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The shockingly high level of errors on large-company websites points towards immature web governance processes and a general over-reliance on content management systems (CMS) for quality control.

And yet, the levels of automation and sophistication possible in web governance have never been higher...

We recently conducted a survey examining the quality of web content on the websites of large companies. A staggering 87% of the website owners polled admitted there were likely to be a significant number of errors on the websites they manage.

As any web marketer will tell you, this will have a significant knock-on effect. Website errors seriously undermine the user experience, erode trust and confidence, and impact return on marketing spend.

When asked what these errors were likely to include, respondents cited a range of issues, including inconsistent branding (55%), spelling mistakes (46%), poor usability (39%) and accessibility compliance errors (38%).

Many large businesses spend huge amounts on getting the look, feel and content on their website right. But all those efforts can be in vain if pages contain something as fundamental as even a single spelling mistake, which can obliterate customer confidence.

Website errors can create such a negative impression that they cause customers to navigate away from the page, the site, and even the brand in general. 

The group of website owners polled estimated that, on average, errors of this kind put 18% of their company’s revenue at risk, a figure that’s hard to ignore, especially in today’s economic climate. 

Why so many mistakes?

Procedures for effective web governance have been around for a while now, with a number of automated tools on the market. So why do we still see so many problems with live web content? 

While the tools and processes have matured, the problem may be that the role and importance of robust quality assurance mechanisms as a standard part of every large company’s web operations, is not fully recognised.

Of those polled, 5% didn’t have quality-checking procedures in place at all. A further 22% relied on manual quality assurance processes, and 28.5% on disconnected toolsets such as spellcheckers, link checkers and accessibility checkers.

Overall, 71% of respondents rated their approach to website quality assurance as unsatisfactory.

In short, even the largest companies, with the most sophisticated web platforms, are struggling to keep up with the quality control challenges of this “new” medium. 

You can’t just rely on your CMS 

Perhaps the most telling factor is that 23% of web owners rely on the editorial quality assurance tools packaged within their content management systems.

These tools are typically limited to the production environment and have no visibility of the actual page served up to visitors (which can include page templates, third-party syndicated content, and dynamic page elements), and so are blind to a good portion of the errors on the website. 

More importantly, these pre-publication checks are also frequently bypassed by editors in the rush to publication. While content management systems are great publication tools, dealing with global, multi-editor, multichannel, multi-platform quality assurance challenges, is simply not within their remit. 

The only effective means of securing quality and compliance is to take a top-level approach, and complement pre-publication checks with ongoing monitoring and analysis of the live web presence, which ultimately is what the visitors actually see.

 But this gap in web operations management is still not fully understood by many, and so errors continue to plague the websites of even the largest companies.

A key issue is education. People simply aren’t as aware yet of enterprise web governance solutions as they are of content management systems, or the benefits they can bring in improving the effectiveness of their digital marketing operations. 

Companies need to get into the mindset of factoring governance and compliance tools into their operational architecture with the same degree of emphasis that they now place upon the implementation of a CMS.

Without an enterprise approach to the challenges of global web quality, they will continue to put significant amounts of revenue and profit at risk.

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Published 30 November, 2011 by Simon Lande

Simon Lande is CEO at Magus and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

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Nick Stamoulis

It's surprising the number of websites that have fundamental content errors like misspellings. This can obviously be a huge turn off to website visitors, especially if they were considering doing business with that company. It just looks unprofessional. There is no point in spending time and money marketing a website that will never convert due to usability issues.

about 5 years ago

Martin Dower

Martin Dower, CEO at Connected-uk.com LLP

Three letters. C M S.

The theory is good, the practical application is typically awful.

I've seen it time and time again; the implementation of a general-purpose CMS is the start of a relentless slide into mediocrity for content, applications, branding and user experience.

As stated above, a whole of load of effort and cash is spent getting right (ish) first time then to see random editors randomly mess about with content, layout without a good understanding of the bigger picture.

Several (uncontrolled release) versions later it ends up look and feeling like a dogs dinner and typically no-one then has the time or overall control to pull it back into line.

Web-sites should evolve in a methodically and managed way with each change being tested against bankers (winning combinations) to make sure the site is moving continuously in the right direction.

about 5 years ago

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Dave Schneider

And those are just the numbers from website owners willing to admit they likely have mistakes on their sites.

The number of actual mistakes is probably much, much higher. A study of 25 major US public universities found an AVERAGE of 709 broken links and 105 misspellings on each website.

(link to the study for those interested: http://siteimprove.com/~/media/public%20universities.ashx)

about 5 years ago

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James Robertson, Web Marketing Manager at www.venuebirmingham.com

Every time I have been in a CMS vendor meeting I've asked if they can do the basics like site-wide spell and link check, and universally I've been met with blank incomprehension as to why on Earth I would ever need this...

When I respond that it is in order to get the basics right the incomprehension usually turns to sneering as to why we can't do that ourselves and why we'd therefore need such a "sophisticated tool like XYZ-CMS" to do it.

about 5 years ago

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Simon Lande, CEO at ActiveStandards

James - I'm surprised to hear that. From our experience (and being platform independent, we have to be able to diagnose the output from any CMS) the issue is less about whether those capabilities are in the CMS (and in fact the ones you refer to usually are, along with many others).

Rather, as mentioned in the article, it is about process: just because the tools are there, that does not guarantee people will use them - especially given the pressures on rapid-publication when it is all too easy to bypass control procedures. Certain elements can be "locked down" in the website templates, but a delicate balance is needed between lock-down and flexibility.

And where the flexibility is provided, that's where errors can creep in if processes and governance procedures are not followed.

Hence our key conclusion that "The only effective means of securing quality and compliance is to ... complement pre-publication checks with ongoing monitoring and analysis of the live web presence, which ultimately is what the visitors actually see."

about 5 years ago

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Geoff Paddock

Simon has nailed the subject in this article. I write for Sitemorse, a competitor of his company in web governance, and can confirm that CMS vendors often regard governance specialists as rivals.We are not, we only seek to balance the deficiencies of a content system that can by its nature only look internally. We confirm from our own benchmarks that sectors like the FTSE 100, local government and major retailers have websites full of errors.Users interested in finding out more could start with our blog archive or check our latest retail benchmark at sitemorse.com

about 5 years ago

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Kris G

I'd like to understand how the figure of 18% of revenue at risk came about.

Usability issues are the 1 and only thing that would make me abandon a purchase, personally. If a retailer has the right product for the right price, a spelling mistake is definitly (get it?) going to make me giggle, but it's not going to make me think, "Hmmm, how unprofessional. I'm going to the competition to spend perhaps more money because they have better grammar"

Now if the site constantly crashes or has a terrible load page time, sketchy check-out process etc then sure, I will visit the competition.

Sorry for harping on a side issue, but let's be realistic.

about 5 years ago

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Simon Lande, CEO at ActiveStandards

Kris - 18% was the average figure, from the 200 large-company web owners surveyed, in response to the question: "What percentage of your company's revenue do you think is risked by poor online customer experiences, in %?"

These findings are corroborated by a June 2011 Tealeaf survey which estimated losses to be as high as 24%.

Regarding the specific issue about spelling mistakes, I agree that this can be subjective i.e. errors that you may consider trivial, another visitor may consider important and have a significant negative impact on their interaction with the website, and erode trust and confidence in the brand.

In fact, according to a recent survey "a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half." See the full details on the BBC website
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14130854

about 5 years ago

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lawrence shaw, Marketing at Sitemorse Ltd

Spelling issues - not only can they be an embarrassment, but also (an example being when reviewing the content for a major mobile operator) have a serious impact on SEO. We were able to show a 28% improvement on organic listings, within a 10 days when the spelling of product / service names was improved.

Things like accessibility tags, page titles and descriptions are often over looked, again by humans and CMS's.

Our latest Global Retailers results (full access link http://www.sitemorse.com/rt/811/70eb5470) again show the need for some basic house keeping, fully supports the findings of the thread - rather than lots of focus on the various 'latest widget' etc, how about the broken links, missing product images etc?

If anyone would like their own site summary, please drop me a note lshaw(a)Sitemorse.com - happy to provide a free full report with exact details of any problems.

about 5 years ago

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