When we audit and review a website before embarking on a website redesign project, we typically see a range of content issues, including:
- Outdated or inaccurate information
- Duplicate content
- Off-brand or otherwise irrelevant content
- Poor quality copy or imagery
Usually, these issues are caused by lack of ongoing attention to the website content. This could be precipitated by insufficient resources, ineffective publishing workflow, poor editorial oversight, or lagging governance. Whatever the cause, these content quality issues can pile up and quickly make your website more of a liability than an asset, unable to help you achieve your goals.
Here’s an important truth: The slickest CMS and most cutting-edge design will all fall down if populated with ineffective content. And the quality of your content should always reflect the high quality of your institution.
Create a Culture of Quality
One of the core components of a content governance plan is thinking through how to create a process and culture for ongoing content quality assurance. As we’ve said before, launching a new website is like driving a new car off the lot — starting on day two, the value begins to depreciate rapidly unless you invest the time and resources needed to keep the engine humming.
The time to consider content quality assurance is not post-launch — it’s at the beginning of your project, as you evaluate and diagnose your current content, set content expectations going forward, and determine what resources are necessary to meet those ongoing expectations.
The crux of content quality assurance is ensuring that the content editors charged with stewarding the digital success of the institution are guided with purpose, process, and pride:
- Purpose: Support and mission-alignment via central editorial oversight
- Process: Integrated into a sustainable publishing workflow with clearly defined roles and tasks
- Pride: Confidence and knowledge via training and documentation for best practice and institutional guidelines
With this guidance, you can ensure that you are upholding three core aspects of content quality:
- Accuracy: From correct spelling to current data to broken links, accuracy is the bedrock of your credibility. Proofread copy, check for broken links, and ensure adherence to house style. In addition, make sure your publishing workflow accounts for an editorial review of draft content and appropriate revision by the author.
- Timeliness: A content audit should not only happen before a redesign project commences. Content quality assurance as a practice is rooted around ongoing audits and reviews of web content, including consultation of web analytics. An editorial calendar can help guide frequency of content review. A central marketing team can guide outlying units around best practice for auditing content and how often to do so. Regular audits should shape action plans for any needed revisions, or the potential archival, removal, or consolidation of content.
- Relevance: Is your content on-brand? Goal-oriented and mission-aligned? Driving key conversions? Targeted to the desired audience? Relevance is the heart of quality. Having a brief for every web property that documents goals, audience, and other communications objectives can serve as a beacon for sustained content quality.
Compliance: The Necessary Bad Cop of Web Content Governance
Many institutions are willing to own up to the fact that their content needs improvement. The hard part is making systemic cultural, and process changes in how the organization governs not only its content, but the people responsible for managing it.
In many cases, it simply feels too hard to steer the massive ship that is a university or other large institution in a direction that entails new responsibilities and expectations for managing content. The culture is ingrained to work one way, and attempting to shift that can sometimes result in conflict. In short, change is hard.
Publishing workflows and governance policies are designed to support the effectiveness of the website. But they only hold as much value as we place in them.
To that end, part of bringing governance to your website (and in turn, becoming an organization that takes proactive care of its content) means asserting the value of your website as a core business asset. And that means establishing some degree of accountability around website responsibilities.
That accountability starts at the top. The website owners (i.e. the central web marketing team) must define clear expectations with outlying site editors around the management of their digital properties, including schedules for content updates, while supporting them with guidelines, templates, and training for content review and creation. Owners should also conduct frequent spot checks and reviews of outlying web properties.
Conversely, those editors must fulfill the responsibilities inherent in their role, and that includes revise, removing, or otherwise dealing with content that is inaccurate, irrelevant, out of date, or otherwise compromised.
If they do not, site owners must act. The first response should always be outreach, guidance, and support—after all, everyone is busy and everyone is learning, and the issue may be a simple result of lack of time or information.
But repeated failure to effectively steward one’s content should have a demonstrable consequence. This could entail elevation of the issue to supervisors, reassignment of website roles, changes in CMS access, required extra training, loss of promotional opportunities (e.g. homepage, print mailing, social media), or even removal of the website entirely.
These measures can seem harsh in an organization unused to that level of accountability, and there should obviously be a healthy amount of outreach and dialogue before taking that level of action. But if we want to establish the website as a critical business asset, we must hold those responsible for its upkeep accountable to a high standard of ongoing quality assurance.
Organizations should also find a way to gauge content quality as a quantifiable outcome. This can help in reporting to stakeholders about the important of ongoing content quality assurance efforts by drawing the connection between those efforts and the success of the website as core business asset. Tools like SiteImprove can help automate the auditing of certain content quality issues like broken links or spelling errors, generating reports that can be referenced by stakeholders and allowing ongoing evaluation of site content quality over time.