Four-Step Recipe for a Content Audit

E-marketers and web managers: When was the last time you did a content audit of your website?

Unless you recently launched a new site, your answer probably falls between “um, a while ago, I think” and Never. That’s not necessarily bad. If you have a good writing team and sound governance practices in place to manage what is published, your site is likely in good shape.

If not…. a content audit might be overdue. In brief, a content audit is a methodical, critical assessment of your website, page by page and link by link, from the Home Page to the bottom of your navigation paths. Done properly, the content audit will identify broken links, outdated pages, and information gaps.

Think of a content audit as you would clean out a refrigerator. So, where to begin?

Content Inventory

The first step is to identify every page and link on your website. This content inventory is a quantitative measurement that determines how many pages you have. The inventory is best done programmatically via an export of all URLs into a spreadsheet. If it must be done manually, cut and paste the URLs into the spreadsheet as you go.

Once you have this list of all pages, you can start the audit.

The four dimensions

The audit is a qualitative assessment that relies on the reviewer to evaluate each link along four dimensions:

  • Functional — Does the link work? That is, does it lead to its intended page? If an interactive page, does it perform as expected?
  • Relevancy — Is the content active, evergreen, expired or invalid?
  • Editorial — Is the content readable, grammatically correct and punctuated correctly?
  • Topical —Does the content “fill” an important niche on the site? Is it duplicated in whole or in part? Is the level of content sufficient? Is there no content at all?

As you drill through the list, assign the page a status on the spreadsheet: Keep, Improve, Consolidate or Remove.

Let me give an example. Several years ago I was assigned to do a content audit for a supermarket client as part of a website relaunch.

The supermarket offered limited browse-and-fill-shopping cart capability. At the time, most of its 1000 or so web pages were editorial content such as recipes, party planning guides and health/wellness guides.

Using the methodology described above, I combed the site. Functionality was excellent overall; just a handful of pages led to the dreaded HTTP 404 Not Found message. Editorially, the site was not bad either. Some grammar slips in there, but easy enough to fix.

The remaining two dimensions were a different story.

The client had one primary writer who added one or two new articles each month. But she repeated herself. A lot. From page to page and across topics. She’d give gentle advice about the evils of sun exposure in the tanning article and the beach vacation article and the Fathers’ Day cookout article, often virtually word for word.

The supermarket prided itself on its entertainment and health guides and recipes. While the information was expert and quite useful, the topical coverage was uneven — thick on popular subjects like cookies, desserts, grilling and cheese trays, but wafer-thin on vegetarian cooking, seniors’ health and general wellness.

Many pages were “evergreen” and intended to remain in perpetuity. But evidently nobody reviewed the site periodically to remove outdated content or duplicates. Calendar-dated party planning guides and news releases went back two or three years. Pages of long-expired promotions remained. All of it made the site feel stale. A handful of product category pages were woefully undernourished, content-wise.

So I labeled the pages Keep, Improve, Consolidate, Remove. From there our team of five writers — four foodies and one eatie (me) — cleared the site of its content “leftovers”, beefed up the thin pages, sliced and diced the repetitive stories and wrote new articles for topics that lacked coverage. We were able to redefine the editorial categories to create a broader and friendlier set of guides under the entertainment, cooking and pharmacy sections. We upgraded the product landing pages, the house brand pages and the administrative, savings and “about us” pages as well.

But it all started with a content audit.

Dan Skantar is Director of Content Services at JP Enterprises.

Stay Tuned! Next week we’ll feature Part One of The Content Manager’s Guide to CMS Migrations

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