4 content cries for help and the audits that solve them

If you feel like you’re sinking in a world of content with too much to do and nowhere to begin, it’s time you got to grips with a content audit. But what exactly is an audit, and what kind do you need?

 4 content cries for help and the audits that solve them

Content audits vary hugely from project to project, depending on what you need to get out of the other end. As we’ve discovered, it’s not unknown for 2 digital types to be talking about ‘content audits’, only to discover 17 minutes into their chat that they’re talking about totally different things...

But whichever kind you carry out, a content audit can be an invaluable activity for a content strategist. An audit can give you a clear content to-do list, help you control your content universe, or identify quick wins and longer-term fixes.

So if a content audit is the answer to your cry for help, what’s the question?

We’ve got so much stuff, I’ve lost count. Where do I start?

If you’ve got content coming out of your ears – a site map that looks like Japanese knotweed, a mess of downloadable pdfs (that no-one’s ever downloaded), free-floating microsites and a load of dusty brochures stuck on a shelf – you need a quantitative audit.

Also known as a content inventory or content matrix, this is a spreadsheet that catalogues what you’ve got and where.

There are several free programmes that will capture a lot of technical information for you (page location, URL, links out…) but the content strategist’s job is largely manual, I’m afraid.

A lot of the really helpful information in an inventory has to be put in by someone on the ground. For instance, who’s the business owner for this page? When was it last fact-checked? Who wrote it in the first place? This is all helpful stuff to get into your inventory, so you can practise good content governance. Because it’s not just about knowing where it is, you need to know what it is too.

Our content’s all written by different people. None of it links, and I think there’s probably loads of duplication. Now what?

So, once you’ve solved the problem of what’s actually there with your quantitative audit, you’ve got to work out what to actually do with any of it. So you need a critical inventory.

A critical inventory is a content inventory with some extra criteria included, which you, as the content strategist, can fill in to score your whole content universe.

You can get very granular about this, developing bespoke scoring systems for performance against things like compliance with your tone of voice, your business goals and your user personas. Or you can do it in a much more quick-and-dirty way: you look at the content and decide whether it’s any good or not.

Always note your recommendations down. So if you’ve identified that you’ve got 2 pages performing the same job, your recommendation is to merge and replace with one solid single page. If you find you’ve got loads of irrelevant stuff hanging around that doesn’t meet your goals, well, it’s time to get the content machete out.

What’s quite likely, though, is that you’ll find 100s of places where the content’s doing OK, but it needs a brush-up for tone and consistency. So at the end, that recommendation column becomes your content to-do list. Put it in priority order (start with the quick-fixes you can do in an afternoon) – and get to work.

We’re getting a new website and I haven’t got a clue which content to keep, and which to leave behind. Can you help?

Getting a new website is exciting, isn’t it? So much promise, so much opportunity. So seize it. Leave your bad habits behind and take this opportunity (if you can) to start aright.

Once you’ve got your dream IA or sitemap together – a lean, smooth collection of pages and assets that’s free of the messy growth of an old, ungoverned site – you can now fit your old content to the new structure. Not the other way round.

List each page down the left hand side of a spreadsheet, and start working through your old content, allocating existing content to the new pages as source material. It might be that 1 new page replaces 3 old pages, or that you have to start completely from scratch. What this does is lifts out all the genuinely valuable content, and everything that’s left behind goes to the great content archive beyond.

NB: another good way to start this process is by taking your content inventory and allocating a very simple status – keep, edit, bin – to each page. 

I know we could do better, but I haven’t got a clue where to start!

You need some expert help. You might want to build a business case for more content budget or a particular project. You might just want a steer on where to go next. What you need is a qualitative audit.

Unlike the inventory-based audits, this type of audit is not meant to cover everything in your content universe. A qualitative audit takes a representative sample of content from one or more of your channels. Each of these assets – be they web pages, Facebook pages, emails or printed collateral – are then graded against a set of criteria.

The criteria would usually include some objective elements, like digital best-practice, as well as some bespoke elements, like your tone of voice. This is usually conducted by a 3rd-party consultant, rather than someone within the business, and you should get a report that covers both page-by-page performance and overall findings.

When we deliver a qualitative audit, we give you short-term fixes and long-term recommendations, so you know where you’re heading tomorrow and where you should be next year.

These are also a great way to prove your worth – you can benchmark your scores, re-auditing each year and demonstrating how far you’ve come.

Then, when you can prove your value, you’ll stop feeling lost.