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Content audits - where to start

Sector Content audit

A content audit is an inventory of your site. As part of an audit, content is listed with related metadata, assessments, and actions to be taken. An audit can help you on your quest to publish useful and usable content that meets both audience and business needs. But content audits are hard - so where to start? 

If you have ever carried around a spreadsheet with thousands of rows through a government department in New Zealand and tried to find the content owner of line 20,186, your tears might have blurred the ink on the printout. This can be, and should be easier. 

1 - Why are you doing it? 

First, decide what you want to achieve. A content audit can help you to

  • Understand the content on your site,
  • Improve the validity and quality of your content, 
  • Identify gaps and create a feasible content roadmap, and
  • Schedule and manage content resources.  

Are you preparing for a migration? Is your content, or parts or your content, redundant, outdated, or trivial? Has the amount of content become unmanageable? Is your content not performing? Not meeting your audience needs? What does success look like?

Choose your tools and tailor your audit process to generate the outcome your project needs.

2 - High-level numeric assessment 

Keep these spreadsheet people at bay! Sort and count first. Think: how many apples are between the pears in the gift basket, and why is there no chocolate? 

With a high-level numeric assessment, you should:

  • Separate the content into content groups (resources, news, events, staff profiles, etc.),
  • Count the units in each group,
  • Provide a high-level assessment per group, 
  • Make a high-level assessment on the future of the content in each group, 
  • Set priorities per group (or parts of a group), 
  • Decide how each group is audited. 

If you're looking at an audit with over 1000 unique URLs, this is the time to start thinking about automation. Your Content Management System (CMS) should be able to export a sitemap and list content per content type. In Drupal, filtered and customisable content views can export data to be crunched in Google Sheets or Excel. Remember - you are assessing the challenge, so keep it high-level.   

3 - Choose a tool 

Now that you know how much content you need to work through line by line, it's time to think about tools. As a minimum, export the list of URLs to be audited using your CMS or an external online sitemap tool. Get as much metadata exported as you can. For example: 

  • Unique ID 
  • URL
  • Title 
  • Summary 
  • Last edited 
  • Page views 
  • And anything else that helps you to meet your objectives

The line-by-line content audit can be conducted using: 

  • Google Sheets or Excel spreadsheets (keep it sortable and filterable). 
  • Or - in our opinion, the best scenario - inside your CMS 

Content management systems are in existence to manage your content. Your system should support your editorial processes, and support your editorial team to create and maintain useful and usable content. Moving content or managing metadata in a third party tool that is optimised to do that specific job might look easy and promising, but a content audit should not be a one-time exercise. Think about creating a sustainable and maintainable process that supports your content needs now and in the future. 

Most CMS systems allow you to add editorial workflows and editorial metadata to content. Meet with your developers and push for a content-focused system. Building Sector, one of our main aims was to create more than a technology platform. Sector allows you to treat content as an asset with a lifespan longer than one website. We want to help you get your content in better shape, and build value in knowledge assets and information over the long term. The Sector Content Audit add-on is a flexible and customisable starting point to audit your content in-system. 

4 - Get the job done 

Again, your audit should focus on and enable you to make better, informed publishing decisions.


To sum up...

Content audits aren't easy, but they are important and shouldn't be one-offs. Before starting, you need to work out what you want to find out from your content audit, so you can decide what success looks like and how you get there. You can use external tools to export your metadata into a spreadsheet, but your content management system should really do this for you.


Want to know more?

Check out our content strategy series on our blog


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Heike Theis

Heike is part of the Sector team at Sparks Interactive and, together with Dave Sparks, the project owner for the Sector Drupal Distribution. 

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