Understanding Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE)

Website layouts drawn and colored on a page

Do you ever stop to think about how many "things" make up the internet? 

Not necessarily websites and social media networks, but instead the individual pieces of information. Every button. Every callout. Every image. Every teeny-tiny item description in your shopping cart.

A long time ago, if you wanted to write about something on the internet, you had to create it and publish it. And if you wanted to write about it again somewhere else, you had to create it again and publish it again. 

But with "create once, publish everywhere" the manual weight of creating multiple things, publishing multiple places, and tweaking little bits of HTML across a landscape of pages is lifted. You get the most out of your content creation efforts.

What is create once, publish everywhere (COPE)?

Simply put, COPE is structured content. Rather than creating content multiple times across multiple pages, you instead create it and manage it in one place, whether you’re publishing it for the first time or the thousandth.

COPE was pioneered by National Public Radio (NPR) in a bold redesign to make it easier to share their multimedia content across devices, social media, email marketing, and more. For instances of this discussion, we’re focusing on publishing across your website.

Let’s start with a small example. Pretend you’re opening a new shoe store in your town. You really want people to visit, so you decide you’ll publish your business address and hours on every page of your website. 

But your website has 20 pages. And what if you change your business hours to be open later during the holiday season? That means you have to change that information 20 times. 

Twenty. 

But with COPE, you create a block or panel that holds your address and hours, and you tell your content management system (CMS) that you want that block to appear on every page of your website. Now when your business hours change, you only have to change that one block, and it updates across all the pages of your website with a single click.

And maybe today your website is 20 pages, but it’ll grow with more products, to 100 or 150 pages. That block means it will publish across every new page without having to be written from scratch or manually added, time and time again.

Where you’ve seen COPE

You may not realize it, but you’re running into this type of content across many websites you engage such as:

  • Entertainment websites: Upcoming episodes, shows, or movies that might interest you
  • Health care websites: Related doctors, clinic locations, or blog articles
  • News websites: Related headlines or news 
  • Recipe websites: Related recipes or blog posts
  • Retail websites: Recently viewed products or products that may interest you
Amazon home page with products images and personalized information
Amazon is a great example of dynamic content in action, delivering recommendations, recently viewed items, and more

COPE allows website administrators to set certain content types and attributes, or fields, which appear to your web visitors at different points in their journey. The same content or product can be seen in search listings, on cart pages, as a featured product on the front page, or in the "customers also bought" section. Different contexts, but the same content.

For example, if you’re looking online for a pair of red shoes, you may want to find something in your size (size 10) and the color you prefer (red). A website that offers these filters on its search page has categorized its content with taxonomy.

Red converse shoes being shown on an Amazon.com search page, filtered
In this example, the filters have narrowed the option down to this pair of red sneakers. Though this result may show for multiple searches, it only exists once in the site architecture.

So, with these filters selected, you find a pair of retro-style Converse sneakers. You open the page to learn more about the shoes and find a description, price, and reviews. All of those things are part of the structure of that content. The website can display the same shoe on your “size 10, red” search, as well as someone’s “size 7, casual” search. 

That red pair of Converse lives on a product page that’s categorized and built in a way so that it only needs to exist once. Wouldn’t it be terrible if you had to publish and maintain an entirely new “Converse shoe” page for each size? 

COPE separates content and design

COPE doesn’t only mean you have far fewer things to keep track of when a piece of content needs to be updated or maintained, but it also separates content from design. 

Wait, what?

Yes. The process of structuring your content means you’re not reliant on how it looks on the website. It can, in fact, make internal content governance easier because you’re taking the subjective visual “feelings” away from the substance of the words. 

Let’s go back to the Converse shoes example. As a website administrator for the shoe store, you’re tasked to create a page for every shoe you offer. In setting up the page, you have to include: 

  • Shoe brand
  • Shoe name or model
  • Picture of the shoe
  • Bulleted description of the shoe’s features
  • Price of the shoe
  • Rating of the shoe, with reviews from customers
Red converse shoe product page with different color options displayed and the star rating

No matter if your shoe is a red Converse or a blue pair of high-heels, each product should be able to fill out all of these attributes. 

Now enter a stakeholder who says there needs to be a field for the shoe material because some of the nicest shoes are leather. But can a materials field be used across all the shoes you offer? It sure can!

And while historically, things like this always focused around “what it would look like” before “what it would say,” using structured content means the words hold just as much power as the design.

Structured content and a COPE model make it possible for you to grow and expand the content you offer across your site as the needs of your organization or audience change. A consistent experience makes it easy for people to find what they need quickly and the information to help them make their decision (or, in this case, purchase).

COPE makes cross-platform possible

You’ve built your website, and all your pages are tagged with taxonomy and are ready to share with the world. Time to launch.

Great! But your website being a destination for your brand means you want to build roads for people to reach you. Marketing has entered the chat.

With COPE, you don’t only structure content in a way that makes it easy to govern and manage that content in your CMS, but you also create a structured way to share that content across other channels.

Maybe your social posts use the product's short description and a thumbnail image of the shoes. Or maybe your email newsletters tease the top-rated shoes of the week, with a thumbnail and their star rating shown. 

COPE makes it easy to keep all of this information stored in one place. It also makes it easier to share your content across different channels in any way you need.

Different listings of Red Converse shoes on Google Shopping
COPE also helps you figure displays for off-site experiences, like this Google Shopping page.

This marketing approach isn’t only less of a headache for your website administrators but also your whole organization. It makes your business and brand more agile, and in the long run, more efficient and successful.

Before you start COPE-ing

If you’re jazzed to get started, we’re jazzed for you, too. But before you go rushing off to your web team with this new idea in hand, let’s talk about what you should have in place before you get started. 

  1. Know what you have and what you need. A content inventory is a perfect way to start. You must understand your current digital structure and presence for both what you have and what you need. 
  2. Identify internal (and external) resources. COPE content becomes a piece of cake over time, but it might take a lot of decision-making and creation to give it legs upfront. Know if you have the team ready to take the project on or if you can outsource to an agency or partner with a vendor to get started.
  3. Get stakeholders on board early. You’ll need their input when the project kicks off and gets moving, so have conversations early and show how COPE can eliminate waste, drive sales, and encourage cost-efficiency. Stakeholders and internal experts can also help you start defining your ubiquitous language, which is integral to successful COPE.
  4. Set some high-level goals. Mostly, identify where your analytics are and where you want to go, but don’t make them your only focus. Set a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) goal around your web traffic, conversions, and sales as a starting point.
  5. Document your plan forward. You’re not done with COPE when you hit ‘Publish’ on your website. The web is never done, and neither is your work. If you have a team, document how often you’ll meet to plan social posting, blogs, or other marketing efforts. Identify when and how content will be governed across the site, including how often and with what stakeholders or approvers. Answer these questions and write them down.

Most importantly, these discovery steps will (and should) lead your team or partner toward a domain model and, eventually, content models. Both of these help map the entire ecosystem of your website and plan for what type of pages, layouts, and templates are needed to present the information to the end-user. 

Get more content-first tips for preparing for COPE with the Content Marketing Institute.

Use COPE to master your destiny

It’s a long, winding road. Sometimes you’ll hit dead ends. Sometimes it’ll be a downhill breeze. But COPE is a worthwhile adventure for you and your team to explore as a way to more efficiently and effectively manage your website and user experience. 

If you’re ready to get started with a COPE model and need a digital partner who can lend a hand, reach out to our Lullabot team to get started.

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