How to structure content
Once you know the trick, it's very easy
Long story short: structure in your content brings cohesion, defines the gaps, and simplifies planning. Opposite, the lack of structure makes your storytelling a lot harder, less effective and your audience drops out. No matter how much media budget you spend.
What you will learn
- Tree diagram for an overview
- Themes for content structure and using tags
- Finding the gaps: content as proof
- Easier content planning
1. Create a tree diagram
No real need to explain why cohesion within your story and content is important, do I? Quite a few struggle to get grip on their content and bring structure in their story. Creating this construction is the more difficult part. It provides a logical flow from one topic to another and aligns all topics with the brands' mission statement, vision, purpose, or claim. Once you know the trick, easy does it.
My personal favorite is a pretty old school. Yet it works like magic, every time again. Maybe the simplicity is the golden nugget to get the overview. Divide what you want to tell into themes, in line with your claim.
As a diagram speaks louder than words, visualize the structure. Three ‘rules’ for the tree diagram:
Topics on the higher level are more general than the sub-topics on the lower level. Meaning the ‘lower’ you get in the tree diagram, the more detailed the (sub)topic per content item. Rule of thumb: stick to one (sub)topic per content item. If you have several, create several content items within the topic.
Topics per diagram-level should match up on the same level. For example, you can have the topic ‘alcoholic beverages’ with the sub-topics ‘beer’, ‘wine’, ‘spirit’. The content item-specific on ‘Gin’ ranks within ‘spirit’ and cannot be ranked within ‘alcoholic beverages’.
Rank on themes. The highest level is the brand ‘claim’, directly divided into general themes, which are split up in detailed stories that provide the proof of the claim.
This is pretty easy once you look beyond sales and think of your 'why'. The first step is to check your ‘why you do what you do’; who you are and why you are different than your competitors. This usually is anchored in your purpose, mission, and vision. Simply highlight the keywords. See the automotive example below.
These keywords are your main themes. If needed, you can add one or two more themes. The secret of success is to keep it simple and stick to your core, your 'why'. Rule of thumb is to have a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 8 themes to keep the focus. Double-check if your themes correspond with your leadership claim. If these do not merge seamlessly, you have a brand identity problem.
The setup of your themes is absolutely a bespoke exercise and there is not a default model. How to divide and balance your content between them, depends on your brand, your strategy, and objectives.
Use Google data to define
With smarter usage of Google, you can produce content your audience actually wants to read. Pretty much an open door, you should use these insights to (re)define your themes to structure your content.
Imagine, you are a coffee company and the research shows your audience wants to know the difference between arabica and robusta, light roast, and dark roast. This could be your first theme to explain the basics of coffee beans.
The same goes for when your audience is looking for how-to and recipes for a cappuccino. And they want to know the difference between an iced coffee and a cold brew, or a ristretto and espresso... here you have your second theme.
Read more on 'Data for content'
Naming the themes
The naming of themes is also a bespoke exercise with the biggest pitfall to think inside-out. The naming of the themes is audience focused. Think about what words your audience is actually looking for and those to name your theme. Sounds pretty obvious, in practice, this is often overseen and forgotten. Resulting in theme names full of inside-out BS marketing jargon.
E.g. the theme is ‘electrification’, the actual name of this theme should be ‘electric driving’ or even ‘EV’.
Rule of thumb: keep it short and simple, do not try to impress.
Hack: use the keywords your audience most likely will use in Google.
Themes and #
Topics, themes, or tags. Three different words, with more or less the same meaning. Once you get into the actual content production, I prefer ‘tag’. Effectiveness of using # is already proven on social and adapted on the websites for search and discovery. A great example is the tagging used by news.airbnb.com to unlock the content and set up the pages and landing pages. The same trick applies to thinklikeapublisher.com.
If you actually want to be Google-found on your themes, integrate these as the backbone for the navigation of your website. If ‘electric driving’ is part of your leadership claim, then ‘electric driving’ is in your main website navigation. Sounds pretty much like a no-brainer. In reality, most brands forget this important detail.
3. Content as proof and finding the gap
Your content supporting the theme is the actual proof of your claim. In other words, if you do not have enough in-depth content within your theme ‘sustainability’, you are not credible. And you are perceived as a fake. This lines up with your proactive defense reputation content.
Plot the existing content on your themes to discover the gaps in your communication. Know what content is still needed to endorse your leadership. Next to that, you can also discover an overload of content on a specific theme.
If your content publication is off-balance over the themes, ask yourself if you selected the right themes or if you are lacking in content production.
4. Easier content planning
Once you have the birds-eye overview on the proof in your content, it gets easier to plan. Four advantages: long-form or short-form, prevent duplicates, facilitate ideation, and nay-saying.
Long-form content needs
You know which of your themes are in need and suitable for more explanation and background information. By creating in-depth long-form content you can claim your thought leadership and share your knowledge on this topic. By developing the long-form content you differentiate from your competitors and you can stand out. With a very nice side effect, you rank higher in SEO.
Read more on 'Long-form content on the rise'
By having the visual overview, you can spot if you already have (sufficient) content on the specific topic. Then decide to update or expand the existing content or replace it with something new.
Another advantage is that you can use the tree diagram to plot new ideas for content items. As soon as you think of a new content item, plot it within a theme. In this way, you can create a hands-on tangible ideation list of content items for future usage.
Last but not least, having the themes helps you to say ‘no’ to content that is off-topic. Often there is some internal desire to produce ego polishing content that cannot be plotted within one of the themes. Having this theme-based content structure makes it easier to focus and politely decline any non-strategy based content requests.
Source and notes
With thanks to the book 'Schrijven met Effect' by Mariet Hermans, unfortunately only available in Dutch. Small note, the first few chapters are interesting for the 'how-to develop the tree diagram'. The rest of the book is more for students learning how to write a thesis.
The diagram of the automotive example is completely fictional and not related to any of my clients.
Once you know the trick, it is very easy