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Content Audits: Where to start?

Content Audits: anyone who ever conducted one, knows they are time consuming and boring. If you came to this page hoping we would tell you there is a quick and easy solution, I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you.

(Well, there is… hire us to do the leg work… but that isn’t the purpose of this page, so lets park that idea for now)

The problem with content audits is twofold: volume & criteria

To start with, there is the issue of volume: Over the past years, the number of communication channels have multiplied. The rise of content strategy and content marketing has further increased the awareness of targeted content for specific audiences. Add to that mix that organisational departments have until recently been responsible for the production of their own content.

So several departments have started creating content for specific audiences, answering specific needs, to be used on specific communication platform (and in many cases abandoned these platforms a few months/years later). It's therefore no surprise organisations struggle to get oversight of their own content universe. Auditing all public (and relevant internal) content has therefore become a time and resource consuming job. And, surprise surprise, no one wants to do it.

But the second point might be as hard: What will I analyse this content for? What information do I need to gather so I can quickly extract the necessary insights once the data is processed? This problem is more likely to appear if we perform the content audit at the wrong time, which is often the case.

Don't Start Your New Web Project with a Content Audit

When people considering a site redesign, or a the start of a new project, too often they start with a content audit. “Lets see what we have and we’ll move on from there.” That is not the best way forward. It might be practical, and give you a little boost at the start, but it conditions our thinking. Our new (web) project is likely to enherit the weaknesses of our current presence, specially in the areas of information architecture and content gaps.

Instead, we need to make sure to have a finished Content Strategy first. Are you not familiar yet with Content Strategy yet? Take a step back and start reading our Key Principles of Content Strategy page. If you have done that part, you will have your project objectives as well as your audience fresh in mind. A second exercise which we recommend completing prior to a content audit, is the content gap analysis and matching content map. Some people say content audits are essential to identify content gaps. But don’t misunderstand this statement. Conducting an audit won’t give you gaps. You only find these if you first have a clear idea of all your content requirements.

With these phases completed, we will have a clear idea of what our content needs are and how this content will be structured. So when we start on our content audit, we will understand that there is certain information, which has no relevance, as it doesn’t play a part in our new content strategy. For example, some web audits recommend to include a screenshot of each key page. But if we already decided to make a full site redesign, that screenshot won’t have much value. 

If we are performing a web content audit, we can easily come up with 50 attributes to include. Below I ranked these in three categories: core; secondary and theoretical attributes

Core attributes

These attributes are key to identify the piece of content and understand what the content is. These will always be used in a content audit

  • Reference or ID (Normally a number)
  • Page URL (Where is the content currently published)
  • Content Type (Is it an image, a calendar entry, a blog post, a print brochure,...)
  • Publication Date
  • Author
  • Title
  • Channel
  • Description

Secondary attributes

This data is not key to understand the content, but we might need this data to analyse the missing pieces of the content puzzle later on in the process. 

  • Metadata including: meta title; meta description, keywords, H tags, Abstract
  • File size
  • Navigation Breadcrum
  • Word count
  • Linked content files
  • Existing site redirects pointing to this content piece
  • Internal links
  • Known backlinks
  • Taxonomies

Theoretical attributes

These are attributes which in theory exist, but let’s face it, not many organisations are diligent enough to actually have introduced them:

  • Page owner: Who is responsable for maintaining this page?
  • Review-by date: When is this content due a review?
  • Content contributors: Who has contributed data to this piece
  • Last updated date: When was the content last updated
  • Last updated author: By who was the content last updated

Do I really need to track all of the above? No, definitely not. Only track the attributes that make sense in light of your future content requirements!

Enhancing the results

So far we can extract most of the listed attributes from our content management system. But we can significantly improve the results of a content audit by adding external information. With these, we mean data that we will link to our content pieces, but are not extracted from the communication channel on which the content sits. These pieces of data will be used mainly to assess the value and priority of these pieces in our new content strategy environment.

  • Google Analytics data
  • Target audience: Who’s the typical user we are aiming to reach with this content?
  • Audience need: What user need does this piece of content address?
  • Matching project goal: Is this piece of content at the service of a specific content goal?
  • Page quality: OK, this is a subjective measure, but you might want to assess content for its quality. This will help you later on when you have to decide if existing content will be deleted, reworked or repurposed without further editing.

To conclude, we repeat the order of events we believe is most effective:

  1. Create your content strategy
  2. Identify your content requirements
  3. Select the content attributes that are relevant for you (and only these!)
  4. Look if there is any relevant external data you can enhance your results with
  5. Now Go Audit!