What good is having access to volumes of information if you can never be sure whether its current, accurate and right for your needs? As we continue our series on the key principles of knowledge management we examine the concept of content assurance, its oft overlooked importance, and how we can improve it.
Follow User Experience Right to the End
Organisations often spend time thinking about how to improve a user’s ability to find information. They look at issues such as navigation, classification, information architecture and page design. When these efforts are successful the temptation is to pat ourselves on the back and move on to other matters. Meanwhile, we may be missing something.
When a user locates a bit of needed information, either by browsing or searching, there are invaluable clues we can give them to reassure them its the right bit. Without these the information is likely to be lost in the ever-increasing ocean of digital noise.
Display Content Meaningfully
Think about searching in Google. We start with a keyword or phrase but wind up with a vast array of results all presented uniquely:
• Refiners to segment set of results based on type of content
• Thumbnail grids and cards for images and video
• Excerpt listings for textual results
• Callout boxes for dictionary terms and wiki articles
• Icon and image strips for product listing
• Previews of files
In each case the template used to display the information is unique for the result type and purpose, and its all happening on one page. Whereas there was once information overload, now there is clarity via organisation!
Of course getting this right means doing the work up front to ensure your content adheres to an information architecture and set of appropriate classification schemes. This can be tedious and theoretical work, but its worth it in the long run.
Share the Meta Data
The quality of a search result is all about context. For example, when users locate what they are looking for its very likely there may be multiple copies and versions lying about and what differentiates them cannot be found in the title. This is particularly true of documents.
Here again there are a variety of clues we can provide the user to tell them more about the information than just the fact that it matched their search phrase. Here are some ideas:
- What type of content is this? – media type, content type
- What business purpose is it related to? – categorisation
- Where is it located? – site, area, navigation breadcrumb
- How old is it? – create date, last modified date
- What version is it? – stored version number
- Are there duplicates or similar items? – related results
- Who has interacted with it? – created by, modified by, commented on by
When meta data is not taken for granted, but rather combined with the display template used for the content the user gains a richer view of what they have found. This helps them weed out the stuff that doesn’t matter, as well as save time and frustration.
Personalise, Filter and Rank Content
Finally, when our chosen technology platform offers us features to both personalise the delivery of content and provide search results with any degree of smarts regarding ranking and relevance, we should use them. Its often seen as extra effort to configure these, maybe a ‘nice to have’, but the impact to the user experience in locating information and having confidence in it can be profound.
There are too many features to cover here exhaustively and many technicalities to deal with depending on the platform. However, some features to look for include:
- Best bets – the ability to ensure some items always make it to the top of results for a given search phrase
- Predictive search – this is where the search box displays frequent searches matching your phrase, or the result sets filter as you type
- Ranking – some search engines can use a formula across a mix of criteria to develop a ranking for results
- Refiners – refiners are filters and can be used in different ways, such as removing results older than a certain age
- Saved Searches – not all platforms offer this but its great when a user can access commonly used searches
- Audience Targeting – some platforms allow content to be filtered to a user based on characteristics such as location or role. This can really help weed out the noise when done properly.
Creating content assurance is about understanding what people need to see when browsing or searching for content. We cannot rely on plain text listings overflowing with ungrouped, uncategorised items all displayed the same way and lacking anything more than a title, blurb and link. A sensible information architecture, attention to content display standards and leverage of platform feature sets will go a long way to raising a users confidence.