Thursday, September 4, 2008

Content Strategy for Application Content

Sure, everyone wants to write the sexy marketing and persuasive content, but if your website contains online applications (pages that are really small programs that collect and/or display data etc.) then you may be missing a golden opportunity to show your value as a content strategist/expert and create a content strategy that makes the applications much easier to maintain.

Usually, text that is part of an online application is coded into the application itself. This is fine for small items like field labels and column headings, but larger blocks of content may be better handled outside of the application code. This is especially true for content that will change regularly such as copyright dates, version numbers, requirements, product cross-sell/up-sell, etc.

If this kind of text is programmed into the application code, the whole application may need to be re-deployed just to make a simple date change from 2008 to 2009. Re-deploying the application will usually require a complete cycle of testing and QA and can get expensive.

There are many ways to handle separating this content out of the code. There is a lot of talk about structured content and XML, but a simpler method may be to simply use your existing WCMS to generate small HTML fragments (just the stuff between the body tags), store these fragments on your production servers as a file, and have the applications just insert the file whenever the page is rendered. Small WCMS changes may be required, but that would be a one-time thing that could pay dividends for years. Once you have this method in place any changes needed to the text can be made quicky and easily without impacting the application programmers.

If all of this sounds like backwards Chinese to you, the key here is just to ask. This may be something that the developers have not even considered that could save them a lot of time and hassle down the road. If so, they will probably be glad to help you work out all the technical details.

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