What is a content type? We frequently get this question from clients that are starting their website redesign journey and aren't familiar with this term. Content types are a big piece of the website redesign process and our content strategy practices, but they can be difficult to visualize for those who haven't used them before (see our news post on common website redesign terms), so below, we've broken down what a content type is and how they are used in Drupal websites.
Defining content types
For those that are new to content types, we like to use a Tupperware analogy. Imagine each content type is a Tupperware box, some may be large, some may be small, some may have many compartments like a bento box, and some may only have one or two compartments. Now imagine each compartment is a field that you fill in, for example, the date, the name of an event, or an image file. Once your Tupperware/content type is built it acts as a mold and can easily be re-used to ensure consistency.
Now to get a little more technical, Drupal defines a content type as a "pre-defined collection of data types (fields) which relate to each other by an informational context". (See the Drupal website for more information about content types). To put this simply, a content type is any content element on your site that requires its own unique fields and display, based on its purpose and the kind of content it contains.
One website can often house lots of content, in many different formats and pages. For example, many websites have news items, blog posts, job listings, etc., as well as standard, informational pages—and each of these can be created using content types. Each one will have its own set of fields and place on the website, and will have one or more displays, such as a list (this may look like a filterable directory), map, calendar, or detail view.
Each content type can also look very different depending on how it was developed and designed, and the unique content needs of a particular website. For example, below are two event content types that look very different on the front end.
Why use content types?
There are a lot of benefits to using Drupal content types, especially on information-rich websites, like a municipal site. These benefits have the potential to positively impact both users of your website, and the people who manage your content internally.
First, content types are a great way to address inconsistent formatting that can lead to confusion for users. Because each content type has its own standard set of fields, authors can add content to these fields without worrying about trying to replicate the formatting of other similar items.
For example, for events, the date and time format will be the same for every event instance—the author never has to try to remember, "Did I use 'P.M.' or 'p.m.', or 'PST' or 'Pacific Time' when I created the last event?" The system will always display the information they enter in the same consistent format. The same principle holds true for things like paragraph styles, fonts, spacing and other formatting elements, so all of your news posts, recreation programs, and more, will always look and feel related.
2. Streamlining Navigation
Content types are also a tool to help website authors avoid bloat in their menus. Content types are a powerful way to surface granular content, like individual resources, services, contacts and more, which might otherwise be added as pages that can clutter the subsections of your website's menu. Instead, content type list view provides a searchable, filterable hub that can allow users to easily find and access items from a list of dozens, or even hundreds of resources that might otherwise be buried under multiple layers of navigation.
3. Efficient Editing
Using content types can also significantly cut down on the time required to update content on your website. This is because each content type instance can be referenced and used multiple times throughout a website, but authors only need to update the content type once to see those changes implemented everywhere it is used.
For example, many of the websites we build use a contact content type, used to show the contact information for an individual staff member within an organization. Once the contact node is created for a staff member, it can be used on different pages related to their area of expertise. If their contact information changes, the author only needs to change the information in the original content type, and the change will be reflected on all of the pages where the content type is used.
4. Content Relationships
Finally, content types provide websites with a method for creating relationships between different elements of a site. Similar to the hubs described above for a single content type, it's also possible to bring together multiple content types into a single, one-stop-shop for users to access different types of information related to a particular topic.
For example, our work for the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) included designing neighbourhood hubs, which bring together multiple content types, including services, parks and facilities, news, and more. This solution was a win-win for both users and content authors; because it uses tagging in the content types to dynamically populate the hubs, residents can easily find up-to-date information that's directly related to their neighbourhood, without any additional time required for authors to update each page.
What content types should you use?
There are many standard content types that are included in almost all of the sites we create. Some common content types include news posts, basic pages, events and meetings, staff members, FAQ, emergency alerts, contact, and programs.
Additionally, we often create custom content types to ensure our websites meet all of our clients' needs. Custom content types can allow you to organize your site more efficiently by adding functionality for your existing content, and ensuring your menu is scalable as you add new content. This can look different depending on your content needs, which our team assesses at the outset of a project. Some examples of content types we have custom-built include:
- The Town of the Blue Mountains Project Initiatives
- Regional District of North Okanagan Neighbourhoods
- Quesnel Tourism Intineraries