Carrying out a web content audit

by / Filed under Web

I’ve been undertaking a couple of largish projects since starting work as Suffolk Libraries‘ web manager. The first is a content audit.

It’s worth auditing your existing web content whether you think a big redesign is in order or not. Of course, there’s rarely a time when a new web manager starts their job without thinking the site needs some improvement, but even if you’ve decided on an evolution not revolution approach, an audit still serves as a starting point for your work.

I’ll refer you to The Content Strategist’s Bible at this point. It goes into this stuff in great detail.

What is a content audit?

A content audit is a list (normally a spreadsheet) of all the things your organisation publishes online. In practice this mostly means the content you publish on your website, including the HTML pages, images and assets like PDFs. There are always lots of PDFs to discover.

Once you’ve listed everything you assign each item an owner. The owner isn’t the person who edits, creates or deletes content; it’s whoever is responsible for providing the content. So while I might write the page for Ipswich County Library, it’s the library manager who is responsible for providing the details, such as contact number and regular events.

You’ll also add other details to each content item, depending on the size of the site and your team. If your CMS doesn’t have a review date feature, you could start adding dates here.

The audit is useful for lots of reasons:

  • It gives you an insight into what your organisation does and who’s responsible for what.
  • No matter how dire a website’s navigation and design seem, it’ll still contain content the public finds useful. An audit will reveal this important content.
  • You get a ‘big picture’ of the website. This will give you some immediate ideas for improvements.
  • It gives you someone to go to when you want to change content.
  • You know who to ask when you want to remove content. Getting agreement when you want to make big changes makes your job a lot easier.
  • It reveals obvious problems in the site’s IA that can be corrected quite quickly.
  • It makes the job of updating and managing content a lot easier. Once you’ve listed all your content you can easily schedule content reviews.
  • Once you’ve got a handle on your existing content it’s a lot easier to migrate it to a different platform.
  • It’s a major part of your top task research.

Carrying out the audit

Suprisingly enough, content management systems (CMSs) don’t perform basic content management functions particularly well. For example, it’d be handy if your CMS could output a list of every page on your website, and make it available for export to a spreadsheet. Many CMSs don’t even have a review date feature, let alone a page owner field for each piece of content.

The best way round this is to hunt out your site’s sitemap.xml file, assuming it has one. This will normally live at yoursite.com/sitemap.xml. If you don’t have a sitemap you’re going to be doing a lot of clicking and listing pages.

The sitemap will list every page on your site. Converting it to a spreadsheet is simple (I uploaded it to an online XML to Excel converter). Getting a list of assets is a bit more difficult—you might have to add them manually by searching through the CMS. Failing that, you can perform a Google site search for *.pdf and other relevant extensions. Like I say, this will reveal all sorts of goodies.

Once you’ve got your list you’ll have to go through each item and assign it an owner. You might add a comments column and, depending on the size of the site and your team, information such as item editor. It’s also useful to record the content’s format.

Most sites publish lots of repetitive content such as events and news entries. If the owner is the same for all of these items, there’s no need to list every single one. Just include an example.

The comments you add at this stage are important. It’s here you’ll think about the content’s value, its label and its place within the site structure. At this point you’re in an interesting situation as you’re looking at the website with an outsider’s eyes, just as a customer might.

What to do with the audit

The audit is a goldmine. I found it reveals IA problems that are quite easy to fix straight away. Tell the relevant content owner(s) what you plan to do, get their agreement and go ahead and do it. This is a good time to establish some content editing/creation/deletion processes with the organisation as a whole and any other content editors.

While you’re at it, you can identify redundant content and start deleting it. You don’t need to publish events that took place two years ago.

This will keep you occupied during the first few weeks of your job. Once you’ve completed the audit you can use it to start another big piece of work—top task research.