Taking a few hours to do a content audit of your website represents time very well spent. Both the process itself and the document that results can help to identify problems with site structure, inconsistencies in menus, titles, headings and URLs, and outdated or difficult-to-find content.
The word audit might suggest some kind of scary inspection by grim-faced figures of authority, but in fact a content audit is more like an inventory of your site. It can – and often does – include an assessment of the quality of the content, but in my experience even a simple annotated list can suffice to highlight problems for a website that has been wholly or partly neglected.
I’ve referred previously to the excellent book Content Strategy For The Web. With reference to content audits, the authors say the following:
“To make even the most basic decisions about your content – like deciding where to focus your resources and budget – it’s good to know how much content you have, where it lives, what it’s about, and whether it’s any good.”
How to audit your content
I’ve used content audits as a hugely valuable first step in recent work I’ve done for two different clients. I use an Excel spreadsheet with a very simple structure, starting with just four columns:
- Page ID: you can use whatever numbering system you want, since it’s usually only used in the context of the document itself. Adding a decimal point or some other character to indicate sub-levels of a given section can highlight content that is quite deeply “buried” on the site (which is not necessarily a problem, but might be).
- Page Title: This is defined in the <title> tag and appears in the browser tab and bookmarks. Usually it’s also the main heading on the page, but not always. It’s important to pay attention to page titles as you can improve your site’s performance for (relevant) web searches by ensuring that each page is appropriately and uniquely (for your site) titled.
- URL: For sites that have a lot of dynamically created pages tracking the URLs can get a bit messy, but it’s good to aim for clean and well-structured URLs. They look better in print and can also help with search engine performance.
- Notes: I use this field to identify anything that is particularly good or bad about a given page, including poorly structured or out-dated content, or to note action that should be taken.
If a full or partial restructuring of the content is identified as one of the outcomes of the content audit, the new structure can be outlined in an additional worksheet, using the Page ID to identify the source(s) of content for new or merged pages or sections.
A content audit for the website of a small to mid-sized organization can usually be undertaken in a few hours. Of course the problems or areas for improvement that are identified can generate a considerable amount of further work, but that’s another story!