People, process and standards—the three important elements of content governance. Each plays a vital role in ensuring a successful content strategy. And all are important in contributing to effective content operations

This article explores content standards and how they relate to content technology, content teams, and the business value of adopting strong standards. 

What is a content standard?

Simply put, a standard is something to achieve and uphold. There are many different types of content standards, but some of the most common are:

What is included in content standards?

Organizations often build on more common content standards to further define their voice and point-of-view, or to provide more comprehensive guidance for writers and editors working in specialized domains such as medicine or law. For example, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s style guide builds on several standards publications. 

Content standards apply to more than the words that an organization does or doesn’t use. They also describe more technical requirements for content, such as how you’ll name files  or when you’ll use a 301 vs. a 302 vs. a 307 redirect. Content standards may also define thresholds for content quality, such as clarity, completeness or usability. 

How content standards and brand values work together

Voice and values are the “what” of brand identity, and they’re conveyed by content, among other things. Content standards are the “how.” They provide frameworks for moving beyond the fuzziness that characterizes some brand promises. For example:

  • In Garden, Zendesk asks writers and editors to “be clear, be consistent and be inclusive,” and outlines detailed examples for how to do that with content. 
  • Shopify’s Polaris.com provides comprehensive guidance for how content can make good on their identity statement: “Simply put, we’re a company, built by real people who understand this business and care about helping others succeed.”
  • At Fandango, specific “instead of saying” voice direction gives writers clear advice for how content embodies brand. 
Voice standards from Fandango's brand guidelines
Voice standards from Fandango’s brand guidelines

 

  • Global standards for internationalization (I18N) and localization (L10N) are another example of how a content standard can bring brand values to life. Companies that follow these are doing more than paying lip service to diversity and corporate citizenship.
  • While the CAN-SPAM email standards are a good way to ensure communications reach their intended recipients, adhering to them reflects a company’s respect for their customers’ time and privacy.

How to meet and maintain content standards

Speaking as someone who’s run their fair share of manual broken link reports, I’m grateful for the technological sophistication that enables so many quality and compliance standards to be encoded so tools such as SiteImprove and CrownPeak (formerly ActiveStandards) can do the heavy lifting. 

These tools, and others like them, scan and report on standards that folks outside the content team care about. For example, the marketing team wants to ensure that accessible and brand-consistent content is being delivered to customers. And where SEO is concerned, the interplay of content and technology standards are of utmost importance to people in content, marketing, and technology roles.

Some content standards are less easily represented in, or verified by, a technology solution. For example, in the world of health and medical content, brands are supporting content standards when they:

There may not be a turnkey tool for implementing and monitoring compliance with these timeless standards. But in the age of social media, it’s easy enough for customers to find out whether a brand adheres to them. As more brands become publishers, the standards of “obligation to truth, dedication to verification, and maintaining independence” are as important as they ever were. 

A non-exhaustive list of content standards

Standard SupportsTools
StructuredDiscoveryContent model, information architecture
Optimized for SEODiscoveryKeyword research
Contains zero errors in fact, spelling, grammarAccuracyDictionaries, style guides, credible reference sources
Contains zero misleading or deceptive claimsInfluenceEditorial process
Displays most recent revision dateAccuracyCMS, structured content
Contains zero broken links or file referencesAccuracyManual or automated website review  
Includes zero links to unsafe domainsAccuracyManual or automated website review  
Complex or abstract information is presented using visual elementsPolishA/B testing
Aligns to audience's reading levelRelevanceReadability calculator
Reflects inclusive languageRelevanceInclusive language guidelines and digital validation tools
Aligns to customer persona and customer needsRelevanceContent vision, content strategy
Complies with WCAG guidelinesUsefulnessCustomer personas, journey maps 
Aligns to industry-specific guidelinesInfluenceMembership in relevant industry groups
Displays organization address and contact informationInfluenceCMS, structured content
Displays copyright datesInfluenceCMS, structured content
Reflects inclusive languageInfluenceLinguistic analytics tools

Start where you are with standards and keep going

There are three big buckets of work where content standards are concerned: deciding what standards you’ll use, documenting them, and building processes to support adherence. A content playbook is a helpful way to organize and advance the work. In the meantime, here are resources to jumpstart, or continue, your work in content standards. 

The Author

Susanna Guzman is a Senior Associate with Content Science. She is a proven business leader with extensive experience aligning enterprise content and communications assets with business objectives. She has deep expertise in content strategy and operations, as well as product development in the digital channel. Susanna is also a published author on primary care clinical and practice management topics.

Last Updated: August 23, 2021

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