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With content, one size does not fit all. 


Conditional processing is when a system produces different outcomes based on certain, uh, conditions.

For software developers, conditional processing refers to code that reacts to specified conditions. For content strategists, this refers to the process of filtering content based on the attributes of the reader. 

Why does this matter? 

Unfortunately, many organizations build one version of their content and expect it to work for everyone. The trouble is that audiences aren’t interested in picking apart this mono-content looking for what’s useful to them. 

This is where conditional processing comes into play. Conditional processing is just a fancy name for audience filtering

For example, if you have two primary audiences — experts and newbies — you can’t deliver the same content to both and expect happy readers. Content tagged for “experts” will be filtered to show only content that an expert audience needs. Content tagged for “newbies” will be filtered to show only content that noobs can grasp. 

So, if I’m an experienced product user and you’re a brand new product user, conditional processing allows the product content we each see to correspond with our different needs and levels of expertise. Personalized content is the purpose of conditional processing, using content filters to ensure whoever needs content gets content that’s built specifically for them. These guys explain it really well:


Structured Content & Knowing Your Audience

In DITA XML, we know conditional processing by a few other names: attribute-based profiling, conditional profiling, and audience management. Names notwithstanding, they all serve the same purpose for your content. 

Show one audience one thing, show another audience another. All without changing the source content, just the filter.

Sound easy? 

Not without structure. 

Typical content management systems don’t have the capability for conditional processing because they manage content as documents. But, to deliver the right content to the right individual, you need something smaller. You need componentized content or microcontent; you need structured content.

Structured content makes conditional processing possible because content is built as components that are stored in a component content management system (CCMS). Each component is a self-contained piece of content about a single idea. With structured content, we’re able to take multiple components and assemble them into documents. 

Now that we have content as components, how do we know which components should be delivered to which audience?

Conditional processing depends on tags. Each component can be audience-specific. There are four standard tags for conditional processing: 

    • Product
    • Platform
    • Audience
    • Revision


Of course, you can make your own tags to match your organization’s needs. When it’s time to publish content for several different audiences, conditional processing lets us publish personalized content that shows diverse users exactly what they need. This snippet of code helps demonstrate a simple example:

This code snippet shows two sets of content intended for two different audiences within the same component: <section audience="internal"> and <section audience="external">

During publishing, we simply filter based on the audience attribute tags and the final content will publish accordingly. So, when we publish for the external audience we filter out the internal content. Like this:

This is a small example, but at the enterprise scale, the implications swiftly become exponential. 


Personalized Content is Good Customer Experience

Let’s recap: 

    • Conditional processing is filtering content for different audiences.
    • This filtering is possible because structured content allows you to break your mono-content into smaller chunks (components). 
    • You can tag these smaller chunks based on your intended audiences. You can use one tag or multiple tags based on any number of audiences you want to reach. 
    • After tagging, you can publish personalized content to your audiences all from the same original content set. 


In case you still need convincing, you might wonder…

“Who cares?”

Well, your readers do. 

Without conditional processing, you’re providing your users limited content experiences that may not help some of them. This causes more users to search for personalized experiences elsewhere. So, you have to fight for their attention with content experiences that actually attracts their attention and presents information that best fits their needs.

Personalized content is one of the greatest marketing moves you can make. Once your content boosts customer experience, they’re likely to become product content evangelists. We did a whole article on why to prioritize education in customer experience

There’s no shortage of competition out there. An important part of getting an edge on that competition is by creating the greatest content possible. Conditional processing and personalized content are foundational elements of good customer experience through better content experiences. Because customers and users who feel like a content experience has been personally tailored to them are much more likely to continue consuming content, becoming customers, and telling others to do the same. 

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Tim Ludwig
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