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    Content folks—strategists, managers, aficionados—have several tools that we use to collect data and turn it into useful information. One of the most ubiquitous and flexible tools is a content audit spreadsheet.

    If you ask a content strategist to send you the audit spreadsheet, we may be cautious about immediately zipping a file to you: this is our instinct to protect you from being overwhelmed.

    An audit spreadsheet is a beautiful, powerful thing—it is rich in its depth of detailed information, and it enables targeted analysis and strategy recommendations.

    Screenshot of a content audit

    It’s also potentially terrifying for users who want to keep Excel at arm’s length.

    Further, in order to extract the value of an audit, you need to (a) understand the logic with which it was created, and (b) have some idea of what questions you’re trying to answer. Some examples are listed below.

    • Answering the client question: “How old is our content?” If we need to look at age of content, we’ll record the publish/copyright date of assets as we review. As part of content analysis, then, we can whip up a nice bar graph to show distribution of content by age. Depending on the industry, we may want to develop content governance guidelines around reviewing and archiving assets of a certain age (e.g., everything gets reviewed at 12 months and retired at 18 months).
    • Answering the client question: “Is everything on our website on brand?” Provide us with all of the latest brand guidelines you have available—whether it’s messaging for copy, image guidelines, or an updated logo—and we’ll review as part of the audit to identify what the current content does well, and where we can focus efforts for updating, replacing, or archiving. This isn’t an effort we’ll undertake if this information isn’t a priority for supporting current business goals.
    • Answering the marketing team question: “Do we have content to support buyers through the sales cycle?” The stages of the sales cycle become columns in the content audit that we tag in review. Then we filter on those columns to quantify the number of pages or assets that address user concerns at any point of the sales cycle. If there’s a ton of research content and not much for generating awareness, we might suggest repurposing some detailed assets into smaller units for easier sharing (e.g., take one panel from a detailed infographic and use that as part of an awareness campaign on social media).

    A Peek at How the Sausage Is Made

    This week, I’m wrapping up a messaging-driven content audit for a website redesign.

    My first step was to create a list of URLs to audit from a Google Analytics export combined with a full site crawl. I removed duplicates, dropped “junk” URLs (e.g., .js, .css, /wp-admin/), and that was my starting list of links. I may add more links in an audit if there are detail asset pages for file download or embedded video links.

    I knew I needed some basic high-level info to start with, so I clicked through to (a) check that every link worked and didn’t redirect to another link, and (b) record some basic page info—on-page title, page type, and any other immediately relevant notes (e.g., “blank page”).

    For some projects, I might perform a click-through audit, where I just click through the entire site, rather than generate a list of URLs from a crawl or analytics export. This approach captures current navigation and the relationships between pages or assets on the current site. It’s particularly helpful on sites of companies that have merged with other companies, for example, where there are multiple domains on the navigable site that wouldn’t be picked up in a crawl.

    My next step was to copy the latest messaging deck piecemeal into Excel, with columns for audience, brand pillar, key message, and proof point. This gave me a sortable, filterable list of all of the key messages and supporting proof points that, with some conditional formatting, I could use to identify messages duplicated among audiences, or see proof points that were very similar but not quite identical (Should they match? Or is the variance intentional? Is the difference meaningful for the intended audiences?).

    I then created a list of unique key messages and transposed this list as column headers for the audit spreadsheet. This enabled me to efficiently review each piece of site content for alignment (or near-alignment) with new key messages, and it also allowed me to identify opportunities for pages to be revised to more clearly communicate certain points.

    And then I started clicking and tagging. For every piece of content on the site in question, I looked at products, audiences, key messages, and even voice and tone, since those guidelines were also included in the new messaging framework.

    And Then, Magic

    As the content audit wraps up, we shift into analysis. This is where we bring the information from the audit to planning the site IA, thinking through user flows, aligning content with user goals and tasks, and identifying gaps for future content creation efforts. It can be an uncomfortable process—at this stage I often end up in what I call a brain pretzel, when I’ve thought and overthought and rethought.

    At Gravitate, parts of the process are collaborative: the content strategist, designer, developer, and account manager all get together for a work session to outline a sitemap and document user flows. Other teams have UX architects, who can translate the information from content audit and analysis into a sitemap and wireframes ready for the designer to beautify.

    What the client gets at the end of this process is usually some combination of these deliverables:

    • A content strategy recommendation deck, including some analysis and recommendations (possibly organized by what can be done for site launch and which efforts are long-term)
    • Sitemap
    • IA outline
    • User flows
    • Wireframes

    So …

    Trust your content team. It may be a while between when a project kicks off and when you start seeing the deliverables that you’re eagerly awaiting. There is a lot of work and thought going on in the meantime; it’s just not quite ready for consumption.

    It’ll be worth the wait!