As many of us know, two of the biggest barriers to website effectiveness are unfocused content and poor findability.
Corporate websites need to grab a user’s attention, demonstrate value and build loyalty; corporate intranets must allow users to find resources they need as quickly and as easily as possible. A strategy that aims to address the needs of all users can dilute content effectiveness and frustrate those looking for specific information.
One effective way to minimize over-generalization and information overload, while directing users to their most relevant information is via dynamic content.
As always, a careful approach to content management is required, and some trade-offs are inevitable to increase site effectiveness, but a dynamic content strategy offers intriguing benefits. Read on.
What is dynamic content?
Dynamic content is created when two or more pieces of website content are selected and presented together on demand, according to user context. Instead of viewing a static webpage, users encounter specific content blocks that are dynamically assembled and displayed according to current navigation, the user’s profile or other contextual factors.
For example, a website may display a particular block of content if a user’s profile indicates they work in your organization’s Vancouver office; for others, this block of content would be hidden. Conversely, a user may select “Low-Fat” and “Chicken” from a menu of recipe options; the website then selects and displays all recipes that have been tagged with the keywords “low-fat” and “chicken”.
The distinguishing element in these examples is that content display determined dynamically. The website reacts to the choices and characteristics of users, in real-time.
The most common contextual dimensions of dynamic content that we’ve seen:
Personalization - displaying content based on a user’s profile or group membership
Faceted navigation - navigational elements are only displayed when they contain content
Filtered browsing - displaying content based on multi-dimensional filtres or categories selected by the user
The most robust and intuitive mechanism used to implement dynamic content is metadata tagging, wherein user profile metadata and content metadata are matched against context and content business logic to determine what is presented. More on that further down.
Dynamic content offers benefits to both website users and content authors.
Easy to maintain
When a website consists largely of dynamic content, content authors become primarily responsible for ensuring that pieces of content are tagged correctly. They no longer need to worry about placement of items or layout details.
Intuitive user experience
Dynamic content provides a customized website experience for users and, if content is tagged intelligently, increases findability of crucial information. Users need not wade through untargeted content to find what they need.
Powerful use of information
When pieces of information are tagged with multiple metadata, their full context and topic reach is represented. Their appearance in certain contexts can indicate helpful information relationships or connections that may not have been obvious.
Managing Dynamic Content - Three Key Ingredients
In our experience, three ingredients are necessary for successfully managing dynamic content.
A content management system
A content management system should allow you to easily tag your content with metadata and govern content with workflows and authorization processes. Some systems have a built-in keywording mechanism; others may let you build a custom interface to allow content authors to apply metadata tags to content items.
Publishing content as discrete pieces requires a departure from the usual WYSIWYG nature of content authoring. Content authors may require extra training in order to ensure full understanding of the tagging logic.
Metadata and XML power team
XML is a powerful tool used to separate content from presentation logic. When content pieces and their metadata are published as XML, this creates an independent content repository that can be consumed by any presentation layer platform.
Intelligent presentation layer
An intelligent presentation layer completes the dynamic content picture, executing the logic that displays content based on metadata and business rules. Typically this will involve a mechanism that queries the XML data published out from CMS and manipulates and optimizes its presentation to the user.
Selecting a platform with powerful scripting, caching and integration capabilities, such as ASP.Net, will ensure a scalable and robust solution.
A final note
Implementing a dynamic content-driven website is not simplistic, but it can reap big rewards in terms of content findability and user experience. Additionally, for those needing to maintain some control over key areas of the site, such as the homepage, a hybrid solution can work well; selected pages can be managed and published directly by the CMS instead of being assembled by the presentation layer.