After defining your brand’s message architecture and conducting a content inventory, you’ve already come a long way. Bear with me a little longer, we are going to piece everything together with a content audit. This is my favorite part: assessing your content’s quality.
The best starting point for your content audit is the spreadsheet of your content inventory which depicts the status quo of your web content. Throughout the audit, you will expand the spreadsheet according to your assessment criteria. By the end of the audit, you will have a clear plan for improving your content and which pieces of it you can keep as is, which ones you should revise or even remove.
Types and goals of content audits
There are different types of audits. For example, they can be based on content performance, brand, editorial guidelines, competitors, audience or structures. You can also mix them up to get a more general insight. What do you want to focus on?
Check your goals before you decide. In case you didn’t prepare goals after the content inventories article, I recommended doing it now. You are going to need the goals for your content assessment no matter what, so now is the time to catch up. As an inspiration I have some questions for you: Why are you auditing your content? What insights do you want to get? What will you do with the findings? The goals you set will help you define your audit criteria and lead the way to the right path.
By the way, a content inventory and audit don’t have to be limited to the content on your website. They can span across all your content, from print to social media – if that suits your fancy (aka your business context and goals).
Defining audit criteria
There are probably about a bajillion assessment criteria for content out there. However, you should end up with about a handful. If your goals are clear, your decision which criteria to choose will be easier. Since I work in marketing, I would always recommend including your brand message in the audit, but there is no exact blueprint for content audits and you’re the boss, so feel free to tailor the criteria to your needs.
In Paula Land’s handbook you will find many criteria to choose from, to name just a few:
- Accessibility: Can all users consume your content?
- Accuracy & currency: Is the information accurate and up to date?
- Brand message: Does the content transport your brand message?
- Business purpose: Is the content tied to your business objectives?
- Competitors: How is your content compared to competitors’ content?
- Depth & breadth: Is the content of high quality? Does it support the user’s information needs? Is there too much or not enough content?
- Performance: Do users read your content? Do they interact with it?
- Usability: Is the navigation clear, are links descriptive? Are there too many choices? Does the text have a clear structure, can users skim it easily (formatting, headings, bullet points)?
Define your criteria in detail so you can save time later on and have multiple people working on the audit in a consistent way. To get a better feeling for it, take a look at the image below.
Once you defined your criteria, decide on your grading. In the past I worked with a grading system from 0 (meets no criteria) to 3 (excellent), but if another grading system works better for you, go for it (e.g. good / fair / poor).
How does the audit work?
Add columns based on your predefined qualitative criteria in your content inventory spreadsheet. Now go through all the pages, grade each criterion and add a recommendation (keep as is, update & revise or remove & redirect). Include notes of the changes that need to be made, so it is faster to work with the document once you’re finished. If you want see at one glance how your content is holding up, you can color code your document.
Summarizing your content audit
When you’ve finished assessing the pages, set up an executive summary in which you describe the current as well as the future state of your content. Walk the readers through the whole process of the inventory and audit. Start with your goals, the scope, your criteria. Put some extra love in your findings (including examples and screenshots), recommendations on how to improve the content and the steps that need to be taken to get there. If you show the organization’s stakeholders how important good content is, everybody should be on board with implementing the recommendations as soon as possible – at least in a perfect world.
After the audit is before the audit
Keep in mind: Your content will change over time. Content inventories and content audits should be implemented as a regular measure. Don’t go back to overwhelming your users with old, piled up content.
There is so much content out there, so don’t pollute the web more than you have to. Quality and quantity is important. We should all do each other a favor and think twice before publishing new content: is the message really worth it or does it make sense to reduce the number of messages we put out there and instead give more meaning to the ones we do publish.