Get On the Path to Successful Content Initiatives by Assessing Quality Factors
Scout out a few dictionaries for the definition of “quality,” and you’ll uncover many variations. Talk to people who lead organizations, run quality assurance teams, or blog about fashion or food, and you’ll get quite a few more. One the most basic definitions says quality is “how good or bad something is.” Another goes a step further to expect that quality indicates “a high level of value or excellence.” (both from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quality) So it’s easy to define what constitutes high-quality documentation, training materials, or websites as you interact with these materials, right? Oh, you already know the answer to that.
Why is content quality so hard to determine or agree upon? Perhaps because there are many attributes that could factor into an assessment of quality, all of which have their own definitions and scales. To get a sense of where to start in evaluating the quality of content, this article dives into the common factors that drive assessments. These factors apply to all types of content, from written documentation to video to any output on a mobile app. They matter to all industries, both internal and external customers, and the bottom-line. If you understand these elements and how to apply them in your organization, you can design or convert your content to be high-quality that is user-focused and drives revenue.
Content clarity impacts many areas in which the content is developed and used. If the content is clear, it easily conveys the information without a reader, user, listener, or learner having to spend mental bandwidth interpreting the actual meaning or what to do with the information. If the content is unclear, you frustrate your audiences and they often just give up rather than expending any more effort.
The effect of lack of clarity varies from field to field and the context or channel. Unclear content in a user manual can lead to safety issues, compliance violations and increased risk exposure. Unclear marketing content loses sales. Unclear training content leads to poor performance and increases employee turnaround.
Content clarity focuses on simplicity, brevity and precision.
Is your content factually correct? Has it been updated to reflect changes in technology or policy? Do you review it regularly to ensure that it remains factual and current? Inaccurate content also leads to compliance violations or safety issues. Even in cases where compliance is not a top priority, inaccurate content adversely impacts your brand… customers won’t trust you if you promise something and then don’t deliver in the end product.
Can your users find information they need easily? And once they’ve located the content, can they search quickly to confirm that it actually is what they are looking for? Can they find it using their own search terms, or do they need to know exactly how your organization refers to it? If they can’t find the content within your database, website, or even print materials, customers have an easier time than ever searching the internet to find other content that suits their needs. And that poses risk: if the content they find created by external sources, how could you ensure what they find is even accurate?
Your customers look at your content to meet their specific goals, whether they need to complete steps in a procedure or want to buy your product through your website. Forcing them to go through additional steps, to figure out what link or button to click, or how to match up hole 3b with the right screw means they have to work too hard at it. To most customers, unusable content equals unusable product. And they will give up and move onto someone else’s product or service.
When a customer finds some content that might help them, is it actually relevant to what they need? If they look for cleaning solutions, and you give them content on optimizing a hard drive, will that be relevant? In today’s socially promoted world, relevant content can increase exposure, and make fans of skeptics. Consider a plan to create individual buyer personas to drive content developed for individuals who are ready to buy what you offer.
Take a marketing brochure, a product instruction, and the catalog page on the website and compare them side by side. Would the average consumer recognize that the same company produced all three? Each piece of standalone content should have the same look, writing or vocal style, and organization throughout. Inconsistent design or messaging is another way that you increase the cognitive load on your customers and the likelihood that will find another vendor.
Each standalone piece of your content should include all of the information the customers need to take the action you want them to take: to assemble a piece of equipment, pass an assessment, or present the information to others. But you should ask yourself if that’s where it should stop. Or should it include all information related to the topic, even information they might not need until much later on, if at all? Quality content includes all of the essential information without including too much or irrelevant information.
Style guides and outlining do much more than give writers something to kvetch about. They help ensure that content flows in a logical and coherent fashion. You should always format information, such as headings, in the same fonts and styles throughout the content to provide consistent and helpful signposts, or visual cues, which assist them in processing information and taking action more quickly. For example, if one chapter starts with a lead-in paragraph to set the stage, all chapters should follow that established format.
Information often seems out of date as quickly as you publish it. With so many technology and process changes occurring every day in organizations, both internal and external customers can feel left behind. But to be seen as an authority and valuable source of information to your customers, you need a process to review and update your content to remain current, in all languages and media formats in which you offer it.
Meet the Content Quality Challenge Head-on
Creating content that addresses audience needs, looks good, flows well, and always remains current is a never-ending challenge. To meet it head on, analyze the factors that matter most to your organization and its objectives. Then you can work on processes and plans that ensure you apply these factors across all your content creation and management efforts. With a methodical approach, your content can deliver on the needs to be clear, findable, usable, relevant, complete, accurate, consistent, organized, and up-to-date.
Other Content Quality Evaluation Resources
- Content Checklist, created by Ahava Leibtag. Published by the Content Marketing Institute: http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/leibtag_content_checklist.pdf
- Toward Content Quality, by Colleen Jones. Published on UX Matters: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/04/toward-content-quality.php