David Amerland

Structured Data or a Structured Approach to Content? Making Choices for your Business

A structured approach to both data and content can produce excellent results to a business

The questions revolving around the value of content and the application of structured data when content is created or a structured approach in the curation of content become truly critical for journalism. News outlets are inundated by raw data they turn into content and the way they do it determines their effectiveness not just in terms of search but also with their human audience.

When it comes to content search engines and human visitors want the same things: 

  • Context
  • Relevance
  • Clarity

Until recently newspapers and magazines struggled with the web. The content which they depended on, to bring out their stories was either freely available directly from the source or was also being produced by countless rivals. In addition content that they had to bring out to justify their presence was either incredibly time-consuming to produce (which made it expensive) or soaked up manpower and resources that should have been spent elsewhere. 

Journalism is evolving and in its evolution we also see how businesses that also need to produce content, can use best practice to do more, with less. 

Associated Press (AP) and the BBC are about as far apart in terms of what each does as you can possibly imagine. One processes an incredible amount of raw information by way of leads and stringer reports that needs to be written up quickly and effectively and fed to news outlets, while the other does the same but packages its content to be consumed by its own public. In terms of audience the first one is a B2B business while the second is a B2C. 

While each has a very specific niche and a clearly defined audience there is a significant audience overlap for both, created by the fact that on the web, everything is accessible to everybody. To make matters even more complex the Associated Press, in a typical B2B set up, operates out of a website while the BBC runs a ‘shop’ in terms of its televised content. 

Both organisations face: 

  • Increased pressure in terms of lead time for news as the web moves ever faster
  • Increased competition from bloggers and citizen journalists
  • A struggle to retain audience attention across the distractions offered by the social web
  • A need to reduce operational costs to maintain the viability of their business model
  • A drive to remain relevant in order to maintain their respective market position
  • Both use technology to address all of this but each does it very differently.

Structured Data and Automation

Associated Press has gone down the structured data, automated route. One large slice of AP work is processing and then releasing company earnings reports. The flow of data here is constant. The work tedious and very detail-orientated, requiring a high degree of accuracy with figures and, it has to be said, mind-numbingly boring for a trained journalist. 

By using algorithms that take highly structured data and produce stories on items such as the net income and sales of public companies AP has managed to: 

  • Increase the number of stories it brought out per quarter from 300 to over 3,700 – an increase of 1,200% with a further 127% productivity gain expected by the end of this year.
  • Free up to 20% of journalists’ time that can now be applied on stories where the human factor is indispensable.
  • Broaden the reach of its brand by creating more relevant content than ever before.
  • Maintain its market lead by simply being present in more reports, social conversations and news outlets than ever, because of its increased output

Content That’s Highly Structured

The BBC has gone down the path where it takes highly unstructured content and filters it to create relevance and context, therefore transforming it into a story that provides for its audience context and relevance and helps deliver real meaning. 

To do this it uses the usual trope of a news presenter but instead of just reading the news and being reduced to speculation when news stories are breaking, he (in this case) provides a bird’s eye-view of the context of the story and its impact by pulling in outside sources from across the web in real time on a news board. 

The BBC Outside Source Program uses a structured approach to curation

This way events happening across social media and the blogosphere that impact on current news story in a way that is yet hard to see can be contextualized and become part of the story themselves. The result is that content that is highly unstructured in nature is curated in a way that allows the BBC, televised news report to remain compelling in the age of the web.

Both companies do something unique. They use content that can be found across the web and process it in a way that allows both to rise above their competitors. AP through speed of processing and the sheer volume of reports it puts out which make it the go-to hub for news information, for news outlets. The BBC through clever interlinking the kind of which journalists and technologists Frédéric Filloux and Jean-Louis Gassée have been calling for, for some time now in their Monday Note blog where they explain how "How Linking to Knowledge Could Boost News Media", transforming linking strategies from the purely internal ones that now return questionable value: 

Linking Strategies that are purely internal are no longer sufficient

To what the BBC does that provides context in a way that elevates each story into a new perspective: 

LInking strategies that provide greater context add deeper value to a story

 

What Can Businesses Learn from the Approach?

There are valuable lessons here that can be applied to many business practices. The AP way can be replicated where products and services can be marked up using semantic markup that automates the surfacing and repurposing of the content through search, in direct response to relevant search queries. 

This overcomes issues such as the need to focus on particular keywords with the production of ‘thin’ content or the need to have website pages specifically optimized for particular search queries and it allows a saving in costs that would have gone into the production and maintenance of those pages. 

The BBC approach is perfect for any business that produces content and uses that content to be part of the online conversation. The curation of articles and the inclusion of social media sources and reactions in its overall presentation allows it to become a key component of the stories that are important to it. 

Summarizing:

  • Use structured data on static web pages and on product pages so they can be repurposed, by search and mobile apps, in an automated way. AP partnered with financial firms that were already producing data in a structured way so it is worth here asking manufacturers of products whether they are already producing product descriptions in a structured data way.
  • Use a structured approach to curating and presenting unstructured content to help create clarity, context and relevance. Rationalize the various streams of content production so that they make sense for your target audience in terms of brand values and vision.
  • Link everything to the unique selling point (USP) of your business.
  • Use your strengths to decide the best way to tackle the issue of content creation, context and relevance.
  • Use content contextualization as a means to add value to what you do and avoid the commoditization trap.
  • Do not rely on internal linking strategies to surface content from your own site, link to authoritative news sources and articles that create a deeper picture for your online visitors. 

The web is getting smarter. Your business should too. 

 

Context

The future of journalism and disruption (article)

 

 

Sources

The Associated Press Leaps Forward
How AP automates earnings stories
How Outside Source connects audience and journalists at BBC
BBC News Channel to simulcast World News show Outside Source

 

© 2017 David Amerland. All rights reserved