Have any of these ever happened to you?
- You discovered new content (or entire websites) halfway through a project?
- You struggled to decide what content was in or out of scope for a project?
- You were afraid to look at some of the content on your site out of fear of what you might find?
- You’re constantly debating whether you have too little or too much content?
- You spent more time developing content than anticipated?
If you’ve worked with websites for more than a couple of months, you can probably relate to some of these situations. If you’ve been around for a couple of years, you’ve probably experienced them all. If these problems are so common, how do we wind up in these situations?
A Shortcut That Isn’t
To explain, I’ll refer to the content lifecycle. I like this simple, straight-forward version: plan, author, publish, evaluate. Rather than following this full cycle, we tend to start taking a shortcut. We skip over the evaluation and planning, and get caught in a repeating cycle of authoring and publishing without pausing to look up. We all know what that feels like – it’s the firefighting approach to website management.
Allow that to continue unchecked and things begin to break down. The lack of planning and evaluation puts pressure on all parts of the content lifecycle. Users can’t find information, the authoring team can’t keep up with requests, and the content starts falling behind.
At this point, the blame often falls to the CMS or the overall design of the site. People start to talk about changing platforms, doing a complete redesign, or “blowing up” the site. (As Ben recently posted, 24% of eHealth Survey respondents had completed a redesign in 2013, and 41% were currently in the process of redesigning their sites.) When teams try to solve their content strategy problems with new technology or visual design, they find themselves back in the same place after the dust has settled.
Content strategy is the missing link that closes the loop on the content lifecycle. Having a solid content strategy puts you back in control of your content. A content audit is the essential foundation for that strategy.
Where Do We Begin?
To figure out how to get where you’re going, you need to know where you’re starting from. (If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s a whole other issue. Make sure you’ve clearly defined the goals that drive your organization up front.)
A content inventory is all of the quantitative information about your content. It’s the “what” and “where” about your content. It begins as a list of every item, including its URL, page metadata (title, description, keywords, etc.). It can also include additional data points from web analytics or social media stats.
Beginning from the content inventory, the content audit is a “careful and complete inspection” of the content. It adds a qualitative layer, including identifying subject, messaging, calls to action, assessing content quality, and capturing any recommendations.
Sounds like a lot of work? It can be. Keep in mind that you’re creating the solid base that will allow you to focus ongoing work in the right places. To make this important job easier we’ve created Blaze, a Web-based tool that produces an automated content inventory and makes it easy to layer your audit findings right on top.
What counts as content?
In short, everything. It’s important at this stage to keep an open mind about what needs to be examined. Often we find organizations overlooking databased content – things like physician profiles and location directories – when this content is a key component of the user’s experience.
When is the Right Time for an Audit?
The best time for a content audit is when you’re going to take some action based on the outcome. Here are three of the most common actions that prompt a content audit:
- Site Overhaul: A content audit is absolutely essential as you head into a major overhaul or redesign of a site. A comprehensive audit will help to provide an accurate scope and estimate of effort for the project. We find over and over again that content is the most underestimated portion of our client’s projects. Make sure you stay on track by getting a realistic picture of what lies ahead.
- Strategic Shift: As your organization’s goals change, are reinvigorated, or new directions (service lines, specialties, technologies) are added to the mix a reverse audit can help.
- Ongoing Governance: Want to head off that cycle of “blowing up” the website every few years? A rolling audit coupled with a content governance plan will ensure that your site is reviewed regularly, and will identify opportunities to take the content to the next level – strengthening the messaging, and improving voice and tone.
We will get into the nitty-gritty details in our upcoming webinar: Improve Under–Performing Web Content with a Content Audit on May 22, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. CT.