9 steps to auditing content quality to churn out best possible content for users and audiences

By Lindsay Graham published on February 13, 2018


Why we need a Qualitative Checklist to audit Content Quality

In one of our earlier posts around content ideation, we discussed a framework for creating content ideas that align with a brand’s marketing objectives and are purpose-built for a unique target audience. While having great content ideas is certainly necessary, it is by no means sufficient when it comes to churning out content quality. The transformation of a high-level outline/concept into concrete, user-facing collateral is equally, if not more important, and can in some cases turn even mediocre ideas into pieces of literary brilliance.

In this post, we outline a qualitative checklist to audit content quality that content teams can use to benchmark every piece of content against a common set of best practices.

1-The content idea/topic must be relevant to the audience

This is one of the core tenets of audience-focused content. It is like the raw material of your finished goods (final content). No amount of process, creative flare, or graphical gimmick can produce commercially relevant (providing value to your audience and at the same time serving your specific business objectives) results if you do not select the right topic/idea. We have already discussed a detailed approach for coming up with content ideas.

2-Content must have a purpose

All content must be written to follow a pre-defined theme. A typical content planning process would involve extensive brainstorming to identify themes that are relevant to specific business scenarios.  Some common content themes relevant to B2B marketing that also validates content quality would be

  1. Use cases
  2. Points-of-view
  3. Industry trends
  4. Product demos and toolkits
  5. How-to-guides
  6. Best practices guides
  7. Strategy/Implementation framework guides
  8. Vendor comparison guides

These are all examples of themes that prescribe content flow to be structured in a specific format and with a well-defined agenda. Flipping themes within the same content piece typically ends up confusing the message and must be flagged as part of the editorial approval process.

3-Content must have a logical structure

Having a great idea, and an explicit purpose leads you to the third aspect of content QA which revolves around the logical structure of content. It is not uncommon to spot content that quite clearly feels stuffed, almost as if to reach a certain prescribed word count or get some milestone out of the way. The savvy audience is quick to spot a lack of subject matter depth if the content quality comes across as a random rant with no logical flow, including explicit mentions of premise, arguments, and conclusions. Such content rarely makes an appeal with the actual human audience and with advances in data mining technologies, will eventually be ignored by search engines and bots as well.

Content targeted for human consumption and intended to project brand authority can not possibly be judged by how easy/difficult bots find to index it. Trivializing your audience to ‘traffic’ by focusing only on technical factors (on-page, links, etc.) is a rather amateurish approach to content marketing and must be avoided. A well-designed content audit template can help you do just that.

4-Content must provide tangible value and takeaway

How often do you read an article and can not get over the frustration of why you are better off now than five or ten mins. ago?

All content must have takeaways, whether explicitly stated or implicitly argued. Spending time reading content that does not provide specific value in line with the stated/assumed content purpose can result in reader apathy and lack of content engagement.

Notice that the value aspect of content is completely disconnected from the other three content quality parameters. After all, content can be around a great idea that the whole universe is talking about, have an explicit theme, and also follow a perfectly logical flow. If however, the value that it delivers is either missing or lacks originality, then the effort is largely wasted as well as the content quality suffers.

5-Style of writing

Of all the parameters of content quality, style of writing is probably the most dependent upon individual author quality. Unlike other parameters, this aspect is almost impossible to define and you just know when you see it. As an editor though, the best you can do is to lay down explicit guidelines that specify writing style (use of wit, humor, anecdotes, etc.) depending upon the target audience.

6-Use of imagery and graphics

Bringing in visual appeal has the potential to turn even otherwise boring content into something at least worthy of a glare and a passing look. Many-a-times, content sharing, and engagement are driven not so much by the subject matter of content but by the quality of graphic assets deployed. But of course, when the content matter is already good, the appeal to the content quality is magnified by using appropriate images and charts that either corroborate arguments or condense lengthy ones into smaller real-estate.

7-Uses facts and third party stats where appropriate

Most content themes benefit from the usage of facts and figures that can support arguments. However, the biggest challenge with using quantitative information in the content is that it pushes up production costs. Not just in terms of gaining access to credible repositories of information but also in the time it takes to do research. This is why meaningful, insightful figures are rarely used in regular marketing collateral (unless it is specifically built as a thought leadership piece). The cost argument apart, all content benefits from a generous dose of relevant facts and figures and should be encouraged where feasible.

8-Use of the right keywords

While Steps 2-7 of this checklist ensure that target audience interests are kept in mind when creating content, steps 1 and 8 ensure that the effort provides value to the brand with the authentic/supreme content quality.

Step 1 ensures that content is aligned to the right offering while step 8 ensures that content has demand and can be easily found through search engines. Step 1 should be implemented more rigorously when employing direct marketing channels such as email.

Optimizing content for the right keywords however, should be a top priority when creating content to be used in predominantly ‘pull marketing’ tactics (blogs, social media, etc.). Building the right set of keywords would typically be the purview of SEO teams but the content audit and approval process must ensure that all collateral is optimized for the prescribed keyword(s).

9-Governance

Professional content marketers rarely create ad-hoc content. Given the time, and resource investment that goes into creating high-quality content assets, most mature marketers implement governance through a formal content approval process. This could include checking things like

  1. Is the content relevant to the current marketing campaign/business plan?
  2. Does it have vetted details? (e.g. when talking about technical features of a product/service)
  3. Is there correct use of third-party references? (e.g. appropriate attribution or disclaimers)
  4. Has the content been sanctioned through the right approval process?

Every company will have its own set of policies with respect to marketing collateral, and it is important to include relevant checks against these as part of any audit process. At Syptus, we provide custom audit templates that can be attached to individual assets and which can contain an arbitrary set of conditions that the auditor must check content quality on our content scoring model and approve before content can be published.

Summary

Using formal content QA checklists create a shared understanding of the content quality evaluation parameters and lays down objective criteria that both writers and editors benefit from. The specific shape and form of these lists and how rigorously they get enforced would obviously depend upon individual brands but every team would benefit from having at least some form of content evaluation criteria to ensure content quality if content marketing has to be institutionalized as a repeatable process.

At Syptus, we allow Marketers to build completely bespoke audit templates that contain specific conditions related to their business context. The final content score for every asset can then take into account which of these conditions has passed the audit and thus improve the overall content quality engagement scoring for the assets. Check out our content audit page for more details on this.