Creating a Content Model for a Better CMS

Seth Giammanco Seth Giammanco

The content model is the technical documentation for a website’s content. It is an important planning tool that should be incorporated early into a website creation project's process. It’s an outline or roadmap for how content will map within a website’s content management system (CMS) and defines the various types of content, the structure of each content type, and any relationships between content.

Done well, it can make content strategists, content publishers, designers and web technologists very happy. Here are a couple of details for each of those key groups and how they benefit from a good content model.

Content Strategists

  • The purpose of each content type is clearly defined by it’s role in the website.
  • The fields that will be created in the CMS will make sense to publishers and include instructions to allow publishers to be supported while they are working in the CMS and increase the potential that their role in implementing content strategy is upheld.

Content Publishers

  • The content represented in the CMS will make more sense. An event form will look like a event form and a blog form will look like a  blog form which results in a more intuitive content publishing experience.
  • Similar to content strategists above, having inline directions for the fields in their content type forms supports the publishers with friendly reminders of what they need to do to be consistent and on message/brand.


  • The content model defines the various dynamic content elements that are available to design for.
  • Gives opportunity for more discrete and managed use of content in a CMS resulting in less opportunity for publisher error that may result in visual design/brand issues upon publication.

Web Technologist

  • There’s a roadmap of how the content in the CMS should be set up that matches the design direction and was vetted by critical stakeholders.
  • Results in a more polished and streamline CMS implementation.
  • Structured content increases potential and effectiveness for sharing/syndicating content outside a core website.

How do you create one?

The following is a general content model outline that you can follow.

  • Website Overview
    • URL
    • Brief Description
  • CMS Details
    • Platform Used
    • Third-party add-ons
  • Content Model
    • Overview and approach
    • Content Types

Website Overview

Share a little context about the site here. The URL of course, followed by a brief description. Is it a marketing site or a microsite? Does it serve as a brochure or as part of a specific campaign? With consideration for your unique audience that will review this document, help them get acclimated to the role of the site and any desired outcomes of it.

CMS Details

A great content model is tightly aligned and in tune with the way a particular CMS can model content. A content model for Craft CMS, Statamic, Wordpress, Drupal, or ExpressionEngine should all be a little different as you consider what they can do out of the box or with third-party add-ons to setup their content.

As such, include the platform you are using and detail any third-party add-ons that you plan to employ that relate to content modeling. Are you using Matrix for ExpressionEngine or Advanced Custom fields for Wordpress? For each add-on, detail the following.

  • Add-on name
  • URL where documentation and/or details can be found
  • Brief description of why/how it is used
  • License

Content Model Overview

Add an overview that defines key terms and how you are going to detail each of your content types. A model should be readable to both technical and non-technical audiences and an overview helps.

Example Overview

The following content model explores various Content Types also referred to as Channels, Sections, and/or Field Sets depending on the CMS being used. It also explores what we call Globals which represent the unique content elements that exist on the site uniquely such as copyright strings to a brand tagline.

For each content type we detail the following for custom fields as appropriate.

  • Field - Friendly field name that would appear in CMS control panel
  • Tag - Tag that will be used in CMS templates
  • Instructions - Information included along with field to support content authors in CMS control panel to help support content strategy and offer art direction as appropriate.
  • Type/Description - Information about type of field and any technical details around it’s setup/use.
  • Options - Used to detail the options that may appear in a dropdown, radio button, or checkbox field type.
  • Required - Whether or not the field is required.

Common Field Types Definitions

Field Type Description
Text Input Single line text
Text Area Multi-line text
Select Dropdown A pulldown menu with defined options to choose from.
Checkbox/Radio Used to select more than one option from a defined set, radio for one option from a defined set. Often used for Yes/No or data flagging type needs.
Date A date/time field with calendar selector.
File File select and upload field, often we connect up the field to a specific upload destination to help with file organization.
Relationship A special field that connects an entriy to another for a relationship to be established.
Text Editor (Redactor, WYGWAM, … ) WYSIWG editor.
Grid or Matrix A unique field for creating content blocks or rows of content.

Grid, Replicator or Matrix Fieldtypes

For Grid, Replicator or Matrix fieldtypes, where multiple rows of content each that can have their own collection of fields that a publisher can work with, we have a separate table as part of the content model that follows that same syntax use for the Content Type to describe the unique fields and handlng of these unique and powerful field types.

Defining your content types

This section is the core of your document. Here you will detail each content type. You will follow the structure and details shared in your overview and apply it to each type of content. In addition to the structure and field details of each type, include a brief description of the content to note what it is used for and/or any unique handling of it. This helps give context to the details you shared.

Example content type

News Entries

This content type is used for specific news entries added to the site. There are three views that news will be shown in including the main news paginated list view with title, summary and date; a detail view with full content shown; and a sidebar for recent news that shows title and date for three most recent entries.

Custom Fields

Field Tag Instructions Type/Description Options Required
Title title Text Input y
Summary news_summary Enter a brief description of about 1–2 sentences about the news story. This content is used on the main news list page. Redactor - Small Config y
Content news_content Manage your news content here using available editing options provided. Remeber to use header options to help organize and structure copy when needed. Redactor y
Tags news_tags Select or add a tag to categorize this news entry. Tags should be a carefully curated group of options (10–15) used to help people viewing news see other entries of interest. Checkbox Event, Press, Impact Story, Video, Photo y
Images news_images One or more images can be associated with this news entry to help tell your story. These images will be shown in a gallery like presentation on the news detail page. Each image should be a png or jpg file and dimensions should be no bigger than 400 x 400. FIle Upload

It’s alive!

Remember that a content model document and details contained within is alive. As you move from planning to implementation things change and your model needs to adapt. Whether you decide to keep your content model documentation up to date, or simply use it to get started and then manage changes directly in the CMS is up to you and the role this document serves you and your team.


The content model is a bridge. It focuses a project team around the critical element of a website; content. It helps connect the efforts of strategists, designers, technologist and empowers content publishers, the group whom ultimately will deliver on the vision of the project team over time once the site is live.

As such, it is a document and process that should be created and added to any content driven website project effort.