It all started in Dublin, in the summer of 2016, at a conference about technical communications. Over the course of 3 full days, in between pub-crawls, whiskey tastings and various attempts at learning Irish dance, I was introduced to the concept of content structure, content reusability, and single-source publishing.
Coming from the world of online gaming, where we work with a plethora of CMS tools and write and manage marketing content for multiple channels, this was a new concept for me. But I soon understood its deep implications for my job.
For a whole year, I dived deep into the topic of content management, content strategy, and multi-channel publishing. As the leader of an in-house localization team, my goal was to come up with a solution that allowed us to improve the content’s quality and scale up the production.
At the end of that year I had two realizations:
1. Quality localization goes hand in hand with good content management practices and strategic content production.
2. Multi-channel publishing is possible only with scalable content production and localization, powered by a flexible content management solution.
Strategy and technology cannot be separated from content any longer. And this new approach to content is called Content as a Service or CaaS.
What is Content as a Service?
As the name suggests, the idea behind Content as a Service (CaaS) is to regard content production and distribution as a service. The content is created and managed in a decoupled or headless CMS and distributed to various consumers via a web API.
Why is this necessary?
All innovation starts with a need and a problem to be solved. In the case of CaaS, several online business trends contributed to an increased need for producing flexible content, faster and in larger volumes.
1. Faster time to market
By adopting agile and lean development strategies, technical teams are able to launch new websites, products, and features faster than ever before.
2. Multiple channels
Web, mobile, app, social media, push messages. More content, more work, multiple formats.
3. Relevant content
The Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, 3 algorithms from Google, changed the way businesses market their products online with content. The demand for unique and relevant content is higher than ever before.
An increased need for expanding to newer markets and localizing large volumes of content more frequently.
All these needs raise new challenges for the content creation and localization teams. They now have to produce more content for more channels at a faster pace with the same teams of creatives and localization specialists as before.
This is where CaaS comes into play, with a new perspective on content: separate content from technology, write structured content that you can publish anywhere and reuse as much content as possible with zero efforts. Do all this from a single source where everyone can collaborate, and from which you can distribute the content on demand based on your customer’s needs.
How does Content as a Service work?
Any large company with multiple channels for publishing content faces the same challenge: as the number of websites, applications, and social media channels rise, so does the number of CMS tools, .json, word, excel, and .pdf files for managing content. Thus, the creative teams are faced not only with the challenge of producing more content in multiple formats at a faster pace but also of managing it in various silos.
Once the problems escalate, a business is left with two alternatives: hire more staff to maintain the content silos, or think of a new approach to content management, content production, and localization.
Why is CaaS the right solution?
Agile content creation and localization
Traditionally, CMS tools have a backend component for content management (this is not seen by the end user) and a front-end or presentation component (this is seen by the end user).
This setup greatly limits the development of new front-ends, as they all have to be in line with the technology of the backend. More, traditional CMS’ have a hard time supporting new platforms, such as mobile applications or social media channels.
CaaS comes with the simple proposal of separating content from technology. This means, having a decoupled or headless CMS as a backend component for managing and distributing content as needed.
The front-end channels are technologically independent of the backend component and consume the content as a service via a web API. The content is written in a presentation-free format such as .xml or .jason, and it is mapped to the front-end information architecture via content models.
By separating content from presentation, you transform your content into a future-proof asset. Your content creation and localization teams have the possibility to:
- produce and manage the content independently,
- structure content and come up with reusability models (to increase your time-to-market), and
- create more content that is unique and relevant (once they are freed-up from the manual work of producing and managing content in silos).
This agile content production model will allow you to get more out of your content with fewer resources. Have your localization specialists work directly in the CMS tool or connect to a translation memory tool if you translate large volumes of text in multiple languages.
Content reusability is nothing new to those of you coming from a technical communications background. But also copywriters and localization specialists are familiar with content reusability. Think about the practice of rewriting and adapting existing texts to fit new purposes or translation memory tools.
CaaS brings an extra layer of structure: content is deliberately created with the idea of reusability in mind and texts are written in smaller chunks of unique and reusable texts, that can be mixed and matched as needed.
The reusable content chunks are written once, localized once, approved once and used indefinitely. With a good decoupled or headless CMS, they can be added effortlessly to new blog articles, product descriptions, FAQs, T&Cs or promotional materials.
The idea of reusing content might sound counterintuitive in the marketing world, where the demand for unique content is quite high. But this is not entirely the case:
- A website consists of approx. 40% unique marketing content, while the remaining 60% could be reused as needed.
- A marketing text has to be unique due to SEO reasons, but Google is happy if the text is at least 30% unique.
- A newsletter consists of only up to 50% unique text. The rest is reusable text, such as the footer or promotional terms and conditions.
- A blog article can be written in reusable modules that you can mix and match to create new blog articles.
- An application is not ranked by search engines and can reuse text blocks from the website.
Identify the reusability potential of your content, and scale up your content production and localization.
CaaS is concerned not only with the scalability of content in terms of volumes but also quality. In this context, quality is defined by whether or not a text fulfills its intended purpose. But how can you know this?
It’s not easy to measure the performance of content and to assess its overall contribution to a successful business. Content strategy comes with tools for tailoring communication based on your audience’s needs, and for measuring the performance of content with objective metrics.
Use storytelling, analytics, and A/B testing to improve and measure the performance of your content. Rewrite and re-localize the web or app pages that receive the least attention from your audience, and see if their reaction changes. Play with different approaches to your promotional materials, different tonality, structure, layout. Find out what works best and keep on doing it.
Branding used to be the buzz word in the online business world. Nowadays, it’s all about telling a story, being authentic, being real, and generally writing your message the way your audience wants to hear it.
Create storyboards, think about your user’s journey and don’t forget that you’re not the protagonist. Your user is. You are merely showing the way. To use a popular Star Wars analogy, your user is Luke Skywalker and you are Obi-Wan Kenobi.
How to prepare for the transition to CaaS
Content is a Pandora box that many are reluctant to open. Sorting through the complexity of content creation and localization requirements, as well as production tools and workflows, can be a daunting task.
Fortunately, a step-by-step approach can simplify this process. This is what I recommend for your transition to CaaS.
1. Analyse your content
Before embarking on the journey of offering Content as a Service, it’s a good idea to have a look at your organization’s content and decide if this is the right way to go.
- Do you have multiple platforms and channels?
- Do you manage content in several CMS tools?
- Do you also manage content in files stored in local folders?
- Do you spend a lot of time copy-pasting text?
- Do you write and localize the same content over and over?
- Do you localize content in various languages on a regular basis?
I realized that we were localizing the same content over and over, during a quality management project that lasted three quarters of a year. During this time we performed various localization tests of several websites and mobile applications and had a look at roughly 80% of the company’s content.
Everyone was convinced that a high percentage of the content produced was unique. At the same time, we were expected to keep localization costs down, by using a translation memory tool. Which is a paradox in itself: if the content is unique, how can we reuse translations?
Fortunately, the reality was not as paradoxical, and we could indeed reuse a lot of our translations, granted the source text was always written consistently. Which it wasn’t. Because everyone in the company had access to edit all the content. Anytime.
We understood soon enough that we were simply wasting our content creation and localization resources, and that we badly needed a centralized content management approach.
2. Choose your CMS tool
One of the biggest advantages of a decoupled or headless content management system is that it makes your content future proof. As new technologies arise, you can connect to the same content source with minimal effort.
As I played around with the idea of single source publishing and content reusability, I started by looking into CCMS tools from the technical communications world. The big advantage these tools have is, that they offer the most extensive content management features. The disadvantage is that they don’t offer a good content distribution solution.
After several presentations and feedback rounds from my colleagues in the technical teams, it was clear that I needed to move on and look for a different type of tool. This is when I came across the concept of headless CMS.
A headless CMS is a decoupled content management system built specifically for web and mobile application developers. The big advantage is that it offers a solid content distribution solution via web API. The disadvantage is, that the content management features are not as extensive as those offered by a CCMS tool, and some UI customisation is required.
After a proof of concept, we decided to go for a headless CMS. Again, I will not name any tools specifically, but if you search CCMS tool and headless CMS you will find great articles online.
3. Create your content model
Once you decided on a content management tool, it’s time to think about a content model. This is a very important step in your CaaS project, but don’t worry if you don’t get it 100% right from the start.
In-house copywriting or localization teams are a great place to start with your model, as these are the teams that already know a great deal about your content. Your marketing team is another source of valuable information, especially when it comes to layouts, and any other formal requirements for text, such as character limitations, for promotional content.
After gathering the specific information for each and every content type, it’s time to approach your product managers and technical teams. They will fill in the market, legal and technical requirements for your content model.
Armed with the knowledge you acquired from your colleagues, you can go ahead and put the puzzle pieces together. The content model should be simple and understandable to everyone.
When I did the proof of concept for my project, I had the idea of creating a single content model for 10 websites and 10 applications. And although those websites and applications are quite similar in content and structure, I came to the conclusion that this was not a sustainable approach.
It was adding a lot of complexity to tagging, searching and reusing the texts. It was also difficult to create a model for a content type that would cover the requirements of so many different platforms. Keep your content model flexible and scalable.
4. Define your collaboration workflows
In most organizations, content belongs to everyone and to no one. Content should be great, but nobody defines how. Acceptance criteria? Not when it comes to content. As long as it’s done before the launch and the pages and apps are filled with something resembling a human language, everything is fine.
In case something goes wrong, it’s the fault of that copywriter who can’t write or that translator who makes word-by-word translations. Why is it so hard to find good people these days?
Well, things are not as simple as they seem. A good text doesn’t require only a good copywriter or translator, but also a good requestor, who knows what she wants to achieve with that text.
Content has multiple layers and various people in the company need to collaborate in order to make it successful. When you define your collaboration workflows, think about the following points:
- Content owners
- Content strategy
- Localization kit
- Legal requirements
CaaS can only work if the different stakeholders involved in content production take ownership of their part in the process. A good collaboration workflow allows you to scale up your content production, as new channels and products are introduced in your organization.
5. Define your content distribution model
You have a versatile decoupled content management tool, a flexible content model and you defined your collaboration workflows. Nothing can stop you from creating the best content.
But, the end goal of that awesome content is to reach the end customer. Content distribution is a crucial part of a CaaS project. For this, you will have to work closely with your front-end team(s), and other technical owners and managers.
With a headless CMS, your content distribution will most probably be done with the help of a RESTful web API. REST, or Representational State Transfer, is a flexible API that can return multiple types of calls and works with various formats, such as .xml or .json. API, or Application Programming Interface, is the part of a server that receives requests and sends responses. For example, every time you check your Facebook, you are making an API request to Facebook’s server, and the API sends you the desired page.
When defining your content distribution model, it’s important to remember that the content production lifecycle, is not the same as the software lifecycle. Content doesn’t have a development, testing, staging and production instance, but it is always written and delivered in its final format. Your content creators don’t have to maintain staging and production versions of the content.
Content production and localization have to be seen in the broader context of today’s content landscape with its multi-channel publishing, marketing and technology requirements, and globalization.
A good content management solution and a well thought content strategy are prerequisites for multi-channel publishing.
Content as a Service promises to create a sustainable ecosystem for scalable content production and localization, and it’s here to stay.