We often underestimate how much content we have or need for a given product. Many pages and messages are hidden unless we look for them. Conducting a content audit is an excellent way to gain an understanding of the content you have, or the content you may need before diving right in!
In the early days of the web, many designers and developers would say that the client would be in charge of content. Kristina Halvorson would argue that we need to stop thinking like this and integrate content strategy into the design and development process. Really it should be the first step.
Understand the value of content through an audit
Content strategy implies a long-term strategic view. You're considering the big picture and not just the text for a single page. The better understanding you have regarding your content, the more you'll be able to anticipate problems, and catch issues before it's too late!
The benefit of a content audit is that it helps you drill down through all the layers and levels of information on a website. Perhaps you think there aren't many pages because there are only four words in the horizontal navigation of a website. But then you realize there are sub-pages for each, as well as drop-down menus. Then there's the footer with a link to the blog, testimonials, contact information, etc. Before you know it you're looking at more pages than you ever realized. For major corporations, this count can even be in the thousands! You may not realize how many pages exist until you conduct an audit.
If you're starting a new project, you may want to consider doing an audit of a competitor site. This is NOT so you can copy them (who says what they're doing is even effective!?), but rather gain a better understanding of what kind of levels of content you'll need to produce. It's also a good way to get into the content strategy mindset to help you think about your goals and priorities in terms of the overall vision.
Conducting a content audit manually may feel time consuming, but it's one of the best ways to gain a deep understanding of the content you're dealing with. It's a valuable exercise for designers too!
Sometimes using a text document may suit your needs, but typically spreadsheets are used to catalog all the pages in an audit. Everyone has their own way of setting them up, but things you may want to consider including are fields for:
- Page ID – number assigned by you that can serve as a reference throughout the project when you're talking about multiple pages that are similar. It could be something such as 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1 (for a sub page), 1.2, 2.0 (different page type), etc.
- Page name – name the content for the page. It's best to use the title that appears in the navigation.
- URL – link to web page.
- Comments – this could be anything from information you know is required to keep, or observations of what is missing from a page.
Other fields could include the content type (news story, blog post, sidebar, FAQ, etc.), a basic description of the content, when it was last updated, tags or categories, linked files, and who is the author or owner of the document.
Sample audit adapted from UX Mastery template which is available on their content audit article.
Content audits can also be conducted with a focus on SEO. The online journal Moz addresses this in their content audit post.
Audits can be quantitative or qualitative. A quantitative inventory is a catalog of different page types and the number of pages needed to understand the volume and scope you're dealing with. Qualitative assessments look closer at the quality of the content to determine how effective it is in communicating the information featured on the page. This can be done by looking at best practices, or, if you already have a strategy in place, you can use that as a baseline to make sure you are addressing it through the content. You also want to consider business goals, and that the brand and messaging is aligned and reflects the brand.
Examine the big picture
You can learn a lot about content hierarchy and the relationship of content in the process. Content audits are also useful for considering information architecture and site maps.
When your audit is complete, you’ll be able to see patterns that emerge that will help inform your next steps. You may notice the same content is repeated in multiple places or discover that something that you assume was addressed online was completely missing. Content audits will help give you some clarity about how to approach content and what needs to happen next.
- Content audits are a way to catalog the content on your site.
- Content audits are a tool to help you think more strategically about your content choices moving forward.
- Spreadsheets are the best way to document content audits.
- Patterns will emerge through conducting a content audit that will help inform your next steps.