When it comes to auditing content, each situation is unique, but there are a set of criteria that can be applied in any situation. It can be hard to know where to start sometimes, so at our sister agency, Strategic Content, we developed a content evaluation checklist to make sure we’re covering the basics. We usually work through this list with clients as part of a collaborative effort, since we need their input on questions about business purpose and content goals.
I’ve divided the checklist into basic, intermediate, and advanced questions. None of these criteria are necessarily more important than the others, but the division is based on complexity of the audit process (how easy is it to evaluate and how much time will it take?) and the likelihood that you will need to bring in other people or sources of data to do the auditing (who can make decisions or provide input? What data do you need to gather?).
Before you start your audit, you need to create your content inventory (CAT-powered, of course!) and gather all the relevant material you can—business requirements, style guides, personas, analytics, etc.—so you know what your overall context is.
These criteria are what we would call table stakes: the baseline levels of editorial and functional quality that every site should meet regardless of other considerations.
Well written: If your content has typos or grammatical errors or is written in awkward or otherwise off-putting language, you risk losing credibility right from the start.
Easy to read: Are pages concise and easy to scan? Is it free of jargon, acronyms, or abbreviations the audience isn’t likely to know?
Accurate: Is all the information correct? If your content is related to products and service offerings that change frequently, having up-to-date information is critical.
Findable: Can customers actually find the content they need? Do navigational labels, links, and headings clearly indicate what they contain or link to? Is the page linked from other relevant pages? Will the page be returned in search results if the user enters keywords related to the subject of the page?
These criteria are still essentially editorial judgment calls, but require a bit more time with the content. They also require more grounding in the user needs and business goals for the content: who are your users and how do they need information presented? What are their tasks and what will it take to help them complete them? What do you want them to do after engaging with your content?
Unique: Are there other pieces of content that cover the same topic? If there are duplicates, which is better? Are there metrics to show which is most used?
Format is appropriate: Is the format effective and appropriate to the type of information presented? Would it be better as a graphic or a video or would addition of those media enhance the text?
Audience-appropriate: Is it written in the right tone for your audience? Is the writing level appropriate?
Comprehensive: Is the content of sufficient depth to fulfill the user’s task? What other information might they need?
On-brand: Does content meet your brand guidelines? Does it tell your story effectively?
Actionable: Does the content have a clear call to action? Will the reader know the next step to take?
The advanced criteria require taking a deeper look at the organization and how content is managed through its lifecycle, including the analysis of content data to assess use and effectiveness.
Serves a business purpose: If you can’t look at a piece of content and immediately know that it has value to your users or a very good reason to be there for your organization’s needs, why are you publishing it?
Has an owner: Can you identify an owner within the organization who has or will take responsibility for it, who can make the business case for keeping it? If not, how will you know if it’s current, accurate, and necessary?
Governed: If no one owns or cares about the content and it’s not being actively governed, what are the chances it’s going to stay relevant?
Used: None of the above matters if the content isn’t actually being used. If users aren’t engaging with the content, it’s either unnecessary or misplaced. Use your analytics data to find content that’s under-utilized and then check the content to see why.
Effective: Along with being used is being effective—not quite the same thing. Maybe you have great numbers of people accessing your pages and spending time on them, but if your goal is to sell products and people aren’t buying anything after spending all that time. Or your goal is to encourage donations and that’s not happening. If so, you’re still not actually delivering on your business goals. So you need to assess why that isn’t happening—go back to these other audit metrics, take a hard look at the content, the user flow through it, the feedback you’re getting from your customers. Where is the disconnect happening?
Use these criteria as a checklist or framework for your audit, with frequent checks back to your project and business context and goals, and you'll have a great start on coming up with a useful analysis. For more on how to audit content, check out my new book, Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook.