Building a Case for a Content Audit

February 23, 2010

I'm a bit of a book addict, to my wife's chagrin; like wire hangers in an empty closet, books tend to multiply in my home. Moreover, I almost never get rid of any of them, and my ad-hoc organization schemes have failed to bring any semblance of order to my little library.

Online content tends to suffer from the same morass of proliferation and fragmentation, and the situation is only getting worse. Ten years ago, your business had a static website and a stray directory profile; today, it's a dynamic, CMS-based site with multiple blogs, a YouTube channel, Twitter account, Facebook page, and [insert online-flavor-of-the-month] presence.

We all need a meaningful and well-assembled content strategy—the what, why, who, and how of what we publish. But first we need to get a handle on what's already out there. Thus, the first big (and, in many cases, the most painful) step is to conduct a quantitative audit* of your existing content. Yes, that means what you think it means. Stop groaning.

A content audit is not an option

Nor is it fun, but trying to plan out your future content without knowing what you've already published is putting the cart before the horse. If that's not specific enough, consider the following:

  • You'll learn about what may or may not need to be added, as an audit can help you avoid repeating or, even worse, contradicting yourself. That super-awesome, fantabolously comprehensive blog series you're planning on widget uses will seem darned silly if it was already done three years ago.
  • You'll gain a bit of clarity about what needs to be removed, if it comes to that. This will help your site avoid "Milk Dud" status—delicious on the outside, disgusting on the inside. (My apologies to fans of the candy.)

A content audit isn't that hard

Granted, it can take a while, but it's not intellectually challenging. I won't cover the mechanics here, especially as there are several ways one can go about the process, but it typically requires only a spreadsheet and a good chunk of time. The upside is that once you've done the initial inventory, adding content (and you definitely should do this) after a redesign/redevelopment effort or strategy implementation is a breeze.

Still not convinced? Let's go back to my library issues. If you ask me what books I have and what they cover, I can give you only some broad topics and a few titles. If you ask me where a specific book is, I'll probably snort and laugh.

Those kinds of answers/reactions are not suitable when people approach or ask about your digital content.

* Some content strategists prefer to use "audit" only in reference to a qualitative dissection of content; they prefer "inventory" for this type of operation. I like the former because it sounds invasive and painful.