A content inventory is a vital first step in a web site redesign or content management system platforming project and can be a useful tool for long-term content management. But it's easy to get lost in the details if you don't have a clear idea of why you're doing creating an inventory, who your audience is, and what the expected outcome is—i.e., what actions will be taken or decisions made based on what you find.
Here are a few things to consider as you embark on a content inventory.
Are you cataloging to provide scoping information—is someone going to make decisions about the viability or cost of a project based on the information you're gathering? If so, your focus might be on the sheer numbers—how many pages, how many images, how many videos, how many interactive features (logins, forms, etc.).
Are you doing an inventory to set up a deeper content audit? For example, to convince your organization that your site needs an overhaul or to make sure that your site content is serving your user and business goals. If so, your focus will be more on the scope of the content, how it's structured, how each piece of content relates to the others.
Are you inventorying to identify the structure of the site and the content? Perhaps you're an Information Architect who wants to get a sense of the overall structure—what is the navigation model, how is content grouped and classified, how many different interaction models or templates are there? Is there content that can only be navigated to via a text link buried deep in a fourth-level page? If so, you will probably begin by organizing the file list into a site map, reflecting navigational models and site hierarchy, and look for patterns and discrepancies.
Are you a content strategist who is preparing to do a deeper assessment of the content itself? In your case, the goal of your inventory is to set the stage for a content audit. In addition to the structure of the site, you may be assessing the different content types and the relative quantity and depth of types—is the site heavy on marketing copy but light on informational copy or help? If you're the strategist on a content management system migration project, you will also want to know where the content currently lives, who owns or manages it, and how it gets published. You will be helping assess the migrate/don't migrate question, so you will be evaluating it against whatever set of criteria is important to your organization, but at the very least, currency, messaging, clarity and consistency, whether it facilitates user tasks—in short, more qualitative aspects of the content.
Are you a site manager who is trying to keep your site performing well, free of orphaned pages, outdated content, duplicate content, broken links or forms? Are you tracking to a content migration and need to make sure you've accounted for everything you need to carry over to the new system—and everything you don't? Being able to track the differences in your site from day to day or week to week will be critical to making sure that everything is running smoothly. You will probably also be interested in mapping your inventory against site analytics and SEO guidelines.
What's the long-term use of the data going to be?
If you're doing a site migration project, depending on the size of the site, you may be working within a timeframe of up to a year or more. How much will the content change over that period of time? Does it make sense up front to catalog every single piece of content or is it enough at this point to have a general sense of scope?
What kind of site is it? If it's an e-commerce site, you can assume it will change frequently and very likely, all that product content is database-driven. So you don't want to spend a lot of time capturing all those URLs since 1) they're going to change, and 2) you risk skewing your scoping efforts if you count each product page as a separate page to be migrated and rebuilt.
Spending a little time up front to think through your goals will be time well spent, ensuring that you're capturing the right kinds of data and have a clear sense of how you will use the information you glean. But an inventory is not an end in itself, of course, and whatever the context in which you've created it or your intended purpose, your goal should be to spend as little time cataloging as possible and instead spend your valuable time in analysis of the data. Using a tool like Content Insight's Content Analysis Tool (CAT) will speed you on your way to gaining insights.
What are your best tips for creating content inventories? Send us email and we'll include them here.