Content Modeling in Sitecore

My opinion - Sitecore is a superior platform when it comes to managing a wide variety of content types across multiple channels and for multiple customer segments.

  • It has a completely open, extensible & scaleable content model structure that’s not tied to the concept of ‘web pages’, like many of the CMSs.

  • It has a built-in integration framework — Data Exchange Framework (DEF) — that provides a lot of structure & development help for those that need to pull content from other line of business systems.

  • It has a built-in system for designing & delivering business process workflows and associated development pipelines — that’s ensuring that content is created & processed according to a pre-determined governance structure.

  • It has a strong data template structure (content types), that includes template inheritance and the ability to reference structured taxonomy.

  • It has solid search options, including SOLR, Azure and Coveo.

  • It has an emerging path (product roadmap) for content related machine learning.

That’s great — What do you do with that?

The first thing you can do is stop thinking about Sitecore as a website. It’s now your central information / experience delivery vehicle. It can integrate with your line of business systems like CRM, POS case management, etc. to bring in up to date information on your customer. Based on what it knows (we know) about the customer, it can deliver relevant and timely information. That information can be tailored to the channel that’s delivering it - think desktop vs. mobile vs. email vs. in-store kiosk. It’s the omni-channel content delivery story that we’ve been talking about for years.

That’s great — How do you do that? How do you make that real?

A key foundational step to delivering a real omni-channel experience is building a strong content model into Sitecore. Content models can get extremely technical and complex. I’m not a content engineer, so I’m going to give you a marketing take on what exactly a content model is. It’s a visual, usually diagrammatic representation of all your organization’s structured content. The model illustrates the types of content, the granular (field level) makeup of each content type, and the relationships (taxonomies) between content types. The model should also relate to / align with your customer profile. The interests and attributes that you use to describe your customer should have a corresponding relationship with your content. Marrying up the content model with the customer profile (think tabs in Experience Profile) is the secret sauce needed for good personalization and targeted customer journeys.

Some getting started tips

Build your model on paper first: Get on your biggest whiteboard or pull out your post-it notes & butcher paper. Draw boxes for each content type in the organization & list the key fields for each content type. List any categories or tags that you use to group content. While you’re at it, do the same thing for your customer profile. Visualizing the content model as a team will help with collaboration and gaining a deeper understanding of the structure of your organization’s content.

Test your taxonomy with use cases: As you’re standing around the whiteboard, looking at your content model, run through some customer use cases. Think about how your customers browse & search for content. Do you have necessary categorizations, tags, associations to surface the content that your customer is looking for?

Think about inheritance: Sitecore’s data template structure supports template inheritance. The ability to inherit from already built template structure means you don’t have to duplicate that structure. Build it once & use it across all content templates. Think about global categories & tags. If those are going to be used across all your content types you should inherit from them. As you’re thinking about your data templates, start with your base structure & then extend.

Think about industry standards: Take a look at when modeling common content like articles, events, locations, etc. Where possible, map your content structure to this industry standard.

Incorporate your content model into your components: Once you have designed a solid content model, make sure that you fold that into the Sitecore components that your organization’s content editors and marketers use. You can build in validation & automation into the components - ultimately making life easier for the team.

A modern content model is becoming table stakes, as we extend beyond our website to things like 3rd party knowledge management systems, chat bots and the ever evolving list of customer service tools. If you haven’t thought about your organization’s content model in the last few years, you may need to shore up your foundation.