Quality Assurance: A Content Strategy that Prioritizes People
At GOVTalks Spring 2020, DSGa’s Will Alford, Director of Content, and Rachel Hart, Solutions Analyst, took attendees deep into the Quality Assurance module of Siteimprove. We learned that Siteimprove’s Quality Assurance module encompasses User Experience (UX), Content Quality, Security, and Content Freshness.
Quality Assurance Is Essential
Will Alford started the session by emphasizing the critical role that Quality Assurance plays for agency websites. “Our digital properties have big, important jobs to do,” he explained, “and for many of our constituents, they are the state of Georgia.” Through Siteimprove, we have a way to measure and maintain the standards set by Georgia's Digital Center of Excellence.
The mission of the State of Georgia’s Digital Center of Excellence is to ensure a consistent, reliable and accessible user experience, content must be comprehensive and usable for all site visitors.
The Siteimprove Quality Assurance Module
Will walked attendees through the Siteimprove Quality Assurance dashboard and its various features, starting with Quality Assurance (QA) Policies. Policies are similar to an editorial style guide. They let you set and apply standards across your website for Siteimprove to monitor, track, and flag.
Another feature of your Siteimprove Quality Assurance dashboard is Check History, which allows you to see changes on your website over time. This is particularly helpful if you are having problems with your website and are not sure why. For example, if you have a dramatic drop in traffic, you can see when it started and ended and, from there, figure out what that issue may be related to.
Siteimprove’s Inventory feature allows you to manage all the content on your site. You can export reports for pages, links, documents, and media. You can also use it to drill down into performance and scoring for each type of data.
What Makes Up Your Quality Assurance Score?
Rachel Hart discussed the individual components that make up a website’s overall Quality Assurance Score: User Experience, Content Quality, Security, and Content Freshness. The Siteimprove Quality Assurance dashboard provides a detailed breakdown of each category and shows you how, where, and why it’s impacting your website’s overall Quality Assurance Score.
Although each component is important, they don’t have equal weight. “The [Siteimprove] system,” Rachel explained, “recognizes that User Experience is going to be more important for the Quality Assurance of your website than Content Freshness is, so they’re rated differently.”
1. User Experience (high weight)
The goal of User Experience is to provide easy navigation and access to information. Issues that affect this include broken links, document formats other than PDF, and images that are larger than 1MB.
Broken links impair a user’s ability to search for info, damages a user’s trust with your agency, and also hurts SEO. Your Siteimprove dashboard lists each of your broken links and also shows you the pages that they’re on. It will also look through the PDFs on your website and identify any broken links it finds.
Documents that are not in PDF format require paid software and are often inaccessible on mobile or tablet. This is so important that it’s going to be a usability standard in the State of Georgia’s next version of standards and guidelines for our digital properties. Rachel reminded everyone that a great way to address document format issues is by simply putting the content directly on the page. Only use a PDF if you have to. Your Siteimprove dashboard lists out all types of documents you have and how many of each.
Learn more about alternative file formats for documents by reviewing DSGa’s training on documents.
Images larger than 1MB impact User Experience by hindering SEO, making your site load slowly and, for users not on WiFi, eating up data. The Siteimprove dashboard lists all of your media files and allows you to sort them by size, making it easy to find and fix those issues.
Learn more about recommended image sizes by reviewing DSGa’s training on image dimensions.
Mobile is a big deal when it comes to User Experience
Many of our users are on mobile devices. In 2019, about 45.8% of GovHub users* were accessing our websites via mobile. During a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, that number jumps to about 60%**. Also, 17% of Americans are “smartphone-only” internet users, and many of them do not have access to a high-speed internet connection at home***. The lower the income, the higher the likelihood that our users are relying on a data plan to access the critical information we provide. This means that, to effectively serve the vulnerable people of Georgia who have urgent needs, it’s critical that we make our content easy to access on mobile, with or without a high-speed connection.
2. Content Quality (medium weight)
Content quality is all about making sure people can quickly, easily, and accurately comprehend content. Things like misspellings and readability get in the way of this. Siteimprove will find misspellings that slip through and list them on your Siteimprove dashboard. You’ll be able to find and fix words that are definitely misspelled. You can also review words Siteimprove has flagged as possible misspellings. This can happen if Siteimprove comes across a term or acronym it does not recognize. In this case, you or your site administrator can simply add that word to your list of “Approved Words.”
Readability makes it easier for everyone to understand your content, not just people with less education or a disability, like dyslexia. Siteimprove measures and reports the grade level for your text. You should aim for a middle school (6-8 grade) readability level for your content.
Additional tools you can use to assess the reading level of your text include hemingwayapp.com and plainlanguage.gov.
Your content should also be easy to scan. Use short sentences, create short paragraphs, separate sections with headers, use common words, and use bulleted and number lists when appropriate.
3. Security (medium weight)
Security focuses on user privacy and trust. This includes publicly exposed personal IDs (SSN) and links to unsafe domains. Siteimprove automatically searches for and reports potential numbers with an SSN format (123-45-6789) as well as links that Google’s Web Risk API has flagged as potentially risky.
4. Content Freshness (low weight)
Content freshness is a way to gauge the state of your content. Out-of-date content can hurt user retention and engagement, so be sure to go through your website’s content library monthly to make sure it’s current. For media and documents, Siteimprove will point out files that have been on your site for three years or more, so you can review them and replace them with updated files if necessary.
How Do You Prioritize Which Issues to Fix?
When deciding where to start, ask yourself these three questions:
1. How bad is it?
Consider the severity of the issue. Think about the relative weight of the issue (high, medium, or low), and start there. You can also look at how often an error occurs on your website. Think about readability, too. Anything above middle-school level makes it much harder for users to comprehend your content.
2. How easy is it to fix?
Broken links, confirmed misspellings, and large images are easy to fix but can have a big impact on your Quality Assurance Score. Focus on these first and then move onto more time-consuming fixes, like dealing with non-PDF documents.
3. How important is it?
Think about the necessity of the information. Content on your homepage is more necessary, for example, and so is the content on a page that gets a lot of views. For an issue like broken links, look at how many clicks each broken link is getting. The more clicks, the more important the information.
Quality Assurance Isn’t About Chasing a Score
Will wrapped up the presentation by emphasizing that Quality Assurance isn't about chasing a score. It’s about using Siteimprove to help you see and fix issues on your website, so you can give your users the information and services they need. When you improve your Quality Assurance Score, Will explained, you create “a better site experience and a better government for Georgians.”
*Google Analytics, GovHub Rollup Report, Jan 1, 2019 - Dec 31, 2019
**Google Analytics, GovHub Rollup Report, Jan 1, 2020 - April 11, 2020
***Pew Research Center, June 2019