A Content Model Is Not a Design System

Do you keep in mind when having a fantastic web site was sufficient? Now, persons are getting solutions from Siri, Google search snippets, and cellular apps, not simply our web sites. Ahead-thinking organizations have adopted an omnichannel content material technique, whose mission is to achieve audiences throughout a number of digital channels and platforms.


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However how do you arrange a content material administration system (CMS) to achieve your viewers now and sooner or later? I discovered the laborious manner that making a content material mannequin—a definition of content material sorts, attributes, and relationships that allow folks and techniques perceive content material—with my extra acquainted design-system considering would capsize my buyer’s omnichannel content material technique. You’ll be able to keep away from that consequence by creating content material fashions which can be semantic and that additionally join associated content material.

I lately had the chance to steer the CMS implementation for a Fortune 500 firm. The shopper was excited by the advantages of an omnichannel content material technique, together with content material reuse, multichannel advertising, and robotic supply—designing content material to be intelligible to bots, Google information panels, snippets, and voice person interfaces.

A content material mannequin is a vital basis for an omnichannel content material technique, and for our content material to be understood by a number of techniques, the mannequin wanted semantic sorts—sorts named in response to their that means as an alternative of their presentation. Our purpose was to let authors create content material and reuse it wherever it was related. However because the venture proceeded, I noticed that supporting content material reuse on the scale that my buyer wanted required the entire staff to acknowledge a brand new sample.

Regardless of our greatest intentions, we saved drawing from what we have been extra acquainted with: design techniques. Not like web-focused content material methods, an omnichannel content material technique can’t depend on WYSIWYG instruments for design and structure. Our tendency to strategy the content material mannequin with our acquainted design-system considering continuously led us to veer away from one of many major functions of a content material mannequin: delivering content material to audiences on a number of advertising channels.

Two important ideas for an efficient content material mannequin

We wanted to assist our designers, builders, and stakeholders perceive that we have been doing one thing very totally different from their prior internet tasks, the place it was pure for everybody to consider content material as visible constructing blocks becoming into layouts. The earlier strategy was not solely extra acquainted but additionally extra intuitive—a minimum of at first—as a result of it made the designs really feel extra tangible. We found two ideas that helped the staff perceive how a content material mannequin differs from the design techniques that we have been used to:

Content material fashions should outline semantics as an alternative of structure.

And content material fashions ought to join content material that belongs collectively.


A semantic content material mannequin makes use of sort and attribute names that replicate the that means of the content material, not how it is going to be displayed. For instance, in a nonsemantic mannequin, groups would possibly create sorts like teasers, media blocks, and playing cards. Though these sorts would possibly make it straightforward to put out content material, they don’t assist supply channels perceive the content material’s that means, which in flip would have opened the door to the content material being introduced in every advertising channel. In distinction, a semantic content material mannequin makes use of sort names like product, service, and testimonial so that every supply channel can perceive the content material and use it because it sees match.

Whenever you’re making a semantic content material mannequin, a fantastic place to begin is to look over the categories and properties outlined by Schema.org, a community-driven useful resource for sort definitions which can be intelligible to platforms like Google search.

A semantic content material mannequin has a number of advantages:

Even when your staff doesn’t care about omnichannel content material, a semantic content material mannequin decouples content material from its presentation in order that groups can evolve the web site’s design with no need to refactor its content material. On this manner, content material can face up to disruptive web site redesigns.

A semantic content material mannequin additionally gives a aggressive edge. By including structured information based mostly on Schema.org’s sorts and properties, a web site can present hints to assist Google perceive the content material, show it in search snippets or information panels, and use it to reply voice-interface person questions. Potential guests might uncover your content material with out ever setting foot in your web site.

Past these sensible advantages, you’ll additionally want a semantic content material mannequin if you wish to ship omnichannel content material. To make use of the identical content material in a number of advertising channels, supply channels want to have the ability to perceive it. For instance, in case your content material mannequin have been to supply a listing of questions and solutions, it might simply be rendered on a incessantly requested questions (FAQ) web page, but it surely may be utilized in a voice interface or by a bot that solutions widespread questions.

For instance, utilizing a semantic content material mannequin for articles, occasions, folks, and places lets A Listing Aside present cleanly structured information for engines like google in order that customers can learn the content material on the web site, in Google information panels, and even with hypothetical voice interfaces sooner or later.

Picture displaying an occasion in a CMS passing information to a Google information panel, a web site, and a voice interface


After struggling to explain what makes a superb content material mannequin, I’ve come to understand that the very best fashions are these which can be semantic and that additionally join associated content material elements (resembling a FAQ merchandise’s query and reply pair), as an alternative of slicing up associated content material throughout disparate content material elements. A great content material mannequin connects content material that ought to stay collectively in order that a number of supply channels can use it with no need to first put these items again collectively.

Take into consideration writing an article or essay. An article’s that means and usefulness relies upon upon its elements being saved collectively. Would one of many headings or paragraphs be significant on their very own with out the context of the total article? On our venture, our acquainted design-system considering usually led us to need to create content material fashions that might slice content material into disparate chunks to suit the web-centric structure. This had an analogous affect to an article that have been to have been separated from its headline. As a result of we have been slicing content material into standalone items based mostly on structure, content material that belonged collectively grew to become tough to handle and practically unattainable for a number of supply channels to grasp.

For example, let’s have a look at how connecting associated content material applies in a real-world situation. The design staff for our buyer introduced a fancy structure for a software program product web page that included a number of tabs and sections. Our instincts have been to observe swimsuit with the content material mannequin. Shouldn’t we make it as straightforward and as versatile as attainable so as to add any variety of tabs sooner or later?

As a result of our design-system instincts have been so acquainted, it felt like we had wanted a content material sort referred to as “tab part” in order that a number of tab sections might be added to a web page. Every tab part would show numerous varieties of content material. One tab would possibly present the software program’s overview or its specs. One other tab would possibly present a listing of sources.

Our inclination to interrupt down the content material mannequin into “tab part” items would have led to an unnecessarily complicated mannequin and a cumbersome modifying expertise, and it might have additionally created content material that couldn’t have been understood by extra supply channels. For instance, how would one other system have been capable of inform which “tab part” referred to a product’s specs or its useful resource listing—would that different system must have resorted to counting tab sections and content material blocks? This is able to have prevented the tabs from ever being reordered, and it might have required including logic in each different supply channel to interpret the design system’s structure. Moreover, if the shopper have been to have now not needed to show this content material in a tab structure, it might have been tedious emigrate to a brand new content material mannequin to replicate the brand new web page redesign.

Illustration displaying an information tree flowing into a listing of playing cards (information), flowing right into a navigation menu on a web site

A content material mannequin based mostly on design elements is unnecessarily complicated, and it’s unintelligible to techniques.

We had a breakthrough once we found that our buyer had a selected objective in thoughts for every tab: it might reveal particular data such because the software program product’s overview, specs, associated sources, and pricing. As soon as implementation started, our inclination to give attention to what’s visible and acquainted had obscured the intent of the designs. With just a little digging, it didn’t take lengthy to understand that the idea of tabs wasn’t related to the content material mannequin. The that means of the content material that they have been planning to show within the tabs was what mattered.

Actually, the shopper might have determined to show this content material otherwise—with out tabs—some place else. This realization prompted us to outline content material sorts for the software program product based mostly on the significant attributes that the shopper had needed to render on the net. There have been apparent semantic attributes like title and outline in addition to wealthy attributes like screenshots, software program necessities, and have lists. The software program’s product data stayed collectively as a result of it wasn’t sliced throughout separate elements like “tab sections” that have been derived from the content material’s presentation. Any supply channel—together with future ones—might perceive and current this content material.

Illustration displaying an information tree flowing right into a formatted listing, flowing right into a navigation menu on a web site

A great content material mannequin connects content material that belongs collectively so it may be simply managed and reused.


On this omnichannel advertising venture, we found that one of the best ways to maintain our content material mannequin on monitor was to make sure that it was semantic (with sort and attribute names that mirrored the that means of the content material) and that it saved content material collectively that belonged collectively (as an alternative of fragmenting it). These two ideas curtailed our temptation to form the content material mannequin based mostly on the design. So for those who’re engaged on a content material mannequin to help an omnichannel content material technique—and even for those who simply need to make it possible for Google and different interfaces perceive your content material—keep in mind:

A design system isn’t a content material mannequin. Workforce members could also be tempted to conflate them and to make your content material mannequin mirror your design system, so you must shield the semantic worth and contextual construction of the content material technique throughout the whole implementation course of. This can let each supply channel devour the content material with no need a magic decoder ring.

In case your staff is struggling to make this transition, you possibly can nonetheless reap a number of the advantages through the use of Schema.org–based mostly structured information in your web site. Even when extra supply channels aren’t on the instant horizon, the profit to SEO is a compelling cause by itself.

Moreover, remind the staff that decoupling the content material mannequin from the design will allow them to replace the designs extra simply as a result of they received’t be held again by the price of content material migrations. They’ll have the ability to create new designs with out the impediment of compatibility between the design and the content material, and ​they’ll be prepared for the subsequent large factor.

By rigorously advocating for these ideas, you’ll assist your staff deal with content material the best way that it deserves—as probably the most vital asset in your person expertise and one of the best ways to attach along with your viewers.

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