Thanks to the attendees of my workshop, Understanding Web Content Inventories, Audits and Analysis, at Information Development World last week. The group proved that, even with limited time and resources, it’s possible to do a meaningful content audit and come up with specific tactics for improvement.
Before the conference, we invited readers of this blog and twitter followers to nominate a site for audit by the workshop group. We selected a nonprofit organization in the UK that provides health information and guidance to the general public as well as health professionals.
After a morning spent learning about content inventories (starting with a CAT inventory, of course) and audits and how to plan, scope, and conduct them, the group broke into four sub-groups and set out to do their audits. The materials they were provided: four user profiles for the various audiences of the site, a set of business goals, and analytics. Their first task: turning business goals into user goals and content needs. Each group took on a different user so that we could cover as much of the site as possible and see both where the different groups had different needs and where there are overarching themes.
Despite only having a few hours to conduct and present their audits, the groups were able to report out with very specific recommendations addressing navigation and labeling, editorial quality of the content (writing style, length, messaging), suggestions for ways to get users to directly engage with the site, and content discoverability.
The groups were able to do this because of the focus up front on understanding the users, their primary tasks, and the business goals. By spending time creating a matrix of goals vs. content needs, they had a framework for their audits that helped narrow the scope.
One of the hardest aspects of doing content audits is maintaining focus—if you just jump in and start clicking around, you can easily create a list of problems and spend a lot of time cataloging them. But without the framework of the questions you’re trying to answer, the goals you are assessing against, and the user needs and tasks, that catalog of issues is just that—a list, not an actual audit, which entails assessing current state against desired state, mapping the gap between the two, and making recommendations that address the specific problems to be solved.
The workshop attendees also had an opportunity to experience what is often the case in real life inventory and audit projects: Sometimes you're auditing content for which you are not personally a subject matter expert; often, you don't have all the information you would like to have; and you have limited time and resources. Again, as I discuss at length in my book, Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook, the more time you can spend in understanding the business context upfront, the better prepared you are to make the best use of the time and resources you have.
Paula Land is co-founder and CEO of Content Insight and author of Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook.