Content Everywhere

Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content

By Sara Wachter-Boettcher

  • Paperback + EbooksEbooks only
  • Content Everywhere Cover
  • Care about content? Better copy isn’t enough. As devices and channels multiply—and as users expect to relate, share, and shift information quickly—we need content that can go more places, more easily. Content Everywhere will help you stop creating fixed, single-purpose content and start making it more future-ready, flexible, reusable, manageable, and meaningful wherever it needs to go.

    The Web has moved beyond the desktop, and our content must follow. Through a broad perspective, clear language, and an army of practical suggestions, Sara Wachter-Boettcher guides us through the challenges we face.

    Ethan Marcotte, author, Responsive Web Design

    Illustrations View all on Flickr

    • CE000a: Front Cover
    • CE000b: Back Cover
    • CE001: Chapter 1 Illustration
    • CE002: Figure 1.1
    • CE003: Figure 1.2a
    • CE004: Figure 1.2b
    • CE005: Figure 1.2c
    • CE006: Figure 1.3

    Content Everywhere Blog View all Blog posts

    Table of Contents

    Part One: The Case for Content Everywhere

    • Chapter 1: Framing the New Content Challenge
    • Chapter 2: Building a Way Forward

    Part Two: The Elements of Content

    • Chapter 3: Breaking Content Down
    • Chapter 4: Creating Content Models
    • Chapter 5: Designing Content Systems
    • Chapter 6: Understanding Markup
    • Chapter 7: Making Sense of Content APIs

    Part Three: Putting Structured Content to Work

    • Chapter 8: Findable Content
    • Chapter 9: Adaptable Content
    • Chapter 10: Reusable Content
    • Chapter 11: Transportable Content

    Part Four: Enduring Content

    • Chapter 12: Content and Change
    • Chapter 13: Towards a New (Information) Architecture

    FAQ

    These common questions and their short answers are taken from Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

    1. What do you mean by “content everywhere”?
      The way I talk about it, “content everywhere” doesn’t mean splattering your message in every corner of the Web. It’s about investing in content that’s flexible enough to go wherever you need it: multiple websites, apps, channels, and other experiences. Why? Because devices of all shapes, sizes, and capabilities are flooding the market, and users expect to get your content on all of them, which you can read about in Chapter 1.Right now, most organizations can barely keep up with their large, unwieldy desktop websites, much less multiple different sets of content for all these different experiences. Content everywhere is all about learning how to prepare one set of content to go wherever it’s needed—now and in the future.
    2. What do you mean by structured content, and why is it so important?
      Today, most digital content is unstructured: just words poured onto a page. To signify where one part ends and another begins, writers use formatting, like upping a font size to be a headline or putting an author’s name in italics. This works fine if your content is only going to be used on a single page and viewed on a desktop monitor, but that’s about it.Structured content, on the other hand, is created in smaller modules, which can be stored and used in lots more ways. For example, you could display a headline and a copy teaser in one place, and have a user click to read the rest—something you can’t do if the story is all one blob. You can give the same content different presentation rules when it’s displayed on mobile, such as resizing headlines or changing which content is prioritized or emphasized—automatically. In this way, adding structure actually makes content more flexible, because it allows you to do more with it. You can learn about this in Chapter 5.
    3. But don’t I need different, simpler content for mobile?
      If your content is needlessly complicated and full of fluff, then yes: Your content should be simplified for mobile—and for everywhere else, too. After all, a user with a desktop computer doesn’t want to wade through filler either. But should your mobile users be offered “lite” versions of your content rather than the real deal? No.While you might know what people do most often on their mobile devices, you can’t know what they’re intending to do on any specific visit. After all, people apply to college and buy cars on their phones every day—and will only do more on mobile as devices get more powerful and cheaper. Finally, I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be for organizations to manage content on just one website. How much harder will it be when you’re juggling updates and versions for multiple discrete experiences? There’s no way you’ll have the time, resources, and skills to keep up. One set of content that’s clear, meaningful, and well structured is a more sustainable solution. You can read more about making this work in Chapters 9 and 10.
    4. Who should be doing this work?
      In the past, content modeling work was often just called data modeling, so it was done by database developers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it has its problems. Because content can be much more ambiguous and conceptual than other sorts of data, it needs attention a developer alone is unlikely to give it. If you want content to communicate a message, tell a story, or do something specific for your organization or your users, then you need someone who understands what the content means and how it means it there when you’re making content modeling decisions.Oftentimes, the ideal person to play this role is a content strategist, editor, information architect, or user experience designer. The good news is, it’s not either-or. Content modeling and structuring can and should be collaborative—something that’s more effective when people from multiple perspectives are involved. In Chapters 3 and 4 of this book, I aim to show those who may not have been in those conversations in the past how to get started.
    5. I’m a content person. Do I really need to understand the technical parts?
      If you typically work in a creative, editorial, marketing, or branding role, then dealing with modular content, metadata, logic, and relationships might feel foreign. How does this relate to communicating a message or telling a story? Do you need to know how to build databases and APIs?No, probably not. But here’s the thing: If you’re the one who understands the content best, and who knows what readers and users want from it, then you’re exactly the right person to be thinking about how it should be structured, stored, and transported—so you can keep its meaning and purpose intact. While this doesn’t mean you need to become an XML expert, it does mean you should get more comfortable with the ideas presented in Chapters 6 and 7, and be able to discuss needs, options, and priorities with those who will implement technical solutions.
    6. Is this just about mobile?
      Yes and no. Getting content ready for mobile is a big challenge, and spawning all sorts of debate: Do we give mobile users just a portion of our content, allowing them to “snack”? Do we go responsive? Build an app? What does mobile mean, anyway: Is a tablet a mobile device, or something else? As these questions are raised, it becomes more and more clear that what we need is content that can go onto all the devices that exist now—and those that will exist in the future.Smartphones may be disrupting our assumptions today, but they’re just the beginning. TVs, household appliances, cars, and more are becoming Internet-enabled. Plus, there are content-shifting services like Instapaper and content-plucking sites like Pinterest to contend with, as I explore in Chapter 11. It would be easy to get overwhelmed, but the good news is this: The work you do now, to structure content for reuse and get it ready for mobile, is going to also make that content more prepared for wherever the future takes it.

    Excerpts

    • Chapter 1 (PDF)

    Foreword

    When I decided to write Content Strategy for the Web in 2008, I knew with absolute certainty that I was not, in fact, a subject matter expert. I’d earned my undergraduate degree in theater, and my professional expertise lay primarily in making things up, depending what job I happened to have. Where did I get off thinking I could write a book about, well, anything?

    What it came down to was this: I was a Web copywriter, and I was sick of the way people treated content as an afterthought. I wanted things to be different. And, ultimately, I had nothing to lose. No one knew who I was, so I had no literary reputation to uphold. Clearly no one cared about the topic, anyhow, so probably no one would read it. And it was with these extremely low expectations of myself that I began—and finished—the process of writing a book.

    Then, just as one might hope, some people bought the book. Some conferences called and asked me to speak. And then, one morning I woke up to discover that, according to the Internet, I was suddenly a content strategy “subject matter expert,” “thought leader,” and “guru.” And that was when the imposter complex set in.

    The imposter complex manifests like this. The more people tell you how smart you are—the more you hear about how your book is changing projects and companies and careers—the more you are absolutely convinced that any minute now someone is going to point a finger at you and say, “Waaaait a minute. YOU’RE not an expert! You’re just someone who plays a content strategist on TV!” And then you will be exposed for the stupid, inexperienced jerk you are. Because clearly, you are not a subject matter expert. Only real experts write books. You should just stay home, eat toast, and keep quiet. You imposter.

    In July of 2011, a relatively unknown content strategist named Sara Wachter- Boettcher posted the following statement to her brand-new blog: “I’m not a subject matter expert. But I play one on the Internet.” She then proceeded to publish post after post about multiple facets of content strategy: editorial, user experience design, and content management. Her writing was smart, sassy, practical, and accessible.

    After a while, Sara started digging into topics I had no experience with but was regularly asked to speak about. Intelligent content. Adaptive content. Structured content. While I understood these topics in a general, surface-y way, I was secretly terrified by them. I am not a technical person. I don’t think in systems. I can’t create or analyze complex CMS processes. But when Sara began to write about these topics, there was something about the way she approached them that made me feel, well, smarter. Like I understood not only what she was talking about, but why I should care about it in the first place. And that is what a subject matter expert does.

    No matter where you are in your career, it’s not easy to step up and say, “This is what I think. This is what I value. Here is why I think you should value it, too, and here is how we can do better work together.” But if ever there were a time for content professionals to step up and share what they know—with each other, with their companies, and with clients—now is that time. While we all continue to struggle with managing our website content, our other content problems are multiplying exponentially. Sara’s book provides us with accessible, practical information that helps us navigate the current complexities of multichannel content. Moreover, it offers important alternatives to planning and structuring content that empower us to move confidently into the future, rather than constantly trying to recover from the past.

    Sara has made her mark as a thought leader not because she was born that way, but because she has taken an enormously complex, intimidating topic and made it accessible to practitioners of all stripes. Content Everywhere promises to be the new bible for content professionals who are committed to creating meaningful content that can, at last, be free.

    Kristina Halvorson
    Founder, Brain Traffic and Confab Events
    Author, Content Strategy for the Web

    Acknowledgments

    I’m indebted to everyone who listened to my excessive freak-outs, silenced my inner critic, and encouraged me enough to keep chipping away at this book. And trust me, that’s a lot of people.

    I’d especially like to thank Kristina Halvorson, who encouraged me to do this and introduced me to Lou Rosenfeld when I least expected it. Without that hearty shove, who knows what I’d be doing right now.

    Lou Rosenfeld is the sort of guy you want in your corner: unflappable, aboveboard, and smart as hell. I’m lucky he believed I could pull this off, despite having precious little evidence to support my case. I’m also incredibly thankful for the whole Rosenfeld Media family: Marta Justak, my editor; Karen Corbett, who wrangles operations; the editorial board, who saw promise in my proposal; and the entire production team, who pulled all this together.

    Eva-Lotta Lamm has a hyphenated German name, which means I liked her even before she created the incredible illustrations used in this book. I would never have finished the manuscript without the support of the nitpicky and crazy smart Jonathan Kahn, as well as my other reviewers Jason Grigsby, Elisabeth Hubert, Erin Kissane, and Sarah Krznarich. Their detailed, thoughtful feedback pushed me in all the right ways, as did the support of early readers Margot Bloomstein, Dan Klyn, Rachel Lovinger, Ethan Marcotte, and Ginny Redish.

    Karen McGrane, Ann Rockley, Deane Barker, Mike Atherton, Cleve Gibbon, and R. Stephen Gracey contributed material that brought new perspective to the book—and influenced my writing and thinking as well.

    Friends like Anna Hrach, Eric Covill, Daniel Eizans, Nicole Jones, Matt Grocki, Deb Gelman, Corey Vilhauer, Carolyn Wood, Tim Kadlec, Boon Sheridan, and Chris Avore gave me endless encouragement, advice, and criticism throughout the process.

    And then there was a whole cast and crew of delightful folks who shared their expertise and experiences with me: Zach Brand and Patrick Cooper at NPR, Mike Reich at Seaborne Consulting and his client at the FCC, Gray Brooks. Mark Porter talked with me about the Guardian; Erik Runyon gave me insight into Notre Dame’s website; Dave Olsen and his team shared their experiences at West Virginia University.

    The list goes on: Aaron Gustafson, Cameron Koczon, Dorian Taylor, Jeff Eaton, Jeffrey MacIntyre, John Eckman, Josh Clark, Lyza Gardner, MaryLee Grant, Mat Marquis, Max Fenton, Stephen Hay, Michael Spinnella, and Scott Abel all took the time to talk with me and make me much, much smarter than I was before.

    But I can’t thank anyone more than William Bolton, my partner and best friend for the past decade, who managed to defend his doctoral dissertation and move us across the country while I was writing this book. His patience and love have made this possible.

    Thank you all.

    Sara Wachter-Boettcher, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, September 2012

    Testimonials

    The Web has moved beyond the desktop, and our content must follow. Through a broad perspective, clear language, and an army of practical suggestions, Sara Wachter-Boettcher guides us through the challenges we face.

    Ethan Marcotte, author, Responsive Web Design

    The book you’re holding is magic. It cuts through all the noise surrounding structured content and offers immediately useful ways to turn your content from a bunch of scattered pages into a strong, flexible mesh that’s ready for countless new uses. And the best part? Wachter-Boettcher walks you through all the reasoning and all the sub-steps of this process without ever losing sight of the real goal: to create and maintain lively, useful content for human beings. If you’re looking for a lucid guide to the new challenges content publishers face, you won’t find a better one than this.

    Erin Kissane, author, The Elements of Content Strategy, and editor, Contents

    Website, app, social media—and more. Large screen, tablet, smartphone—and more. Are you writing and rewriting for all these different channels and devices? Stop. Get this book. Sara Wachter-Boettcher gives you practical advice in an easy-to-read style with lots of examples. She’ll help you write once, structuring your content to be successful wherever and however it appears.

    Janice (Ginny) Redish, author, Letting Go of the Words-Writing Web Content that Works

    Accessible, actionable, compelling: If that’s how you want your content, that’s also the perspective you want in a context-friendly content strategy. In Content Everywhere, Sara Wachter-Boettcher arms you with insight and courage for the content you confront—and the contexts we cannot yet imagine.

    Margot Bloomstein, author, Content Strategy at Work, and principal, Appropriate, Inc.

    OMG, so that’s what I’ve been doing these years! You know that unexplainable part where I divine order from the chaos of an existing site? Well, Sara makes it systematic, repeatable, and frankly better than anything I ever did. And if I didn’t find this book so damn useful, I’m pretty sure I’d hate her for it.

    Jason Grigsby, author, Head First Mobile Web, and founder, Cloud Four

    This book is about a topic very near to my heart: creating flexible content that can be published wherever you need it. If you’re making content with a single destination in mind, you’re wasting a lot of time. You should stop, read this book, and rethink the way you think about content.

    Rachel Lovinger, Content Strategy Director, Razorfish, and author, The Nimble Report

    A ‘magic bullet’ of a book—blasting into the dense body of emerging thought on cross-channel information architecture while also penetrating deeply into content strategy. The approaches it provides for ‘weaponizing’ content for multiple contexts and purposes comprise an essential pretext to achieving responsive Web design. Required reading.

    Dan Klyn, co-founder, The Understanding Group