By Marcia Riefer Johnston published June 29, 2015

Intelligent Content: What Does ‘Automatically Discoverable’ Mean?

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“The reason people hire content strategists is that people can’t find anything,” says long-time content strategist Rahel Anne Bailie. If you don’t happen to have a content strategist – or a magic wand – handy, and you want to make your organization’s content more findable, start with a basic understanding of what automatically discoverable means.

That basic understanding is what I explore here. This is not an article on search-engine optimization. I’m not talking about gimmicks for beguiling Google. What I’m after here is a general sense of automatic discoverability as a key part of helping people – whether they’re within or outside your organization – find what they’re looking for once they arrive at your website, intranet, content management system, app, etc.

Why this article?

This is one of six articles discussing Ann Rockley’s definition of intelligent content:*

Intelligent content is content that’s structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.

This article focuses on the definition’s third element: automatic discoverability.

What does ‘automatically discoverable’ mean?

Automatically discoverable means findable with the help of computers. When content is automatically discoverable, you don’t have to hunt and peck through folders or web pages, muttering, “I know it’s in here somewhere.” A machine helps you get right to what you need, even if what you need is mixed in with millions of other pieces of content.

You use automatically discoverable content every day. Examples:

  • Google automatically discovers not only web pages relevant to your questions but also, increasingly, direct answers to your questions.
  • Amazon automatically discovers products you’re looking for – and products you don’t know you want until Amazon presents them as recommendations.
  • Supercook automatically discovers recipes that use ingredients you have in your fridge. Got bananas and bacon? Boom! Three recipes appear.

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Automatically discoverable content on Supercook.com

When you select your ingredients on the Supercook home page, the site automatically discovers recipes that use those ingredients – in this case, bacon and bananas. Web searching, shown here, is just one type of automatic discoverability. People also must be able to find content that’s stored elsewhere: behind a corporate firewall, in an app, or wherever it resides.

Content. Discovered. Automatically.

If a needle in a haystack were automatically discoverable content, you could sit next to the haystack in a chaise longue and whisper, “Needle.” Out it would pop. And Siri would hand it to you.

What makes content automatically discoverable?

According to Ann’s definition, content is made automatically discoverable by two things: rich structure and semantic categories (aka metadata). As Ann says:

Semantic tagging makes it possible to zero in on the required content … Every piece of content, including text, video, and audio, can be described and therefore understood if it’s tagged with metadata. Metadata makes it possible to discover content.

Metadata is the dues that content owners pay. Automatic discoverability is the payoff.

Of course, search engines find your content even if you don’t tag it with metadata. They crawl all over your web pages to discover what content you have to offer, metadata or no metadata. Still, metadata can make a big difference for the user. Metadata takes findability to a new level. When recipes are tagged with metadata – “bacon” and “bananas,” for example – people can instantly pull exactly the content they’re looking for in ways that would be impossible without metadata.

Findability goes beyond web search. An employee might want to search an internal repository to assemble documentation for a certain user type and product model. In that case, the metadata must enable the system to find the right pieces of content for that audience and purpose.

Or imagine customizable marketing collateral. Why not? Let’s say an employee wanted to assemble a flyer according to a certain persona and phase of the customer journey. In that case, the metadata would have to enable computers to pull the right pieces of content for that audience and purpose.

Types of findability

In her definition of findability in The Language of Content Strategy, Cheryl Landes – who calls herself a findability strategist – points out that people discover electronic information in two ways:

  • Intentionally (as when they enter text in a search box or navigate through a website)
  • Serendipitously (as when an ad or a recommendation pops up, or as when they simply “encounter” information)

The website for the radio program This American Life, for example, provides both intentional and serendipitous ways of finding past shows.

The role of metadata and structure

To increase the chances that your target readers will find your content, Cheryl, like Ann, suggests “ensuring that content has appropriate metadata and structure so that search engines and consumers can locate and retrieve relevant content as needed – as well as making it more likely [that] consumers will encounter the information they need. Well-designed navigation and content designed for search help serve up the content consumers want, when they want it.”

Metadata and structure. Those are key to the kind of automatic discoverability Ann talks about. Notice the word therefore in her classic definition: “Intelligent content is content that’s structurally rich and semantically categorized [tagged with metadata] and therefore automatically discoverable…”

As Ann puts it, “We use metadata tagging to drive the search engines and we use the intelligence that we’ve built into the content to allow us to sort through the myriad pieces of information to discover exactly the content we need.”

Summary

Your customers and colleagues expect to find what they’re looking for – and even what they aren’t looking for but need – in your organization’s content. How well does your brand deliver? How might you enhance the structure and tagging of your content to improve automatic discoverability? What techniques are you already using? Where do you struggle? Please tell us in a comment below.

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*Ann Rockley is the founder of the annual Intelligent Content Conference. This article draws from conversations with Ann and from her book, co-authored with Charles Cooper, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: New Riders, 2012). At Ann’s request, I have changed the original phrase unified content to intelligent content. Bolding in the above quotations is mine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

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