marketing quality assurance
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The cornerstone guide to marketing quality assurance

Derek Cavaliero Team Photo
Derek CavalieroDirector of Engineering

This article explains all you need to know to set up an effective review process to produce quality deliverables efficiently. Whether or not you consider yourself a bit of a perfectionist, it’s crucial that you deliver quality work—your business depends on it and reliability in marketing is important. Marketing quality assurance (QA) is one process that guides you towards that end.

However, marketing quality assurance is often viewed as busywork, and in some cases, particularly with last-minute requests, you may think about simply scrapping your QA process entirely. After all, there’s no notice, no plan—and you’re starting to go over budget or outside of the scope of the project, with little time left.

With that in mind, you may look at ways that you can cut corners and nibble away at the time needed for QA. But there are ways to ensure better-quality results through creating a process that saves you time. It doesn’t have to be some large, cumbersome undertaking (because that’s the last thing you need on your plate right now!). But it’s worth taking a step back and examining what digital QA involves and making sure it’s an integral part of your business process.

Let’s dive right in.

What is QA in marketing and why is it important?

Marketing and content quality assurance standardization are important for 3 main reasons:

It keeps customers happy which improves ROI

Rather than doing a bunch of one-off projects or helping customers with one-time purchases, look for ways to keep them coming back. One of the ways you can do this is by keeping them happy with content quality assurance. It sounds simple, but a happy customer can become a longtime customer. If they trust you to do good work consistently, you’re already halfway there. Of course, results matter too, but happy customers will come back to you time and time again because they know about the work you do and what you put into it. Without a marketing quality assurance process in place, you’re hurting your chances of retaining customers (or acquiring new ones).

A company culture that values quality produces quality work

A strong commitment to QA as a company grows your client base over time. In this day and age, some companies have entire departments dedicated to QA. If you’re not quite at that level, that’s okay! But no matter what size your company is, your process should be a shared responsibility between each department, and it’s acceptable if some of these things overlap. You don’t want to say that marketing quality assurance only exists for this department or that department—it needs to be a company-wide integration that seeps into the culture of the business as a whole. And when it does, that’ll reflect in the quality of the products and services you provide.

It makes you look like a pro

It’s the nature of business: Clients want things done as quickly as possible and for as little cost as possible. And while everyone understands we need to move quickly, the last thing you want to do is end up shipping out something that’s broken.

Not only will that affect the trust you’ve established in your business relationship so far, but it’ll also force a serious shift in perspective—you’ll need to step back and ask yourself, “Is this good for the user?”

Clients have certain expectations. They’re paying you (a professional) to help them meet or exceed those expectations. But you can’t, for example, create a landing page that’s designed to get leads in the door and then discover, after it’s live, that people can’t use it. Oops.

No matter how quickly you complete a project or a task, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you have to apologize to the customer immediately afterward because the item is flawed or doesn’t solve the problem that they hired you to fix in the first place.

You’re the expert here, and that’s why they came to you.

That’s not to say that you can’t make mistakes, ever. We’re all human beings. Mistakes are going to happen, but many mistakes happen because we’re rushed. In other words, they’re preventable.

Things like obvious typos or sending ads to a broken URL should never happen. But they can, and they do, so having a digital marketing quality assurance process in place can help minimize these issues.

Keep in mind that you’re never going to have 100% effectiveness all the time. But you can minimize the mistakes that happen through a comprehensive digital marketing QA process, including utilizing a marketing quality control checklist.

Let’s look at how to set one up.

Why you need to develop standards of excellence

The best way to set up a marketing quality assurance review process is to look at what you already have to work with. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. One of the linchpins of a solid QA process is having broad “standards of excellence” that you adhere to for every project or customer. These standards will likely differ between departments, and they’ll likely be broad—less of a list of concrete items where you go down and mark things off and more of an overarching “check sheet” that’s fluid and malleable yet applicable to each project in different ways.

The real question these standards of excellence ask is the following:

What needs to happen so we can label a project as ”done” versus simply “delivered”? 

Adhering to these standards isn’t something you want to put off until the last minute, but rather something to keep in mind throughout the process. This stage is not the time to nitpick little things—you need to fix glaring errors that detract from the standards you’ve set.

Enforcing standards of excellence can be a challenge if you’ve got multiple people across different departments—and this is where the overlap can occur. On the one hand, you want to avoid massive bleed-over. Too much shared responsibility for content quality assurance can lead to a “somebody, anybody, nobody” situation (more on that later). On the other hand, having critical items being QAed from different departments/perspectives can be a great thing. Finding the proper balance is what will prove to be difficult.

You have to collaborate internally and use the standards you’ve created as a North Star to guide you, without getting too bogged down in things that don’t matter and without getting too involved (or not involved enough) in making the finished product look and work like a cohesive unit.

And speaking of working as a cohesive unit, there’s another part of QA that many businesses don’t get into, and that’s:

Actually physically testing the deliverable

For example, if you were designing a website and wanted to make sure that it loads quickly and correctly on a mobile device, you’d probably be tempted to drop it into Chrome Inspector and turn on emulation with your mouse. But mobile designs work differently using touch than they do with a mouse. Hence, the emulator would be doing you a disservice.

Here are two other areas to consider: Who’s able to edit what in production, and does it work correctly? Perhaps the development team has tested things like the tracking on the site, but has anyone who isn’t from that department verified the deliverable? 301 redirects and IP address exclusions are some other simple things that are easy to implement and check, but are often overlooked because there are so many other things vying for attention.

You don’t have to shoulder all the burden of marketing quality assurance testing…

Although your company will be doing the majority of QA, it’s worth noting that the client should also have some skin in the game. Let’s face it: Clients know their brand and business better than anyone else, so it’s understandable that they may have things that they want to appear a certain way or to have a certain tone.

It may be challenging to get them to take time out of their busy day to give you their feedback, and it’s highly likely that they’ll find lots of little things that aren’t going to be problems at all, but it’s nevertheless a good idea to get them to voice their concerns.

The one thing you don’t want to have happen is covered below:

Don’t let the person doing the bulk of the work handle the QA too

It might sound counterintuitive, but you don’t generally want the person who’s handling the majority of the work to also handle the QA. And it’s not because they already have a heavy workload, though that definitely is an important consideration.

It’s because it’s easy for this person to get tunnel vision. This tunnel vision is especially likely to occur if the person is involved in building the site, service, or product from the ground up. They’ll naturally assume, “Of course, it’s working… I built it!” And that kind of stubborn perspective can lead to problems. When you’ve seen the product often, you’ll likely have blinders on.

Now, when you bring someone else into the equation, they’ll suddenly point out things you never noticed before. Even if you pass around a rough mockup in a Slack channel or another collaboration system, that’s better than not doing anything—sure, it may not be the most structured and polished thing in the world, but the more eyes you get on it, the better it will likely turn out. Even two people in the same department might notice different things.

The end goal here isn’t to slow down the development process. But at the same time, you don’t want to rush things through at the last minute either. Instead, find a reasonable balance and collect comments and feedback. Give constructive criticism, but don’t stomp all over someone’s hard work. It can seem hard to find the right balance, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes over time.

It’s everybody’s/somebody’s/nobody’s job to do marketing quality assurance

Remember when we talked about all departments having a shared responsibility in QA? In some cases, this can lead to a more detrimental effect of it being everybody’s, somebody’s, or nobody’s job in that you have a case of:

  1. Too many cooks in the kitchen—everyone handling everything regarding marketing quality assurance until things grind to a halt.
  2. Somebody in one department is thinking it’s somebody else’s (or some other department’s) job to handle QA, so nothing gets done.
  3. Everyone knows that they need to be taking care of X issue, but nobody wants to be the first to say anything or get the ball rolling.

If something like this is plaguing the QA process at your organization, it may be worth drawing a line in the sand and staying committed to it, saying, “The development department’s work ends here,” or, “Marketing’s work starts here.”

But even then, you’re going to have areas of overlap, such as forms on landing pages. Yes, it’s the development team’s job to make them functional, but forms also seep into UX and usability. If there’s a marketing quality assurance task that’s the responsibility of both design and marketing, then both sets of eyes are looking at it from their respective points of view.

If everyone is uncovering lots of issues and giving their opinions on them, create a sort of QA “scale” or queue to prioritize what gets worked on first and by whom.

Even having a marketing quality control checklist can have its downsides, since a checklist can act as a blinder. You can think of everything and get overwhelmed or overdo it by considering a QA of the checklist! So you can see how stressing too much QA can lead to spinning your wheels.

Check it as you go

One of the biggest mistakes in marketing quality assurance is waiting until the end to do it. Not only does this create unnecessary stress, but it also adds to your workload and can cause you to forget even the simplest things.

Instead, do content quality assurance checks as you go along. You’re still going to want to do a final, comprehensive QA check at the end. But doing it as you go along ensures that you aren’t mindlessly copying and pasting things from a spreadsheet as quickly as possible and creating a hotbed for typos and errors as you rush to get a final version out the door.

When you’re doing the full QA, it’s a good idea to have different departments sign off. Be sure that it’s not the same person who developed it, as we discussed. This process allows you to confirm that different departments have signed off on various points, and there are confirmations in place to ensure that everything has been checked. This method also presents a great opportunity for senior-level employees involved in the confirmation process to mentor less seasoned employees.

If something goes wrong, the senior leads can take the less experienced members under their wing and show them directly that something was forgotten or  overlooked. The junior team members will remember (and hopefully learn from) that experience, which is better than rushing a finished product out the door and then everyone scrambling to fix a mistake—no one remembers anything from that except how panicked they were!

This way, not only do you remedy errors and oversights before the final launch, but you also prevent the same mistakes from happening again.

The danger of chasing perfection

QA can be plagued by that ever-present desire to “make it perfect.” Of course, you want to provide quality work. But the brutal truth is that you’ll never produce perfect work, even when prioritizing marketing quality assurance. Always focus on the project’s primary goals and objectives—strive to deliver great work around those, and keep secondary issues as items to tackle another day.

Those secondary things may not be mission critical, but they’re still worth checking. However, things such as forms, landing pages, phone numbers, and even directions on a website need to be correct. If something doesn’t work, it’s going to reflect poorly on your attention to the important details.

Everyone wants to look good to their superiors, so the quality of the work you’re doing could have a ripple effect when it’s picked up by another team or another company. Don’t let yourself or anyone else down, and you’ll do just fine.

So, with all of that being said, never chase perfection — unless you’re dealing with “payment” and “security” because those matters should be taken more seriously than others. Instead, focus on making sure that essential items are delivered without any glaring issues.

Don’t be rigid and inflexible with marketing quality assurance organization

There are countless tools out there designed to help you manage your tasks. The most important part of organizing your marketing quality assurance process is to never use those tools like an inflexible and strict set of rules.

Every project is likely going to need a flexible set of checklists or points to keep in mind when you’re going through QA. Being able to change what tools you use to adapt to the situation will make the process go more smoothly.

An organizational style can generally work for everyone but may change from project to project or product to product. Remember that you can course-correct and build onto your marketing quality control checklists or tools and change them to better suit your company’s style. You don’t need to set up all of these specific tools right from the start and then pigeon-hole teams and departments into following rigid guidelines. That’s not doing anyone any favors.

A simple tool, like a checklist in Asana or Slack, can work well, since various tasks are assigned to various people quickly, and everyone is aware of what needs to happen with their respective task in order to get the ball rolling on the project as a whole. It’s simple and efficient. It may not be pretty, but it works—and that’s what matters.

Find out what works for your specific needs and goals, and the goals of your client or customer. And it’s even fine (and sometimes recommended) to let the client see your QA process and introduce them to it. If they don’t look at your process, they may assume you didn’t do anything. But this way, they’ll see that an attempt was made to “check all the boxes” and that you do have a process in place to ensure that they’re getting their money’s worth.

Remember: The one thing you want to avoid in this case is putting all of the QA on the shoulders of one person, especially the one who worked on developing the product. Some people love this sort of thing, but it certainly isn’t a glamorous job by any means.

There might be times when the client gives you something, and you assume they’ve done their due diligence with it—proofread the copy, for example—but they haven’t. They may even tell you, “This should be good to go,” but it never hurts to give it a once-over just in case. The closer the mistake is to the money-making, the bigger an issue it will become if ignored.

The bottom line on marketing quality assurance that works

As you’ve seen, there are many facets of digital marketing quality assurance to keep in mind as you’re going through it. From ensuring everyone handles QA as a shared responsibility to avoiding too much bleedover (or conversely, siloing) of the work, it’s no secret that QA is a team effort.

But by keeping these strategies in mind and developing your own set of tools and lists that are flexible and easy to follow, you’ll quickly find that teams, departments, and the company will operate at greater efficiency while minimizing errors. Before you know it, customers will be happier and returning, and you’ll be cementing a process in place that exudes quality rather than simply saying it does.

Do you have a digital marketing content quality assurance process in place already? How has it worked out for you? Is there anything you would change or improve about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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