Carrie Hane

Why You Need Intelligent Content Now

By: Carrie Hane | January 30, 2017 | 
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Why You Need Intelligent Content NowYou know how once you hear a new word, or about a new concept, you then see it everywhere?

You might now start to experience this with the term intelligent content.

The concept is one which communications professionals should know.

Intelligent content is content that is structured to optimize performance with technology. It is structurally rich, semantically categorized, automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.

In many large organizations there is too much content to continue managing it one piece at a time.

An intelligent content approach results in better user experiences.

It also leads to easier storytelling and more efficient content management.

This, in turn, creates a higher value for your content.

What are the Benefits of Intelligent Content?

The reasons to deploy an intelligent content approach are seemingly endless.

Here are the top five I most commonly hear about from communicators who’ve made the shift to this approach:

  • To reuse, remix, restyle content anywhere—from your main website, to a microsite, to apps, to third-party programs, and beyond. It is inherently multi-channel ready. Think of it as LEGOs for digital content.
  • To create (and update) content once, and publish everywhere. This creates enormous efficiency and improves consistency. It also reduces the risk of publishing the wrong information.
  • To prepare for whatever technology, system, or device is waiting for you in the coming years.
  • To improve search engine results. Search engines specifically want entities, not pages. They are robots and need the explicit, semantic data intelligent content provides.
  • To scale your website without having to redesign or redevelop it. Whether you increase your inventory substantially, or your business adds new services, you’ll have a content system that can handle it.

How is Intelligent Content Different?

Most current content management systems have a single “blob” of content shoved into a body field (see Figure 1).

There are no semantic relationships. Design is baked into the content. This means there is only one purpose for any given piece of content.

If you want to use any of it in another place, you’ll need to re-enter it and apply new design attributes.

Annotated screenshot of a generic website post showing unstructured content

Figure 1. In many websites, the relationship between parts of content is implied in the presentation. But without that context, lacks an underlying structure.

With intelligent content, instead of just a title and body, you have a set of fields for copy.

This essentially turns content into data (see Figure 2).

This allows you to mix and match the pieces in many different ways to tell many stories.

Content is completely separated from design. You can incorporate it into any interface.

Screenshots showing session and speaker data separated into separate fields and ready for reuse

Figure 2:The information is now structured into fields which store the content as data. This allows you to use it in any context.

What are the Challenges?

Intelligent content requires a shift of mindset at all levels of an organization.

You must rethink how you create, manage, and connect content.

You’ll need to have a marketing technologist, or content strategist, who can translate between the business and technology sides.

Ideally, you’ll have a centralized team to manage all this—or at least someone in charge of content.

A chief content officer, perhaps.

Regardless of the title or reporting structure, you will need dedicated support resources. These are the ones responsible for ensuring the technology can support the content.

It cannot happen in a vacuum.

For intelligent content to work, you have to create and publish content outside your organizational silos.

Collaboration and coordination across departments is essential.

Educate and train content creators on how and why to structure their content.

The benefits of changing how they produce their content may not be readily apparent.

But once they see how much more valuable their content is and how much less work it is in the end, you’ll convert them.

Implementing intelligent content means investing in a continuous cycle of create, publish, measure, iterate.

Remember the “optimize performance with technology” part of intelligent content.

It’s not very intelligent if you do not know if the content is doing what you need it to do.

Know what you want it to do. Make it work for you.

Can Anyone Implement an Intelligent Content Approach?

Switching to an intelligent content approach is not for everyone.

If you have a small, static website that doesn’t connect to other technologies, you do not need an intelligent content approach.

Note this does not excuse you from having a communications or marketing strategy that sets goals and lays out a plan for achieving them.

Technology is an important aspect of an intelligent content approach.

Your content management system needs to allow structured content instead of being page-centric.

While popular blogging tool WordPress gets you closer than some, it’s not the ideal platform for intelligent content.

Look for content management systems based on entities and relationships, rather than pages.

A few that come to mind include Drupal, Craft CMS, Evoq 9, Contentful, and TeamSite.

It is important to understand that content doesn’t live in just one system.

Once you begin to use this approach, you’ll want to connect other technologies, so they need to be able to work together.

This may mean a different way of looking at your investment in technology, but not a larger outlay.

How Do I Get Started?

It is not as hard as you think to get started.

Of course, a full website redesign is a great opportunity to change how you approach content in your organization.

Even if that isn’t in the cards for this year, you can still start down the path of creating intelligent content by following these steps:

  • Start measuring what you have—assign KPIs and goals to existing content and measure the results with a tool such as ContentWRX.
  • Experiment with one type of content—try transforming the process for creating and producing a single type of content which has a small number of instances.
  • Use new content as the starting point—when you create a new type of content, make it structured. It takes longer and is more expensive to retrofit something than to create it with the proper structure in the first place.

What experience do you have with intelligent content?

About Carrie Hane


Carrie Hane is the founder of Tanzen, a content strategy consultancy that helps small and mid-sized businesses tell their story more effectively by teaching them how to manage their content and build sustainable web development processes.

  • Nice overview here. Do you have any examples of organizations using intelligent content really well?

    • Carrie Hane

      Thanks, Laura. It can be hard to spot use of intelligent content because it’s really about how it’s set up. But from what I see and hear, these organizations are using this approach: NPR, American Cancer Society, Kapost, HubSpot, NikonUSA, HP, IBM, SAP.

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