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What is a Website Content Audit?

Understanding the content audit process and why it's so important will help you and your team navigate this crucial step in redesigning and maintaining your site.

Whether you are beginning a website redesign project, trying to determine if a redesign is necessary, or just trying to keep your current website healthy, a successful content audit can be a helpful way to understand what is working well — and what isn’t — on your website.

Content Inventory vs. Content Audit

A content inventory is an accounting of all the content on your website — it tells you what you have. Typically, an inventory is a list of all pages and files on your site, including PDFs and images, along with key information such as titles, URLs, metadata, word counts, date created, date last modified, and redirects. 

A content audit is a critical evaluation of that content, assessing its quality, relevance, structure, brand expression, and style in order to determine needs, gaps, and opportunities. Often an audit will start with an inventory, so you have a full understanding of how much content is on your website. 

Why Conduct a Website Content Audit?

If you are considering a website redesign project, a content audit can help you gain perspective on the problems or challenges of your current website. For example:

  • A lot of outdated content in a particular section might point to a resource issue. Maybe there is no longer an editor accountable for that content, because someone moved on and a replacement was never appointed. Or perhaps there is an editor, but they haven’t received adequate CMS training or their other assigned duties don’t leave them adequate time to update the website.

  • If you find a lot of duplicate content, that might indicate problems with both information architecture and governance; you need to streamline your sitemap and establish ownership guidelines to determine who should actually publish that information.

  • If you find conflicting information in multiple places, such as outdated contact information on some pages, that might indicate the need for a reusable component to establish a single source of truth that can be updated in one place but republished around the site as needed through taxonomy.

What you learn from a content audit can then shape your request for proposal (RFP), so you and potential agency partners both have a better understanding of the needs for your new website.

If you are undergoing a website redesign, a content audit will often be part of the discovery phase of the project. It will help

you and your agency partners define the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of your current website, as well as provide insight into your governance and quality assurance processes. These insights then influence the overall digital strategy, information architecture, sitemap, wireframes, and content production phases of your redesign project.

But why audit your current content if you’re going to blow up your site and start over? Because if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it. If you understand what works and what doesn’t on your current site, you will be better prepared to make strategic decisions about the new site. 

How Do You Organize a Content Audit?

First, determine the scope. Do you have the time to review every page on your site? Maybe you don’t — and that’s okay. You might choose to evaluate particularly high-value or high-visibility sections of your website. You might limit your focus to key strategic sections, or to the pages with the most visits in the past year. Or you could do a representative audit, reviewing a selection of a certain page type, such as program pages, news stories, or faculty/staff bios.

Next, determine the criteria you will use to evaluate your content. Generally, an audit will consider characteristics like relevance, accuracy, and quality, as well as evaluating brand expression and noting areas of risk or liability. Your assessment might take the form of scores (such as a scale of 1-5 or a grading system like good/okay/poor), notes, or a combination of the two.

What Makes Up a Successful Content Audit

A successful content will help you organize content, remove outdated content, and prepare a vision for a new (or revised) content strategy. Here are some questions you might ask about the content as you review it to make your audit successful:

Necessity, Accuracy, and Relevance

  • Is this page necessary? 

  • Is it serving both a business purpose and a user need? 

  • Is it unique or is it redundant?

  • Is it current?

  • Is it accurate?

  • Is it relevant?

Content Quality

  • Is the content clear and effective?

  • Is it accurate?

  • Is there appropriate use of descriptive title and headings?

  • Is there a logical information hierarchy?

  • Does it use plain language and active voice?

  • Are there clear and persuasive calls to action?

Brand Expression

  • Does this content convey a distinct brand impression, and if so, what message is it projecting?

  • Does it feel appropriate and distinctive, or bland and generic?

  • Is there a consistent voice and fitting tone?

  • Does this content adhere to our style guide?

Risks and Liabilities

  • Are there any broken integrations?

  • Is there outdated or conflicting policy information?

  • Does this content in any way violate WCAG 2.0 accessibility requirements?

  • Is there essential content in a PDF that should be on a web page instead?

Once you have evaluated your selected pages using your established criteria, take some time to review the results and look for large-scale patterns. Consistent problems across a content type might indicate that your current template is a mismatch for your needs, or that you need to reconsider your workflow for producing that kind of content. Understand where your gaps and opportunities are. What is working really well now? Where are your areas of greatest risk? 

Understanding the patterns in your current content will help you address problems systematically so you can build a more successful, effective platform and process for the future.

The Perpetual Content Audit

Many people conduct a content audit only when they are redesigning their websites, but the truth is consistent, ongoing auditing is a great way to keep your new website healthy. Regular auditing can help you identify challenges with governance and web editor training before they become entrenched. You can also identify opportunities for iterative improvements to your current site, rather than waiting until the next big redesign to make any functional changes.

Ongoing auditing doesn’t have to be a big lift. Build audits into your editorial calendar as part of the site maintenance process. Set aside a few hours every month for auditing. You might split the site into 12 sections and review one per month. Or if your CMS allows, sort your site content by last updated and look at the oldest to see if it is still relevant and if it needs updating.

You can also use your analytics data to define your scope. Time spent auditing your most popular pages will have great ROI. Alternatively, you could set a cutoff for views and look at all pages below that cutoff. For example, if you know your average site visits per page, look at all pages that have received less than 25% of the average views in the past year. Are they still necessary and relevant? Do they need to exist, or can you cut dead weight from your site?

Content auditing isn’t just about the words and images on the page; it’s about learning from those words and images to extrapolate greater understanding of your publishing process’s strengths and weaknesses. A website content audit is a uniquely powerful diagnostic tool to understand the underlying issues that make a website succeed or fail.