Statistics abound showing that customers far prefer to self-serve than contact agents, and self-service can be facilitated with content companies already have. That said, the content needs to be communicated in a way that customers can understand. Smart content consists of enhanced, agile microcontent that is structured in a way that caters to the way the mind receives and processes information. Building smart content into a logical hierarchical structure results in an intuitive navigation that lowers effort for the customer.
What results is the opposite of a static, unorganized, unstructured knowledge base that simply generates HTML. Smart content comprises a dynamic framework, providing agility and flexibility to content—as opposed to having a cumbersome set of documents and PDFs that don’t rank highly in search engines and have no analytics attached.
Smart content starts with a company’s existing content that’s dumb—meaning file-based and pre-internet—and turns it into semantically rich microcontent. Rather than presented as bulky user manuals or PDFs, content is presented in short, topical articles. These bite-sized pieces of microcontent are mobile-ready, well organized, easily discoverable, and ideal for search engine optimization (SEO). Among other sources, smart content can be created from:
- product documentation
- user manuals
- training materials
- help content
- best practices
- reference information
Structured vs. Unstructured Hierarchies
“Unstructured” content is a simple collection of pages or documents—a flat hierarchy full of articles with no organization outside of things like tags.
- Unstructured systems, like document management and knowledge systems, are easy to update but are not designed to be customer-facing
- Content is difficult to extend into other systems
- It’s harder to find what you’re looking for because of the lack of structure
- The content authoring environment in some unstructured knowledge systems consists of blank text areas, involving high effort in hand-writing HTML markup, which in turn generates a series of static HTML pages with no semantic structure or analytics
“Structured” articles are organized by topic or category.
- Content is usually created in XML or PDFs, with no analytics attached
- Even with a small degree of structure, content requires an extensive process to update that could take months
Smart content is in the middle: an intuitive hierarchical structure that organizes content in a logical way, with analytics that make it trackable and the ability to update content instantly.
With most systems, even if there is some existing structure, chances are content is hard to update without undergoing a 6-to-12-month process, and by then the content could already be outdated. As customers are evolving, so should content. Smart content can be updated in real-time as needs arise: multiple people from across the organization can author, contribute, comment on, and tweak content instantly without facing a huge learning curve. What’s not working can be fixed, new content can be added, and old content can be reorganized as the product and its documentation mature. This capability within an instinctive interface streamlines cross-functional communication and collaboration by breaking down silos, in addition to increasing the speed and volume of content creation.
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Megan M. Hard is a Market Analyst at MindTouch, where she studies trends in the tech industry and how they tie together with consumer needs and behavior. After six years as a journalist and writer, she spent eight years as a Senior Editor at The Conference Board, a nonprofit business research think tank.