Structuring Content: A Story about Rocks

A rock cairn next to Fallen Leaf Lake, California

What do rocks have to do with structuring content? Rocks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. They’re foundational, solid pieces from which you can build. They’re organic. They have staying power. Good content shares the same characteristics.

Cairns and Content

Cairns are collections of stones purposely arranged in stacks. Dating to prehistoric times, they’ve been used as memorials, monuments, and directional waypoints. Like a cairn on a mountain trail, a well-constructed content strategy provides direction for your audience.

Cairns depend on balance: It’s not as simple as taking a random collection of stones and creating a tower. Before you start stacking stones, you need to identify your audience:

Next, identify the stones you need to include in the stack. You might have a good starting point, but it’s a good bet that you’ll need specific pieces to get everything to balance. Maybe that means includes creating new assets, modifying existing content, or placing smaller stones to support the larger ones.

Structuring Content into a Cairn

Let’s say my audience consists of human resources leaders who are looking to improve employee retention. My company has a variety of products that organizations can use in different ways. I have a collection of product-focused assets, including data sheets, white papers, and web pages.

That’s a good start, but I need to balance those pieces with assets that create context for the audience. Without context, you’re basically saying “buy X to accomplish Y.” The algebra isn’t that simple.

People don’t buy products because they’re products. They buy products because of what they do, the problems they solve, and the benefits they provide. They consider their existing environments, evaluate different ways to meet their goals, then identify the approach they want to take and the products that help them do it.

To meet your audience on the trail, start structuring content based on their needs, then incorporate your products. In short, it’s not about you. Build a structure that demonstrates that you understand their goals, why they’re important, and that there are different routes to success. Use your structure as context to position your products and the benefits they can provide. Augment those data sheets with solution content that shows how your offerings work together to support the goal.

That content bill of materials might include blog posts, case studies, infographics, analyst reports, video, and other asset types. Offer proof points that provide tangible metrics and illustrate use cases. Then use links to tie everything together.

Evaluate, Adjust, and Rebalance

What happens if the audience is getting lost? Take a look at your path. Maybe a rambunctious marmot knocked over a cairn. Or you need to make adjustments. It’s not the end of the world. (Think Jenga.)

Analyze what’s working — and what needs work. Do you need additional waypoints for different audience segments? Are you losing people at specific points? Are there gaps in your linking strategy? Are there clues in the terms people are searching on your site? If you can, get beyond digital analytics to learn about the questions people ask your lead-development and sales teams.

Rebuild, adjust, repeat. (And watch out for marmots.)

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