Content Reuse: What It Is & How To Optimize It

May 18, 2023
image shows two notes being reused

Your organization creates a lot of content. You create content to help customers understand and use your products and services. You create content to help your employees do their jobs. On the surface,‌ all this content is unique. But look at it carefully. You’ll start to see a lot of similarities, and you’ll realize you are creating and managing multiple versions of the same content. What if there was a way to reuse that similar content, streamlining the content creation and management process while still ensuring consistency across all your channels and publications?

We’d like to show you how to optimize content reuse strategy and how a component content management system (CCMS) can help you implement and manage your content more efficiently. We even outline an approach you can follow to build your own content reuse strategy. Let’s get into it.

What is Content Reuse?

Let’s start with a quick definition of content reuse:

“Content reuse is the practice of using the same content in multiple places. For example, using the same topic in different user guides, the same warning message in several different topics. By reusing your content, you can save time and create more consistent technical publications.”

Content reuse is not copying and pasting content from one publication or location to another‌. Instead, it’s about creating content once and making it available to technical authors, knowledge managers, and others to use in additional channels and publications. Then, when the source content is updated, the changes are reflected everywhere that content is reused.

For example, you have an introduction section that you want to use in all your product manuals. You create that section once and then add it to every product manual. If the section gets edited, the change is automatically updated everywhere it’s used.

Another example. You are an insurance company that has a set of procedures to deal with new policy applications. The procedures are mostly the same, but there is an additional set of steps if the application is from a brand-new driver. If you optimize content reuse, you can create the procedures once and use them in each type of application, and then add the additional steps only to the new-driver application process.

Why Content Reuse is Important

A content reuse strategy is needed for many reasons, and consistency and speed are two of the most important.

Think of it this way. Without content reuse, one or more authors are likely to create the same content in multiple locations. What if they don’t use the same terminology? Or they don’t add the same amount of detail? Or do they say things slightly differently, even though they mean the same thing? When multiple authors create the same content separately, you can’t be sure that content is consistent across every channel or publication. But a content reuse strategy can.

For example, product user manuals and service manuals have a lot of shared content. But a service manual has more technical details that a user manual doesn’t‌. With a content reuse model, you can create the shared content once and use it in both manuals. However, the content in your printed user manual should be identical to the content you offer on your product support website. In this case, you reuse the content to guarantee consistency regardless of how it is published.

What happens if you need to update content and you don’t have a reuse strategy? You have to go to multiple locations to make the changes, and there’s no way to know that the correct changes were made every place that content is published. You may not even know every place that content exists to update it. Plus, even when authors copy and paste updates, inconsistencies can still occur.

The challenge of dealing with the same content in multiple locations becomes very clear when you think about regulatory and compliance requirements. If your company is in a highly regulated industry such as insurance or finance, then you know that your content must be accurate and consistent across all your customer-facing experiences. But it also needs to be accurate and consistent in your internal processes and procedures, such as standard operating procedures and customer support manuals.

Then there is reuse and localization. If your content is available in multiple languages, you can significantly decrease translation time and costs by reusing content. According to Val Swisher, content reuse is key to scaling content for global use.

What Type of Content is Suited For Reuse?

Content reuse is recommended for all types of content that is used across the organization. It can be created and managed by one group or department and then shared with other groups who need it. Content that supports multiple use cases or needs is also a prime candidate for reuse.

Here are some types of content that benefit from content reuse:

  • Product-related content such as:
    • Standard capabilities, functionality, and processes across products/services
    • Instructions
    • Onboarding guides
    • Warning and tips
    • Architecture diagrams
    • User Manuals
    • Help documentation
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Processes and procedures
  • Checklists
  • Training content
  • Legal/compliance content

Consider a company that offers two products and three different versions, or editions, of that product. Each product version has a user manual and an installation manual. Most information is the same across editions, but newer editions have additional modules or installation requirements. Without a CCMS and a content reuse strategy, the company would need to author 12 different user manuals and 12 installation manuals manually.
Add the fact that each product is available in ten countries with either a different language or a slight variation in the English language. The number of manuals to create starts to get large, and the risk of inconsistencies increase significantly.

Make Your Content Reusable with Structured Authoring

The key to content reuse is to use a structured authoring model where you break the content down into unique topics (also called snippets, chunks, or sections), fragments, or variables. Here are some guidelines to remember when creating content that can be reused in many locations.

  1. Break the content into chunks or sections that don’t require a lot of context to know what the content is about.
  2. Keep the content basic. Avoid jargon and context-specific wording, including phrases such as “up next” or “in the following image.”
  3. Separate the authoring of content from its layout or format, using a separate layer for styling.
  4. Use metadata, including tags and descriptions, to describe the content, including where and how it can be used.
  5. Develop naming conventions to make it easy to find the content.
  6. If you are embedding an image with text, ensure the two are always used together.

4 Steps to Creating an Optimal Content Reuse Strategy with Your CCMS

Not all content is suitable for reuse, and not every situation requires content use. It’s crucial to develop an optimal content reuse plan that considers your content and audience requirements, organizational needs, as well as the tools and capabilities of your team to manage a content reuse strategy. The following steps will help you get started.

1. Perform a Content Audit

Your content strategy must start with an audit of your existing content. Look for common sections among your content assets and identify areas where you can optimize content reuse. Look not only at text-based content but also images, video, and other reusable rich media.
If you create global content, take note of the changes in grammar for English-speaking countries, as well as other important content changes for different languages.

Some examples of reuse include:

  • Topics or sections
  • Paragraphs (sentence fragments)
  • Lists
  • Warnings (Admonitions) & Tips
  • Informal topics (groupings of text and images)
  • Variables (small parts of text such as product names, grammar differences, etc.)

2. Create a Structured Content Model

You need to use a structured content model to ‘create content for reuse. Structured content is the process of breaking your content into smaller pieces. For example, instead of creating one large Word document for a product manual, you identify the components or elements of the manual and create them individually. This breakdown could be by chapter (e.g., introduction, installation, set up, etc.) or sections in a chapter.
In a structured content model, you define a taxonomy that includes tags to apply to your content at the publication and topic level. Authors can then search the taxonomy to find the content they can reuse in their publications.

Before you start adding content to your CCMS, you should define your taxonomy and create guidelines for using them and adding new ones. For example, the Paligo CCMS has a Taxonomy Manager where you can create parent and child tags to apply to your content.

3. Define Content Reuse Policies

Once you have audited your content and identified areas to optimize content reuse, you need to document policies for how current and new content should reuse existing content. For example, if you know many of your publications will have the same introduction, create a policy that states the introduction should be reused.

You will also need to define policies for locking and unlocking reusable content. The CCMS has features for locking reusable content, but at some point, the content will need to be updated. Rules around who has the right to update content and the implications of those updates should be clear.

4. Adding Content to the CCMS

The best way to optimize your content reuse strategy is to use a component content management system (CCMS). Your CCMS will provide different ways to reuse content. Match those capabilities with your audit and newly defined reuse policies and start adding content.

When creating content in a CCMS, you follow your structured content model breaking content into logical chunks that can be reused in other content assets. You also define a taxonomy that describes each content element. Then, as you create new publications and topics, you can search for content to reuse, either through a search option or by taxonomy. And as you update your content, the CCMS has version control features that ensure you always use the most recent version ‌of your content everywhere.

Your CCMS should enable you to publish that content in different formats, from PDF to Word, to HTML and HTML5, and other outputs, as well as multiple languages.

Wrapping it Up: Optimize for Content Reuse and Reap the Benefits

A content reuse strategy helps you make sure your content is accurate and consistent across all your publications and channels. It reduces the time and costs required to manage content and support regulatory compliance. And while you could try to implement content reuse using a manual approach, you’ll have more success leveraging technology like a CCMS.

A CCMS offers a central location to create all your content and make it available to everyone in your organization. It enables an enterprise-wide content reuse strategy that creates even more opportunities to save time creating content and provides consistent information across all your publications and content channels.

If you don’t have a content reuse strategy yet, it’s time to start your plan. Use this information as your get-started guide, and if you need help, give us a call; we’re here to support you.