Content audits are hardly the most glamorous part of a website migration, but the information they provide can be pivotal to the success of your content strategy. As well as being unglamorous, they also aren't a lot of fun to do. It is often a case of headphones in, head down and coffee on standby. You can automate some parts of a content audit (we’ll come to that later), but the bulk of the work is hard, arduous and slow.
But don’t be put off. The good news is that when you finish, you will have uncovered the areas of content that add real value to the site as well was knowing what needs to go.
Roughly speaking, there are two main stages to a content audit:
- Forming a content inventory
- Auditing the inventory
These are pretty much the quantitative vs qualitative stages in that you first collect the data in order to understand what is on the site and then analyse this content to work out its use.
Why perform a content audit?
A content audit is normally used in a period of transition, such as when the business is redefining the content strategy or undertaking a web migration. It is however equally as effective if used as a part of ongoing content management. Websites (especially those in larger companies) have a tendency to evolve over time and it can often be hard for different parts of the business to stay in sync. This can lead to varying styles, inconsistent messages, siloed content and duplication across the site.
A content audit should be seen as the chance to take control of the content. You are effectively taking a step back to take a look at the bigger picture. It can act as the springboard for the development of appropriate templates and guidelines for the site. You can also tailor content to match the overarching business strategy.
What to track in the content inventory
Creating a content inventory is probably the most time consuming job if conducted manually. You should aim to retrieve and map all data across the site. As well as listing all pages in the site, you should also gather basic analytics such as the bounce rate and page views. The best way to do this is to create a table using excel. You should include:
- URL, page type, navigation level, title, owner, status, metadata, template, page views, bounce rate, word count, languages, links
This information can of course be collected manually, but this is a pain staking process especially when the bulk of the value is generated by the analysis in the audit phase. There are some tools available that automate this process. The Content Analysis Tool (CAT ) from Content Insight puts together a comprehensive report which can be a great time saver. It also has a range of built in tools to help you in your analysis. iGooMap is another tool for Macs that allows you to create XML sitemaps. In both cases, you may need to invest some time cleaning up the results, but it definitely pays off not to overlook such tools in the long run.
Who should be involved in a content audit?
The content audit should involve multiple stakeholders within your business. In my experience, the bulk of the work sometimes falls to the project manager. I tend to recommend dividing work up amongst a mix of people within the organisation to speed up the process.
Content strategists from the marketing division can identify the purpose and value of content. Information architects can work out whether the structure of the existing site represents the needs of the business. Business or division heads as well as subject experts within the business can offer feedback that more general project team members may miss. A wider audience ensures that all viewpoints are covered giving your analysis more flavour. This allows you to create a more balanced content strategy going forward.
The scope of an audit
Before you begin auditing, you need to be clear on the scope of the audit. What do you want to learn? How many areas do you want to focus on? What should be prioritised? Which areas of the business should be involved?
If you’re not careful, the audit may not have a clear finish point due to the fact that what you are capturing is somewhat subjective. People love to make their opinions heard. You therefore need to make sure that a clear process is in place from the offset coupled with a defined time span. Maintaining focus is important and a clear pre-game plan can help ensure this.
The focus of a content audit
The most important thing to focus on within your audit is probably ensuring that the editorial quality ranks fairly highly. This means checking the relevance and accuracy of the content. You should always keep the user/audience in mind and make sure that what's there is both engaging and readable. Your brand needs to be brought to life through the content so ensuring that the text is on message with the right tone and voice is key.
The content needs to be effective in what it sets out to achieve. You need to make sure that it is fit for purpose and contains the right CTAs. You could also include a metric comparing your content to some key competitor websites. The audit results can be captured using the same excel sheet as the content inventory. Some example fields would be:
- on brand, voice, message, tone, value add, purpose, audience, engaging, CTAs
Understanding content audit results
Once the audit is complete, you should have a clear picture of what needs to done. You will be able to identify the areas most in need of your attention so can channel your time, resources and money into these areas. Be sure to set clear actions based on your content. Does the content need work to improve UX and are your CTAs emphasised by what you have on your site? Solve this in your recommendations.
These recommendations to stakeholders should help guide them and give you the buy-in you need to push your content strategy. In this way a content audit is invaluable as a tool to set the strategic direction of your website. The results should be reviewed and then recommendations made off of the back of them.
A content audit is a massive job but don’t let this put you off. A step by step approach can unearth some really valuable insights into your content. Content can sometimes be lost within a website as it grows so take time to understand what needs to go, what can stay and what needs to be modified.
- Compile a content inventory
- Decide what to audit
- Gain buy-in (who does what)
- Anaylse the existing content
- Make recommendations
- Revise. Create. Purge.
The initial results should act as the catalyst for action but it is worth remembering to revisit your content regularly . As your business develops, so too should your website and its content.