Who within your organization or your client’s organization should be responsible for auditing your site content? Anyone with a stake in how content is created, organized, and displayed can conduct a content audit and the findings should be shared widely throughout the organization.
An individual can conduct a content audit or the process can be improved by formation of a multi-disciplinary team as Ahava Leibtag recommends in “Why Traditional Content Audits Aren't Enough.” The goal of a content audit is not to simply collect data but to have the information you need to make good decisions. By breaking down the audit by areas of expertise and engaging a team who know the technology, systems, and standards involved in your website content lifecycle, everyone who is part of the process gains greater insight into the content.
Members of the content team—content strategists, content marketers, content writers—are the usual owners of the process and results of conducting content inventories and audits. We do them because they are critical pieces of strategy creation. Audits set the baseline for the current state of the content, help us find areas of low quality or poorly performing content, and allow us to create a gap analysis and roadmap of how to get from where we are to where we want to be. (See how the Content Analysis Tool (CAT) provides solutions for content strategists.)
Information architects and user experience designers also need the insights provided by doing an inventory and audit. Designing navigations systems, user flows, and taxonomies without benefit of a thorough understanding of the existing content can lead to designs that don’t adequately support user needs or behave appropriately in multi-channel and multi-device environments. In “Content Knowledge is Power,” Sara Wachter-Boettcher writes
“[A]t some point you’ll have to deal with the unruly content lurking underneath your website’s neat surface.
Why? Because chances are there’ll be stuff out there that you’ve never thought about, much less designed for. And all that stuff has to go somewhere — too often, shoehorned into a layout it was never meant to inhabit, or perhaps not even migrated into a new template but instead left to wither in an outdated, mobile-unfriendly design.”
(See how CAT can be used by information architects.)
For the site management and technical teams planning a content migration, it is critical to understand exactly what content exists, how much of it there is, and what might need to happen to it on the way from one system to another. A content audit done in advance of a website migration should include a keep/kill pass, to ensure that only the content worth migrating is migrated. It should also address issues with the content that can be fixed as part of or in advance of the migration itself, such as coding issues that affect rendering or inconsistently structured content that will be harder to migrate cleanly. Audit findings often have an impact on the design and production of features within the CMS as well, such as the content input and rendering templates, the content tree structure, and the taxonomy and tagging features.
Sharing your audit results with the technical team—and pairing with your UX counterparts to ensure that the new CMS or site structure is appropriately configured for your content—will save headaches down the road. (See CAT's value for site managers.)
Chances are, if you’re working on a site audit, you are doing it for the sake of a larger business goal (later, we’ll talk about the value of doing a rolling audit, for the sake of ongoing quality control): a site migration is planned, there are new business initiatives related to the site, or there is a general sense that it’s time to give it a good once-over. Your audit should play an important role in communicating to your stakeholders, whether they are the on the business or technical side of the house. Chris Detzi, in “From Content Audit to Design Insight,” writes of a redesign project where the audit helped not only to clarify project scope, but helped facilitate strategic discussions (with the aid of some clever ways to present the findings), and established a common language for the team to use.
It may seem strange to say that customers should be site auditors, but the reality is that they already are. Every time someone interacts with your site, whether reading an article or buying a product, they are forming an opinion. Watch your site analytics to see how long they stay, whether they return, or when and where they leave. These are all valuable clues as to your content performance. Your search logs tell you whether they are speaking the same language you are and whether they’re finding what they’re looking for. If you aren’t paying attention to this data, you may be missing opportunities. And if they comment on your content, review it, or share it, you have a very direct evidence of their interaction and opinion. If your site doesn’t include commenting, reviewing, or social sharing, you can always go directly to the source—set up user forums or one-on-one usability tests and directly expose customers to your content and get their feedback. Your customers are your most valuable auditors at all; find as many ways to listen to them as possible and take their feedback seriously.