Content audits are a necessary evil. I personally think they're great fun and can lead to thrilling and inspiring insights into a business's progress (that I'll get into in a later blog). But I know that to most, audits seem daunting, draining, and can even trigger emotional and political dealings that we forget are there until data is summoned from the myst of content past. Many content auditors are often left wondering, "What do I even do with all of this information?"
At a high level, a basic web crawl provides invaluable data that can help steer your content endeavors towards success, but an actual audit could be anything from an analyzation of the data a web crawl spits out by category and business objective to an overall assessment of page and content performance via your analytics tools.
Either way, the ideal objectives are to:
Know what's out there
Understand what is working (and hopefully understand why it's working)
Find ways to cut the fat
So, why conduct a website content audit?
1. You need to know what's out there right now.
I once had a client tell me, "We're still deciding on whether or not we want to require our [content creators] to use our brand standards." I was floored, honestly. This organization didn't want its creators to feel stifled by limitations and was worried that if they imposed governance on their creators, they wouldn't see as much content.
This was a reputable organization that had no idea what was being said in its own name.
They had creators that were employees of the organization producing content in separate channels or on the website blog and at no point did someone from their corporate communications team review the branded content to ensure accuracy, appropriate use of tone and voice, or the relevance to their brand's audience.
Who knows what objectives this content was intended to meet? This was not a blogging community with individual contributors providing their own unique content. These contributors were employees of this organization. And while it's good to trust your employees to do a good job, inevitably, things will go awry without some sort of centralization.
Needless-to-say, when we audited their content, we found that their categories were all over the place and not many of their pieces were meeting business objectives. The brand's artifacts were used inconsistently, and the tone and voice changed from blog to blog. Readers must have been either thoroughly confused or finding no reason to ever return to the content again. There was little value, disparate experiences within the same site, and worst of all, sometimes the content just didn't make sense for the organization's brand.
Not only that, but we went so far as to do a competitive analysis, and found that their competitors were killing them with strategic content. There was a basic expectation by content consumers in their vertical for a certain content experience, and this organization was far, far behind. They had a lot of work ahead of them. But, at least they knew where to start.
2. You need to know what's working right now (and, hopefully, why).
With the magic of analytics tools, we can easily understand a great many things about what is happening on our websites. We can understand what pieces of content are effectively drawing visitors in, and which ones are turning them into true believers (aka, conversions).
We can also can see what pieces of content are complete duds. They might serve a higher purpose according to our standards and practices as an organization, but they aren't producing towards a bottom line.
What we tend to forget is that there is value in comparing the pieces against each other and assessing whether or not there's an opportunity to update, realign, or consolidate content. We have a tendency to try and reproduce what has been working without asking why it's working.
You need to know what's working and why it's working because if you're anything like the businesses I've worked with, you're producing a lot of content without assessing alignment with business objectives. Knowing what works can help you apply strategic thinking and planning to your content production, and help you understand what is going to work towards a bottom line so that you can show improvement and inspire further investment in content.
3. You need to know what to invest in - and where to "cut the fat" right now.
Content is expensive. It takes a lot of time, experience, and resources to create a blog and there are even more costs that go into creating/buying/managing media, design, data integrity, and content administration. Not to mention, every time you need to move the stuff, it all has to be done neatly so as not to potentially disappoint your users by disrupting their expected experience.
Are you aware of:
How many blog pages are live on your site?
How many pages exist within your CMS, unpublished for one reason or another?
How many product pages are needing to be redirected after your big website redesign?
How many images exist, or need to be replaced, and how many expired outbound links need to be updated?
An audit will help you understand not only how many URLs exist, but it will also give you an idea of what you have - in dollars and cents - and what you are missing or needing to update.
Content is an investment, just like anything else you do for your organization. Now that you know what you're spending money on and how it's benefitting you, you can make strategic decisions on where to invest.
Most of all, an audit will tell you how many pages from your website could be cut forever to make way for a better experience. This, my friends, is content gold. Simpler is better. Smaller websites are easier to maintain, and it's easier to measure the performance of a smaller website.
Have you ever visited a site that was so simple and so utilitarian that it left you no excuse but to follow their content or to buy something within your first visit? Most likely, the driver of your behavior was a clear, direct path to the exact thing you wanted. You didn't have to search the site or wade through blog filters to find the information you needed. You just went to the site, found the information you needed, and made the purchase.
That is the goal when "trimming the fat". While the audit is - technically - only the first step in understanding what content barriers you are unintentionally putting up for your target consumers, it's a good start and will help you understand where to go from here.
So, where does one even start?
There are tons of web crawlers and analytics tools out there to quantitatively audit your site. We'll get into my own experience with some of these tools in later blogs.
Spreadsheets, content management/publishing tools, and even just good old-fashioned Google Docs can help you organize, analyze, share, track, and manage your audit data overtime. Before you start, you'll want to know who you're sharing your findings with, what they need to know, and what the real value of the audit is. This will help guide the story you tell with your data.
Sidenote: "One-and-done" isn't really an effective approach for auditing and assessing content, so you'll want to start thinking about content governance before really diving into the audit. But don't let that deter you from getting started.
For the audit itself, just do the following.
Step One: Make an audit plan.
Step Two: Conduct the audit.
Step Three: Apply learnings.
Good luck, my new auditing friend. Feel free to reach out with thoughts or ideas on this very over-simplified approach to the subject.