The ROI of Content Inventories and Audits

Content audits take time. Doing a thorough, page by page assessment of all the content on a web site, against a set of various criteria, can take weeks or even months, depending on the size of the site and the goals of the audit.

Occasionally, you’ll hear someone associated with a web project say “Why do we need to do a content inventory / audit?” Perhaps it’s an account manager who is claiming that “That sounds like discovery—and clients don’t want to pay for discovery. Can’t we just figure it out when we get there?” Or maybe the client has been sold a fully-comped creative direction and your project manager is saying “We’ll just have to make the content fit—the client loves the creative.” Or maybe one of your colleagues is advocating that “We’re creating something brand new—we don’t want our creativity constrained by what was done in the past.”

As content strategists, we know the value of doing a comprehensive content inventory and audit. But often we’re in the position of defending the expenditure of time and money to do these foundational strategic tasks. Automating your content inventory with CAT, of course, is one way to cut down on time and cost. But how do you even sell a client or a business stakeholder on the need to do an inventory and audit to begin with?

Few of us would willingly sign up for creating or implementing a strategy that isn’t informed by the existing state of the content—not only knowing what assets we have to work with, but understanding the environment in which they were created and published, and the goals they were intended to support. Understanding what isn’t working, as well as what is, of course, helps us address issues most effectively. If you’re in the position of trying to sell in an inventory and audit, read these cautionary tales from prominent content strategists.

The High Cost of Saving Money

It may seem reasonable in the short term to skimp on the audit effort, but as Kevin Nichols recounts, that can be an extremely expensive lesson in the old saying “penny wise and pound foolish.”

“Over years in this field, I have witnessed instances when a thorough content audit was not conducted for large, global company website re-launches. This negligence can and has translated into countless days and cost overruns, especially if content migration is necessary. Years ago, I saw one company fail to account for major areas of content for certain lines of business because they wanted to do a ‘quick and dirty’ inventory. In the end, the launch was pushed back months (from the original launch date) because the content was discovered at the end of the project. Failing to due diligence in a content assessment at the beginning of a project is not only bad business, it can have serious repercussions for the overall financial bottom line.”

Think for Yourself

Even though inventories and audits can take fairly standard forms, it can be very difficult working with information produced by someone else. Doing the audit yourself means you’ve done the thinking yourself. Ahava Leibtagaddresses this with a real-life example:

 “There’s always a cost to using someone else’s work as well, which speaks to the specificity of doing your own audit the way it works best for you and your writers. In this particular project, an employee who left the organization had performed a content audit and had made her own decisions about what needed to stay and what needed to go. Her audit was handed to us and so we followed her instructions. But when the marketing managers reviewed the content they were aghast, as they felt she had eliminated core content that still needed to be rewritten and not completely trashed. We performed our own audit for the Phase II of the project, saving about 40 team hours and avoiding an expensive set of two rewrites.”

When Design Outpaces Content

Sara Wachter-Boettcher wrote in “Content Knowledge is Power” about the perils of ignoring legacy content in a redesign process.

Sarah Beckley shares this example of an instance where template design was done without adequately considering the format and quantity of content.

“Imagine being handed templates for a global redesign that were designed for a full product set, and being told to stuff the existing site’s content into them—content that was never once considered in the design. It took three months to get permission to change a 3-column template to 4-columns. They also wanted us to cut the site from 700 pages to 100 pages—impossible. We gave them 450 pages and I determined how the content should be presented, then chose the template style closest to what I imagined.”

And another horror story: “A fitness company wanted to install interactive message boards that would display fitness tips when you touched on colored squares. The client signed off on the design of the board—including the fitness topic categories—before anyone even looked at the content. And they believed they had a library of content to pull from.  It turned out that the library of tips were left over from an email newsletter and tended to run to 100 or more words, as well as having a lot of duplicates or tips that were not the right fit for the board literally and figuratively—the content didn’t fall into the predetermined categories, and each colored square allowed up 25 or 50 characters. We ended up writing all new content and reworking the design of the squares to match new categories.”

Making the Case

A reputable doctor wouldn’t make a diagnosis without examining the patient. An architect wouldn’t design a house without understanding who the owners are and how they live. So why would we ever expect a content strategist or user experience architect to create a site without doing the necessary due diligence to create an informed strategy and design?

If the stories above aren’t convincing, do a little math. Say you decide to skip the inventory and audit—or only spend a few hours on them. Then further along in the project, as our examples illustrated, extensive rework has to be done because the design doesn’t support the content. Now the whole team is involved—not just the content strategist, but project managers, designers, and developers. Multiply the hourly rate for each of those resources by the days or weeks of time spent correcting the issues. Throw in a little client dissatisfaction as an aggravating factor.

Now imagine that you spent forty (or eighty or whatever you need to spend) hours at the beginning of a project to do an inventory and audit (and if you use CAT to do your content inventory, most of those hours can be put to the analysis!). Multiply that number by your bill rate. Factor in a happy client, an on-time delivery, and a less-stressed out project team. Is there really a question any more of what is the better return on investment?