It is difficult for content to be consistent unless it’s reused. That’s especially true when enterprises publish content at scale. Consistency is a specialized sub-goal of content reuse. Reuse focuses on what content can be used again, while consistency is more focused on what content must be reused. Consistent content brings additional requirements to guide how content is selected and changed.
When authors copy and paste existing content, it introduces risks and creates potential problems:
- Are they using the latest version?
- How will all the content be updated when it has been copied many times and put in different places?
A content model offers a single source of truth about widely used content items such as the wording or the factual details relating to a topic. Using a content model, a single instance of content can be used in many places, so it is always consistent. There’s no danger that new edits were introduced after the content had been copied.
Types of Consistency
Content consistency is critical for certain industry sectors, especially finance, insurance, and technical products, where wording and details need to be precise. It is also important for content relating to consumer and luxury goods that rely heavily on brand-managed content and assets.
Any content that requires a high level of internal review should be standardized if it needs to be used in multiple places. When text or assets need to be predictable and unvarying, the content model should indicate what parts within the relevant content type must be consistent. Content items can then be created once and used wherever needed.
Delivering consistent content can involve special requirements around workflow, roles, and permissions. Enterprises should identify in their content model how parts are managed. It’s not only a matter of determining what content to reuse; it is also about who can make revisions and the process around when that happens.
Standardizing content so that it is consistent when published can be approached in three ways:
- When there’s only one version allowed
- When there are several versions allowed
- When there is a preferred version
Only One Version Allowed
Some content will need to be the same no matter where it appears. It may be related to factual statements or wording. Such content is sometimes referred to as “canonical”. Authors generally don’t have to do much, because the content is already created and approved, and can be inserted automatically where it is needed.
Some common examples of single-version only content include:
- Legal terms and conditions (T&Cs)
- A master copy of product descriptions
- Service agreement language
Often, this content is subject to legal review. Formal reviews introduce requirements about access permission and rules around publishing changes. Reviewers may need to understand the history of any changes in single-version content over time. Having the ability to compare versions becomes important.
Several Versions Allowed
A different scenario occurs when authors can choose between two or more versions of items to include within their content—but they should not create their own versions.
The content model can indicate parts of a content type where only “approved” versions of content are allowed. Often brand standards or policy guidelines will constrain what content says or how it appears. More than one approved version exists, but all approved versions need to conform to standards and guidelines. Organizations will always present readers with one of the approved versions. A small example of this form of consistency: some organizations have two approved versions of their logo, but no other version should ever be used.
Enterprises use an approval process to ensure consistency among the versions that are used. Their content model can note which parts (assets or sections of text) require approval by a product or branding manager.
A Preferred Version (At Least for Now)
A final scenario occurs when the content model indicates the preferred version of a content item. The model can designate when everyone should use a “master” version unless they are in a role that has permission to create and test a new version. We can think about this scenario as promoting provisional consistency.
The goal in this scenario to make sure that authors incorporate the “best performing” version of content items within the material they compose and curate. These items could be a call to action, a product comparison table, or a case study—parts of content that are widely incorporated into other content. Organizations always want to use the best performing version of these items—the version that delivers the best engagement. But they can never be sure that the current version will always be the best or can never be improved. As a result, they use a consistent version most of the time but experiment with an alternative version.
The model indicates the preferred version, which is the default available to authors who may need to use it. However, some people may have permission to create their own version (or modify the existing one) to see if it would perform better. That alternative version is added to the model and will remain as long as it is being tested. If it doesn’t test well, it is removed. If it tests better than the default version, it may become the new preferred version.
Organizations can test the preferred version of a content item against an alternate version in a couple of ways. In both processes, the master version is the baseline against which a new version is compared.
Organizations may compare their existing content (the currently preferred version) with an alternate through usability testing. Government organizations sometimes employ usability testing to make sure information is complete and understandable. If the content doesn’t test well, a second version may be published and tested online to see if it scores better.
In commercial organizations, different versions are often A/B tested concurrently. Most readers see the version that has performed best thus far, but some readers will see a different version that introduces some changes. The preferred version is compared to the new version.
Content Models Support Processes That Promote Consistency
Whenever items of content need to be consistent, they need to be managed. By using a content model, an enterprise can manage specific parts of content separately from the larger body of content in which they are used. These parts can be assigned specific review, approval, and change workflows to ensure they are consistent with the enterprise’s governance and business goals.