Lesley Hanes | April 30, 2020
Websites and intranets can end up cluttered with content that no one uses. This clutter causes all sorts of problems — problems that affect more parts of a business as time goes by.
When customers can’t find what they’re looking for, they stop visiting your website or knowledge base. Instead, they ask for help more often (and you get more calls and emails to deal with).
When you don’t know what content you have, what state it’s in, or who ‘owns’ it, you’re not even at the starting line for redeveloping a site.
When your intranet is stuffed with content that isn’t easy to find or use, people set up their own systems rather than deal with the daily frustration. You then have problems with duplicated content and conflicting sources of information.
If decluttering is put off for long enough, storage space becomes an issue. No new content can go in and running costs are high. Your digital carbon footprint is also not a source of pride.
A content audit can help you:
A content audit is like going through all your stuff at home and having a good clear-out before you move, so you don’t take junk to your new place. Sometimes you might decide to keep something but make it better — like reupholstering a piece of furniture so it looks fresh and new. Of course, you should check with people in your household before you throw out someone’s favourite jersey, or that handy tool that looks like junk to you!
Here are the main steps to follow when you’re doing a content audit.
Decide which criteria to use
Work out how much content to audit
Identify your allies
Choose your tools
Do the work — Mahia te mahi!
Analyse your data and report on the results
Give us a shout if you need help
Before you start a content audit, you’ll need to set some criteria to audit against. Your vision and goals will help inform these decisions.
If your intranet needs some serious streamlining and reorganising to make your workplace more efficient, include criteria that focus on reducing volume and recording topics.
If you suspect that some sections of your website are no longer relevant or effective, you’ll need criteria for assessing how relevant, engaging, and up to date the content is.
And if you’ve got a knowledge base but customers keep calling or emailing anyway, include criteria that help you identify where content is confusing or missing.
To see some examples of criteria and what to record when you’re auditing, view the resource below.
Next you need to figure out how much content to audit. You might decide to audit:
To help you decide, come back to your reasons for doing a content audit, and factor in the time and resources you have available.
Sometimes the main areas of concern appear quickly and going further won’t tell you much more. However, be wary of stopping an audit too soon as all sorts of things can be lurking in your content. Maybe there’s a page with a customised piece of functionality that won’t work on a new platform, or maybe you’ll find pieces of content gold buried somewhere.
Doing an audit can be labour-intensive and you won’t necessarily have all the answers. You’ll need allies to help fill the gaps in your knowledge. For example:
The first thing you need is a list of all the pages in your site. Hopefully, this list is easy to get from your content management system (ask your web team). If not, try a site crawler like Screaming Frog. You’ll need to be prepared to clean the resulting spreadsheet as it will have technical SEO information that you don’t need.
If your site is small, you could create a list manually in a spreadsheet. Just make sure the list mirrors the architecture of the site, so it makes sense to others who may view it.
Another option is to use a purpose-built content auditing tool like the ones we’ve listed below. These tools usually both crawl your site and include handy functions that make auditing work easier. For example, with some of these tools you can integrate analytics; add screenshots; and sort, tag, and rate content. As with most software, you’ll need to consider how many people need to access and use it, and how much a licence or subscription costs.
There’s no getting around the painstaking work that content audits often involve. You need to check every page included in the audit against all the criteria and record what you find. We recommend breaking the work into chunks. Audit one section or batch of pages at a time. Take a break and then do another chunk, and so on.
A mindset of curiosity can help to counteract the tedium of repeating the same tasks. Before each chunk of audit work, I ask myself, ‘What will I find next?’
Detect patterns or common issues. As you’re auditing, you’re likely to notice patterns or common issues. For example, you might notice that lots of pages have no clear purpose or certain pages are hardly ever visited. As soon as you notice a pattern or area of concern, jot it down to make the reporting phase easier and quicker.
Carry out your analysis with your goals in mind. When you’re analysing the results, focus on one aspect at a time. Sort the data to see what themes and quantifiable results emerge. Try to prioritise the aspects that line up with your goals.
For example, if the audit will inform a site redevelopment, orientate your analysis towards the plan for the next stage by working out how many pages need to be revised, culled, or created. Identify any potential roadblocks, such as content owners who have a large number of pages that need revising but little time to give feedback on new content.
Summarise the results clearly and usefully. Refrain from sending out your spreadsheet. Instead, summarise the results in a short report and set out the likely next steps. Organise the content in a logical way — for example, by priority for action or by section of the site.
Use descriptive headings in your report so that the main results stand out. For example:
15% of pages do not fulfil a user need and cause complaints
After the heading, state briefly what you found. For example:
Many of our ‘how to’ pages do not support our site users to accomplish their tasks. These pages are the source of complaints and frustrate our help crew.
Next, say what action you recommend, and if appropriate, include an outline of the action plan.
Recommended action: Remove these problem pages in the next 2 weeks. See page 15 for a summary of the pages and issues they’re causing, along with a list of people who could help with removing the pages.
Consider using tables or graphs to summarise results for the whole site and, if it’s helpful, for each section. Your report could also include things like:
We’re not afraid of content clutter or mess — in fact, you’ll often find us knee-deep in some kind of content muck! We’re able to persevere and sort the mess out because we know the rewards are well worth the effort. Content calm does prevail. Business and user needs can be well met.
And once a content mess is cleaned up, you are left with a much easier ongoing maintenance job. Phew!