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Signs Your Content Architecture Needs to Evolve

In the digital world, where web trends are continuously evolving, content is like a living thing. Keeping up can feel overwhelming, but with the right fundamental elements and a solid foundation, it is possible to manage web content and innovate to suit the needs of the modern digital landscape. 

As a content architect with Acquia, I spend a lot of time working with organizations to prepare their content for migrations and redesigns. Lately, we’ve seen more and more websites struggling to keep up with digital trends. Whether they’re bogged down by the volume of their content or dealing with users who can’t seem to find the right information, every website upgrade or redesign is an opportunity to catch up and create functional and powerful digital experiences.

Content Audits and Database Inventories

Before you upgrade your website, a comprehensive content audit and database inventory are necessary practices to make sure you understand all of your content. Mapping and modeling your content is also an essential step when migrating your CMS or revamping your existing website. If you think it may be time for an update, consider the following questions:

Are users getting to the right information? 

Take a look at your analytics. How much time are people spending on your site? A high bounce rate, for example, could indicate that users are getting to your site but not seeing what they need, so they leave. Perhaps a reorganization of your content could help get the right information in the right place. 

How much content do you have?

Often, particularly if a site has been around a while, the volume of content on a site can muddle your information, making it harder for users to search through it to get the stuff they need. Start by running a site crawl. This should capture any public facing URLs and assets. Depending on how long it takes to complete, you may also get a better understanding of how long it takes for search engines to crawl your site. The more content you have, the bigger the site, the longer the crawl will run and the more important it is to make sure your site organization is clear.

Sample Site Crawl Pie Chart
Using the results of a site crawl from a sample website, the above pie chart represents the volume of content as part of the whole site using the URL patterns as the guide.

Are your URL patterns consistent?

A high level way to understand a site’s organization is to look at the URL patterns from a site crawl. Do they represent your sitemap? If not, this could indicate a larger organizational problem. Inconsistent or confusing URL patterns can indicate a high risk of orphan pages, which can negatively affect your SEO and confuse your users. 

How many content types do you have?

Taking a look at your database, the number of content types can also indicate content architectural problem areas. A well-organized website has a set intention and business need for each individual content type. This is a good strategy to take when analyzing any website that uses content type-like structures such as Drupal. List out each content type and determine its purpose. For example, here are some some standard Drupal content types:

Content Type Purpose
Landing Page Used for home and top-level page content
Basic Used for sub-level generic pages
Bio Used for biography and contact information
Event Used for event information that may need to be listed as a calendar
News Used for news, press release or blog content

 

Look at the fields used for each content type. Do they overlap? A high number of content types with overlapping purposes, could indicate some internal confusion as to the purpose of each content type. Content types with identical fields can hint at an opportunity for consolidation — if you can use one content type to meet several needs, that makes for a cleaner architecture.

For example, perhaps you have separate content types with identical fields for news, press releases and blog content. It may not be necessary to have separate content types for the same fields — perhaps the solution is to have a single content type with a select list indicating its type. This way, your developers only need to target the select field on one content type. It’s important to understand not only the purpose of the content type, but the field structure in order to make sure you are making the best use of your content types.

How many taxonomy terms exist?

Screenshot from Drupal of field mapping

Drupal vocabularies are powerful organizational tools for a website. However, if not controlled properly, they can also wreak havoc on a web system’s framework. By looking at not only how many taxonomy terms exist, but how many are in use, you should make note of terms only used a few times. Unless there is an explicit business need, freeform terms used infrequently aren’t helping your users find the content they need and can bog down your organizational system.

With Drupal, you can make the most of your taxonomy terms by using them to not only organize your content but by mapping them to your meta tags and other user-defined content, keyword and persona fields. Mapped terms will display as meta tags when applicable for a page. 

If any of these factors resonate with you, you may want to rethink your content architecture. Like most SEO strategies, content should be accessible to those who need it when they need it, and findable by search engines. 

The Importance of Good Content Architecture

Content architecture is a relatively new practice to the digital world, that’s grown recently to become a helpful specialization within the technical specialist realm. A cross between technical architecture and content strategy, content architecture is the practice of analyzing content to determine:

  • How much content exists
  • How many site sections share types of content
  • How this content is organized (from both the user’s perspective and at a database level)

Once you understand how content is surfaced on your site, and how much of it exists, you’re more prepared to strategize how to migrate it, how to reorganize it and, most importantly, see where you can improve it.

Things to Keep in Mind When Assessing Your Content

Understand your site’s foundation.

In many cases, a site’s navigation represents its foundational bones. A good navigation should provide a direct, high level representation of your site. Looking at your website from the homepage, 

  • Can you see where everything is? 
  • Does your navigation outline what your site offers? 
  • Does it outline too much about what you offer?

Review your sitemap to make sure it is reflected in the navigation. If your users can’t understand the information that you provide, your site architecture isn’t doing its job. 

Know Your Audience. 

Take a moment to determine who your audience is and how many segments you are targeting. Then prioritize them. This content strategy can help focus any adjustments to your content that may be needed. When looking at your content, ask yourself, if I were part of Audience 1, could I get this information? How about Audience 2, 3 and so on? Keeping the focus on your audience, and agreeing to this approach internally, takes the ownership off of any internal politics that may be driving content on your site.

Consider and then Reconsider Your Business Needs. 

Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives. Like many tools, a website is a powerful asset to a business or organization in maintaining these objectives. As content analysis is performed, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the business’ KPIs to make sure these needs are being met by the content that’s provided on the website. 

Different organizations have different needs, for example, a government organization may need to make sure that their content is 508 compliant, whereas a commercial client may need strict technical requirements around financial transactions. These business needs should be clearly outlined and prioritized while content analysis is being done. If the content and site structure don’t support these requirements, your content architecture might benefit from an update.

Before making changes to a site’s structure, consider looking at your ideas through the lens of each of your business KPI objectives, in order of priority and make sure each is being met.

Good site architecture always starts with a clear understanding of content, its functional requirements, and its business needs. By taking a strategic approach involving a comprehensive analysis of your content inventory and database, you can ensure that no stone will be left unturned as you prepare to reorganize and streamline your messaging for your users.

Lynne Walsh

Lynne Walsh

Content Architect  Acquia

Lynne Walsh is a Content Architect with the Professional Services team at Acquia. Her technical content strategy experience spans the gamut from content development to data migration. Over the course of her career, Lynne has worked in a variety of industries including federal, nonprofit and commercial sectors. Her experience in both content and technical strategy allows her to work across teams to understand the needs of a project, identify problem areas, and communicate solutions quickly and efficiently.