Using content models to support reuse

Content models are most effective when they have clear goals. An important operational goal for a content model is reusing content.  

Michael Andrews

Published on Feb 13, 2020

Reuse is about doing more with existing content. It focuses on important questions: How many times and how many ways can a content element or content item be used?

Content models and reuse

If reusing content is a goal for your enterprise—and it should be—your content model needs to reflect that. Content models enable the reuse of content. However, the model has to identify the content as reusable. Without a content model supporting you, you have to rely on a laborious manual process to reuse content known as “copy and paste.”

Let’s consider reuse structurally. Reusable content in a content model is any content item or element that can support other content items. In other words, the same content item or element appears in many places, either within or alongside other content. The content model identifies instances where this happens or could happen.

You can explore reuse from either an internal perspective (content that you currently copy and paste) or an external perspective (content that lots of people need to see in different situations). Both these situations can be indicators that the content has reuse potential. Reusable content should be separate content items in the content model so that they can connect where needed and can be managed independently.

Content models harness commonalities in an enterprise

One of the superpowers of content models is that they unify content across the enterprise. They provide a common framework for showing the different content parts that are used and their relationships. Content models can help identify duplication and overlap in enterprise content—areas for potential reuse.

Enterprises see content reuse as a priority for many reasons. For example, reuse makes sense when:

  • Different people in your organization are producing similar content that overlaps.
  • You need to recreate or copy certain content to distribute it in different channels, for example, writing highlights for an email that refers to content on a website, because you currently manage such content in different systems.

Content models keep content DRY

Without a well-defined content model, individual content creators are prone to splash content everywhere. Unless a model is coordinating within the CMS what is being created, content teams tend to produce excessive content that duplicates existing material. The enterprise ends up with a wet mess that needs to be mopped up.

A content model keeps content DRY. DRY stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself

  • Don’t recreate good content that you’ve already created. 
  • Don’t make a copy of the content if you can use the original.

Doing these things creates extra work and can lead to problems later on. 

The content model tells the CMS how to orchestrate content that has to appear in many places so that only one version needs to be created.

Content can be reused in many ways

By definition, reusable content gets used more than single use content. Because it is used often, it has more value than most single-use content. But it’s not enough to know that the content is used a lot. We also want to understand why it is used a lot, which will reflect either customer needs or the enterprise’s business goals. 

Reusable content influences other content when they are presented together. Sometimes it plays a supporting role, and other times it plays a leading role. In some cases, customers are pointed to the same content in many different situations, because that content is important for helping them decide or understand a common issue or situation. In other cases, the content will appear in many different contexts to support a range of issues, providing background or reference details that might be useful for customers to consult.

Reusable content helps make other content more meaningful. It can connect together with different information. It can be delivered on-demand where it is needed.

Let’s consider a single piece of content: a short statement of a company’s customer satisfaction guarantee. The company is proud of its guarantee and wants to promote it in both pre-sales and after-sales content. As the diagram shows, one small item can be used in different channels, various content types, and many content items.

This example illustrates how a single content item can support a range of uses. While the item itself has a single focused function—stating the customer satisfaction guarantee—it supports many different purposes across the customer journey.

There is no pre-defined list of reusable content. All kinds of content can be reused:

  • Branding collateral and marketing slogans
  • Calls to action (CTAs)
  • Definitions
  • Descriptions
  • Examples
  • Informational tables
  • Instructions
  • Notifications and alerts
  • Policy information
  • Offers and deals
  • Reference information

And that’s only a partial list! 

Content reuse presents opportunities to improve the performance of business-critical content. Look for content that helps customers make decisions. Often user journeys hinge around these high-value content items and elements. 

Spotting building blocks for reuse

To specify reusable content in the content model, think about how chunks of frequently used content relate to other content. Once we understand these relationships, we can then formally specify what kind of chunk we are talking about. Think about chunks which could be:

  • Content items that can serve as sections of other content items
  • Elements of content items that could be collected or displayed in other contexts such as lists
  • Blocks of elements such as addresses that could appear in different content items
  • Assets such as images or videos that get embedded in different content items

Identifying reusable items for your content model

You likely have more content you can reuse than you first think. Reuse is about looking at individual pieces or sections of content that appear within different content products such as a web page. Look at structural elements within finished content items and see if those same elements appear elsewhere.

To find reuse candidates, explore scenarios where various kinds of information are routinely needed. Look at customer scenarios to discover their recurring needs and expectations for content. And consider common or important business scenarios where you need to deliver or position certain content in front of customers.

To support customer needs, ask how reuse could help. For example:

  • What content routinely needs to be presented to customers?
  • What content do customers routinely rely on to make decisions in different scenarios?
  • What routine information or messages are part of larger content patterns, for example, if you need to show a certain message whenever a customer does process X, Y, or Z?

To support business goals, ask how the same content can support different contexts:

  • What information is used in more than one content type (the information can support more than one purpose)?
  • What content needs to be delivered to different channels at the same time, or may be needed in a different channel to support follow up?

Going further with modeling for reuse

Planning for content reuse is a new way of thinking for many enterprises. They may be accustomed to thinking about how similar content items will say some of the same things, because they use CMSs that support templated web pages. But they don’t always see the possibility to reuse content across content types or delivery channels. That’s where content modeling is powerful: it transcends the confines of web page thinking to allow enterprises to design their content more comprehensively.

When modeling content for reuse, start with patterns in your current content. Separate potentially reusable content from situation-specific information.

But don’t be limited by how your current content is designed. Consider your future needs. Be open to new opportunities that could arise from having a better content model. Ask where else valuable content can be used. When planning for reuse, your enterprise can extend its delivery of core messages in different situations.

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