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.
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:
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.
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:
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
|Structured||Discovery||Content model, information architecture|
|Optimized for SEO||Discovery||Keyword research|
|Contains zero errors in fact, spelling, grammar||Accuracy||Dictionaries, style guides, credible reference sources|
|Contains zero misleading or deceptive claims||Influence||Editorial process|
|Displays most recent revision date||Accuracy||CMS, structured content|
|Contains zero broken links or file references||Accuracy||Manual or automated website review|
|Includes zero links to unsafe domains||Accuracy||Manual or automated website review|
|Complex or abstract information is presented using visual elements||Polish||A/B testing|
|Aligns to audience's reading level||Relevance||Readability calculator|
|Reflects inclusive language||Relevance||Inclusive language guidelines and digital validation tools|
|Aligns to customer persona and customer needs||Relevance||Content vision, content strategy|
|Complies with WCAG guidelines||Usefulness||Customer personas, journey maps|
|Aligns to industry-specific guidelines||Influence||Membership in relevant industry groups|
|Displays organization address and contact information||Influence||CMS, structured content|
|Displays copyright dates||Influence||CMS, structured content|
|Reflects inclusive language||Influence||Linguistic analytics tools|
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.
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