You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you are. You may think you know where you are, but without a thorough website content audit, it's likely that you don't.
Admittedly, performing a content audit is a painstaking and exacting exercise, but it helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to an organization's goals. Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the company? Is it optimized for search? Finally, an audit helps assess needs: teams, workflow, management, technology, and gaps. It shapes content governance and helps determine the feasibility of future projects.
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The aim is to perform a qualitative analysis of all the content on a website (or multiple 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.
Step 1. Create a content inventory by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a text document by page title or URL. Organize this information in hierarchical outline form (i.e., section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages). If it's an ecommerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like Shoes > Women's Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Keds. A company website's headings would align more with X Corporation > About Us > Management > John Doe.
Each section, sub-section, or page should contain an annotation regarding who owns each piece of content, as well as content type: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Is it created in-house? By whom? Is it outsourced (third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who's responsible for creating, approving, and publishing each item?
The resulting document is the content inventory. Now, it's time to assess quality with a content audit. At each step, it's helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page (e.g., 1 for pretty crappy to 5 for rock-star fantastic.
Step 2. What's it about? What subjects and topics does the content address? Do page and section titles, headlines, and sub-heads promise 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 Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated or inaccurate information lurking in nooks and crannies of the site? Localities, employees, pricing, industry data, and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as "update or 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, customer service -- to name a few. Different divisions may 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. A content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while maintaining 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 -- are the most and least popular? 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, downloading 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 reveal what's working, what's not, and help support more of the types of content users want and need.
Step 6. Is it clean and professional? Are spellings, punctuation, and grammar consistent and correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner and properly placed and oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any prescribed 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? For example, this site lists "Personal Finance" as a separate section in the navigation, then again lists that same section in a sub-menu under the heading "Money & Careers."
Finally, when users visit a section, do they find what they're looking for? GreenCine is a good example of badly organized content. Pity the users looking for new DVDs to rent who stumble 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 misleading and off-kilter:
New and Coming Releases > page title: New on DVD > Newsletter archive page
Dispatch Newsletter Archives > page title: Greencine PR, Marketing, Events > Page lists contents and giveaways. Far below the fold, links to the same newsletters archived on the "New on DVD" page
New to GreenCine > page title: New to GreenCine > Actual listings of new/soon-to-be-released DVDs
Step 8. Tone of voice. Every brand and every 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 it must be consistent. This step evaluates the content's tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder and ensures that a bank doesn't sometimes sound like a bar.
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, and 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 and 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 and actions. This is where the rubber hits the road. It's not enough to produce a giant spreadsheet. The goal is to define problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.
Rebecca Lieb is an author, speaker, and consultant specializing in digital marketing, advertising, publishing, and media.
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