This is the first of four posts in our Content Audits Made Easy series. We'll be publishing an article every three weeks starting today with why you should audit your content and future posts will cover how to run an audit, how you can use new tech to make the process a lot easier and thinking beyond the content audit.
Every content strategist knows you can't make sensible plans for web content until you've done a content audit. The problem is they're long, fiddly and laborious. The good news is, that might be about to change.
Most audits follow a similar pattern:
Auditing content is no easy task. Even a small organisation may have many hundreds of items of content on its website. I worked on GOV.UK when it was auditing its content: 350,000 solid pages of information.But, there's no getting away from the primal importance of the content audit. Designers (and I include writers here) can't create anything without knowing what source material they've got to work with, what needs their designs should meet, how success will be measured, how all the parts of the design fit together.And all this starts with the audit.
Content people will probably already have a pretty clear idea where auditing fits in. But if you know anyone who thinks it’s okay to throw content at a website like a toddler with a new paint set, you can use this list to help convince them why content audits matter.
Websites require a lot of time, effort and money. Probably more than most people think. It's not just technical things like development and hosting. Anyone involved in commissioning, writing or editing content is spending valuable time to help publish stuff. Over the course of a year this effort could be many thousands of hours of staff time, and many hundreds of thousands of pounds. A content audit will help you understand the size and shape of the thing everyone’s working on, so you can use resources more effectively.
Ask your users how you could improve your website. It’s likely one of their top answers will be: ‘make things easier to find’. It always is. But it's hard to organise information into a sensible, logical structure that works for all users. And it's virtually impossible if you don't have a map of the thing you're trying to restructure. The content audit is your map.
You should be able to articulate a reason why every piece of content exists on your website. If you can't, it shouldn't be there. And if you can, you should be able to measure how successfully it's fulfilling its purpose. You may want to talk to someone who knows a bit about data analysis to get the right metrics to measure your content. Once you’ve done this, you'll need a baseline of how well your current site is doing. That's your first audit. Subsequent audits track improvement against this baseline. All of a sudden you've moved your publishing model from 'upload and forget' to 'measure and improve'.
Your content is a reflection of your brand. And most organisations have lots of it. So what's it saying about you? Does it have a consistent style and tone of voice? Is it always accurate, up to date, on message? Your audit can show you which bits of content are below par and need urgent attention. Conversely, it can uncover other bits of content that could be benchmarks for the rest of the site.
Every piece of content should meet a business or user need - preferably both at the same time. But is this happening? Perhaps a disproportionate amount of publishing effort is spent meeting low priority needs. Perhaps there are high priority needs that don't even get a look in. The latter are your content gaps, and they need filling. Either way, you won't know until you've done your audit.
If you're starting a new digital project, you've probably already got a lot of the raw materials you'll need for your new content. There's no point writing from scratch if someone else has already done half the job for you. But first you'll need to work out where all the old stuff is and what shape it's in. Your audit can tell you this.
How many publishing decisions in your organisation are made based on the personal preference of stakeholders, the whimsy of senior leaders or just unquestioned habits ('that's the way we always do things')? It's unlikely that ill-informed or reactive decision-making will deliver the honed, sleek publishing machine you'll need to meet business and user needs. Good publishing decisions are made with a thorough understanding of an organisation's digital estate, what it's trying to achieve, and how success is measured. Your audit is your starting point for making better-informed decisions about content.
Once you’ve got the green light to do a content audit you’ll need to know how to plan and manage one to get the best possible data. My next couple of posts will walk you through the 6 stages of auditing content. We’ll cover how to manage an audit the traditional way - using spreadsheets and elbow grease.
Luke is a content strategist with more than 10 years’ experience working for public and private sector clients.