Content Modeling: What Is It and How Can It Grow Your Business?


The goal of content modeling is to establish a clear structure that will allow for improved cooperation within your enterprise through a systematized content structure.

Having a clear structure is, without a doubt, one of the key terms for running a successful business.

However, this structure has to be reflected in all the parts and projects of your organization, down to the bottom. Content is one of those parts.

When running a website or a web app, a lack of a well-defined structure will inevitably make it unnecessarily difficult to establish clear requirements and execute content projects. 

If you fail to standardize the cooperation processes, your developers, designers, and content creators are almost certain to run into communication issues. 

Finally, examining the quality of the content without processes of content quality assurance is going to be a time-consuming and painstaking task.

Content modeling is what will solve these issues.

This article is going to be extremely straightforward. You’re going to learn:

  • What is content modeling
  • How content modeling can help improve the quality of your content and the speed at which it’s developed
  • How to develop a content model
  • The best ways of implementing content modeling in your projects

Let’s Start From the Beginning—What Is Content Modeling?

In simplest terms, Content Modeling is creating a structure for the content you publish online. You can think of it as creating a template that can be used across your platform for your projects. 

A content model is where all of your content types (and their composition, including content and metadata) that are associated with your enterprise are documented and put in a hierarchy of relationships. 

In other words, a content model consists of multiple elements and their relationship to one another. 

The visual above illustrates this hierarchy perfectly. The first thing we’re probably going to look at is the image attribute. In this case, it’s the featured image. It’s meant to draw our attention so that we either click it or continue scanning.

Next is the large, all-caps text – the headline. The headline is a text attribute. It’s second in the hierarchy of importance as it is what helps us decide whether the article is worth clicking.

Third, is another text attribute. It’s the lowest in the hierarchy and thus, the least visible. It allows us to quickly skim the first paragraph of the article and decide whether it’s worth reading.

What Are Content Types?

Simply put, content types are units of content. Some examples are blog posts, surveys, newsletters, and case studies. Within each content type, you’re going to find content attributes and content elements. More on that soon.

When looking at any piece of content, you’re going to notice that in each case, the content is structured in a particular way. 

For example, each blog post will have a title, headings, and paragraphs. Case studies and troubleshooting topics will also have titles and headings but will vary in structure in many other ways.

What’s more, different niches will require different content types & structures. For example, you will be surprised to find that different structures are used by medical & law websites.

That’s why we separate those into content types. We can then use each content type for different purposes. If I want to write a blog post, I can use a content model tailored exactly for blog posts. If I want to write a case study, I will use a case study content model and so on.

Content Type = Blog

Note: Content modeling is a fairly fresh subject, so terminology may vary depending on the source. The above is an example of what a content model could look like.

In the end, it comes down to what works best for you and your team. It’s absolutely pointless to teach your team a glossary of words – it’s a waste of time. Figure out what type of hierarchy will work best for you. The bottom line is: that content modeling is about organizing and that should be your goal.

Content Type = Mobile Landing Page

What Are Content Elements?

Elements are what content types consist of. Content types consist of content elements like titles, headers, and images

It’s important to note, that those content elements are characterized by the meaning that they carry, rather than sole visual characteristics which are bound to vary depending on the content piece.

What Are Content Attributes?

Think containers. Each content type includes attributes, each of which has values of name and type. The type value communicates the values of a given attribute. That way, a video attribute holds video values, and a text attribute holds text values.

This only makes sense as long as values are respected. Meaning, a text or image attributes can’t be assigned video attributes.

Content Type = Video

Why Having a Good Content Model Is a Big Game Changer

Better Clarity Leads to Better Communication

A well-thought-out content model equips your team with a solid structure. That way they can work without having to figure out how to approach each project separately. 

Instead of organizing endless meetings, going back and forth with different points of view that may lead to chaos or even dissatisfaction, a well-established structure allows them to simply focus on their respective crafts.

From designers to developers behind the CMS, and all the way to content creators – a solid structure simply makes everyone’s lives much easier.

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How Do Developers Benefit From a Content Model?

We’ve already established that having structure is important. Since developers are not necessarily the cheapest specialists on the market, you usually don’t want them wasting time on tasks that could’ve been prepared beforehand. 

Since your developers are focused on development work, and not on structuring content, you simply:

  • Save development time
  • Don’t overpay for work that shouldn’t be done by developers
  • Keep developers focused on the main task
  • Allow developers to fully utilize their unique talents

When configuring a CMS, you need to have a deep understanding of the content it’s going to run along with all of its unique requirements. Having all of that information beforehand means all you need to do is get to work!

How It Helps Designers

If there’s one thing that both designers and their managers hate, it’s establishing what is the right way of designing for a particular project. 

Without structure, same as in the case of developers, you’re likely to end up having numerous fruitless and frustrating meetings. With a well-established structure, your designers can count on:

  • A pre-established ready-to-use content model
  • Improved communication between departments and people engaged
  • Fewer meetings
  • More time to do the actual work
  • Less chaotic and stressful work

Furthermore, if the developers did a good job, the designers simply pass on a well-structured template to the content authors. That way everyone’s work becomes much less stressful and chaotic. Better results are just a by-product.

How Do Content Authors Benefit From Content Modeling?

You can think of content modeling as a content ecosystem focused on passing on a proper arrangement that allows for creating more structured content.

Starting from developers, passing through designers, and in the end, landing in the hands of content creators, who get access to:

  • Flexible and highly-reusable resources
  • Templates that are ready to be applied
  • Far more clarity and improved communication
  • Fewer time-consuming meetings

Simply put, having a plain structure, allows content creators to make content. Whether it’s writing a perfect blog post, or creating a newsletter, they can simply do their best instead of modeling every content piece.

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Good Strategies for Content Modeling Diagram

There are plenty of ways of creating a content model. Since it all comes down to creating a more structured content ecosystem, the ‘how‘ in how you get there is not as relevant as the outcome itself.

It’s a good idea to start with a file where you put all the different content models & what you want to achieve with them. Then gather insight into the content model’s future users – your team of developers, designers, and content creators.

Whether you’re working on a web app, a website, or any other project, you’re going to have to use a diagram or a whiteboard solution to help you turn the written idea into an image form. The app I would recommend is Figma’s FigJam, which is completely free and awesome.

A whiteboard exercise could look something like this:

Please keep in mind that the above image is a simple representation of what it could look like. The number of the kind of different elements and attributes, as well as their order, is entirely up to you!

Let’s discuss the two most relevant approaches to content modeling: the top-down and the bottom-up approach.

The Top-Down Content Modeling Approach

The top-down approach is not something that should be a secret. In a nutshell, it’s like any other top-down exercise. Duh.

First, you brainstorm what you want to achieve with this content model. Then you note down the most relevant information and details necessary for the content model to work.

Start With the Subject Model of the Landing Page.

Having brainstormed it through, you’re going to have to fill the subject model with elements you have previously established to be the most relevant to your content model. Some of the most obvious examples are the title and the header image.  

Sort Out All the Details

Think of it this way: you’re either going to put hard work and effort into building your content model, or you’re going to have to make up for omitting important details later on.

At this stage, it’s extremely important to engage your team and discuss what all of you believe to be crucial for content workflow. The smallest details like what sort of text formatting you should use are all important!

How Can You Best Reuse Your Content Models

When investing in anything, you have to be sure it’s worth all the time and effort. 

Content Models can take time to reach perfection, but they can also be some of the most useful tools at your disposal.

When developing your content models you have to consider what is going to be the most repeatable and reusable throughout each project. That way, you can take time to standardize and structure your content models in a way that ensures maximum efficiency. 

I suggest consulting your specialists and discussing this with your team until you get it sorted out. In the long run, this is sure to save time for the entire team and money for the company.

The Bottom-up Content Modeling Approach

Well, what can I say? The bottom-up approach is basically the opposite of the top-down. 

Starting From the Bottom. Now We’re Here.

When doing it this way, you’re also going to have to consider all of the essential elements that you believe have to be transferred throughout the entire project. You also need to find those that you consider the most flexible and reusable.

That way you maximize the efficiency of your content model. Just remember to focus on everything reusable!

Start With Small Content Models

The next step is to get to work on smaller content models that you will eventually connect through relations. Once you’ve done so, all that’s left is to put all of the information in a hierarchical order.

That way you’re ensuring the information you’re going to be passing on is well-communicated and in the right place.

Top-Down vs. Bottom-up: Summary

The top-down approach starts with the general and moves toward the specific, while the bottom-up does the exact opposite: it starts with the specific and continues on toward the general.

With the top-down model, you start with what you want to achieve and then you take the steps necessary to make it work. With bottom-up, you first investigate the best steps & practices, and then you build content based on that data

Top-down: you’ve already decided that you want a landing page with a product description and testimonials. You find the means to get it done along the way.

Bottom-up: You survey what information will be useful to our clients and in what form should they be presented. You decide whether you need a new landing page, a mobile app, or a newsletter once you’ve gathered enough intel.

You can learn more about product development by watching the video below.

How to  Approach Content Modeling the Right Way

Like with everything else, there isn’t truly a one, right way.

However, also like with everything else, there are guidelines that have been established through a lot of hard work. And many, many mistakes. 

Luckily, content modeling is no rocket science. In fact, it’s a fairly straightforward process. 

  • Establish the intent: what do you need the content to achieve?
  • Analyze the requirements: What types of content are you going to need to achieve your intent?
  • Identify the structure: how are you going to adjust the hierarchy of your content model and what other content models, content types and elements are you going to need?
  • Develop the content model: combine all the steps above and develop the content that matches the initial intent. 

In summary, content modeling can improve your business by structuring the content on your page or any other web app. 

Having a clear and well-thought-out CMS is sure to result in better efficacy and communication within your team. This, ultimately, will lead to a higher quality of the content in general.

Thanks to content modeling you’re able to create more flexible and reusable content models. This makes your web pages more consistent and ensures your team’s work is far more pleasant. And again, improved speed and quality are just a by-product.

Now that you have a general idea about what content model & content modeling are, you might be itching to update your content strategy. And that’s great because we have a team of specialists waiting to help you out.

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