement, or room for change still available, and not just nail everything down and call it done.

GK:                   Absolutely. So on that note, what are some tips for moving to structure? If you are kind of at maybe a step one or a step two, how do you eventually get all the way to step five or close to it? And how do you do that as efficiently as possible?

BS:                   The first step is to kind of wrap your head around the strategy for your content and where it’s going to go, how you’re going to author content, what your future state looks like. So a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about, not just in this episode, but in many of our podcasts, but building that content strategy that gets you from where you are to where you want to be, and make sure that you have some kind of roadmap or framework for each of those steps that you want to take, so that you understand the scope of work that is going to be required to move from one step to the next, and to have some criteria so that you can measure what done looks like, and whether you’ve accomplished things that you wanted to get done in that stage. So not just: Are you done, but is it working?

GK:                   Yeah. And I think that’s also really important when you are coming up with that strategy to build in some kind of backup or contingency plans for when things don’t always go the way you think they will. And that’s why it’s really important to kind of look further out toward the future, so if you’re kind of at a stage one or two right now, that go ahead and make your ideal plan for stage five, but know that there’s going to have to be some flexibility in how you might get there. So you may want to have a few backup options of things that you would achieve in stages three and four before you get to that ultimate goal.

GK:                   Another tip that I want to bring up is just, like we said, when you go from that second step to the third, where you are cutting over from unstructured to structured, it’s really important to come up with a conversion strategy because that’s where you are going to be getting all of your content out of one format into another and migrating it into whatever kind of tools or systems are going to be managing that content. And that’s why we really emphasize having a step two and not just kind of skipping from step one to step three because that really I think helps improve that conversion strategy. And things to think about at that stage are one, how much content cleanup has to get done on the front end versus the back end, so pre versus post conversion.

GK:                   And what can you do to minimize the amount of kind of human intervention or manual cleanup that you’ll have to do? Because the more content you have, the more time it’s going to take to convert everything, and so the better off you’ll be if you can automate it. And that’s why having a clean content set as much as possible really helps with that conversion strategy. So just before you convert everything, it’s really important to think about what’s highest priority. What state is your content in? And what kind of clean up you’re going to have to do on either end of that conversion.

BS:                   Yep. And once you get to that stage three, you no longer really have a conversion path that you need to worry about, but you need an exit strategy going forward no matter if you’re at stage three or step five. You need to have an exit strategy for your content if you do need to change tools again, so keep a lot of that in mind when you’re selecting things. It’s not necessarily that one’s going to be bad and another one’s going to be better from an exit strategy point of view. But you need to understand how these new tools and new systems work with your content so that if you do need to move from tool A to tool B, you know how you can export the content, what certain handling capabilities from the old tool need to be redone, or somehow otherwise implemented in tool B. And have that in mind going forward. Moving to structure generally allows you to have some degree of portability with your content. But again, your mileage may vary depending on the tool choices you make and the types of structure you’re looking at.

GK:                   Like you said, having an exit strategy is so important because as we’ve mentioned in a lot of our other discussion on this episode, things do change. When you go through all of these updates to your content process over time, things change. And when you are kind of moving through those structured steps, so going from step three to step five, a lot of your decisions are going to be driven by the changes that happen in your organization, and the new requirements and the new demands that you’re going to face over time. So you have to think about how your processes need to scale up to meet all of the changes that are going to come, and just sort of use that as your guide. Update the roadmap that you come up with at the beginning as you get new information, and just kind of constantly keep your eye on that so that you can ultimately sort of move through from step three, to four, to five over time, just based on what’s happening at your company.

BS:                   And also keep in mind, jumping from one step to the next, any given step to the next, you need to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the benefits that you are going to get by making these improvements in order to get buy in, not only from people who have the money that you will need to purchase new tools, or to provide training to your team, but also to get your team to buy in to the idea of, we’re going to work differently, and this is why it’s going to help you going forward.

GK:                   Yeah. That benefit is important because you don’t want to just kind of move from let’s say step four to step five without a good reason for it. You have to be able to explain, here’s why we’re doing this, and here is how it’s going to improve content production going forward. And with that, I think we can go ahead and wrap up. So thank you so much, Bill.

BS:                   Thank you.

GK:                   And thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit or check the show notes for relevant links.