Content Inventory + Content Audit: Why would you do one without the other?

I don’t know about you but when I look at my Twitter feed these days, I see two topics that just won’t give up: the first is responsive web design and the second is…you guessed it, content strategy. At mStoner, we’ve got the very knowledgeable @thedougco all over #RWD and yours truly on some best thinking around having a strategy for your #ContentStrategy.

For at least ten years, web professionals have been talking about content inventories. To the point that the terms content inventory and content audit are used regularly and interchangeably. Seeking some clarity, I replicate here what Wikipedia has to say about both:

“A content inventory is the process and the result of cataloging the entire contents of a website. An allied practice—a content audit—is the process of evaluating that content. A content inventory and a content audit are closely related concepts, and they are often conducted in tandem.”

Here’s a bit more about inventory versus audit from Scott Baldwin. In 2010, he carefully explained the difference between an inventory and an audit.

Inventory = quantitative. Audit = qualitative.

I say, why would you do one without the other? Let’s cover some basics and tackle the big three for inventorying and auditing web content:

  1. How?
  2. When?
  3. Really?

1. The How
You can produce a content inventory for your website using a simple spreadsheet that catalogs each page on the site. Because a content inventory goes for the quantitative, the spreadsheet is meant to capture what you’ve got at a particular point in time.

With your list of web pages as rows on the spreadsheet, you’ll typically include these column headings across the top:

  • ID number
  • Page title
  • URL
  • Level in the site
  • Content type (i.e., HTML, PDF, .mov)
  • Character count
  • Owner/maintainer
  • Topics/keywords/meta description
  • Last updated
  • Broken links
  • Alt tags on images?

Maybe I lost you at “your list of web pages.” If so, Scott’s post also offers some technology tools that can speed up the process of developing an inventory. Take advantage of tools that help you gather some of the essentials. But as Jeffrey Veen wrote in his 2002 blog post on the inventory topic, “A content inventory is a decidedly human task.” I say Amen to that.

The fun continues. If you’ve already done some reading about content strategy you probably know that experts recommend content audits based on inventories that take a kitchen sink approach. (In other words, you include everything.) Once you know what content you have, you can evaluate it by adding some columns to your spreadsheet:

  • Purpose
  • Intended audience
  • Accurate?
  • On message?
  • Calls to action?
  • Consistent with style guide?
  • ROT (Redundant, Outdated, Trivial)
  • OUCH (Outdated, Unnecessary, Current, Have to Write)

2. The When
Here’s my best advice on when to do a content audit:

When it makes sense and when you can!

Maybe you have a strong internal web team, a well-maintained, content rich website, and enough staff (or student employees) to do a complete content inventory. If that’s the case, go for it.

Or, maybe, the web content you have is so old, bad and disorganized that the effort spent on a complete inventory would be a waste of time. In that case, don’t do it. Sometimes, you’re better off completely ignoring what you have and starting over from scratch. At mStoner, we call that Content Realism and Mark Sheehy wrote a blog post about it.

Sometimes, a web relaunch project is the impetus for a content audit/inventory. Evaluation of your web content can take place at the beginning of the project, during information architecture development, or just prior to content development. This detailed content review will create a big picture view of what content exists on the current site and it will help your team determine what content should be replaced, rewritten, or deleted (gasp!). Typically, current website content is reduced by about a third during a web redesign. After all, less is more takes on a whole new meaning when you’re the part of the team responsible for a content audit!

Remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Based on where your website falls in the continuum of definitely worth it to definitely not worth it, you’ll need to make a judgment call. You’ll need to decide how much time to devote to your content inventory. Just don’t use the lack of enough resources to do a top to bottom, comprehensive audit as an excuse to do no audit at all.

3. The Really
Maybe the idea of content inventories and audits seems overwhelming to you. My friend, you’re not alone. Me too! I once asked, “Do you seriously want me to do that?

We know that .edu sites are massive. Perhaps building the responsibility for auditing content into someone’s job is the way to go. Back in 2006, Lou Rosenfeld recommended “The Rolling Content Inventory” as a replacement for the snapshot approach to auditing content. Explaining that the traditional content inventory works for small sites, he wrapped up his post with this, “But anyone who is trying to inventory the typical corporate, academic, or governmental site needs to stop tilting at the windmill of comprehensiveness.” I’m with you, Lou.

Plan for exceptional content. In your plan, include evaluation of what you’ve got but do it your way. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about your success.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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