You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you are. You might think you know where you are, but without a thorough website content audit, it's likely you don't.
Why perform a content audit (which admittedly is a painstaking and exacting exercise)? Lots of reasons. It helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to the goals of the organization. Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the organization? Is it optimized for search? And are technical frameworks, such as the content management system (CMS), up to the task of handling it? Finally, an audit helps assess needs: teams, workflow, management, and identifying gaps. It will also shape content governance and help determine the feasibility of future projects.
A content audit is a cornerstone of content strategy, which governs content marketing. The aim is to perform a qualitative analysis of all the content on a website (or in some cases, a network of sites and/or social media presences -- any content for which your organization is responsible). A content audit is often performed in tandem with a content inventory, the process of creating a quantitative analysis of content.
Step 1: Create a content inventory
Create a content inventory by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a text document by page title or by URL. Organize this information in outline form (i.e., section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages). If it's an e-commerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like Shoes > Women's Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Dr. Scholl's. A company website's headings would align more closely with X Corporation > About Us > Management > John Doe.
Content strategist Kristina Halvorson recommends assigning a unique number to each section, sub-section, and page (e.g., 1.0, 1.1., 1.1.1, and so on). This can help tremendously in assigning particular pieces of content to the appropriate site section. Some content strategists also color-code different sections on spreadsheets. It gets down to a matter of personal preference, as well as the size and scale of the audit in question.
It's also highly recommended that each section, sub-section, or page contain an annotation regarding who owns each piece of content, as well as the type of content: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Was the content created in-house? Who created it? Was it outsourced (e.g., third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who's responsible for creating, approving, and publishing each piece?
The resulting document is a content inventory. Now, it's time to dig into the quality of the content -- the content audit. For each of the following steps, it's helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page (e.g., a scale of one to five, with one being "pretty crappy" and five being "rockstar fantastic").
Some practitioners say you can shortcut through certain site pages or sections, arguing that certain pieces of content are evergreen. While that can certainly be the case, a thorough perusal of every piece of content on every page just might surprise you. Elements that you thought were set in stone, or changed site-wide, have a nasty habit of coming up and biting you in the behind. For example, the page displaying the address of the office your company moved out of five years ago, or the "contact" email address pointing to a long since departed employee.
So long as you're taking the time to audit the content, it pays to audit all the content.
Step 2: What's it about?
What subjects and topics does the content address? Are page and section titles, headlines, and sub-heads promising what's actually delivered in the on-page copy? Is there a good balance of content addressing products, services, customer service, and "about us" information?
Step 3: Is it accurate and up-to-date?
In a word, is the content topical? Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated and/or inaccurate information lurking in nooks and crannies of the site? As mentioned above, localities, employees, pricing, industry data and statistics, and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as "update/revise" or "remove."
Step 4: Does it support both user and business goals?
Many constituencies feed into a company's digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing and PR, and customer service, to name but a few. Different divisions could be trying to achieve varying goals in "their" section of a site or blog, but fundamentally all content must very gracefully serve two masters: the needs of the business and the needs of the customer. This means, for example, that calls-to-action must be clear, but not so overwhelming that they get in the way of the user experience. The content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while staying in balance.
Step 5: Are people finding and using the content?
This is where web analytics comes into play. What types of content -- and what pages in particular -- are the most and least popular on the site in question? Where do users spend time, and where do they go when they leave? Are they taking desired actions on a page, whether clicking to buy or to download a white paper or filling out a contact form? What search keywords and phrases bring them to the site? It's not enough that content is simply there. The numbers don't lie. They can reveal what's working, what's not, and help direct a strategy that supports more of the types of content users use and seek.
Step 6: Is it clean and professional?
Is page copy consistent in tone? Are spellings, punctuation, and grammar consistent and above all, correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it being followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner, and properly placed/oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any pre-designated rules (e.g., open a new page in a separate browser window)?
Step 7: Is content logically organized?
Does the site contain tacked-on pages that don't follow navigational structure? Does the overall navigation make sense? Are there redundancies, such as on the site below that lists "Personal Finance" as a separate section in the navigation, then again lists that section in a submenu under the heading "Money & Careers"?
Finally, when users visit a section, do they find what they expect to?
Greencince, a Netflix competitor, offers particularly good examples of badly organized content. Take the taxonomy and navigation of the following content sections, for example. Pity the user looking for new DVDs to rent who stumbles on newsletter archives, or the seeker of a back issue of the newsletter who lands on contests and giveaways. Both the naming of links and pages, as well as the navigational structure, are woefully misleading and off-kilter:
- New and Coming Releases > New on DVD > Newsletter archive page
- Dispatch Newsletter Archives > Greencine PR, Marketing, Events > Page lists contents and giveaways. (Far below the fold, it links to the same newsletters archived on the "New on DVD" page.)
- New to GreenCine > New to GreenCine > Actual listings of new/soon-to-be-released DVDs.
Step 8: Tone of voice
Every brand or business has a distinct voice that expresses its personality. Serious, irreverent, scholarly, authoritative; all are valid, but the tone, language, and mode of expression must be a fit, and must be consistent with the brand. This step evaluates the content's tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder.
Step 9: Keywords, metadata, and SEO
Are target keywords and phrases used on the site, and on appropriate pages in the most advantageous places? Are page descriptions and metadata used appropriately? Are images and multimedia files captioned? Is metadata employed to make them search-engine friendly? Are headlines optimized for search? Search engine optimization begins and ends with content, so evaluating to what extent content conforms to best practices in search is an essential part of an audit.
Step 10: Identify gaps
Conducting a content audit focuses so much attention on what's there that it's often too easy to overlook what's not there. An essential step in any audit is therefore to identify weaknesses, gaps, and content needs. A site may be rich in information on how to order, for example. But are issues surrounding shipping and order fulfillment adequately addressed? Is the press/media section strong on press releases, but weak on photos and video offerings? Does the company blog address company issues heavily, but general industry trends not at all? What's missing speaks volumes about the forward direction of a content strategy.
Step 11: Identify needed changes/actions
This is where the rubber hits the road. It's not enough to produce a giant spreadsheet. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths and develop specific recommendations for improvement.
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