I’m not going to sugar-coat this. Content audits can be mind-numbingly boring and time consuming. They require an incredible amount of patience and curiosity. Someone has to look at the content with a fresh eye and suspend judgment, because any findings from the auditing stage will be the foundation of all conversations regarding the future of the content.

However, content audits are essential – not just important or nice to do.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  You just cannot know what you have unless you go through it; piece by piece, format by format.  You may be able to automate some of this process (there are tools out there), but at the end you need to know:

  • How much content you have
  • Where the content lives
  • If the content is relevant

Chris Detzi, an information architect, describes four reasons to perform a content audit:

  1. Reveal the true scale of the website’s content
  2. Clarify and refine the project scope
  3. Facilitate strategic discussions about design objectives and direction
  4. Establish a common language for the team to use throughout the project

What type of audit should you do?

If you are truly auditing all the content assets of an organization, you need to look at all of their digital properties – not just their website. There are five types of audits:

  1. Quantitative audit: This results in a basic list of the content on your site, including URLs, page titles, and downloadable documents. This is really an inventory of the content on your digital properties.
  2. Qualitative audit: A more in-depth accounting of the content, including an analysis of the writing, multimedia, accuracy of the content, value for the organization, etc.
  3. Mapping audit: Mapping allows you to see the content you have, visually, in the form of a site tree.  It looks very much like an information architecture, but allows you to see the relationship that different pieces of content have to each other. It also gives you a sense of how deep the site is, and therefore how layered the content is.
  4. Rolling audit: These audits never end— meaning you’re always auditing some digital property to know what you have and what is being added.  The best way to perform rolling audits is to pick a part of the site and then audit it until you have finished. Then move on to another digital property or part of the site. When you get back to the beginning, you start again. (Have you noticed yet the inherent circular theme within content strategy?)
  5. Thin Slice Audits: Matt Grocki, a content strategist, recommends doing these types of audits to break a large site down by sections. By auditing some of the pages, you get a “thin slice” view of the content in that section.

With a quantitative audit, you can see how much content there is on the organization’s digital properties. When you do a qualitative audit, you can get a sense of the quality of the content.  With a map, you can see the relationship the different pages have to each other.  The content mapping audit process works well when you need to make a case for creating new content, or for changing certain parts of the IA.

Picking the right type of audit to perform is not something you should agonize over.  There’s no time for paralysis through analysis. Time and budget often dictate which one you should perform, but you must know as much as you can about the content, so that you can know how to change it or make it better.

How to Conduct a Content Audit to Create Great Content

Yes, content audits can be mind-numbingly boring and time consuming, as I said earlier. They require an incredible amount of patience and curiosity. People tend to avoid them because:

  • It’s shocking to see the state of your content
  • Who wants to get blamed?
  • Content is often lost, missing or “ghosted”
  • They are a major time suck
  • Nobody does anything with information you gather

But remember: Content audits are an absolute necessity for all businesses because they give you the date you need to make excellent choices about your content.

Great content begins with great audits. Click To Tweet

In this presentation, delivered at LavaCon 2014, in Portland, OR, you will learn how to:

  • Distinguish between different types of content audits
  • Decide what type of content audit you need
  • Perform a gap analysis
  • Use the information you glean from content audits
  • Get creative when you encounter a wall

Ahava used three case studies—a major university, a healthcare client and a major publishing company—to illustrate how to make sense of content audits. The focus is on understanding content requirements, how to present data to the C-suite as well as how to use all the information you learn from a content audit without losing your mind.

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