6 steps to product content audit perfection

6 steps to product content audit perfection


Content Strategist, Biz Sanford, auditing all the things at Shopify headquarters in Ottawa.

Within the first week of starting as a Content Strategist at Shopify, a SaaS product company, I was already asking if I could open my trusty spreadsheet and take a lap through the product.

Before I started, I had a sense that things might be different this time around. I knew product content was not exactly the same as traditional web content. But how different? Different enough to require an entirely new review method? An entirely new spreadsheet?!

The answers to those questions: yes and yes. As for how it’s different, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. Unlike traditional web content, product content doesn’t live in one location.
  2. Product content is part of a dynamic user flow that involves complex interactions and results in content variations.

For those reasons, I soon (begrudgingly) realized that my method for auditing traditional web content had to change to be an equally effective tool to audit product content. I needed to audit content that lived in many places, in many different ways. I needed a tool that was more visual than data-heavy, and ultimately something that I could easily share with developers, designers, and other UX’ers.

No biggie, right? Wrong.

Luckily for you, a lot of the hard thinking has been thunk, and the hard work worked. So without further ado, here are my 6 steps to product content audit perfection:

Step 1: Pick a pain point

We all know the drill. Maybe it does involve taking a lap through your entire product, or maybe it’s just one user flow that’s been driving you nuts for months. Either way, pick your pain point and move on to step 2.

Step 2: Talk to the right people

This is a super crucial step. You need to find out who is responsible for this content. Who created it in the first place? Who maintains it? And most importantly, do they have the desire or time to implement any changes you’ll be proposing? If the answer’s no, either check with someone higher up to see why this isn’t a priority, or move on to another content pain point.

These lovely people (usually developers) are also super important for catching all of the content you need to audit. Maybe there’s a string of error messages hiding deep in the product that aren’t easy to uncover without looking under the hood. All to say — find out who these people are and make friends. Chances are, they’ll be happy to have you since they’re often left creating this content in the dark with little guidance.

Step 3: Set up your spreadsheet

This is something I tripped over for a while. What was the best way to audit this information? I knew it had to be visual, but I also didn’t want to spend days creating beautiful mind maps with product screenshots and content loops. Who has time for that?

Sample product content audit spreadsheet.

Instead, I went back to basics, with a few tweaks. Here are the columns I find work the best for product content:

  • Screenshot: I like to use Droplr to gather this information (but here’s a tip: make sure you purchase a licence because this product deletes all of your screenshots once your trial is up). Screenshots are super important for product content audits. These help you literally show others exactly what content you’re talking about so they can easily envision it, or figure out where to look for it in the code.
  • Level 1 (2, 3, +): Describing where product content lives (in terms of hierarchy) isn’t as straightforward as it can be on traditional websites. To handle this dilemma, I’ve found it useful to come up with my own terminology for levels that aren’t explicitly named, such as: “sign up”.
  • Current content: Write out all the content, just as it appears on the screen (bad grammar and all), and add it to this column for reference alongside your screenshot.
  • New content: Copy and paste that old junky content into this column and start making your fixes.
  • Notes: Don’t do all of your hard thinking in a vacuum. Use this column to add any notes about decisions you make so everyone on your team is on the same page. You can also use this column to keep track of any implementation details.
  • Priority (low, medium, high): If this is a big audit (which they so often are) go back through your spreadsheet at the end and determine what absolutely needs to be done right away and what can wait. This will help your dev friends plan how and when they’ll implement these changes.
  • Implemented (yes/no): Add this column to keep track of what has been implemented and what still needs to be done.

Step 4: Share your recommendations

Now that you’ve gone through all of the content — first, give yourself a pat on the back — then, book a meeting with your team to share your findings.

Here’s a tip: don’t use this time to go through each and every cell in your spreadsheet. Instead, make it easy for your team. Put a slideshow together of some common findings. Include screenshots and of course gifs.

Give a fun presentation of your key recommendations.

Step 5: Ship it!

If you have the team’s collective agreement on your recommendations by the end of the meeting, hand the spreadsheet off to the team lead and let them get into the weeds on their own. I like to use Google Sheets, which allows real-time collaboration and fine-tuning.

Once each change has been approved, loop in the devs and work out an implementation schedule (your priority column will come in handy here).

Step 6: Touch base

Unfortunately, audit projects have a tendency of falling by the wayside when more important work comes along. To make sure this doesn’t happen, check in periodically with the team to see how things are going. Are they running into bigger, unexpected issues? Do they need more time? Be the one to gently advocate for and nudge this work along.

Traditional content audits can be tricky, and admittedly dull at the best of times, and product content audits can add an entirely new layer of complexity to this task. This method is one way I’ve found helpful to audit product content, but it’s definitely not the only way.

Feel free to take what I’ve done and build on it, tweak it, or spin it on its head to meet your content needs and audit style. If you have any brilliant methods or tips of your own, post a comment!