Content reuse and cross-selling - a structured approach to content development

For many institutions, delivering great content across a wide range of platforms and devices is a real challenge.

Part of the reason for the complexity is down to the user and device context being much more varied and unpredictable than it used to be. The way content is consumed, particularly by today's students, is simply much more nuanced.

Competing in this unpredictable user environment requires universities to invest in high-quality content creation and personalization measures so that content can adapt intelligently to different channels and context.

Content gets agile

For some universities, the old hierarchies characterized by content silos and using word processing software to coordinate content remain. News is created by the communications team, events by another team and course content by each school.

The way to remove some of these outmoded ways of working lies in reusable structured content, and it's a game changer for busy university content teams.

The content strategist, Rachel Lovinger, describes this perfectly, commenting that "digital content now needs to be free - to go where and when people want it most. And the more structure you put into content the freer it will become."

Lovinger argues that content developers should make their content more nimble. She means that it should:

  • Travel freely (via social, mobile and available on demand)
  • Retain context and meaning (across various sources, usage and relationships)
  • Be reusable (so it can find new ways to engage people)

This approach is becoming a necessity for universities that have far more people involved in content production than they used to, and need to connect with prospective and current students, faculty, alumni and the wider community more effectively.

The benefits of structured content

For content to be agile then, or as Lovinger calls it, nimble, it needs to be well-structured.

Structured content means organizing content as modular pieces of information, using templates with defined structures and creating machine-readable descriptions.

This allows organizations to scale content delivery across channels to a broad range of devices while improving the accuracy and consistency of information.

It also forces university teams to give more thought to the experience that users will have when they access content, as well as the journeys that users go on when engaging with it.

The create once, publish everywhere philosophy

Perhaps the most significant benefit of a structured approach is the ability for universities to reuse content.

With structured content in your content management system (CMS), you can use the predefined properties of that piece of information to re-use it across as many different mediums as you want; a process referred to as 'create once, publish everywhere.'

And from a user perspective, this approach can be used to create related content, for example, positioning related news, events or course information relative to the current content they're reading.

Through content reuse and related content; therefore, you can deliver compelling experiences for today's students and visitors.

There are a number of key areas that need to be thought out to avoid some potential pitfalls:

  • Think about content reuse from the start. For example, will you need to reuse staff profiles, news, events or course content when showing other information? For example, when displaying a news item about a new scientific discovery could you should a mini staff profile of the people involved, courses that relate to this area of science and other related news.
  • Plan out a 'content reuse' taxonomy. When categorizing items like news, events, staff profiles and courses, what extra tagging could you use to help with displaying related content? Should you link a news item to what department it relates to, a course topic area and target audience? It is easier to tag a news item when entering it than going back and retrofitting the content. 
  • Don't over reuse, especially if the context isn't right. Just because you can reuse content doesn't mean you should. Don't flood a web page with 'related content', so much that, it distracts from the main story you are looking to communicate.
  • Plan out your content types carefully. The fields that a content author fills in when adding the content to the content management system will be key to your success. Plan out the granular fields in advance taking into account content reuse, cross-channel publishing and personalization use cases.

The CMS is where your structured content strategy is executed

Of course, universities need to deliver contextually relevant content to engage their audiences, particularly the new wave of students.

The University of Winchester does this to great effect. Their course pages promote related courses and display the latest dynamic content advising on a range of topics from their blog written by their current students.

University of Winchester homepage

Elsewhere on their site, content is refreshed regularly and shared in sections covering events, blog posts, and other support information relevant to the context of the site visitor. It keeps the user journeys flowing and natural and engaging.

Mount Saint Mary News Room

The Mount Saint Mary University in LA use tagging within their newsroom. Each new item is tagged against a taxonomy so that news items can be reused across school and department areas of the website as well as for showing related news items.

An example of content tags on Mount Saint Mary University website

To achieve this, institutions need structured content, the right fields, the right reuse taxonomy and a well thought out approach to content reuse. It also requires a content management system (CMS) focused on the needs of content creators to enable its production, including the support for granular fields where design is separated from content development. Many organizations invest in deploying a new web content management system only to find, too late, that it doesn’t support the granular field structure they require or content types have been designed without reuse in mind. It is something to watch out for...

By giving your content a stronger structure within your WCMS, you’re reaping the rewards. It results in more efficient content use, and more in-depth, more meaningful content engagement with their audiences, across devices and contexts.

Your institution has great content at its disposal. It is how you structure it and publish it that will separate your university from competitors in the future.