This guest post was written by Media Shojaee, a Content Strategist, Content Architect, MadCap Advanced Developer, and an experienced Technical Writer with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. He is skilled in Madcap Flare, CSS, Technical Documentation, HTML, and Software Documentation.

What is Content Architecture?

Content architecture is the process of designing a structure that can utilize content effectively, efficiently, and create outputs that satisfy the stated or implied needs of the target audience. There are so many factors that can affect the content architecture. In this article, I will review some of these factors, and suggest a model which can pave the way for content architects. It is important to note that the process of improving content architecture can be different from business to business. Some organizations may use a one-time waterfall process while others might use an agile approach. To make it simple, content architecture should provide the best solutions for the missions and strategies of an organization. Contents go through various stages of development. Following is a model to categorize these stages.

While the mission of content determines why content should be published and available at all, the content strategy determines how to accomplish missions. The bridge between content strategies and content management is the content architecture which identifies how specifically content should be created, designed, and published to achieve the goals of content strategies.

In content architecture, the role of a content architect is critical to make the functional decisions which facilitate the operational activities for effective content management. Content architecture provides a road map for content developers who want to have a clear workflow from production to publishing, also known as end-to-end production. Content architecture is where you should think big, but you can start with small steps.

Why is it Important?

A content architect should see the big picture as much as possible. If the content mission of an organization is modified, and strategy are revised accordingly, the architecture should be flexible enough to correspond with the changes in a way that minimizes the response time of providing the right content for the audience.

Another reason that underlines the importance of content architecture is that the demand for structured and meaningful content is on the rise. Companies want to provide just-in-time content that is well-organized, and the target audience needs the information which is faster to find and easier to understand. If users cannot find the right information quickly and easily, they skip the content for other potentially more costly resources, ignore the service, or ask for a redesign of the content. At the end of the day, the company should bear the cost of quality for reworking the content. Content architecture helps readers answer their own questions without contacting various departments of a company.

What Happens Without Content Architecture?

Without content architecture, it is a laborious task to develop content and escape the following consequences:

  • The final content might not satisfy the users, which can impose the cost of quality if redesigning the architecture is necessary. This happens when companies jump to content management without designing the architecture.
  • Unmanageable content is growing in size, scope, and complexity, and the big mess of data needs to be structured and organized separately for each output.
  • The content developers do not have a clear and specific plan to follow. It can feel like a mess too big to take it on1. The user won’t enjoy meaningful content experiences, and the content may not look as attractive as it should be.
  • Content is a strategic business asset. If the right information does not find the right person in the right way, the business is not successful to deliver the required service that the audience needs.

Internal and External Benefits of Content Architecture

Content architecture brightens the mind and shows the path to content developers to design the workflow of operations in the content management stage. Consistency of content increases by predefined layouts, structure, etc. which is necessary, especially when a number of authors work in a group. A specified architecture brings less variability which speeds up decision-making processes for content.

Excellent content architecture can bring more user engagement, increase customer satisfaction, and decrease the number of emails and contacts to an organization.

A content architect, technical writer, or project manager must successfully address the following critical decisions to reduce the cost of quality and response time, make the architecture flexible enough to support future changes, and maximize the internal and external benefits for an organization.

Critical Decisions of Content Architecture

The following checklist of critical decisions specifies almost all the important criteria that a content architect must consider before starting a project. However, a content architect may think deeper about or even ignore a decision from the checklist based on the size of the project. The desired quality of outputs specifies how much time should be dedicated on each of the items. Structuring content takes time and requires investment in the design process and purchasing necessary technologies. Sometimes there is not a clear cut to put a critical decision into a specific stage, and a decision or question may be reviewed in other stages as well to align with content strategies and content management stages.

Area of DecisionDecisions / QuestionsBest Practices
Next Step
StrategyWhat kind of content should be created? A single page file, a long document that will be published to multiple channels, or a video?Choose the appropriate Technology (MadCap Flare, MS Word, Doc-To-Help, MadCap Mimic, etc.)
StrategyDo we need feedback or comments from the readers?MadCap Central for usage intelligence, and ways for readers to provide proactive comments and feedback Integration with Flare projects
StrategySingle or Multiple AuthorsTeam Design (Cross-training, Job Design, Job Rotation, etc.)Refer to HR or Project manager
Content ArchitectureWhat is the best Source / Version Control Systems and Backups system to store my projects?Madcap Central, Github, Apache Subversion, Perforce, etc.Test to find the best practice for your project
Area of Decision
Decisions / Questions
Best Practices
Next Step
Strategy and Content ArchitectureShould I support multiple Languages?MadCap Lingo, or liaise with MadTranslationsIntegration with Flare projects
Strategy and Content ArchitectureShould I publish content to other platforms?Salesforce Knowledge, Zendesk Guide, other content management systemsIntegration with Flare projects
Strategy and Content ArchitectureWhat kind of outputs should be published?Responsive HTML5, PDF, CHM, Word, etc.Add necessary targets, design skins, page layouts, master pages, etc. to your Flare projects
Content ArchitectureConcept-based, Hierarchy-based, or combine architecture? (taxonomy)Design topic templates or information types, TOCs and publishing targets
Strategy and Content ArchitectureWho is your target audience? What is the level of your audience’s sophistication?Grammar, voice, tone, lay, and readability scoresIdentify the least / lowest common denominator, use text analysis in MadCap Flare
Area of DecisionDecisions / QuestionsBest PracticesNext Step
Strategy and Content ArchitectureWhat techniques and features can save time for content developers?Micro content, auto suggestions for variables snippets, shortcut modifications, scheduling build and publishReview Flare’s online Help
Content Architecture

What project structure should I use?Single or multiple projects?
Review Flare’s project structure guide
Content ArchitectureWhat contents are reusable?Single-sourcing (topics, snippets, variables, micro content, etc.)Use Flare’s internal Analyzer for reuse suggestions
Content ArchitectureDo we need responsive outputs (RWD)?Ready-to-use templates and layouts or start from scratch, media queries, responsive conditions, etc.
Content ArchitectureDo we need to link the outputs to a software application? (Context-sensitive help)CSH Alias FilesAdd IDs and link topics
Area of DecisionDecisions / QuestionsBest PracticesNext Step
Content ArchitectureDo you need different outputs that all stem from the same set of source files?TOCs, Conditions, Snippet Conditions, Variables
Content ArchitectureHow can we help users find information easier?Elasticsearch, MadCapSearch, Micro Content, Glossary, Index, FAQ, etc.MadCap Central for output analytics
Content ArchitectureNavigation StrategiesTop / Side Navigation, relationship tables, browse sequence, mini-TOCs, cross-references, breadcrumbs, etc.Review Flare’s online Help 
Content ArchitectureWhat UX or UI is suitable for the reader?Flare’s free project templates

Madcap Customer Showcase for ideas
1. Preview and download project templates.
2. Decide on any changes for layout, fonts, themes, styles, etc.
Area of DecisionDecisions / QuestionsBest PracticesNext Step
Content ArchitectureDo we need search engine optimization?Metadata and SEO techniques
Content ArchitectureHow should I analyze and report the issues in my project?MadCap Flare’s internal AnalyzerReview Flare’s online Help
Content ArchitectureHow should I name the files and folders? (nomenclature)Various methods can be usedBe consistent with your method. Review Flare’s project architecture guide
Content ArchitectureDo we have existing content files to import?It depends on your legacy content and what you want to repurposeReview Flare’s online Help

Footnotes and references:
1. From The beauty of content architecture.