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In this blog post, Uli Trute, Senior Communications Adviser at the Commerce Commission, outlines the benefits of content audits and how to get started performing your own.

A content audit is a snapshot of everything on a website or a section of a website. Many content editors dread content audits because they are a bit boring, but for any kind of redesign project, especially for content heavy sites, you’ll probably need them.

For me, like for other website managers, a content audit will happen in a big spreadsheet, where I can keep a complete inventory.

Why have one?

A content audit is a great tool to get to know a website. I have found that a content audit gives me a good feel for problem areas and, even though I know my website really well, I still find things I didn’t know existed.

Good occasions for content audits are:

  • change of responsibilities
  • you've no idea what’s on your site
  • site redesign and/or redevelopment
  • content has become untidy
  • you keep finding out of date content

A content audit can be part of a regular review cycle or, even better, the first step to setting up a regular maintenance schedule for your site.

The recent release of the new Government Web Standards presents another good opportunity to perform a content audit. The fewer pages you have to fix, the better, so pruning your site of content it doesn’t need can be a great way to reduce the amount of work you have to do to meet the new Standards.

Is it a good way to spend my time?

A content audit takes a while, and sometimes they just need to be done. However, often a regular maintenance schedule can be a better way to address content issues.

What are you looking for?

Decide what you are looking for, and turn your criteria into columns for your spread sheet. In a recent content audit, I was primarily interested in the quality of the content. The Commerce Commission had a new website content strategy. We had also started a plain English programme, and the content just wasn’t up to scratch anymore.

Questions to ask here could be:

  • Is it current?
  • Is it correct?
  • Is it plain English?
  • Is it even currently relevant at all?

Other things to look out for could be functionality, structure, content gaps or duplication.

Start a spread sheet

Now is the time to buy new music and make yourself comfortable.

I usually work in an Excel spreadsheet. It lists all pages and assets on the website. I number each web page so I can easily see its place in the site hierarchy. The column headings will be whatever I am looking for.

Download an example content audit spreadsheet (.xlsx 11KB) .

Some content management systems can provide a sitemap and there should also be some useful online tools. It’s also OK to list the pages as you go through them.

I have found it useful when both the content editor and the content owner or subject matter expert work through the spread sheet and look at all the content. We see very different things in our content. It is vital to have clear rules and a common understanding about your criteria.

All done with the spread sheet?

Hopefully it was insightful and not too boring. Compare your spread sheet with your website stats, or restructure and rewrite your content. Or go ahead with setting up that system for regular content maintenance.

Lessons learned

I have found it invaluable to involve the subject matter experts. The greatest challenge has usually been to get them, and management, to understand why it’s necessary. It can also be difficult to form a common understanding of what needs to be done and why. After a few misunderstandings I now double check that everyone understands exactly what we are trying to do, and how.

There are no shortcuts. Especially when you are going to restructure a site, or part of a site, most content editors will actually need to account for their content’s whereabouts. There is no substitute for looking at every single page to get a good feel for a site’s content.

For content review project plans I assume:

  • 8 pages per hour for content audit
  • 2+ hours per page for writing new content
  • 2 pages per hour for rewriting existing content
  • 4 pages per hour for building the pages

I timed these steps the first time I did a content review project with a content audit. They seem to work for my projects, and I have seen similar numbers from others.

Have you done a content audit? Please feel free to share your tips or challenges below.

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