Sunday, 13 January 2013

Measuring content quality - forget about typos and broken links

"We want to improve the quality of our web content over the next 6 months," says the project manager.

"Totally agree with you," says the content editor, "The website's like the Wild West, with hundreds of people creating new pages every day and no quality control.

"But how do we measure the current quality of our content so we can compare it to 6 months' time - and see how much it has improved?"

Forget typos and broken links  

There are mechanical ways you can measure quality. You can run quality assurance modules such as Siteimprove to check for broken links and spelling mistakes.

But if you rely too much on this kind of automated check, you will miss the big picture: what do people think of the content - is it hitting the spot for them?

Visitor numbers and sharing

Looking at visitor numbers through analytics software like Google Analytics and Siteimprove can tell you how many people are looking at your content and for how long. But they don't answer the real question: is my content any good?

The same applies to people that are sharing your content via email, Twitter and Facebook. Are they sharing it:

  • because it's good? 
  • because it's so bad it's good? 
  • because it answers some of their questions (but not all)?

So far, so quantitative

Instead of the quantitative approach that analytics software offers, what we really need is a qualitative measure. The only way we can really judge the quality of each page is by asking some in-depth questions:

  • what's the purpose of this page?
  • who's the audience?
  • is the content factually accurate and up to date?
  • is it clear and well-written?
  • is it consistent with the style guide?
  • is the content what the reader wants?

Content audit

And for that you need a human editor. In fact, you need a whole team of human editors to comb through a large website and do a content audit. 

With a content audit, you list each URL in a spreadsheet and give it a quality rating - and decide whether to: 
  • keep content as is
  • tweak
  • completely rewrite
  • delete
Want to read more about content audits? Content strategy guru Kristina Halvorson's book Content strategy for the web will help you take a long, hard look at your content. 


  1. Thanks guerrilla-editor.

    A good summary of the whole content quality question.

    What would your advice be for getting answers to the "is the content what the reader wants?" question?



  2. A few things:
    1. Know the audience well - user research will give you personas. Using personas, writers can tailor their content to the audience.
    2. User test content to check it's what people want.
    3. If you can't user test, just ask a couple of people informally - guerrilla testing
    4. Employ a team of confident content editors as gatekeepers to challenge crappy content. Often there's a huge gulf between the information an organisation wants to give people - and the information the audience actually needs or wants. Organisations like to waffle on about stuff, while the reader often wants just a short summary. A confident editor, as long as he or she is backed up by the director, can push back on substandard content.