vanguardshrek

Websites are like Ogres, Ogres Have Layers

As proclaimed by the main character, who shares his name with the 2001 animated film Shrek, to his trusty sidekick Donkey, who is also a donkey, “…ogres are onions… onions have layers.” In the film, Donkey felt this was better described by cake, which can also have layers. Something you may not realize that has layers is the content of your website. Using these layers of content properly can result in your website being more of a layered cake instead of an onion.

Somebody once told me that the world was going to roll me,  but they never mentioned how to correctly establish a content hierarchy in my website. A well-structured content hierarchy will make any content migration and continued governance of your website much easier to manage. 
For example, you want to change the copyright text at the bottom of each page of your website (ex “© 2020”). Does that mean you have to make the same change on every single page on your website? If you have a properly structured content hierarchy, you don’t have to. Therefore, the goal of your content hierarchy is to allow you to easily make specific or global content changes without having to manually update many areas of your website.

Suggested Content Hierarchy

For Sitefinity, and other similar content management systems, Vanguard has found the following structure to be most effective. It is best visualized as a layered pyramid, a layered cake, or an onion for some. The bottom layer affects all layers above it. We’ll discuss each layer in more detail in how it allows a website administrator like you easily make changes across your website.

Hierarchy

Base Templates

At the bottom of the pyramid are your base templates. These are the templates that your website vendor will create for you and do not contain much. Any content placed on these templates will automatically be placed on its designated pages and displayed on the website. While you could technically build a webpage off these base templates, we suggest that you do not. If there is content placed at this level of the content hierarchy, and that content needs to be changed for a specific page, you won’t be able to make that change without affecting all the other pages made using this base template.

All templates, regardless of type (base or otherwise), have “Placeholders” within them. Placeholders areas where layout blocks or content can be added. More on these later.

 
Base_Template

Example of a base template. The areas with any writing are “Placeholders” where content can be added. Content typically found at the base template level is your main navigation, logos, footer information, and more. 

Shared Content Blocks

Any content block (the widget used to add text, links, and images to a page) can become a Shared Content Block. Shared Content Blocks live outside of the scope of a page and are considered a separate content type entirely. This allows website administrators to make a change on the content block and that same change is made everywhere that content block is found. At this level on the content hierarchy shared content blocks are typically applied directly to the base template to display footer, and sometimes menu content.

Shared_Content_BlocksExample of shared content blocks being used on a base template to share common content across the entire website. In this case, the main menu is also made of content blocks instead of the standard navigation widget. (Some information redacted to protect client anonymity.)

Page Templates

Any template copied from a base template is considered a “Duplicate Template”, “Page Tempalte”, or simply a “Template”. These are typically what website administrators use to build the pages on the websites. The purpose of these templates is to give a standardized structure to page content and allow easy page creation. However, when it comes to your content hierarchy, templates are a crucial in segmenting your website. For example, you would likely create an “About” template to use for all pages within the about section of your website. This way you can add in content (such as the About section’s navigation) that is shared between all About pages. If you ever needed to make a change to all about pages, you can easily do so by modifying this template.

It needs to be mentioned that layout blocks can also be added to a template to create a standardized look and structure across all pages built with this template. Layout blocks will be discussed in more detail later.

Page_Template

A page template based on the previous base template. Layout blocks are stacked to create a content structure for the pages built off this template to utilize. 

Pages

Likely the most familiar portion of the content hierarchy are pages, which are made from page templates. These pages will likely have the edge content (the content at the top, bottom, and side(s) of the page) already established from the layers of content it was built on. However, the structure for the center of the page, where the bulk of the content will live, is yet to be determined.

PageA page that is created using the previous page template. 

Layout Blocks

The structure and styling of a page is created using layout blocks. These layout blocks typically represent a row of the content that will be placed there. The layout block you choose to use will determine how many columns that row will have, along with any styling (ex. Background color, spacing between content etc.) Therefore, layout blocks can be added to either a page template or a page. If you want all pages in a section of a website to structure and style their content in the same way, layout blocks could be placed on the template level. To make a one-off change to how the content is structured or styled on a particular page, the layout block would be added at the page level.

Layout_BlocksThe page from before with layout blocks added to bring in unique styling and structure for this page. 

Content Blocks & Widgets

The actual content for a particular page, consisting of content blocks or other widgets which contain the actual content for the page, will live within a layout block on the page. This is the top of the pyramid where content is not being shared across other areas of the website but is specific to this page. While widgets (ex. Blog, news, events, etc.) share the same content across the website, these widgets are configured to only show the applicable content for this page and its subject matter.

Content_BlocksContent blocks and widgets added to the layout blocks on the page.

Reviewing Your Content Hierarchy

For increased flexibility and easier governance of your content, Vanguard suggests building out your content hierarchy simluar to the one described above. Understanding how to properly use this structure takes some practice but ultimately will aid you in how change and maintain the content on your website. If you have additional questions about your website’s content hierarchy, reach out to your Vanguard client manager. 
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Author:

Miles Grundy

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