Step-by-step guide to content audits

In this blog post, Uli Trute, Senior Communications Adviser at the Commerce Commission, outlines the benefits of content audits and how to get started performing your own.

A content audit is a snapshot of everything on a website or a section of a website. Many content editors dread content audits because they are a bit boring, but for any kind of redesign project, especially for content heavy sites, you’ll probably need them.

For me, like for other website managers, a content audit will happen in a big spreadsheet, where I can keep a complete inventory.

Why have one?

A content audit is a great tool to get to know a website. I have found that a content audit gives me a good feel for problem areas and, even though I know my website www.comcom.govt.nz really well, I still find things I didn’t know existed.

Good occasions for content audits are:

  • change of responsibilities
  • you've no idea what’s on your site
  • site redesign and/or redevelopment
  • content has become untidy
  • you keep finding out of date content

A content audit can be part of a regular review cycle or, even better, the first step to setting up a regular maintenance schedule for your site.

The recent release of the new Government Web Standards presents another good opportunity to perform a content audit. The fewer pages you have to fix, the better, so pruning your site of content it doesn’t need can be a great way to reduce the amount of work you have to do to meet the new Standards.

Is it a good way to spend my time?

A content audit takes a while, and sometimes they just need to be done. However, often a regular maintenance schedule can be a better way to address content issues.

What are you looking for?

Decide what you are looking for, and turn your criteria into columns for your spread sheet. In a recent content audit, I was primarily interested in the quality of the content. The Commerce Commission had a new website content strategy. We had also started a plain English programme, and the content just wasn’t up to scratch anymore.

Questions to ask here could be:

  • Is it current?
  • Is it correct?
  • Is it plain English?
  • Is it even currently relevant at all?

Other things to look out for could be functionality, structure, content gaps or duplication.

Start a spread sheet

Now is the time to buy new music and make yourself comfortable.

I usually work in an Excel spreadsheet. It lists all pages and assets on the website. I number each web page so I can easily see its place in the site hierarchy. The column headings will be whatever I am looking for.

Download an example content audit spreadsheet (XLSX 11Kb).

Some content management systems can provide a sitemap and there should also be some useful online tools. It’s also OK to list the pages as you go through them.

I have found it useful when both the content editor and the content owner or subject matter expert work through the spread sheet and look at all the content. We see very different things in our content. It is vital to have clear rules and a common understanding about your criteria.

All done with the spread sheet?

Hopefully it was insightful and not too boring. Compare your spread sheet with your website stats, or restructure and rewrite your content. Or go ahead with setting up that system for regular content maintenance.

Lessons learned

I have found it invaluable to involve the subject matter experts. The greatest challenge has usually been to get them, and management, to understand why it’s necessary. It can also be difficult to form a common understanding of what needs to be done and why. After a few misunderstandings I now double check that everyone understands exactly what we are trying to do, and how.

There are no shortcuts. Especially when you are going to restructure a site, or part of a site, most content editors will actually need to account for their content’s whereabouts. There is no substitute for looking at every single page to get a good feel for a site’s content.

For content review project plans I assume:

  • 8 pages per hour for content audit
  • 2+ hours per page for writing new content
  • 2 pages per hour for rewriting existing content
  • 4 pages per hour for building the pages

I timed these steps the first time I did a content review project with a content audit. They seem to work for my projects, and I have seen similar numbers from others.

Have you done a content audit? Please feel free to share your tips or challenges below.

5 comments

  1. Comment #1. Sibylle:

    Thank you for sharing. Content is such a critical factor for the usability and usefulness of a site and sadly still all too often an afterthought, or something people are asked to do in addition to their “real” jobs.

    Things I have found when doing content audits:
    * Agree with you that really close collaboration with the editorial team throughout is a must – we may have the tools but they have the domain knowledge and context, and know the pain points.
    * Often organisations don’t have a content strategy in place so the content audit can be a first step towards developing one. We need to encourage this.
    * I have found it useful to also look at analytics to see which content is popular, how people access it, their paths through the site, etc. This can help inform decisions and maybe also uncover content you didn’t know existed.

  2. Comment #2. Nathan Wall

    Hi Sibylle – I completely agree with your thoughts. I always add analytics into any content audit I do, it’s such an easy way to find out what content users either aren’t interested in or aren’t finding.

    It might seem really tedious, but being thorough with an audit is also essential. Many audits I’ve done have helped me sit down with content owners and ask questions like, “Do you really need to keep 6 years’ worth of newsletters online?” Even if the answer is ‘yes’ you can more easily work out the right context to present the information in.

    What does your audit template look like Sibylle? Any suggestions for things you would add to Uli’s spreadsheet?

  3. Comment #3. JP:

    I think for many smaller sites there is a challenge to even find all the content. Business owners have had different organisations or individuals working on their sites over a period of years. Pages come and go, and when the go, it’s often a case of someone hitting delete, leading to a dead URL. I would count these URLs as content – it’s retired content that has not been managed correctly.

    These should also be taken into account when doing an audit – finding all the broken URLs, and having a plan to re-direct them appropriately.

  4. Comment #4. Uli Trute

    Hi JP. Thanks for that thought. I bet it’s also an issue for many larger sites. The broken pages should become apparent if you look for them during the content audit. But for that you also need to know that these broken pages exist so you know to look for them. What’s everyone’s experience with that?

  5. Comment #5. Simone:

    Hi JP, Uli,
    deleted pages should be replaced by a redirect to the most suitable replacement. Any “content management system” not capable of this doesn’t deserve the name. Not breaking the web should be one of the most basic principles. You shouldn’t wait to do a site audit to find broken pages – checking for broken internal links (or simply refusing to create them) should also simply be built into your CMS and just part of basic maintenance. If someone changes the name of a page and this forces the URL to change why can’t the CMS simply create a redirect from the old to the new? If a page has to be deleted why can’t the CMS ask for the URL to redirect to?

Navigate Posts