Getting Content Strategy On Track With Content Audits

Annalisa Kleinschmidt, Senior User Experience Strategist

Article Categories: #Design & Content, #Process, #User Experience, #Content Management

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A content audit can get you closer to answering your burning questions and untangling your content mysteries. Here's how to get started.

On a recent project, I was talking with project stakeholders about content editors’ experiences and pain points with their CMS. Our discussion was aimed at unveiling the core issues that needed to be solved and crafting a strategy that could help them streamline content processes and use their CMS effectively. There were a few interesting questions and insights that resonated with me along the way and sounded like familiar scenarios content editors can relate to.

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • What content is on my site?
  • How much content do I really have?
  • What is working or not working with my content?
  • What tools should I use to get started?

If any of those questions sound familiar, you should consider a content audit. Conducting a content audit is a key activity for us on content site projects. It can help get you closer to answering all of your burning questions and untangling your content mysteries.

Our Approach in Context

Content audits are typically part of our discovery process and take place early on, but can be useful across later stages of a content project and for various types of projects as well. To understand more about this process, let’s review which activities and artifacts make up a content audit and how the audit results can be used most effectively across the lifecycle of a project.

If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, you might be considering a content audit:

  • Site redesign
  • CMS re-platform
  • Content migration

You might even be in the midst of all of these at once. That can be a daunting task with many moving parts to account for on a single project. However, careful planning and preparation can provide a solid foundation for project success.

Getting Started

Regardless of which scenario you're in, a good first step is to take stock of what you have and take an objective look at your site’s status quo. In most cases, critical project goals will require changes to the current state of your content. To move toward a new and improved future state, we have to begin charting a path from point A to point B that includes important turns, pitstops, and potential detours along the way.

This first step leads us to a core part of the content audit, gathering our content inventory. The inventory serves as an important step in quantifying your current site content and understanding the scale of your content project as a whole.

We’ll typically approach this using a combination of methods:

  • Exported list of content from the CMS
  • Automated external crawl of the site 
  • Manual review and listing of content
  • Analytics review of pages and traffic

Each method has its pros and cons. While automated tools help speed up the process and cover many pages at once, they will not always catch everything and can return incomplete or inconsistent results. Combining the output of an automated tool with manual review and CMS exports will help fill in the gaps and paint a more complete picture. Lastly, comparing those outputs with site analytics will tie everything together and provide a lens into the current end user experience with site content.

Using a blended approach that does not rely solely on one method helps get a fairly comprehensive inventory that serves as a framework for reviewing site content and much more.

Digging Into Content

With your content inventory in hand, you can start reviewing the overall shape and structure of the site. The inventory is also a good launching point to begin slicing and dicing different sections for more in-depth review of each page. The review process can vary in size and scope depending on review criteria, timelines, and project priorities. However, the different criteria involved become important inputs for subsequent project needs.

Examples of key criteria to review:

  • Unique content types and variations of content types
  • Content quality and consistency
  • Current usage of voice and tone
  • Content style, structure, and formatting
  • Accessibility
  • Adherence to existing content guidelines
  • Publishing frequency and overall content freshness
  • Content discoverability

Taking into account those different areas, the audit process is often the beginning of a conversation around how content will transform and evolve into the desired future state. Each aspect will shed light on where you’ll need to go next with your content – ultimately informing the approach you’ll take to your project as a whole.

Example spreadsheet set-up

Expanding & Extending the Inventory

The results of the audit activities help narrow the focus around what is going to be the most important, impactful, or time sensitive for a project. Next steps often include a branching or expansion of the work done in the audit to support project work in later phases.

This can include:

  • Beginning information architecture work
  • Cleaning up and removing old content from your site
  • Setting the course for the remainder of content work
  • Mapping old content to new content
  • Identifying content creation needs
  • Creating a content migration plan

With all of those possibilities in mind, the inventory gives a more accurate picture of work that will need to be done by answering the questions of what content you have, how much you’ll be working with, and how much needs to be created from scratch. By untangling content in this format, you will have clearer direction around what you need to do to reach the ideal future state of your content. Wherever your content journey takes you next, you know you’ll be prepared because you’ll have your content audit to guide you along the way.

Tools used in this example:

Screamingfrog: To perform an automated crawl and inventory of content.

Airtable: To gather and process our content inventory.

    Annalisa Kleinschmidt

    Annalisa is a Senior UX Strategist based in Denver, CO. She is passionate about bringing teams together to craft effective user-centered solutions.

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