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Conduct a content audit to improve website quality
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
A content audit is used to analyze the content of your organization’s website or social media presence to assess current performance with content and where future improvements can be made. Such an audit is an important way to ensure the website looks professional and contains current information and material.
Apart from other material, the text on web pages quite often can become out of date. Nearly all of us have found web text or visual material referring to future events that have already been held, or past events that were held years ago. This creates a poor impression in the minds of visitors.
Create a content inventory first
Start by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a Word document by page title or by URL. Organize this information in outline form, i.e. section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages.
If it’s an e-commerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like: Shoes > Womens Shoes > Sports Shoes > Joggers > Nike. A not-for-profit company website’s headings might look more like: X name > About Us > What we do > Activities.
You can assign a unique number to each section, sub-section and page (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1, etc.). This can help tremendously in assigning particular pieces of content to the appropriate site section. Some content strategists also color-code different sections on spreadsheets. It gets down to a matter of personal preference, as well as the size and scale of the audit in question.
It’s also highly recommended that each section, sub-section or page contain a note on who owns each piece of content, as well as the type of content: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Is it created in-house? If so, by whom? Is it outsourced (third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who is responsible for creating, approving and publishing each piece?
Conducting the content audit
The content audit essentially involves digging into the quality of the content.
Following are the questions you should be asking about each piece of content:
1. What’s it about?
What subjects and topics does the content address? Are page and section titles, headlines and sub-heads promising what’s actually delivered in the on-page copy? Is there are good balance of content addressing products, services, customer service, and ‘about us’ information?
2. Is it accurate and current?
In other words, is the content topical? Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated and/or inaccurate information lurking in obscure places of the site? As mentioned above, localities, employees, pricing, industry data and statistics and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as ‘update/revise’ or ‘remove.’
3. Does it support both user and business goals?
Many stakeholders feed into a company’s digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing, PR and customer service (to name but a few).
Different divisions may be trying to achieve varying goals in ‘their’ section of a site or blog, but fundamentally all content must very gracefully serve two needs: the business and the customer.
This means, for example, that calls-to-action must be clear, but not so overwhelming they get in the way of the user experience. The content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while staying in balance.
4. Are people finding and using the content?
This is where web analytics comes into play. What types of content — and what pages in particular — are the most and least popular on the site in question? Where do users spend time, and where do they go when they leave? Are they taking desired actions on a page? What search keywords and phrases bring them to the site?
5. Is it clean and professional?
Is page copy consistent in tone? Are spelling, punctuation and grammar consistent and correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it being followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner, and properly placed/oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any predesignated rules (eg, open a new page in a separate browser window)?
6. Is content logically organized?
Does the site contain tacked-on pages that don’t follow navigational structure? Does the overall navigation make sense? Are there redundancies, such as a site that includes a ‘Personal Finance’ section in the top-level navigation, then again lists that section in a sub-menu under the heading ‘Money & Careers’?
7. Does the content have a consistent voice?
Every brand or business has a distinct voice that expresses its personality. Serious, irreverent, scholarly, authoritative – all are valid, but the tone, language and mode of expression must suit and must be consistent with the brand. This step evaluates the content’s tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder.
8. Are basic SEO elements in place?
Review each page’s title, keywords, metadata, headings and image tags.
Are target keywords and phrases used on the page? Are page descriptions and metadata employed appropriately? Are images and multimedia files captioned, and is metadata employed to make them search-engine friendly? Are headlines optimized for search?
Search engine optimization begins and ends with content, so evaluating to what extent content conforms to best practices in search is an essential part of an audit.
9. What content is missing?
Conducting a content audit focuses so much attention on what’s there that it is often too easy to overlook what is not there. An essential step in any audit is therefore to identify weaknesses, gaps and content needs.
A site may be rich in information on how to order products, for example; but are issues of shipping and order fulfillment adequately addressed? Is the press/media section strong on press releases, but weak on photos and video offerings? Does the company blog address company issues heavily, but general industry trends not at all?
What’s missing speaks volumes about the forward direction of a content strategy.