Today's managers of web content are increasingly taking responsibility for a wider array of consumer’s needs. Prospects are engaged at the top end of the sales funnel, nurtured with content through the buying process and further informed once they become customers.

In this extremely noisy environment, it is essential to take advantage of every visit to your website to create a lasting, positive impression.

To this end, tools that offer Web Engagement Management (WEM) solutions have been among the hottest topics among marketers and web content management providers.

But the focus of the Web Engagement Management discussion seems to be primarily on optimizing content to enhance or facilitate a behavior by the prospective consumer. That’s to be expected and is certainly a worthy goal as we look to maximize each and every web visit. Content velocity, key word and key phrase densities, A/B Testing and persona based targeting have all come into sharp focus for the marketer.

However, of equal importance is ensuring the quality of the user experience when they get there. Protecting the investment in web content means much more than just optimizing it for a marketing conversion. It also means ensuring that it is -- and remains -- accurate, usable and accessible.

There is a very recent and illustrative example of this type of challenge from which valuable lessons can be learnt. Last month, a study published by the Journal of Healthcare Management provided great insight into the current content quality of hospital websites.

The State of Hospital’s Web Content Health

Recent estimates say that more than 80% of adults now use the web as a resource for healthcare information. Further, in a 2007 Health Information National Trends Study it was discovered that more than three out of ten consumers make their physician and healthcare decisions based on what they find online. It is because of trends like these that hospitals of all sizes have been putting new effort into expanding their websites -- and offering much more engaging, persuasive and resource based content.

In conducting the research, the authors found that customers were basing their judgment of hospitals on their websites. And they were comparing them to the experiences they had on other popular websites such as Amazon and Facebook. So when those experiences didn’t match up, the customers made inferences about the quality of service, the facility and/or quality of the medical attention they might receive. Therefore the quality of the content on hospital websites has become extraordinarily important.

With their 2011 study, the researchers aimed to expand on these findings, and provide insights to help hospitals improve the effectiveness of their websites. The study established four basic measurements of website quality and analyzed hundreds of hospital websites. These four measurements were:

  • Accessibility Scale -- a review of the site for accessibility issues and how individuals with “lower computer literacy levels” might be able to access the content.
  • Content Scale -- a measurement of spelling, grammar, factual accuracy and general readability
  • Marketing Scale -- a measurement of their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) performance
  • Technology Scale -- a measurement of technical issues such as: download speed, site structure, code consistency, quality and the use of style sheets, among other things.

Based on the individual scores across the various scales, each hospital’s website was given an overall rating. As one might expect, most hospitals scored below average on the total score, indicating significant room for improvement among these criteria. But, perhaps most interestingly, hospitals performed best across the Content and Marketing Scale and worst among Technology and Accessibility.

It’s within these two areas (Technology and Accessibility) where quality is most quickly eroded in today’s fast-paced multi-editor environments. Without systematic support, web editors simply don’t have the time or knowledge to attend to fundamental quality and compliance issues when publishing to the web. It is these types of basic errors that undermine the user experience, and put marketing effectiveness at risk.

As the survey reveals, the biggest opportunity for improvement for the respondents to this study lies in getting back to basics.

Does Your Website Need A Checkup?

Certainly the lessons from the hospital study are ones which can be applied to just about any industry.

In all industry sectors, as both content and the number of channels expand rapidly, basic quality management should be a big priority. Even in just the last few months we’ve seen the effect of how content quality affects business results:

True Teaching Hospitals

Not all consumers are making quite as important a decision as who to trust with their healthcare. But to develop trust and engagement for the long term requires ensuring that quality assurance is firmly embedded within the content management process.

Lisa Hayward, Head of Website Management at Shell said it well, when we interviewed her earlier this year:

We’re very aware that our audience has high expectations of us, and we’re committed to ensuring those expectations are met at every single user interaction. With a large and complex global website and a distributed editorial team, we realized early on that we would need a centralized, automated solution to the challenges of web content quality management.”

Organizations of all sizes would do well to begin to establish processes that go beyond just optimizing content for upper funnel marketing conversions and even SEO -- and instead also ensuring a back-to-basics set of criteria including accuracy, accessibility and usability.

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