Thursday, April 16, 2009

Toward Content Quality

Analyzing content quality ...

"How do we know whether content is any good? This simple question does not have a simple answer. Yet, I think having a good answer would help us show our employers and clients why their content needs to improve and how their content compares to the competition’s. As a start toward an answer to this question, I offer a set of content quality checklists for seven different lenses through which we can view content. I see these checklists as the groundwork for content heuristics, which would enable us to do heuristic evaluations and competitive analyses efficiently. With good content heuristics, we could make a case for better content without painstakingly doing an analysis of all of the content up front. Imagine, making a case for better content quality in a few hours instead of a few weeks.

Many interactive projects address content quality only through a style guide. A style guide is helpful, but it isn’t enough. One problem is that a style guide often emerges at the end of an interactive project, capturing how a team handled certain content issues and how they intend to handle them moving forward. That doesn’t help much during the project. Another problem that often occurs is a company neglects maintenance of the style guide going forward. (For information about living style guides, read Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish. [1]) Finally, many Web style guides I’ve encountered address word choice, brand voice—and that’s about it. The scope of content quality is much broader.

Recently, at IA Summit 2009, I had the opportunity to share several of these content quality checklists with some conference attendees who participated in the Content Strategy Consortium that Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic and Karen McGrane of Bond Art+Science [2] coordinated. The people who participated in that discussion provided excellent feedback that has helped me refine the checklists.

Content Quality Checklists

In my experience, a common misperception of the evaluation of content quality is that its scope is limited to the correction of typos and grammatical errors. Correcting spelling and grammar only scratches the surface. To truly consider content quality, we need to examine its quality along several dimensions. Consequently, the content quality checklists that follow cover everything from usefulness to voice to accuracy.

* Usefulness & Relevance:
o Does the content meet user needs, goals, and interests?
o Does the content meet business goals?
o For how long will the content be useful? When should it expire? Has its usefulness already expired?
o Is the content timely and relevant?
* Clarity & Accuracy:
o Is the content understandable to customers?
o Is the content organized logically & coherently?
o Is the content correct?
o Does the content contain factual errors, typos, or grammatical errors?
o Do images, video, and audio meet technical standards, so they are clear?
* Influence & Engagement:
o Does the content use the most appropriate techniques to influence or engage customers?
o Does the content execute those techniques effectively?
o Does the content use too many or too few techniques for the context?
* Completeness:
o Does the content include all of the information customers need or might want about a topic?
o Does the content include too much or too little information about a topic for the context?
* Voice & Style:
o Does the content consistently reflect the editorial or brand voice?
o Does its tone adjust appropriately to the context—for example, sales versus customer service?
o Does the content convey the appropriate editorial and brand qualities?
o Does the content seem to have a style? If so, does the content adhere to it consistently?
o Does the content read, look, or sound as though it’s professionally crafted?
* Usability & Findability:
o Is the content easy to scan or read?
o Is the content in a usable format, including headings, bulleted lists, tables, white space, or similar techniques, as appropriate to the content?
o Does the content have the appropriate metadata?
o Does the content follow search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines—such as using keywords—without sacrificing quality in other areas?
o Can customers find the content when searching using relevant keywords?"    (Continued via UXMatters, Colleen Jones)    [Usability Resources]

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