The inventory establishes scope and begins to reveal patterns in content quantity and type; the audit helps clarify and refine that scope, revealing a fuller picture of what needs to be addressed. Inventories and audits can serve as communication tools throughout a project’s or website’s lifecycle. These activities and their outcomes can provide a way to connect stakeholders, designers, content managers, and technologists and gather the team around the implications and opportunities for change.
A key point here is the importance of understanding the organization’s goals and the role content plays in achieving them. Without that background, it is difficult to focus an audit for maximum impact, and the results will be less compelling to the audience. With that background, you can more easily find content improvement opportunities that people in the organization will support.
By the end of a content audit, you will probably know more about the content on the site than anyone else in the organization. You may be the only person whose knowledge spans all the organizational content silos. This puts you in a position of power. If you can back up your story with data and informed analysis, you can move change forward.
If at all possible, institute the concept of the rolling inventory and audit, so that your audit is not a one-time project but a repeatable and regularly scheduled process. Whether you’re migrating a site or just maintaining it, taking the time to audit regularly will help you provide the most consistent, current, and relevant content to your users.
If you keep track of content changes, you can keep your content inventory up to date as part of regular website maintenance and management. An automated inventory can make this process easier by providing a change report. By making it easier to see the content lifecycle, a regularly updated inventory gives your team a powerful tool for communicating website changes and sets up a foundation for ongoing governance.
When governance policies are not in place or are not followed, website content can become disorganized, stale, and ineffective at meeting business and user needs. These problems can trigger a content strategy initiative when the business realizes that the site is failing. A time-consuming, expensive project gets kicked off, an inventory and audit are completed, and a strategy is developed. To avoid costly one-time improvement efforts like this, you need to create a virtuous circle”—a feedback loop that enables your company to learn and improve over time. You need to update your style guides, your glossary, and your governance policies, and then feed all that back to your content creators so that new content is created to updated standards and you’re constantly improving rather than doing major overhauls.
Next week, the series wraps up with how to control the processes you've put into place to ensure that content is future-proof.
Paula Land is co-founder and CEO of Content Insight and author of Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook.