Features November/December 2020

Investing in Scalability: The Capability That Helps You Remove Friction from Your Content Lifecycle

By Sarah O’Keefe

Company growth magnifies the challenges of information enablement. When you grow, you add products, product variants, markets, and languages—and each of those factors adds complexity. Inefficiencies in your content lifecycle multiply for every new language or customer segment you add.

As a result, content scalability—increasing content throughput without increasing resources—becomes critical. Consider a simple localization example: When you translate, you have a few manual workarounds that require one hour of work for every 100 pages of translated content. Translating 100 pages of content into eight languages requires eight hours of workarounds. But as your content load grows, you are shipping 1,000 pages of content per month and translating into 20 languages. Suddenly, you are facing 200 hours of manual workarounds per month—the equivalent of one full-time person per year.

  • Scalable content requires that you assess your content lifecycle, identify points of friction, and remove them. Typically, these include the following:
  • Content creators rewriting information instead of reusing available content
  • Content editors correcting basic mistakes in terminology and usage
  • Content production workflows that require manual intervention
  • Content delivery mechanisms that require manual intervention (for example, a person zipping a file package and moving it from one place to another)
  • Content archiving policies that require human reviews

The greater the volume of content you are working with, the more critical it becomes to remove these roadblocks.

Avoiding Content Duplication

The least scalable part of the content lifecycle is the content author, who creates information in text, graphics, audio, or video. For maximum productivity, authors need to have existing resources at their fingertips to see what information assets already exist and focus on closing the gaps. Authors often unknowingly create information that already exists elsewhere, duplicating effort and wasting limited (and expensive) authoring resources. Worse, this situation frequently results in creating two similar (yet incompatible) pieces of content.

Maximizing Content Reuse

After eliminating content duplication, organizations should focus on developing a content-reuse strategy. Content reuse means, for example, that you write a product description once and then make that description available for reuse across your content universe. Deeper reuse is possible, however, especially in technical content. In technical documentation, we often repurpose standardized language: things like notes, cautions, warnings, or common steps (e.g., “1. Back up the database.”). Well-developed reuse strategies allow authors to reuse this type of information instead of recreating it.

Content scalability for authors maximizes the use of available content to reduce the writers’ workload.

Terminology

Content needs to use consistent terminology. Product names should be consistent, and a technical term should always mean the same thing, regardless of where you use it. While technical editors are excellent at identifying and fixing these issues, terminology software can help you prevent inconsistencies in word usage. Terminology management systems can scan a document, identify disallowed or deprecated terms, and suggest appropriate corrections. Grammar software and other pattern-recognition software can help ensure that writers are following basic rules—such as a minimum or a maximum number of words for an abstract—or flag headings that are problematic for search engines (such as “Overview” or “Introduction,” which are too generic).

Production and Delivery

Content production is the process of moving content from the authoring environment into its finished format. Delivery can be as simple as clicking a Publish button (as in WordPress, for example), or it might require converting content from its source to other formats, like PDF. For most organizations, content production and delivery should be completely automated after the information is approved. Automating content production and delivery improves scalability.

Consider manual intervention only if you can justify the cost and effort for your business. For example, a textbook producer or someone who makes award-winning films would consider manual production an excellent investment to maximize their content quality, but if you are producing high volumes of business content, it is doubtful that the cost of manual production—and the resulting slowdown in your content production processes—is justifiable.

Archiving and Governance

Not all content is evergreen. Some content has a short lifespan. A plan for archiving and deleting out-of-date and incorrect content is critical. For example, in the help content for a cloud-based software product, you should remove instructions for working around a bug in the code after the developers fix the error.

Content teams commonly overlook archiving and deleting content when developing a content planning process. The following are some factors to consider:

  • Does the content have a limited lifespan? Does it have a known expiration date?
  • Should the content be removed from visibility automatically when it reaches the end of its lifespan?
  • If the website includes documentation for several versions of a product, how will you identify the current version and ensure that it gets search priority? Will you provide website visitors the ability to specify that they want to search for and access earlier versions of your content?
  • When content becomes obsolete, does it get deleted or archived? Does it remain on your site, clearly labeled that it is out of date?

As an organization grows, so too does the need for scalable content operations. Failing to develop the capabilities needed to scale content production can result in your organization falling behind, unable to meet the needs of the prospects you hope to convert and the customers you aim to serve. Investing in content scalability can also help you avoid the need to increase content production resources significantly as you grow.

If you are concerned about a rapid rise in content demand, take a hard look at where you can improve content scalability.

SARAH O’KEEFE (info@scriptorium.com) is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scriptorium Publishing. The organization is known for its expertise in solving business-critical content problems with a special focus on product and technical content. Sarah identifies and assesses new trends and their effects on the industry. Her analysis is widely followed on Scriptorium’s blog and in other publications. As an experienced public speaker, she is in demand at conferences worldwide.

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