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How to build a content governance model

With a proper content governance model, organizations can improve their content marketing efforts, benefit their SEO rankings and reach larger audiences.

Marketing teams need the right tools to manage content for websites, social media and other marketing channels. However, organizations need proper governance to maximize those tools' benefits.

Many leaders see content governance as extra overhead that drags productivity to a standstill. Yet, when organizations do governance well, this isn't the case. When building a content strategy, implementing content governance at the beginning saves work down the road. A proper content governance model can lead to cost savings and increase the value of an organization's content and its web presence.

What is content governance?

Simply put, content governance is a set of guidelines and processes an organization follows to create, publish and manage content throughout its lifecycle. It includes style guides, templates and review processes for new and existing content. Governance ensures an organization's content is timely, relevant and useful for its audience and, most importantly, that people view the business positively.

Content governance is not based in technology. While technology can help maintain a governance model, it is not required. Content teams can write a style guide in Word, share it with authors over email and edit content for compliance with the guidelines. To review content, these teams can manually search for articles older than a year to determine what to update. However, technology can help organizations automate templates and workflows that route content to the appropriate editorial teams.

A chart detailing different steps in the content lifecycle.
A content governance model helps guide content through its lifecycle.

Why content governance matters

When done properly, a content governance model maximizes an organization's technology investment. It reduces editing cycles, minimizes rewrites of content after publication and helps to eliminate redundant, obsolete and trivial (ROT) content on the website to keep content fresh.

Content governance also tells organizations when to update content, which can maximize a website's search engine optimization (SEO). For instance, an article from a couple of years ago about how to best use social media networks is obsolete today. Additionally, an article on the team's excitement about an upcoming conference becomes trivial after event recap articles are published.

Organizations in regulated industries should update content to reflect their evolving regulatory environment. In addition to periodic reviews, an organization must properly tag all content so teams can easily find and review it when the regulatory environment changes.

6 steps to build a content governance model

A content governance model takes thought and buy-in from all levels of the organization. These six steps can help teams implement a successful model.

Organizations that commit to proper content governance and let it evolve into a working, living model will see it benefit their content marketing efforts.
  1. Set goals. Many organizations skip this critical first step. Goals set the tone for how the team establishes every other aspect of the governance model. The goals should include setting high-level service level agreements to establish how quickly to publish new items.
  2. Define content lifecycles. Content marketers must decide how content goes from idea, to execution, and eventually to retirement. The steps are simple, but the timing varies. For instance, teams might review foundational articles every two years to keep them alive forever, but they should review how-to articles about tech tools every six months until the tool becomes obsolete and they can retire the content.
  3. Create guidance. What tone should each type of content take? Friendly, wise or straight-to-the-point? Style guides and brand guidelines can help authors and editors create consistent content that reflects the brand and its goals. It also outlines publishing cadences, so an organization can decide how frequently to publish new content.
  4. Define roles. Most importantly, a successful content governance model requires commitment from all levels in an organization. Every step needs defined roles to ensure the team understands and content moves quickly through the process. Additionally, vacations and illnesses happen, so the team should create backup plans for every role. This includes identifying people to make decisions when an unexpected situation occurs.
  5. Automate. Automation can ensure governance does not slow the organization down. It can be as simple as an email alert that a post is ready for review or workflows that automatically move content to different outlets based on format and subject.
  6. Adjust and adapt. Teams should reevaluate the governance model regularly, especially in the early stages. Content governance should help the organization. If it hinders content marketing efforts, then the team should adjust the governance model to resolve those issues.

Adaptations are particularly crucial when emergencies come about -- like those stemming from natural disasters -- and require a quick response. After, teams can add guidelines for how to handle those situations to the governance model.

Organizations that commit to proper content governance and let it evolve into a working, living model will see it benefit their content marketing efforts. Their markets might perceive them as a trusted source of information, and their brand can become associated with the leaders in their industries. Additionally, sales might increase, validating the investment in both the content strategy and governance.

Whatever the goals, content governance prevents organizations from sharing bad content or letting ROT eat at their SEO scores. A content governance model requires an investment to get started, but it's a sound one.

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