For many years, Web content management has been the realm of relatively unstructured content. The most basic content management systems use a page-based approach to store content; more advanced systems break up page content into separate items or components. In these cases, the title might be separated from the body text, and an image, and its caption may be stored separately. What you rarely see, however, is a detailed way to break up the actual body text into smaller bits and pieces, such as paragraphs or even individual sentences, bullets, or table cells.
The reason for not breaking up the body text into smaller chunks is fairly obvious: For most Web sites, there is no need to do so. Content that engages a reader does not necessarily have to be very structured. It needs to read fluently, be consistent across various pages or sections of the site, have correct spelling and grammar, be optimized for SEO, and potentially be translated and localized. Well-written content should persuade and entice your visitors buy your product or service. This does not necessarily require a granular breakdown.
Change Is Coming
But the world is changing quickly.
Fast-moving consumer goods, product, and high-tech companies are confronted with increasingly shorter product life cycles and more agile interactive product development processes. Ten years ago, you might have bought a mobile phone that would last you four years. Today, a company launches the latest model just when you've figured out all of the features on the version you bought three months ago.
Because of this speed of change, companies need a tremendous amount of content both presale and post-sale to ensure they achieve high levels of customer engagement. And the customers' experience needs to be consistent and relevant at each step of their journey. Today's customers can be fickle. If they can't fix their issue through online self-service, your brand may well be up for scrutiny on one or more social networks.
Producing high-quality product content to support the post-sale phase is crucial, but at the same time, a big headache for many companies. Over the last decade, standards such as Extensible Markup Language (XML) have emerged in the product documentation world to support creating highly componentized product documentation. XML is an international data standard that defines how to structure electronic documents by separating presentation, structure, and meaning from the actual content. By marking up pieces of content, XML makes files very easy to understand, move, reuse, and translate. An important flavor of XML, Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), is designed for managing technical information in reusable topics or components stored as XML. Adoption of DITA has increased dramatically in the past several years, as global businesses are achieving savings of as much as 30 to 50 percent in content production and translation costs. It also provides a foundation for greater customer satisfaction and faster time to global markets.
The emergence of XML-based DITA allows for reuse of granular bits of information that might not change between products. As a result, companies can implement highly automated translation processes and make it faster and cheaper to create new documentation released in a multitude of formats (HTML, PDF, print, etc.).
Ignore at Your Peril
Gone are the days where a PDF manual sufficed. If users need to read a 120-page PDF file to figure out how to solve that paper jam on the printer they just bought, you are not providing the customer experience your users want or expect.
If, on the other hand, you guide them to a support page where they can enter their printer model, search for "clear paper jam," and receive a step-by-step solution supported by images or video, you create brand advocates simply by providing excellent access to a solution to their problem. And the great thing is that you could reuse that very same content to equip more advanced printers with built-in onscreen guidance.
This approach requires that granular way to store content through DITA. DITA merges the world of WCM with structured content, softening the borders between the two and highlighting the benefits of lower costs, customer self-service, and a superior customer experience.
Integrating DITA managed content and Web content management provides additional benefits too.
By leveraging the power of DITA, you can allow customers to comment on bite-size topics and optimize your content in a way that PDF manuals do not allow.
Analytics on your structured content can also provide invaluable product feedback. If 95 percent of your self-service requests are about paper jams, it is obvious that you have a severe issue that needs to be tackled by product design.
Also consumers don't go to corporate Web sites to solve problems. Instead they use a search engine or ask their peers on social networks. With DITA in place, it becomes easier to find the exact content they are looking for—its rich semantic tagging and topic-based nature means that someone can search for "clear paper jam" and find the exact topic he or she is looking for without having to search deep within a Web site or PDF.
And finally, you can give your customers the freedom to find the information they are looking for across channels and devices, since they may perform a task or use your product in a variety of contexts (at home, in the car, while shopping). DITA separates content from design and formatting and adds the benefit of detailed tagging, putting you in the unique position to deliver a relevant, targeted, and contextual experience. After all, isn't that what your WCM initiative should do?
Arjen van den Akker is the product marketing director of Web content management at SDL Tridion, where he plays a key role in directing and executing the company's WCM strategy.