A week doesn’t go by that I am not asked which automated tool can ensure online quality and what should organizations be looking for when assessing a standards tool. While there are ample toolsets in the marketplace, with varying features and associated price points, the reality is that tools can only support standards adoption and cannot drive their implementation.
Quality tools are not inherently bad or a poor investment, but you need to understand their capabilities and the value they will add to the organization. Tools can be used to augment your digital team, but they are not a holistic solution and will not miraculously ensure online quality of your content.
If you are considering tools to support your digital efforts and to boost online integrity, I recommend the following:
- 1. Identify the digital standards that are most important to your organization from a quality perspective.
- 2. Categorize these standards into three piles:
- Automated standards are those that can (and should!) be incorporated into your content management system. For example, ensuring your copyright appears at the bottom of each web page, that page titles are no longer than 65 characters (in-line with SEO best practices) or that correct fonts and colors are used throughout the site.
- Human standards are those that only a person can apply or that are difficult to automate within a content management system or to validate by a machine. For example, tone and voice of individual social media posts, succinct or plain writing on your web pages, or aspects of accessibility including whether color relays important messaging that will be lost for those with color or visual impairments.
- Tool-supported standards are those that cannot be automated by a content management system because they require some level of user interpretation and application. Standards that lend themselves well to tool support are lengths of paragraphs and sentences (a tool can flag potential issues for validation by a human) or correct image validation (a tool provides an inventory of images on the site for human review).
- Determine how many tool-supported standards you have and what type of investment you are willing to make in order to augment human validation of standards. Most tools provide useful reports, such as a visual guide of all images on your site. Some of these may prove highly valuable, while others may simply be another burden to overworked staff.
- Be realistic about who will use the standards compliance tool and in what manner. It is often easier and less costly to automate standards into publishing tools or train staff on standards so that they can produce high-quality content during the publication process. Publishing content and validating its standards compliance after it is live (i.e., asking staff to go back and correct efforts after the fact) not only adds a layer of burden to the process, but often leads to the validation never being completed, as new content priorities overcome revisiting information that is already live.
- In addition, consider that once you publish content, it is already available for the world to see—along with any mistakes and lack of standards compliance. Most tools on the market today crawl published content and provide reports of standards compliance. At that point, you have already exposed your organization and its less-than-stellar online performance. Should you choose a tool to validate published content, consider having the standards conformance validation take place in a staging or pre-production environment.
Standards compliance tools can be useful and have a place in today’s digital publishing arena. Just be realistic about their existing capabilities and limitations, your organization’s staffing and working habits, and balance those factors with your online integrity goals.