Content Management White Paper: Measuring Results

There are only two good reasons for measuring results of your content system:

  • You need to report those results
  • You plan to use those results to improve performance

The first point suggests that some manager will qualify the value of the content system or the content based on usage and other statistics. The second point suggests that a system manager will make changes in order to improve future results.

Statistics Hoarding

Before you decide that measurement is a requirement for you, and before you use this as a consideration about which content system components will work for you, understand why you want those results, and how they will be used. Tracking data for the sake of data collection is pointless, if that data will never be considered.

You might have specific things that you need to know about your system, but there are a few measurements that are common:

  • What content and system features are getting used
  • Are users happy with content collections and system functionality
  • Do other system components need to be brought into the fold
  • Is the system sustainable and affordable

What content and system features are getting used

Knowing what content in your system is most widely used enables you to make a few decisions:

  • What types of content are most useful
  • What types of content warrant acquisition investment changes
  • Which content types should be archived or stored on faster, more accessible storage (e.g. CDN)

You might have additional interests, such as featuring “this week’s most popular content,” or rewarding your more popular content authors.

In order to make these determinations, there are few basics that you’ll want to know:

  • Which pieces of content are getting downloaded most
  • Which pieces of content are getting shared most
  • When content is shared via private links, is the recipient opening it
  • Is content being reshared

It will be up to a component of your greater content system to collect these numbers, but you might find an external analytics engine more helpful in helping you make decisions about the data.

For example, most website content management systems offer some means for tracking popular blog posts and such; but virtually all marketing teams rely on a external tool like Google Analytics to present a more meaningful picture of the data. Likewise, you might find such a tool to be valuable in crunching the numbers associated with your content access and use.

An additional benefit to using an external tool is that the data can be immediately accessible to those who might have no other interest in your content system. For example, IT teams that need to make decisions about storage purchases might like to see that data, even if they have no need to access your content repositories.

Are users happy with content collections and system functionality

One thing you cannot track with usage statistics or downloads is what content users did not find. Likewise, while they might use a given menu option most, this does not necessarily mean they find that option to be convenient.

It is important to remember that usage statistics show usage; they do not necessarily show appreciation.

There are a few ways in which to measure user appreciation of your content collections and the system itself:

  • Instant feedback mechanisms
  • Surveys
  • Interviews

Instant, easy feedback options are valuable because users will not bother to report a problem if it is not convenient to do so. Provide options in your system for users to report problems, ask questions or provide feedback.

Examples include:

  • On content records: Do you like this content?
  • In search results: Did you find what you expected?
  • In user settings: Do you need help with configuring your account?

Context-relevant options will be welcomed by users, and they can reduce your human-provided support requirements.

Surveys are attractive options to those who seek the information, but they are not generally popular with users. Some users will fill out a survey, but this subset might not represent a meaningful cross section of your user base.

If you do conduct surveys, here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep them short and focused
  • Keep questions simple and unambiguous
  • Structure questions so that answers are measureable
  • Do not send surveys too frequently
  • Reward participation, e.g. by sharing the results

Shorter surveys seem less daunting to users. Users are more likely to abandon a survey when they load it and see a “next page” option.

Do other system components need to be brought into the fold

Based on user input and actions, you might decide that additional components need to be added to your system. This could be as simple as additional computing resources that are needed to handle loads, or it could mean additional functionality that users request or require provisioned via smaller software components you integrated, or complete business systems to which you connect.

One popular promise of Cloud Computing is that additional resources can be provided on demand, and released when no longer necessary. While this is technically correct in some hosting centers, there is additional expense involved with provisioning added horsepower, and even scaling down might at times result in paying more if you’re leaving a discount tier, so it is not something likely to happen without your consent.

If your content system is run on-premise, the additional compute resources are up to you to provide. If you find that a significant investment in hardware is required, you might speak to a systems consultant to see if some of your system components can be transferred into the cloud, thereby freeing up local resources. This will have to make sense technologically, and you will have to make sure that in doing so you do not violate any policy or other regulations that might affect your content or the management of other data the system processes.

Other system additions could be additional business systems that must be connected to the greater content system, which could be existing systems or entirely new systems, like a dedicated approval workflow or creative collaboration system. In making these decisions, consider the same factors you considered when designing the core system:

  • What content will the new system process?
  • Of what, if any, content will the new system become the master source?
  • What will be the system-to-system connectivity requirements?
  • Does the proposed new system offer an API suitable for it to be connected to the existing system?

Inherited Content and Systems via Acquisitions

One unexpected surprise to your content planning could be the acquisition of another company’s collections and management systems. Despite all your careful planning, you might find you need to one day make room for collections that have not been so carefully planned, or that might be managed on inaccessible systems. In some cases, it might be worth letting content remain in an external system that is connected via API rather than “dumping” unmanaged content into your system. In time, you can plan for a more controlled means for incorporating the acquired content. But always be careful to not jeopardize the quality of your system by exposing it to content for which there is no plan.

One reality of large enterprise software systems is that customers rarely use the entirety of a given system’s capabilities. For this reason, when a new functionality requirement presents itself, determine if an existing system component can perform the new task before you invest in an entirely new system.

Is the system sustainable and affordable

The final measurement to determine, no matter what other measurements are important to you, is whether your system is sustainable and affordable. A system that is running great and making a large number of users happy might, in fact, not be sustainable for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The system is too costly to maintain
  • The system requires maintenance resources that are not available
  • A known future business requirement will obsolete one or more parts of the system

When purchasing new enterprise software, organizations often look to startup costs and annual maintenance. If both figures are in line, the system is deemed affordable.

The trouble can arise if the scope of the initial system proves inadequate. For example, say that the required hardware computing resources was underestimated, or that users presented a functionality requirement that was not considered.

While you might successfully scramble to come up with the purchase price of whatever is needed, you must also factor those system additions into the ongoing maintenance.

Be mindful of custom development, too. While a flexible system can be customized to do exactly what you need, it is important to know how those customizations will affect future costs. For example, if core component updates will each require additional coding and testing to work properly, the ongoing benefits of custom functionality might not be worth the expense.

An additional consideration to ongoing sustainability for a content system is that there must be one or more people who manage it. It is always great to have a system “champion,” who promotes and defends the system, wherever possible.

But the ultimate quality and usefulness of the system will depend on folks doing a good job of keeping the content and metadata clean and those enabling these contents to be brought were consumed. The value of content is zero (or even negative) if it is not accessible and made available where needed.

Without such attention, a system that is considered a winner this year, might become less useful next year, and virtually useless in the years after that.

The introduction of an enterprise wide content system requires discussion, planning, knowledge, resources, policy, good timing and a bit of luck too. If you cannot dedicate reasonable time and resources to the research you will need to make smarter decisions, consider whether you can afford for the effort to fail.

In most cases, content systems that are not adequately designed, funded, managed and maintained do fail. At the very least, it becomes a bad investment for the organization. In worse cases, it can adversely affect other aspects of the business.

But when all the pieces are in place, and there is a plan for ongoing support and maintenance of the system, ready access to content can greatly improve the value that individuals and departments can provide.

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