Content Strategy + Information Architecture = Customer Success – DITA Strategies (2023)


Written bytrace of amber

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Content strategy and information architecture are two different disciplines that work together to create customer success. Information Architect Amber Swope and Content Strategist Chris Hibbard share some methodologies and processes, best practices, and insights into how content strategy and information architecture work together to make client projects a success.

Content Strategy

There are many ways to define content strategy. In the context of this article, content strategy defines how content meets business and end-user needs, manages your investments in content systems and publishing resources, and informs migration/transformation plans and key performance indicators.

Businesses large and small tend to view content as a valuable asset. Organizations no longer view content strategy as a cost center. Instead, organizations are taking a broader perspective to consider how content can drive business productivity and how it can support the organization's mission and brand. In this sense, content is intellectual property and worth a business investment. The content strategist is crucial to this continuous development and has a crucial influence on the decision-makers in the company.

information architecture

Information architecture or AI is sometimes used interchangeably with content strategy, but they are different. Samantha Bailey defines AI as "the art and science of organizing information to make it findable, manageable, and useful." While the science of AI uses patterns, taxonomy, and best practices, the art of AI is working with the content strategist and client to understand what success looks like and design the right solution. Judgment, experience, and creativity are required to find the best way to structure, manage, and assemble content.

Successful AI provides a transactional framework that leverages structured and modular content and metadata to deliver effective content experiences. Because we don't know how or where users might experience this content in the future, AI design must enable the content for the future.

Content Strategy + Information Architecture = Customer Success – DITA Strategies (1)


Content Strategy + Information Architecture = Customer Success – DITA Strategies (2)

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information architect

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Phase 1: Define success

Because developing a successful content strategy requires clear goals and intense collaboration, defining success is the first step.

The content strategist begins by assessing the scope and priorities of the project. We conduct stakeholder interviews, review business challenges and host breakout sessions to clearly articulate the problem we are trying to solve.

Based on the score, we identify how the content can solve a business problem or move a user to action. By basing the project on the client's real-world challenges and opportunities, we can enable the content to inspire and enable measurable action.

Once the business challenges are identified, the content strategy action plan lays out the different types of content, rationale, dimensions around content context (how and where it is used), and support. A good content strategist looks at the content problem area from a operational perspective: how will it change people's daily lives? How much does it cost to produce this type of content? Is it sustainable? These factors fit into a framework that allows the strategist to engage diverse stakeholders and develop a common vocabulary of what we are trying to achieve. Defining success ensures that we establish the right shared vision, vocabulary and business framework.

Phase 2: Assessment of the current state

Defining where the customer should go begins with assessing where they currently are. This starts with conducting an assessment of the systems, content and processes based on success criteria that base the project on a strong business case.

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The content strategist starts with a preliminary content audit to assess how much content there is and look for patterns in the content landscape. Armed with this data, we carry out a quality and design review to determine if the current structure meets the needs of the company and to determine how it should be modified if it does not.

Next, we evaluate the performance of the content; This includes understanding workflows, how content is used, and what needs to change to achieve business outcomes. Because content has a life of its own, we need to plan its lifecycle.

To help senior sponsors make the decision to fund a large content project with confidence, we have developed a clear financial rationale that includes cost savings and a business case for investments.

Finally, we work together with the customer on the content strategy roadmap - nothing works without a plan! The plan clearly articulates what, how, and when things will be done, and sets expectations for everyone involved.

Phase 3: Visualize the future state

After we define customer success and the current state, the content strategist and information architect work with the customer to envision the future state of their content information architecture, technology, and processes.

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As the process evolves, assumptions will continue to be made. We use these assumptions to develop common models and goals to achieve stakeholder alignment. With a full content analysis, a user context map, and a maintenance plan, we frame them using an interaction model.

The interaction model tells us where people consume the content and in what context they will consume it. For example, the way users interact with an email differs from that of a knowledge portal or helpdesk solution. Here we develop real user scenarios and model how users should interact with the content. The interaction model considers how the context and delivery channels support the end user consuming the content at the point of need.

information architect

At this point, the information architect joins the process. Based on the content strategist's work, we can start searching for the results we need to create.

¼Context determines the effectiveness of content.¢

The architect analyzes each of the high-priority deliverables to identify its purpose, structure, and end-user benefit.

Based on this analysis, we can define the requirements for each release type, including the required metadata. For example, the structure of a guide differs from a whitepaper, which also differs from a newsletter, and the metadata about each of these results differs based on how we expect users to access them. The architect needs to understand what metadata each piece of content requires. Whether users are accessing content through an embedded system, search portal, mobile app, or any delivery platform, we need to know what success looks like in order to build the right architecture.

Phase 4: Analyze future government content requirements

This is essentially a gap analysis of where we are and where we want to be.

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The context delivery model allows us to include user research: Conduct primary user research on the content and design of the interaction, including themes and clickable user interfaces (UIs). This user research feeds into the analysis of future government requirements to determine how people will actually use the content now and in the future. The context model looks at multiple dimensions beyond content: it defines where and what types of users consume the content, as well as key targeting attributes for the business to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. The context model informs the technology requirements and the metadata model that provides the context for the content design.

¼Not all content is created equal – invest in your high-priority content first.¢

information architect

Using content strategy research, we can evaluate the results in new ways and then structure each one to meet user needs. First, the information architect creates diagrams that identify the content types, content hierarchy, and metadata for each delivery. We then analyze the content set to assess how often content of the same type appears in different and related results to identify redundancies, and we examine how structurally consistent results of the same type are across the content set to determine consistency. By reviewing benchmark results from content strategy research, we can design the best delivery framework for the future. Amber uses diagrams to validate the proposed structures with the content strategist and client.

If we are clear about the purpose of the content, we can be clear about what delivery address your address should be. Using this prioritization-based matrix that we receive from the content strategist, the information architect can understand what content is most important to user success and focus on that high-priority content.

The final activity in this phase is to write a summary for the client to validate the observations. This feedback validates what we did right and clarifies what we did wrong. By working with the content strategist, we gain valuable insights into the needs of stakeholders and internal customers.

Phase 5: Development of the first project

So far, content strategy has led the way. From now on, the information architecture leads and does most of the work.

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information architect

In this step, we create content diagrams to understand what is included in each content collection unit based on its purpose. For example, for a glossary definition, we need to know the following information: term, definition, form of first instance, symbol, and alternate forms.

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For each content type, we need to know what the structure should look like so we can start testing. This includes identifying exactly which individual parts belong to which type. In the case of a glossary topic, this means defining how we create each of the above.

We also use these charts to show and communicate to stakeholders how modular and structured content works and to get feedback that we can translate into technical requirements.

Diagrams also help us understand the relationship between content units. For example, a glossary definition is most useful when it references an instance of that term in content execution. We want to build relationships so that we can use them in different ways in different contexts. In the glossary example, we want to associate the definition with the term instance so that a user can easily access the definition when using the content.

Finally, we want to determine the required metadata and start prototyping with the content. We work with the content strategist to conduct a proof of concept (POC) to show the art of possible for content structure and delivery.


At this point, it is important for the strategist to work with the architect to understand the content delivery and interaction design requirements, and to provide insights into the user experience (UX) design around the content. For example, we'll see how collections of research and interactions around recent posts are rendered. The strategist works closely with UX designers to optimize the user experience so that content can be consumed and processed in the real world.

As a consensus building exercise, strategists communicate with stakeholders and share progress to ensure there is organizational alignment with the direction and vision we are moving towards. When making design decisions and proposing improvements to systems and content structures, we try to be aware that the changes will affect the day-to-day work of the team: there are team members who accidentally apply for positions that have not yet been accepted. – that's why we're working hard to make it easier to see new systems and new content structures. Stakeholders need to understand what is happening to them and their required involvement.

¼Charts help stakeholders see your content in new ways.¢

Phase 6: Validate project + plan work

At this point we get customer feedback on all aspects of the initiative: success of user testing, content relationships, metadata usage, etc. It's really a collaboration, a conversation that we have together and with the customer, because they are the ones who define success. We build the ecosystem, but they have to be able to sustain that ecosystem. To get it right, the process cannot take place in secret: it requires transparency and collaboration to work.

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information architect

Based on the results of the POC and subsequent analysis, we can validate the proposed design for the content and the charts to be delivered, as well as the metadata design. Because metadata is critical to empowering content, it's imperative that we identify the appropriate metadata classes and values ​​for each content type and delivery type. Whenever possible, we leverage existing metadata values, such as B. those in the corporate taxonomy to support cross-system consistency.

Now that we know what types of content we have and what services they belong to, we can develop a plan for sharing or reusing content. Ideally, content sharing allows authors to create a single content instance that can be presented in all appropriate delivery contexts; This means that some content can be reused during creation and other content can be reused during delivery, publication or presentation of content in a specific context. .


As with all of these points, the content strategist begins to facilitate the handoff to the implementation team. We want to ensure that the insights we gain along the way are transferred in more detail to the team members executing the work. Strategist facilitates transformation roadmaps and timeline. When building the system, from a technical standpoint, there are various parts that are initially implemented, so we need to ensure that content transformation roadmaps are pushing content into these systems once they go live. It's important to realize that not all content flows equally through the ecosystem. As we review the roadmap for implementing the technology, we also look at what content needs to be transformed and how the sequence of events for content transformation will support implementation. The content should flow like the gears of a clock.

Phase 7: Implement + Iterate

The final step in this process is implementation and iteration. At this point, we formalize the first round of content to set the baseline. We need to finish what we have and understand what is needed downstream.

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information architect

At this point, we formalize the content model that represents the detail and structure of the deliverables and content, and create final sample files for use by downstream processes. These processes include content conversion and migration, template creation, content validation, deployment automation, and publishing. Since content is in practice AI, authors need validation models and rules to support their success. AI may be beautifully designed, but if content creators can't efficiently write content into it, it has failed. Your job is quite difficult; our job is to help you succeed.

We also take the time to document not only what we decided, but how we got there. We use a series of templates to document the requirements, the questions we asked, the options we considered, and why. If we don't document the process, we can't answer stakeholders' questions about how we designed the solution.

The documentation contains the metadata values. As delivery systems continue to evolve, metadata does not remain static and we need to understand why and where metadata is applied (at creation, publishing, delivery) so that we can deliver the experience we want.


From a content strategy perspective, implementation and iteration revolve around the transformation and migration activities themselves. As Peter Drucker said, “Plans are only good resolutions if they don't immediately turn into hard work.” – that's the value of the strategy – they really enables the work. Because of this, my team works with others to do the transformational work. This allows us to monitor the quality of the content and the implementation of the strategy proposed at the beginning. Create a feedback loop to make adjustments over time.

¼A successful project achieves the client's goals and can actually be completed.¢


As content strategy and information architecture work together throughout the phases, it becomes clear how they benefit each other and together drive customer success.

How content strategy benefits from AI input

From a content strategy perspective, AI provides structured and reusable content components. The structuring of content components not only enables the flow of content through the ecosystem, but also supports the design of the component experience and enables better ways for consumers to consume and use that information. AI is also creating new opportunities to solve business needs in new and better ways. For example, many of our recommendations have been made possible by new technology and new content structures.


  • Provide reusable content components

  • Create opportunities to solve business challenges in new and better ways

  • Deliver contextual content at scale

AI also enables the delivery of contextualized content at scale. For example, millions of pieces of content need to be structured and standardized in order to be made available. In the case of our mutual customer, there are five different delivery endpoints (of which we are aware) where consumers can access this structured content. We know we're doing it right because we allow the lead sponsor to go out and show off and get support from other stakeholders. As a result, this is a system that many people want to adopt, and being able to work together has made a huge difference to this success.

How AI benefits from contributing to content strategy

Content strategy adds value to AI by setting context for content creators and end users. As content flows through the system, it enables actions in the real world, so the user context actually informs the metadata and structure. Without that context, all we have is some metadata. We want to understand which metadata should be applied to which content units.


  • Definition of the content producer and consumer context

  • Anchor AI decisions in the real world

  • Provide guiding principles for structured content

Having a content strategy input to narrow the focus really helps us think about how people can create that content effectively. This anchors AI decision-making in the real world and provides guiding principles for structured content.

If you're looking to optimize your content strategy with customized information architecture consulting, consider hiring Amber Swope for five to ten hours of consulting or training.

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Learn more

Checklist for phase specific delivery

Use this checklist to guide content strategy and information architecture coordination in your project:


This article was written in collaboration with Chris Hibbardtahzoo.

Content StrategycooperationeducationAdvisor

trace of amber

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