By Karl Montevirgen, special to The Content Wrangler

The concept behind the content audit and inventory is fairly simple: it’s about locating and taking account of all your existing content (inventory) and evaluating it to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what changes should be made to improve its overall coherence and presentation (audit). Conducting a web content inventory and audit can also help you determine how well your content supports business and user goals, how well it supports your brand, whether it’s written in the right tone and voice, whether it’s targeted at the right audience.

Given the fundamental nature of this process, it’s easy to see how it plays a critical role in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of any content strategy: content serves as both the material and materialization of a given content strategy. And the content audit and inventory process helps establish a big-picture perspective from which all content can be viewed and placed within an actionable framework.

Why conduct a content audit?

A content audit serves many purposes. It can help identify pages that need further editing or copywriting, outdated material, redundancies that need to be consolidated, inconsistencies that need to be eliminated, and content that is vulnerable to search-engine penalty risk.

Audits can also be used proactively (particularly when used in combination with analytics) to identify content gap opportunities, analyze viewer response and behavioral patterns, and track how well pages are ranking in search ,all of which can help you prioritize remedial or opportunity-driven modifications.

Conducting a web content inventory can be difficult

Conducting a content audit and inventory can be arduous and fragmented. A single process comprised of two parts (inventory + audit), each composite entails a potentially gargantuan workload that often separates one from the other; the transition from web content inventory to web content audit is hardly ever seamless—or easy.

The primary reason for this difficulty is that both tasks differ in kind. Gathering and accounting for content—the inventory process—is a quantitative operation; whereas evaluating the content—the audit process—is a qualitative operation. This difference may seem simple, but acknowledging this difference is also key to unlocking efficiency in the process, particularly when technology has the effect of bridging this divide.

What’s at stake?

The laborious nature of content audits brings with it a few major disadvantages: for companies performing audits for clients, large data loads increase client costs and project delays; for companies conducting internal content audits, project completion is directly tied to the number of assigned staff and/or amount of time spent on the project, both of which can entail significant opportunity costs.

In either case, increased costs and project cycle delays are inefficiencies that can significantly compromise the competitiveness of any business.

Leveraging technology to do what it does best

For Paula Land, CEO of Content Insight, the inefficient “gap” between web content inventory and audit presented an entrepreneurial opportunity. The “aha moment,” according to Land, came “when I added up the time I had spent manually creating a complex web content inventory for a client, multiplied that by my bill rate, and realized just how expensive that one deliverable was. I thought then that there had to be a better way.”

In need of a more efficient way to get through the inventory phase to the audit phase, she decided to build her own tool—the Content Analysis Tool (CAT). CAT leverages technology’s capacity to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to quantitative tasks. It creates a workflow in which “computers can do what computers do best,” saving time and (human) effort for the auditing process.

Image: The Content Analysis Tool
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Separating the quantitative from the qualitative

As Land saw it, the great divide between inventory and audit is attributable not only to the sheer volume of data that has to be evaluated, but the differences in process—quantitative and qualitative—that both tasks entail.

Although computers cannot evaluate quality as effectively as a human can, computers can certainly crawl through content and perform dazzling quantitative feats that are far beyond human capability. Creating a tool to handle the inventory tasks expedites the entire process, reserving more time and effort for the actual audit while tremendously reducing costs.

CAT: Designed by content strategists for use by content strategists

CAT is designed to help you move quickly and seamlessly from data analysis to content analysis. It consists of a crawling engine that you can customize for fine-grained control of results. For instance, you can expand your crawl to include various sub-domains, or you can restrict your crawl to focus only on certain sections of the site.

Image: CAT Job Setup Screen
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Once your crawl has been completed, all of the results are presented in a Dashboard view, providing summary data and a complete list of all files found. You can sort, view, and filter the results by URL, type, level, date, or title and get a detailed view of each page’s data including metadata (title, description, and keywords), media files, and all documents associated with that page. You can also add your own notes, columns, tags, and persona data or other information relevant to your audit process to your analysis.

To help identify each ‘job,’ CAT provides of a screenshot of the inventoried page.

Image: CAT tool interface.
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Web content inventories should not be one-time events. Just as they provide a comprehensive view of the starting point for a content project, they also allow you to maintain that level of fine-grained knowledge about your content assets over time.  CAT includes a function that allows you to compare (on a file level) two crawls of the same website to determine what content has been added, changed, or removed between crawls. It’s a way to track website content over time and it’s particularly useful after a website redesign or content migration.

Image: CAT tool interface.
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When you need to work on your web content inventory offline, CAT can help by allowing you to export inventory data to Excel. If you are collaborating with co-workers or clients on a web content inventory (a great way to share both the work and the insights), good news. New features are coming soon in CAT that will allow you to share inventories with your team so that team members can add their own data and notes, but all information is maintained centrally in the dashboard for all to review.

CAT can help you generate a number of insights about your content. For instance, URLs and metadata can be used to help you determine whether your site is search-engine friendly or not; page titles can help identify duplicate content; and links (in and out) can help illuminate any discoverability issues.

When and how often should you conduct a content audit?

Perhaps due to the laborious nature of conducting a content audit (and inventory), many businesses treat it as a one-off project. Typically, it makes sense to conduct an audit if you’ve never done one before or if you are developing a new website or migrating your content to a new content management system. But there are other instances when evaluating your content can be critical, and these instances happen often enough to warrant regular content audits:

  • Web redesign and re-platforming.
  • Rolling out new products, features, and services in which you need to evaluate how “new” content interacts with “old” content.
  • Entering new product-based or geographical markets.
  • Assessing potential need for localization efforts in global markets.
  • Emphasizing different aspects of your brand or updating the way your content reflects your brand.

To comprehensively monitor your site’s content performance in relation to changes in products, brand, or messaging, you may need to perform what Land calls rolling audits.

“The value of doing content inventories and audits regularly, versus a one-off activity, is that you are catching and addressing issues as they arise, not down the road when they’ve caused problems with your customers or will be a lot more work to clean up. You should manage your content as closely as you do any other business asset that you’ve invested in and that affects your customer experience.”

Content audits provide myriad benefits

The benefit of a rolling audit is to maintain an ongoing understanding of what content you have, minimize the work required to keep it in shape, allowing you can focus only on the stuff that’s changed since the last audit. Rolling audits help you spot problems early, keep an eye on content performance (analytics) and respond appropriately when changes to your content are needed.

Content audits also allow you to compare your website content against the website content provided by your competitors. You can use the data collected to benchmark the performance of your content against other businesses on a regular basis. Think of this as an additional external lens through which you can evaluate the effectiveness of your content from a competitive perspective.

From an internal perspective, having access to comprehensive content performance and analytics information helps establish a position of topic expertise; being the “smartest person in the room” with regard to web content helps elevate not only the status of the strategist in charge but also of content operations in general. Content recommendations or plans that are supported by data are more conducive to getting organizational buy-in as well.

Return on Investment (ROI)

The potential ROI for conducting a content audit varies depending on how often a business conducts an audit and how the insights that only an audit can provide are used to take advantage of or generate opportunities.

Whether you conduct content audits for clients or for your own business, cost will always be a factor, whether that cost comes in the form of money, opportunity, or time. An automated content tool such as CAT directly tackles the challenges determining these cost factors.

Whether alleviating the cost factor translates into better ROI or more competitive positioning is something that each business has to decide for itself.

As Paula Land states:

“Regarding the ROI of using an automated web content inventory tool: ask yourself how much your time is worth. If you have the option of spending days or weeks gathering information manually (or collating data from various sources) versus running a tool that gives you that same data in an hour or so and costs less than $75, isn’t that worth it? Especially if that means you can move on to the actual strategic work that much sooner.”

Take CAT for a test drive

Readers of The Content Wrangler are encouraged to try out the Content Analysis Tool. We’ve arranged for you to enjoy a free trial. Give it a whirl! Then share your experience in the comments section below.