We hear a lot about intelligent content and structured content from our customers. Often, the terms are used as if they are synonyms. This causes confusion for lots of folks. In this post, we demystify intelligent content and structured content so we can clear things up.

Simply put:

Intelligent content is what you deliver. Structured content is what you create.

Intelligent content at any kind of scale is not possible without structured content.

Intelligent content

You might have heard intelligent content described as:

Deliver the right content to the right person at the right time on the right device in the language of their choice.

I think that’s a good definition. It makes intelligent content sound reassuringly simple.

This definition also hints at the prerequisites for achieving intelligent content. You need to know who the person is, where they are in their quest for information, and what device and language they’re using before you can know what content to deliver.

At the same time, you probably can’t sit at your desk monitoring every request that comes in to your websites, your customer support portals, your YouTube channel, and your 27 social media accounts to make sure you can manually deliver the right content to the right person at the right time…you get the idea.

To deliver intelligent content, you need systems that can match content to user need at scale. Sophisticated systems can monitor user behavior, detect patterns, deliver content, track what happens, and adjust content delivery in the future based on that data.

How this process works gets very technical very quickly and is out of scope for this article. (You’re welcome!)

However, the foundation for delivering intelligent content is structure. After all, the content does not just appear from nowhere. It has to be created. 

That’s where structured content comes in.

Structured content

Structured content is often defined as:

Semantically rich, format-independent, modularized content that is automatically discoverable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.

This means that the content is:

  • Created as a set of building blocks, rather than entire documents or web pages
  • Created and stored with minimal formatting
  • Tagged with metadata
  • Organized and stored in a centralized repository
  • Publishable to a variety of formats

Using structure, content creators create content based on what the business needs to communicate, rather than what the content will look like. 

Structured content can then flow into various designs and channels to be delivered to the customer. A combination of human decisions and just-in-time automation brings the intelligence into the delivery.

To deliver intelligent content, you must have structured content.

An opportunity to come together

All it takes is a Google search — or a conversation with the organizations I’ve been working with these many years — to see that marketers are thinking a lot about intelligent content. It seems that virtually all marketing organizations have been tasked with delivering intelligent, personalized content. 

However, the concepts of structured authoring (and the tools to support it) are new to many digital marketing organizations. Creative agencies are known to push back when asked to separate content from format, to create channel-independent content, or to leverage existing content as part of their customer’s reuse strategy.

Yet without this fundamental shift, you cannot personalize the experience at scale. It is not humanly possible to create independent information products (webpages, PDFs, video, etc.) for every permutation of right content and right format and right device and right language.

What you need to do is the opposite. You need to break apart your deliverables into their components. Separate the components from the format. Tag them with robust metadata for findability. Then publish so that your delivery platforms can provide the right content to your customers at the right time in the right place.

When we create structured content and deliver intelligent content, we have less content to manage and more ways to use it. And our customers are more likely to find the information they want — perhaps before they realize they want it.

Regina Lynn Preciado