B2BQ&A 105: How do you evaluate B2B content quality?

We find out what processes B2B tech giants use to ensure consistent quality across all their content – and share a resource you can use to quality check your own work.

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This month’s question comes from Caroline Robinson who, among many other roles, is the senior editor of the British Cartographic Society’s popular magazine, Maplines.

She wants to know: “What QA/QC processes do other people have for editing content?”

It’s a fantastic question. At Radix, we use a version of this 16-point copywriting quality checklist when editing each other’s work, but we were also super curious to find out what processes others use to ensure the quality of their B2B content.

So we spoke to Laurence Taphouse, Director of Digital Marketing and Content Strategy at Deltek‘s EMEA & APAC Demand Centre, to find out how she ensures consistent quality across so many writers, subjects, and territories.

We also called on the members and experts of B2B Marketing’s Propolis Hive for Brand and Content Strategy and got a detailed response from Scott Stockwell, Propolis Hive Ambassador for Strategy and Evolution. You can hear Scott’s process in full, later in the episode.

This week, our co-host is the luminous Katy Eddy, a Senior Copywriter here at Radix and editor extraordinaire. She recently gave an editing masterclass at a local university, and shares some of her approach.

And we have two excellent copywriting tips this month. Giles Edwards tells us how to keep our content succinct, and we hear the first of a series of tips on creating inclusive copy from language consultant Ettie Bailey-King.

You’ll find a full transcript of our podcast at the end of this post.

Laurence’s top tips for consistent quality

First, Laurence tells us how she achieves consistently high quality across Deltek’s varied content.

A consistent editor

“You need to have a consistent editor; I think it’s crucial,” Laurence explains. “For us, it’s our product marketing team. So when we do editing, it will be me; you always add a constant.”

Include someone with industry acumen

“You need a person who’s got all the industry acumen,” she adds. “Someone who understands their role in the industry, who can make sure the messaging is resonating the way it should be.”

Check – and check again

“Once all that is done, a second pair of eyes can check this is all good,” she concludes. “And then we go back to me for proofreading, making sure there’s no grammatical mistakes or anything like that. Once that is done, we all agree that the content is good to go. And we always follow the same process.”

Scott’s advice from a tech giant

Next, Scott gives us a sneak peak into the content quality process at a bona fide tech giant. And, like Laurence, he reveals that quality control starts much, much earlier than the final edit.

“Assets go through agency production, and then face a rigorous ‘go live’ test before they’re launched,” he tells us. “The ‘go live’ alone has 12 elements that are checked before an asset is signed off, including the brand guidelines, legal requirements, and SEO optimisation, among others.

“Much of this happens within a standard set of tools and apps that all the content team share along with supporting workflows. The squad of marketers working on the campaign… will all have an input into the content being made for the campaign and how it will be deployed. So that quick quality check is a final glimpse at a far more detailed journey that each asset has taken to get there.”

Radix’s Quality Assurance Checklist

At Radix, our content quality checklist consists of 16 questions. We check for accuracy, clarity, authority, empathy, and wizardry to make sure our content is as complete – and as appropriate for its intended audience – as possible.

If you’d like to adapt it for your own purposes, or even steal it wholesale, feel free:

Steal this 16-point quality checklist when editing your B2B content. Click this image to download a printable PDF.

(Click the image to open a printable PDF)

In this episode, you’ll find…

1:10 – We welcome this week’s co-host, Katy Eddy

1:55 – Our first copywriting tip from Giles Edwards on how to keep content succinct

2:10 – We put Caroline Robinson’s question to Laurence Taphouse

15:20 – David shares Scott Stockwell’s thoughts about how to keep quality in your content

17:35 – David and Katy discuss her three-stage content editing process

25:47 – We hear copywriting tips from Ettie Bailey-King about how to keep content inclusive

 

We want to hear from you…

Have you got a question for B2BQ&A? Or a copywriting tip you’d like to share?

You could be featured on our next podcast. Send us a voice memo at podcast@radix-communications.com. And if there are any other thoughts you’d like to share, you can find us on Twitter @radixcom.

How to listen: 

Credits

  • Firstly, thank you to Katy Eddy for your excellent insight and co-hosting skills.
  • Thanks to Caroline Robinson for your question. It was really interesting to explore.
  • And thank you to Laurence Taphouse for the insights into Deltek’s quality process.
  • Thanks to Scott Stockwell for your brilliant contribution, too.
  • And last but absolutely not least, thanks to Giles Edwards and Ettie Bailey-King for your brilliant copywriting tips.

Podcast editing and music by Bang and Smash.

Transcript: B2BQ&A 105: How do you evaluate B2B content quality?

Caroline Robinson: I would like to know what QA/QC processes other people have for editing content.

Katy Eddy: That’s a great question. Let’s ask Laurence Taphouse from Deltek.

David McGuire: Hello listener, you are extremely welcome to B2BQ&A, the podcast where we go in search of an answer to your question about B2B content writing. This is episode 105.

Katy: In a moment, we’ll ask Laurence Taphouse, Deltek’s Director of Digital Marketing and Content Strategy for EMEA and APAC, how she manages content quality, and get copywriting tips from Giles Edwards and Ettie Bailey-King. Plus, we’ll have news of a helpful new resource you can use to check your own B2B content quality. That’s a lot of stuff.

David: That is, it’s a lot, isn’t it? It’s a packed episode, I know. Before all of that, though, some introductions. My name is David McGuire. I’m Creative Director at Radix Communications, the B2B copywriting agency. And this month, our guest co-host is a familiar voice. It’s Radix Senior Copywriter, Katy Eddy. Katy, welcome back.

Katy: Thank you very much. It is good to be back.

David: It’s good to have you here. Before we go ahead and answer this month’s question, would you mind telling the listener how they can get in touch with us?

Katy: Yeah, of course. Listener, if you have any comments or suggestions you can find Radix on LinkedIn or Twitter @radixcom. Or if you want us to answer your question on a future episode, record a quick voice note and send it by email to podcast@radix-communications.com.

David: That’s marvellous. Thank you very much.

Giles Edwards: Hello, this is Giles from …Gasp! My tip is: trim the fat. If you can take a word out and nothing is lost, you should.

Katy: Thanks, Giles, for that tip. Now it’s time to hear this month’s question. Who do we have?

Caroline: Hello, Radix Podcast. I’m Caroline Robinson, Marketing and Business Development Manager for Compusult Europe. I am also Senior Editor of Maplines, the membership magazine for the British Cartographic Society. I write and edit in different styles for my work. I would like to know what QA/QC processes other people have editing content. Love the podcast by the way.

David: Thanks, Caroline. That’s a great question. Content quality control is something we’re asked about a lot. And in a minute, Katy will explain how we approach editing here at Radix. First, I put your question to Laurence Taphouse, who’s Director of Digital Marketing and Content Strategy for EMEA and APAC at the global software company, Deltek. Laurence leads on content and digital strategy and works with stakeholders and writers around the globe. So I asked her what processes do you have to ensure that your content meets a high standard.

Laurence Taphouse: The process really starts with our marketing plan, when we decide to put in place a marketing plan to drive demand for some of our products. My role is to really do a content gap analysis. From this content gap analysis, I then decide with different stakeholders what type of content are needed. The type of content that are needed can be different formats to fit some of the digital tactics that we are using to drive demand. And based on that we do a content plan. So the content plan is very much around: “what do I want this content to achieve? Who do I want to read it? What do I want readers to think, feel, or do afterwards?” So if there’s any, you know, call to action? And then once I got all those answers lined up, is “what should this piece look like, really? When is the best time to publish it? What’s the best source of material? What’s the call to action? And then maybe where will the content be published?

Once I’ve got that it’s all started with a creative brief and a content brief and either we use, you know, writers in house or if we use third party writers, the content brief is the key for whomever is going to write the content, understand, you know, the audience to which the content will be targeted to. So normally in the brief you’ll have a synopsis, some key messages, the deadline on when we want the content to be created, the target audience, some of the source materials. Sometimes when we create these brief we also do a call with the writer to make sure that we go through all the detail and source material. So we give the opportunity to the writers to ask questions, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. So once we’ve done that, we are being really clear on the deadlines, any iteration will be done as well for that type of content. Because content is quite subjective. Some people might like it, some people might not like it, depending on the tone, and within the brief, you know, that’s where the standards come into play, to make sure that, you know, you don’t end up having 10 or 15 iterations, just based on the personal opinion, though, which is more… it needs to be around when, you know, you review the content around, “okay, this is for that, the format is that, the best practice is that, and the standard of the company is tone of voice should be that way, the way we address ourselves to the audience should be that way.” So once you’ve got all of that, then you can create this not rigid, but a little bit rigid deadline, where you say, “okay, and say three iteration would be the maximum that will be good for you”.

Then you need to have a consistent editor, I think is crucial. For us it’s our product marketing team. So when you do the editing it will be me. And then I will use some of my peers as well  so I have, you know, other pairs of eyes as well on the content because it’s always great. But you always have a constant, you know, consistent editor, person with … generally a person who’s got all the industry acumen. So they understand their industry, they understand their work so that they make sure that the messaging is resonating, the way it should be resonating.

Once that is done, the second pair of eyes is there to double-check this is all good. And then we go back to me for proofreading, making sure that there’s no, you know, grammatical mistakes or anything like that.

Once that is done, that’s when we, you know, we decide that we’re all in agreement that this is all good. And we follow, you know, always the same process, the briefing, once the briefing is done, the deadline once the deadline is done… We don’t let writers just write right away, we usually ask for an outline. So the writer being an internal writer, or third party writer, we make sure that whatever is in his mind of how he’s going to structure the content. So it could be a blog, or could be a white paper, what is it he’s going to write in each of the different parts – we agreed on this outline. So we know that when he start writing, it should be pretty much what we asked him or her to do, you know, he’s not far off, he’s not going on a tangent, where we’re like, “oh, actually, we didn’t want you to really focus on that part”.

And then once we do all this editing that I was telling you about, and this proofreading and this peer review, where we have multiple pair of eyes, that’s when we go into market. And what we also like to do is to take time and reflect once things are in motion in markets. So how this is engaging? Is it engaging the right way? Could we tweak some of the promotional copy that we are creating?

So it’s not just once it’s launched is gone. There is a constant optimisation of the content. We have standards as well, when it comes to publishing online. It is important that we think about search engine optimisation. So it should not be, you know, the main focus when you write, you don’t want to just use keywords, you know, in the wrong way. It is important when you promote, for example, a blog, you know, to think about your title, to be engaging in your subtitle, you need to detail the backend, your backlinks, you know, if you are talking and referring to other research or content on the web to link that through your blog. So there’s a big best practice that we follow for different type of format content.

David: That sounds really comprehensive. That’s great. Thank you. Obviously, kind of, you work across lots of different geographies, lots of different kinds of locations and kinds of writers and that kind of thing. How easy is it to apply a consistent set of standards across different formats, subjects, locations?

Laurence: Yeah, that’s a really good question. So we normally got standards from our digital team, our corporate team, so you will have standard that you follow. So that process that I just explained to you is a process that everyone will do across the globe. However, there’s something there is very important when you talk to different markets when different languages. This is something that in our email and admin centre is crucial is one. When you write content in English, and you know that this content is going to be translated, you need to make sure that you don’t play with words. Often we like to play with word and we feel like they’re more engaging, if we make a touch of humour or make the title a bit punchier in English. That’s great, but it’s not always translates really well when you wanted to, you know, target another market. Also, you know, the content that we are creating is very thought leadership, is not so much product heavy. So it is quite easily transferable, I would say for other markets, but you always need to have a think of who is the target audience, if the target audience is the same, but the market is less mature, you need to make sure they you know, you got that point across. So, it depends on the type of content, I think content that is very high level, for a specific persona, should be able to work and follow the right standard and the right process that I just explained across the globe, really. If there is something that is more specific, you know, I’m thinking sometimes when we do a piece of content around survey research, or based on dates and key points, it needs to be, you know, obviously updated and to resonate with the other markets. But obviously, the standard of the best practice to make sure that the content looks good, should be able to easily be applied across the globe. Because the importance of knowing what’s good look like, is crucial. Because if not, you will never really make the decision to go into market. Because some people might have another opinion of what good looks like. And you’ve got a different line of businesses, which are hot, because you’ve got the content and marketers who think marketing content, and what marketing good content look like. And you’ve got maybe someone who is more an expert in the product, or maybe an expert in, you know, an engineer in the product, where he feels that they need to talk about something more technical, is actually what good content will be.

David: So when you’re trying to apply those standards, and agree what good looks like, between the marketing team and stakeholders in product or sales or, or wherever, how does that work? How do you reach agreement on what the standards are and what good is?

Laurence: So we do something called RACI. So when we do every piece of content that we do, and that we create, if we need to involve multiple stakeholders, they need to understand their role within the creation of that content. So RACI will be you know, the, are you responsible, are you accountable? Are you going to be just a consultant? Or is it just informative that we’re going to provide you this content? Based on the RACI, we’ll set the standard and the process on the brief. So that’s always on the brief. So the first step, and when we agree on that brief, then people understand what good looks like and what we are aiming for and what the objective is. If you miss that brief, and the brief is not clear, that’s when it gets really hard for everyone to be on the same page on what good look like for specific content or specific campaign.

David: Laurence, that’s brilliant, that’s absolutely everything that we needed from my point of view. Is there anything when you were kind of thinking about the questions and what you prepared, is there anything that I haven’t asked you about, that you feel is important in this?

Laurence: I think often people think that content is, you know, you need to be very creative, you need to be someone who likes to read. And it’s true, when you are content, you need to really like the wording and all of that. But I think when you write marketing content, you need to have also this view of not only writing what you like to write about, but always thinking about the customer, and what they’re going to want to write. So following the process, it looks like really heavy, but once you do it for longer and longer and longer. Yes, it seems completely obvious is like, you know, it’s like if you were going into market without having a marketing plan in place or without having a budget in place. If you don’t have this process in place, then, you know, everything would fall apart. So I would just suggest to everyone who wants to do content, to also have a good eye on you know, digital tactics and format. Content is the oil of the machine of demand. So you need to think about where this content going to go before you start writing. I think it’s crucial.

David: Thanks, Laurence for giving us such a detailed answer to Caroline’s question. We really appreciate your time. Katy, before we hear your approach to editing, I’d like to share a bit of further information on this. I asked the members and experts of B2B Marketing’s Propolis Hive for Brand and Content Strategy, how they approach content QC. And I got quite a detailed response from Scott Stockwell. And I thought it showed some real similarities with Laurence’s answer. Scott says the following:

This feels like one of those, it’s taken me five years to do this in five minutes. If you’re just considering content, that’s something that’s coming off a content production line, then quality assurance could be seen as the quality controller equivalent. A quick look from a trained eye at the finished products, able to spot what passes muster, and what needs to be rejected. As editor-in-chief for EMEA, that’s part of my role: to examine finished assets. But like the tip of the iceberg that doesn’t show all the work that went into designing and fabricating that product, and sourcing the ingredients before any components even set out on their path to becoming a product. Where I work, we have a three by three model, three briefs, three sessions, three outcomes. We have an input brief that researches the market, the customers, the personas within the customers, the local conditions, et cetera. That moves into a content strategy that looks at the high-level customer journey and the touches along the way. The concept brief comes next, and looks at the creative landscape and options for testing at the campaign level. A SWOT analysis examines the creative testing results and implications. And a greenlight meeting looks at what it will take for all the assets in the journey to deliver on the vision for the campaign. A content plan takes the defined campaign deliverables, and looks at all the components needed to create them, which are detailed in an asset brief for each asset. The assets go through agency production, and then face a rigorous ‘go live’ test before they’re launched. The ‘go live’ alone has 12 elements that are checked before an asset is signed off, including the brand guidelines, legal requirements, and SEO optimization among others. Much of this happens within a standard set of tools and apps that all of the content team share along with supporting workflows. The squad of marketers working on the campaign, across discipline and involved throughout and will all have a good view of and input into the content being made for the campaign and how it will be deployed. So that quick quality check is a final glimpse of a far more detailed journey that each asset has taken to get there.

So Katy, now you have insight into content quality control at two tech giants. And to me, it’s striking just how much work goes into getting things right before that final review. Did anything else stand out for you?

Katy: I think firstly, it makes me glad that we’re just the copywriters. The amount of work that goes in, you know, to prep a brief before it reaches us, and everything that happens to it after we’re done with it. That sounds exhausting. It’s really interesting to have that, that little bit of insight into where our little bit of writing and editing that we do slots into a much bigger thing. And it’s yeah, it is a big responsibility to take on, like a little bit of editing journey.

David: Yeah, ‘cause I mean, our review process, I mean, we have a checklist. But that really is, it’s more at the end of that final check – right? – of all the kind of elements that are already in the brief to make sure that everything lines up.

Katy: Yeah, everything we do is as much in line with the brief as we can possibly get it. And the other thing that I thought was really interesting that Laurence picked up on was talking about how you adjust things for different locations and different markets. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently. And it’s a difficult challenge because unless you’re going and you’re talking to every individual person in that market, you don’t necessarily get a full picture of how they like to talk about things and things that you shouldn’t mention for their markets and things like that.

So recently, I did a big project for five regions. And we set up a massive spreadsheet that had all our main talking points in it for UK. And we handed it to the teams in each of the regions and we’re like, what do you need to change? What don’t you want from us because it can be really tiny accuracy, things like stuff that’s hosted in Microsoft Azure here might be in a different cloud provider in Sweden, something like that. But then there’s loads of really tiny things. Kinda like we don’t like… humour. Like, don’t give us puns, don’t come near us with a pun, which you know, you’re pretty safe with me. I’m not a great fan of puns. But yeah, just those little things that I’m so used to editing for stuff for the UK and for the US. And that’s really where my expertise is. So bringing in other people’s knowledge for that is really useful.

David: Yeah. Now, you were talking about that editing process at a local university, recently. You were talking to the students about – you have a particular kind of structure and an approach that you follow when you’re editing someone else’s content. Can you give us a quick summary?

Katy: Yeah, it was a 45-minute talk. So I’ll try and condense it as much as possible

David: We haven’t got quite that long.

Katy: Yeah, the way I approach it, and I’m not sure if this is best practice at Radix but it’s the way I’ve found that most effective. For me, I take three passes at something. And it’s very much based on our quality checklist that you mentioned earlier. So the first pass I do is as a reader, and I don’t think about anything from a writing or editing standpoint. It’s just the really basic, does this make sense? Am I interested the whole way through? Do I want to do whatever I’m being told to do at the end of the piece? And at this point, I don’t do anything to the copy, I won’t start picking things apart. Because there’s no point editing something in paragraph two, if you get to paragraph five, and there’s a massive structural issue, that’s going to negate all of that anyway. So that’s one I’ll just drop the occasional comment on if there’s something I need to come back to.

And my second pass, I tend to look at it as a kind of content editing pass, which is where I start looking at the structure. Is the argument logical? Does it follow through? Does it go off on a weird tangent halfway through? Are there logical leaps where, you know, we haven’t quite explained our thinking. That’s where you start, maybe having to pull bits apart and restructure and move paragraphs around, that kind of thing.

And then, once you’ve done all of that, you come back around for the last pass, which is where you look for the typos, the grammar, the really like nuts and bolts things of copywriting craft, that when you’re writing a massive piece can kind of get away from you a little bit sometimes. And, you know, if you’ve done major edits at the structural point, you might have introduced typos, which aren’t the original writer’s fault at all. So that’ll be my last major pass. And I always give it a quick proof before I send it back to whoever is working on it, that kind of thing. And it’s not always me doing these changes. Sometimes if they’re very small, specific changes to make, I’ll do them myself. But if I’m reviewing somebody else’s work, and there are multiple avenues to go down for how you change something, I’ll bounce it back to them with comments and suggestions that hopefully give them some guide and some rationale, because the really important thing for me is that you always have to have a solid rationale for why you’ve changed something. You never want to give it back to somebody and they look at it, and they have no idea what you’ve done to it and why. Yeah, so for me being very clear and very descriptive of why you’ve made changes, or what changes you want them to make is really important, too.

David: Yeah, I mean, one of the big traps I guess you can fall into as an editor is “I wouldn’t have written it that way”. Rather than does it meet these criteria, yes or no. I think it’s interesting that when we look at our checklist, we, you know… If you like work our way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for copywriting, but you know, we start with the detail and work out to the picture, but you start with the big picture, and work backwards. So the total impression back from that to the structure, and then back from that to like, the detailed kind of words and commas and yeah, that kind of thing.

Katy: There’s no point editing the tiny bits if it doesn’t do what it’s meant to do. So if it’s, I mean, I’ve never seen this happen. But if you just look at it, and it’s completely wrong, and it has to go back and be rewritten from scratch, there’s no point spending, you know, 30 minutes fiddling around with semicolons. But yeah, it’s interesting you said that about not making changes just because you would have written it differently. It’s another point I had in my presentation I called editing without ego. Which is –

David: – it’s hard for writers.

Katy: It is hard and especially when you’re a content lead or a senior and you know something really well. You can get really protective over a topic or a client. But that doesn’t mean you’re always right or you always have the best answer or the only answer, so you’ve got to know when to loosen the reins a little bit on those things.

David: Sure. Listener, Katy mentioned the checklist that we use here at Radix to quality check the content we write for clients. I think we refer to it a few times, actually. And I’m delighted to let you know that we’ve actually just published a new updated version of that checklist that you can steal, and adapt and borrow for your own purposes and use it for your own content reviews. If you’d like a copy, just head over to radix-communications.com, and download it. And we’ll also put a link in the show notes.

Ettie Bailey-King: I’m Ettie Bailey-King. I’m an inclusive language consultant. And here are my tips on creating inclusive copy. Number one, ask people. Always ask people how they want to be referred to. For example, don’t think that you can guess somebody’s pronouns based on their appearance. There’s no way of knowing someone’s gender identity just from looking at them. So always check. Secondly, be aware that somebody might be out in the sense of out as having a particular sexual orientation or gender identity in one space, but not in another space. So always check, otherwise, you risk outing someone who might be let’s say out on a social media platform where you happen to follow them, but not out with their work colleagues.

Katy: Thanks, Ettie Bailey-King for that. We actually have a whole bunch of inclusive writing advice from Ettie, and we’ll be including that across our next few episodes. We’d also like to thank Giles Edwards for the tip we heard earlier, Caroline Robinson for this episode’s question. And both Laurence and Scott for answering it so thoughtfully.

David: Caroline, I hope you found the answer that you are looking for. And remember, we’ve published our revised content quality checklist so be sure to grab that, too. And thanks to you, Katy, you’ve been a wonderful co-host as ever.

Katy: Well, thank you for having me back, David. I think this was the one where I felt the most useful. So hopefully, I’ve given people some useful things to think about.

David: Absolutely. Listener remember, it could be your question we answer in a future episode. If you have a question for B2BQ&A to answer, email, a voice memo to podcast@radix-communications.com. Or find us on social media. Thank you, Katy. And thank you, listener. I’ll see you next time for another B2BQ&A. Until then, make good content. And remember, Hemingway may have said write drunk, edit sober, but he didn’t have HR to deal with.

David and Katy: Goodbye!

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