Content engineers form the structure for content, helping shape systems and processes allowing content to be created, transformed, translated, and published to many interactions.

Engineering your content and systems also gives you new capabilities to keep content “fresh”. In this article, we’ll explore a definition and approach to “content freshness” made possible through content engineering.
 
An online search for the term “content freshness” yields an endless list of search results covering how fresh content can dramatically improve SEO. And of course, maintaining great SEO is important. But, the need for fresh content goes beyond search results. Unless you’re on the hook for lead generation, you should be far more concerned with the other benefits of freshness to maximize the value you are squeezing out of your content.
 
Achieving fresh content requires more than links on your webpage to newly created content. In fact, maintaining freshness can be quite complex. Luckily, a well-thought content architecture, with modular topics and appropriate reuse, can help.
 
What makes content fresh?
 
Content freshness means many things, and how you define it will depend on the type of content you produce, the underlying objectives of the content, how it is distributed, and the overarching content strategy. In general, though, fresh content is up-to-date, timely, and pertinent, and provides new or different insights to existing information. Let’s break this down:
 
  1. Up to date. Fresh content might be recently updated, but there’s a difference between recently updated and up to date. A topic describing a policy, for example, is unlikely to change much over time. Of course, it’s important to review regularly to ensure it remains up to date, but unless you have good reason to change how the policy is written, you won’t update the topic itself. On the other hand, content that describes frequently changing features of a product probably does require regular updates every 3-6 months. So, while SEO enthusiasts will debate whether or not recently updated content ranks higher, your readers only care whether technical product information is current.
 
  1. Timely. Fresh content is relevant to today’s trends. For example, consider the very term we are discussing here. If you do a search for “what is fresh content?” on Google, you’ll get a long list of prescriptions for building fresh content for SEO. SEO is important. But, for customer-obsessed content producers, it’s not the end game. Unless you’re specifically wondering how to use fresh content to boost your Google rankings, the majority of the search results will not be helpful. However, because fresh content for SEO is all the rage, the high rankers are timely.
 
  1. Pertinent. Fresh content provides desired insights and surfaces them at the appropriate time in the customer journey. In other words, customers can find information that is relevant to their current needs. For example, a security engineer in the consideration phase of the journey needs detailed specifications to determine whether or not the product meets security standards. A developer trying to integrate your product into their current environment for the first time needs APIs and an implementation guide. And, a support agent trying to fix issues after an upgrade needs troubleshooting content. Fresh content is engineered to be accessible to specific customers at specific touchpoints.
 
  1. New or different. Fresh content provides previously unknown information or adds a new perspective to a topic. For example, fresh content might describe a new feature, or it might explain a new use for an old feature. It might provide a new solution for an existing problem, or it may suggest new insights learned from using a previously published solution. And, content that designates slightly different steps for a web app that just launched as a mobile app would certainly be considered fresh.  
 
How does structured content help?

Structured content incentivizes content teams to:
  • Reduce the size of content produced and get smaller chunks of content flowing more quickly through the production cycle
  • Reuse topics across multiple content assets to optimize the value of each topic and ensure consistency of messages across channels
  • Refactor content by altering its internal structure in a way that is imperceptible to customers
Defined by an Information Model (IM), a unified content structure separates the management of content (ie. getting the words right) from its ultimate delivery format (ie. the way the words lay out on a page or screen).  Structural standards emphasize creating content in easily digestible chunks to form content patterns that are so predictable in size, organization, and construction, that any publishing script can reference the words from a single source and publish them in any format.
 
With this foundation in place, you can write once, edit once, translate once, and publish to multiple places with the push of a button. With the right mechanisms, you can also ingest content from multiple locations, transform it to a  standard structure, and manage it from a single source.
 
Structured content makes it easier to maintain freshness of content in many ways:
  • Single source. Structured content supports reusing topics from a single source, making it easy to update the topic in one place and publish to many places. By single-sourcing your content, you mitigate the inconsistency of having new information published in one place while contradictory old information is published in another. Managing small, modular topics and reusing those topics from one source simplifies the work of ensuring your content stays up to date.
  • Deliver pertinent content. Effective structured content includes well-planned and intentional tags within the topics themselves. You can use these tags to personalize the content experience, delivering pertinent content to your customers based on who they are, what they do, and where they are in the customer journey.
  • Dynamically link relevant topics. Using the hierarchy of structured content, you can automate a “Related Topics” section of your delivery platform that will dynamically update as your team updates or adds content to the portal. Of course, you can do this manually without structured content, but the effort involved in maintaining manual lists of related links can quickly overwhelm a team.
  • Mitigate inconsistent updates. A successful structured architecture, managed by the right Component Content Management System (CCMS), enables content producers to easily find related content that may require updating to maintain consistency across a content ecosystem. A primary role of a CCMS is to indicate all the published content that will be impacted when editing a topic. In this way, structured authoring supports productivity by eliminating the need for authors to do exhaustive manual searches for related content changes. The net result, however, is fewer inconsistencies and more up-to-date content.
 
Impact of content freshness

While it’s important to think about how structured content makes it easier to keep content fresh, ultimately, the power of fresh content is in the customer experience. Customers use product content throughout every stage of the customer journey, making it a crucial element in the customer experience.
Zoomin Software 2019
 
Customers want product answers, where and when they need them. Making customers wade through stale content has some pretty dire consequences: 
  • Customers can’t find the answers they’re looking for and proceed to use your product incorrectly or miss using it to its fullest potential
  • Customers spend an excessive amount of time sifting through different versions of content before finally finding relevant and accurate answers
  • Customers give up on self-service and call support to get an answer
 
Stale content can damage your brand and perception of your products, lower customer satisfaction, and create churn. Fresh content increases customer trust, engagement, and loyalty, while reducing unnecessary scrutiny and risk.
 
Increase trust, engagement, and loyalty. Customers know when they find good content. And when they consistently find the content they want or need on your site with minimal effort required, they learn to trust your brand. When they trust your brand, they will continue to engage with you, driving loyalty over time. In this way, fresh content helps build customer trust, engagement, and loyalty, which can be a serious competitive differentiator. 

Reduce scrutiny and risk. Stale content leaves a company open to scrutiny by competitors, analysts, and customers who may highlight a lack of features or functionality by relying on outdated documentation. This can have a significant but silent impact on revenue for a company. For example, potential customers use analyst reports to vet your product. If outdated information leads a trusted analyst report to underrepresent your product, potential customers will see (and believe) that outdated information for an entire year. You can avoid this revenue-impacting situation by ensuring your content remains fresh. 
 
Delivering fresh content

So now you know you need to deliver fresh content and you know that structured content will help. But, delivering fresh content goes beyond managing your content. Your technical content and your documentation portal should work together to deliver the following features and characteristics:
  • Dynamic delivery. Your content portal should be able to deliver different content to different users at different times, and what it delivers should change automatically based on tagging as your content changes.
  • Analytics. To truly understand how fresh or stale your content is, you need an analytics tool that includes content utilization (how much topics are used), content aging (how long has content been published without updates), and user retention rate (% of users who still use a topic a specified number of days after an event).
  • Subscription. When users subscribe to content, there are two freshness benefits. First, users opt into content that is pertinent to them, so you never have to wonder. Second, content with high subscription rates deserve more attention and effort in maintaining freshness.
  • Automatic expiry date. For content that is highly sensitive or frequently updated, configure your content portal to automatically unpublish content that has reached a pre-set expiry date (say six months or one year). The portal must also automatically log a bug for your team to check this now unpublished content to determine if it should be republished as is, updated and republished, or deprecated.
  • Immediate feedback from users. Give users a form to submit feedback to you, integrated with your ticketing system to generate automated tickets to solve issues. By empowering customers to tell you when content is stale, this feature will help your team manage content you may have missed.

Content freshness goes far beyond updating content to drive SEO. Your customers rely on your content and expect it to be fresh. A well-thought content freshness strategy includes a two-pronged approach: engineering structure into your content to facilitate appropriate content architecture and tagging, and developing a digital experience that delivers up-to-date, timely, and pertinent information that customers value.