How can digital businesses make their content work better for their customers, users, or audiences and their own business goals? That’s a question we think about often at Content Science. To answer it, we use our ContentWRX software to study six dimensions of content effectiveness. One of those dimensions is content accuracy. We recently learned that accurate content has many more consequences than you might expect for your digital business or organization. In this article, we share our insights based on content feedback from more than 100,000 people. We also offer a few high-impact ways to ensure content accuracy helps, and does not hinder, your digital business.

How Content Accuracy Can Make or Break Your Digital Business

Content is the lifeblood of your digital business. Sales, marketing, support, and more require content ranging from articles to infographics to video demonstrations to case studies to research reports to … you get the idea. We have found that whether your customers perceive your content as accurate affects their trust in you and colors many other perceptions.

Before we get into the proof, let us note that content accuracy is about much more than whether the content has a typo. When we assess content accuracy, we assess whether customers or users perceive the content as current, consistent, and correct—either factually correct or credible enough to trust as factually correct. We recently conducted a special analysis to understand the interplay of content accuracy and other dimensions of content effectiveness. (For a summary of insights, check out our interactive 100K Day infographic.) Some clear patterns emerged.

Insight 1: Content Accuracy Makes or Breaks Goal Completion

Users who perceive content as accurate are

  • More than twice as likely to report accomplishing their goals than users who are unsure about the content’s accuracy.
  • More than five times as likely to report accomplishing their goals than those who perceive content as not accurate.

content accuracy

In the graph below, you can see the exact breakdown. Customers or users who doubt the accuracy of the content they’re using are much less likely to complete their goals.

content accuracy

As if that isn’t enough, we also discovered perceptions of content accuracy affect what customers think about other aspects of the content and about your company or organization.

Insight 2: Content Accuracy Makes or Breaks Content Effectiveness

Before we explain this insight, let’s clarify the content effectiveness measurement here. ContentWRX applies an algorithm to generate a score of 1-100 to represent content effectiveness. We call it the ContentWRX score. (For more details, check out an upcoming webinar.)

We conducted a special analysis to understand the impact of content accuracy on overall effectiveness. Data from users who were unsure of content’s accuracy resulted in a 35.3% lower ContentWRX score than users who perceived it as accurate. Data from users who viewed the content as inaccurate resulted in a 73.4% lower ContentWRX score.

content accuracy

If you’re allowing users to perceive your content as inaccurate, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that your content won’t be effective.

So how can you avoid customers and audiences perceiving your content as inaccurate? We could write volumes to answer that question, but let’s focus on four ways to start.

4 Ways to Immediately Improve Content Accuracy—in Perception and Reality

The good news? The ways explained below are achievable and can bring immediate results. The bad news? The only way to achieve them and maintain them is with a mix of thoughtful planning and discipline. If your company wants to “set and forget” your content, achieving the below items will be tough. On to the list …

1. Update Your Content for Factual Correctness and Provide References or Sources When Appropriate

In our new era of fake news, fabricated customer accounts, and sophisticated phishing, it’s not always easy for customers or audiences to know whether what they’re reading online is true. After you verify that everything you say actually is accurate, you have to ensure your audience believes it by backing up all of the key points with references, citations, and evidence.

As a simple example, Cerner backs up the accuracy of the statements made in an article about social factors in health by providing links to the sources.

content accuracy

If users can verify your content’s claims independently, they’re more likely to feel your content is a source of accurate information. Let’s turn to another action you can take.

2. Communicate Clearly Whether the Content Is Current and Delete Outdated Content

The number one reason people doubt content accuracy, based on our analysis? The content seemed outdated. If your customers or users cannot verify that your content is up-to-date or that the information presented is still valid, they won’t trust it. Here is an example of how not to assure users of content’s timeliness:

content accuracy

Let’s pretend the year is 2011, and you come across this example from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Are these travel advisories current? What does the date represent? Not sure? You’re not alone. The truth is that this date refers to the date the notice went in effect, but there is no indication of when this advisory expires or whether it’s still applicable. As you might guess, this approach to dates caused travelers who were planning a trip much confusion.

Similarly, look at this example from a large media company in the auto industry.

content accuracy

Though this content may attract users searching for a specific term (“bumblebee camaro”), it’s clearly dated by a hook mentioning a six-year-old movie’s opening. Users who find this content may end up searching for cars that are no longer for sale, which will surely disappoint them. Don’t let outdated SEO advice keep you from archiving content that’s no longer relevant to your business.

So items 1 and 2 will take you far in making your content more accurate in reality and in the eyes of your customers. But you also need to watch your content’s consistency. Let’s look at two specific ways to do so.

3. Do Not Make Statements That Are or Could Be Perceived as Contradictory

If you make a statement once in your content, make sure there’s nothing else in your content that contradicts it and, consequently, leads your customers or users to question its accuracy. Let’s look at an example from American Express.

content accuracy

On the screen to the left, American Express provides information about how to earn cash back with their Blue Cash Everyday® card. However, when comparing to other cards offered by American Express, cash back rewards are not mentioned, even when compared to other cards. This inconsistency risks causing confusion for potential customers.

Your content not only needs to be consistent within itself, but it also needs to be consistent with the product, service, or process the content explains. Let’s take a closer look in 4.

4. Do Not Let Changes to Your Products, Services, or Processes Make Your Instructions and Links Obsolete

In our analysis, the second most common reason users doubted the accuracy of content was that an instruction or guide didn’t work. We find this happens when releases or changes to a product, service, or process outpace the updates to the supporting content such as microcopy, help content, promotional content, and more. If your content features instructions that no longer apply or links that do not work, you will literally stop users from accomplishing their goals and lead them to doubt your competence. Let’s look at an example:

content accuracy

The split of Hewlett Packard into two companies—HP for consumer solutions, HPE for enterprise solutions—appears to have created a challenge in keeping content updated on both sites. In this example, a link on the support home screen offers resources to help connect products for automated support. However, this link directs the user to an address that no longer exists. This experience does not reassure customers that is the resource they need to solve a problem.

In contrast, let’s look at an example of creating an easy-to-use guide with the most current information about taxes, where many rules change year to year.

content accuracy

Here, Intuit TurboTax offers a simple interface that allows users to define their financial status by selecting from a number of clear options with icons and specific labels. The content reassures the customer the tax information is updated for the current year by including the date at the top of the screen. The content also reassures the customer that it’s OK to pick an option without being 100% confident it applies, assuring the user that complete accuracy will be verified later in the process.

Make Content Accuracy a Help, Not a Hindrance

If content accuracy has not been part of your plans, you’re not alone, as you can see in the examples above. The good news is it’s not too late to start making your content more accurate and, as a result, more effective for your customers and your business.

The Authors

Andrew is the Principal Consultant, Content Intelligence + Analysis for Content Science, the award-winning content intelligence and strategy company behind ContentWRX, Content Science Review, and Content Science Academy. Andrew has worked with a wide range of organizations to define and measure content effectiveness and to empower enterprises with content intelligence. Andrew holds data and analytics certifications from leaders such as Google and the Digital Analytics Association.

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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