By Paula Ladenburg Land, special to The Content Wrangler
Note: This content appears in Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook (2014, XML Press), by Paula Ladenburg Land, part of The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series.
The Role of Content Inventory and Audit in Governance
Website governance covers a broad range of policies, standards, and structures for creating and maintaining data, content, and applications. In this book, I don’t cover all the complexities of site governance, but I would like to briefly address content governance and some ways that an inventory and audit can play a part.
Content governance is often expressed as lifecycle management – the rules and processes that underpin everything from content planning to creation to publication to ongoing optimization. The roles and tasks that accompany those steps include identifying who is responsible for creating and maintaining content, developing standards for content quality, and incorporating metrics and feedback into a process of continual improvement.
When governance policies are not in place or are not followed, website content can become disorganized, stale, and ineffective at meeting business and user needs. These problems can trigger a content strategy initiative when the business realizes that the site is failing. A time-consuming, expensive project gets kicked off, an inventory and audit are completed, and a strategy is developed. To avoid costly one-time improvement efforts like this, you need to create a “virtuous circle” – a feedback loop that enables your company to learn and improve over time. You need to update your style guides, your glossary, and your governance policies, and then feed all that back to your content creators so that new content is created to updated standards and you’re constantly improving rather than doing major overhauls.
The Rolling Inventory and Audit
How do you create that virtuous circle? Institute a rolling (ongoing, periodic) inventory and audit. A rolling inventory and audit allows you to assess content mix, quality, and effectiveness against ever-changing audience needs and business goals.
The inventory, done at regular intervals or after major content publishing initiatives, enables you to monitor the quantity and types of content on your site. The data you gather in an inventory, particularly if you are using an automated tool, can help you quickly identify trouble spots, such as missing metadata, unwieldy site structure, and problematic metrics. The inventory also gives you the structure to track information, such as the content owner and the age of the content, that helps when you audit.
Content planning, often the first step in a content lifecycle, can benefit from the inventory too, as you track what content exists, what’s effective, and what’s not, helping you plan to fill gaps or strengthen weak areas.
At the other end of the cycle, the data supports ongoing optimization of content as you analyze your metrics to see what should be pruned or revised.
The content audit can also be done on an ongoing basis. You probably don’t have the resources – nor is there a need – to audit every piece of content frequently. Instead, identify the content areas that are most likely to stray from your quality standards, either by becoming outdated or by no longer adhering to your brand guidelines.
For example, seasonal content must be reviewed at the end of each season. But there is no need to regularly revisit published press releases other than to consider archiving them after a certain number of months or years. Content that changes frequently should also be reviewed frequently – for example, content about products and services. Content that tends to be overlooked because it is considered static or not directly related to sales or other conversion metrics, such as company information and staff pages, should also be reviewed regularly.
Keeping track of your content’s age and setting a reminder to review any content older than, for example, a year is one way to trigger an audit exercise. You can also plan audits around your editorial calendar.
A rolling audit is also a great way to draw upon the larger content team. Just as you assembled a team to do the initial audit, dividing up responsibilities, you can assign team members ongoing audit duties, breaking up the audit by content area, for example. This not only distributes the workload but also helps ensure ongoing involvement with content quality and buy-in to the process across the organization.
Websites are living entities, constantly changing and adapting to new business strategies and new audiences. Organizational energy is often focused more on the creation of new content than on the governance and ongoing maintenance of existing content. The result can be sites that are overgrown and no longer effective at meeting goals. Rather than let your site get to the point where a major content repair project is required, adopt the rolling inventory and audit to keep the site in a state of constant review and improvement.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Land, used with permission.
About the Book
Successful content strategy projects start with a thorough assessment of the current state of all content assets — their quantity, type, and quality. Beginning with a data-rich content inventory and layering in a qualitative assessment, the audit process allows content owners and business stakeholders to make informed decisions. Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook, by veteran content strategist Paula Ladenburg Land, shows you how to begin with an inventory, scope and plan an audit, evaluate content against business and user goals, and move forward with a set of useful, actionable insights. This practical, tactic-filled handbook walks you through setting up and running an inventory using an automated tool, setting the stage for a successful audit. Specific audit tactics addressed include auditing for content quality, performance, global considerations, and legal and regulatory issues. You will also learn how to do a competitive audit and incorporate personas into an audit. Tips on presenting audit results to stakeholders will help you deliver effective strategies. Buy the book!
- Articles about content audits
- Articles about content inventories
- Content inventory and audit deliverables (templates)
- The Content Analysis Tool
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