Content approval – is your process working?

Content management systems have made some aspects of managing web content easier. However, many organisations struggle with content approval processes. This article looks at common problems and solutions.

Plan, draft and self-review, editorial review, approval, publish. This is an
Example of a publishing process

What can go wrong?

Common problems with approval processes include:

  • It takes too long to get content online because there are too many approvers or steps in the approval process
  • Bottlenecks occur because there are too few people acting as approvers
  • Approvers don’t want to use the system to manage approvals because it is too clunky or they don’t like reading content from a computer screen
  • Content gets rewritten by approvers, making it less readable or introducing other problems
  • Approvers make so many changes to the content, that it no longer meets its original intent
  • Content gets approved before it is reviewed, then editors or the web team are reluctant to make changes
  • Authors find ways to bypass the approval process because of the problems they’ve had with it
  • Content still has errors, despite going through an approval process.

Why have an approval process?

Approval processes don’t work well when organisations haven’t thought enough about why they have them.  Many introduce an approval process when they get a content management system because it’s a standard workflow feature. But what do you want an approval process for? What role do you want it to play in publishing? Is it the same as a review? What is an approver expected to do? Does all content require the same type of approval?

Automating key steps in the publishing process means there is often little discussion between authors, reviewers and approvers. This adds pressure to a poorly designed or understood approval process.

Improving the process

Discuss and define the purpose

Ensure that the role your approval process plays is discussed, agreed, documented and communicated. Different types of approval—for instance legal or marketing approval—must be clearly defined, along with the types of content they apply to.

Define and assign roles

Define each role in the content publishing process. Content approvers need to know why they are reviewing the content and whether they can change content directly or simply recommend changes.

Assign roles and responsibilities based on skills, knowledge, authority and availability. If legal approvers tend to add legalese to your content, don’t let them make changes. Limit their role to legal advice or sign-off.

Be flexible and responsive to changing needs

Different parts of the organisation may require different approaches.  This may include allowing some publishing steps to occur outside the content management system.

Over time, needs may change as personnel and publishing requirements change, or as the culture around online publishing changes. Web managers should encourage feedback and respond with changes to processes as needed.

Don’t just approve—plan and review too

Most people can see problems with the approval process because it is one of the few formalised parts of the publishing process. In fact, things are going wrong much earlier.

Content should be planned. Approvers won’t be suggesting or making radical changes if writers have already discussed the content with them.  Make sure anyone who could affect the final copy is consulted. Get their input. Make sure they are aware of why you are publishing the content, who it is for, the information needs it must meet and the language appropriate to the audience. This will make the approval process work more smoothly.

Content should also be reviewed and edited before it is sent for approval. Quality content will take less time for approvers to check, and bottlenecks and other delays can be reduced.