Creating Content Audits that Deliver Results

May 28, 2014

Results-Driven Content Audits Thrive on Context

We recently noticed an increase in articles, tweets and conversations about content audits. After tracking the term for three years, it’s a welcome change. Those two words together, “content audit,” aren’t as cringe-inducing or intimidating as they were in the past. Have we reached a time when auditing content is seen as imminently possible and, in some cases, essential?

In Sarah Richard’s new series on content audits, she challenges the reader to reconsider how we use this tool as part of a content strategy. First, are we collecting the appropriate data to make informed decisions on content changes? Second, how often does the need to audit content fit into our content management cycle? “Audits are for life, not just for Christmas,” states Richards. On this, we so agree.

An on-going evaluation of your content performance against meaningful standards will deliver more results with greater frequency than a one-time or even once-a-year audit and implementation. Audits aren’t just useful for optimizing or removing the content you have now. They can also help you determine what’s needed for future content—from the creation workflow to the metadata, architecture to editorial calendar. To empower this kind of content assessment, you need to understand what you have and where you’re headed. You really need to know the context for your audit and its outcomes.

Establish Your Base

To deliver actionable results, you need to create a baseline for comparison. A standard content inventory gives you a list of all the content you have, where it’s located and some basic information about its structure and elements. An enhanced website inventory can show you your content hierarchy, titles and tags, size, media attachments, even analytics.

A content inventory provides the x axis to a range of possible comparative criteria. Website, social channels, intranet, print catalog—you can create an inventory for any of these collections. The point is you need to know what you have and where it is, so you can decide what you’re going to do about it.

However, before you decide to audit or assess that content, it’s important to develop an understanding of the context for this process. These are our top questions when considering a content audit:

  • Does content meet organizational goals?
  • Does it serve target audiences and facilitate their tasks?
  • Does it provide unique information or experiences in comparison to competitors?
  • Does it meet best practices and/or system constraints?

Know How You Will Use It

Having an inventory is valuable in many cases. Your sales and customer service teams can use it to point people to useful content you already have instead of creating new versions. Your marketing team can mine it for re-use and repurpose. You can use it for regular optimization, reframes or redesigns, and, of course, system migrations.

But for an audit to have value, you need to know that you can act on what you find.

Now is the time to establish how much time you have, who is available to perform an audit and who, in fact, needs this information in order to facilitate change? Once you have the x axis (content inventory), there’s an unlimited amount of candidates for the y axes. Consider your context to determine which questions you need to answer first. 

Context is an Audit’s Best Friend

No one conducts a content audit for the fun of it. But you can reframe the task from “time-consuming and repetitive” into a “thorough and replicable research practice.” The real value in an audit is how you will use it to establish a gap analysis. What is the gap between what you have and what you need to better reach your goals and help your users?

Useful and usable audits are tied to your values.

  • Do you have a commitment to reaching, engaging and actively providing value to audiences? You can audit for that.
  • Are visitors to your digital and physical spaces getting the information they need to make decisions and take action? Can they actually complete the tasks you put before them? Audit those user journeys and action paths.
  • What’s missing from your competitor’s offerings in terms of content and services? Do you provide those things? Audit, identify gaps, and form a plan to fill them.
  • Are you meeting standards set out by search engines, social media channels, content management systems, plain language, accessibility…? Find out with an audit and make an action plan for improving current content. Then, update your creation process so all future content is in alignment as well.

At Content Insight, we love content audits. No news there. It’s one of the tools that help us create strategies and establish governance standards that respect the content life cycle. It’s exciting to see more people advocating for the audit, as well as challenging all of us to create audits that are thoughtful, contextual, and actionable. 

How do you decide what goes in your content audit?  We’d love to hear your strategies for making the “content audit” useful, useable and actionable.  

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Category: Content Audit Tips

Misty Weaver


Misty is Content Insight's community manager.

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