In praise of the content audit

First published February 2017 on the Digital Drum website.

Vinyl records filed alphabetically, someone’s hand is picking out a record titled ABC.
Photo by Danica Tanjutco on Unsplash

There’s been some digital debate recently over the usefulness of content audits. And in an ideal world, where content is well-maintained and regularly checked over, content audits would indeed be defunct.

In reality, the content audit is often a fantastic opportunity for a specifically brought in freelance content specialist to corral all the content misdemeanours into one sanity-restoring place.

My content audits are, sadly, all too often about getting rid of duplicates — and even worse triplicates — of the exact same information. The remaining instance gets assessed to see if it meets user needs and business objectives, of course. The audit is also a chance to remove or archive inaccurate, out of date and otherwise redundant content. People often ask how content editors can tell if content is no longer accurate when we’re content specialists, not experts on the organisation. But it often gives itself away very obviously. Among worse examples, I’ve unearthed promotion of events from the last decade — and CEOs who’re no longer in post.

Audits are also a good opportunity to start spotting related content to pull together from disparate areas: beginning the process of card sorting and creating wireframes for using testing. This is where I like to apply colour-coding, for a quick visual overview of content families.

For stakeholder liaison it’s also quite handy for one person to know the entire contents of the old website very thoroughly, to be able to explain what their content small-holding has transformed into — or hasn’t. And why. This could be that it fit better as a concise element on another page, or it could be that user-testing confirmed analytics that showed it wasn’t being used or of use to users. Or it could be that a hidden away, underperforming snippet of content has taken centre stage and can now, like Cinderella, go to all the (eye)balls. This would be because user testing has shown that the content is actually very much of use to the reader, but they couldn’t find it previously.

Getting to know the old content for me entails visiting a page via a web-crawl generated url, scanning it, jotting down a brief descriptor, detailing any assets and showing through spreadsheet row hierarchy how it links to other pages. There’ll also be a column showing page analytics, which shows the current popularity of a page — but this needs to be assessed against its find-ability on the site by users. As no-one can shine when they’re locked up in a tower.

In summary, the content audit can be a vital part of content redesign alchemy. But only with the stalwart support of analytics and user testing.

Obviously, good BAU housekeeping, and iterative content development based on continual user-testing would circumvent the need for a content audit in the first place. But calling in a content specialist to “undertake a content audit and create an IA for migration to a new CMS” is frequently the first time a light is shone around the website content vault!

A good content audit should include:

  • URL
  • Page title
  • Brief description
  • Content type
  • Assets on page, like embedded videos or PDF attachments
  • Page visits
  • Action to take

If this data is available:

  • Social likes
  • User comments
  • In page search data

Once the content has been assessed as worth keeping, add:

  • Functionality required to enhance content, for example an online form or social media plug in
  • User need met
  • Business objective met
  • Content theme
  • Bounce rate, to help assess if the title, navigation or inbound links are misleading

At this stage it’s vital to start including user-testing, this could be as simple as a Survey Monkey pop up asking whether the user found what they were looking for on the page, or user interviews with a set of scripted questions. But that’s another story…

Hi. I'm a user-centred design advocate with a background in content. Love designing interactive content for services, and creating learning materials.