Content inventories are the starting places of any content audit. Creating a content inventory at an early stage of a website project is one of the hallmarks of a professional content strategist. But the work is not finished there. It is important to regularly plan content inventories in order to have an overview of the work that has been done and the work that still needs to be done. This report on Paula Land's lecture on content inventories introduces the topic and explains what place content inventories have in the practice of content strategists.
No content audit without a content inventory
Content audits are one of the foundations of a content strategist's work. They are always related to a qualitative goal: Can the existing content achieve what it is supposed to achieve? Before you can analyze and assess your content you must find out what content you have. A content inventory gives a structured overview of the content published or created by an organization. This task might be uncomfortable and unpopular in some cases, but necessary. In the end, it helps your organization and especially your users and customers to pursue their objectives when interacting with your content.
That’s why creating a content inventory is one of the first skills a beginning content strategist must acquire.
It is essential to be aware of the current state of content. A content audit gives an insight on how your content is currently performing and where the opportunities for future improvement lie. A content audit is an indispensable step to align content with your goals and your customers’ goals on an empirical basis.
A content audit is a qualitative assessment of the content and its functionality. To audit content is to measure the quality of the content regarding the desired actions.
In this article we will guide you through the "content inventory" as the fundamental stage or the preparation of a content audit. We will also treat some other clarifications that are needed before conducting the content audit.
Before we get started, let’s clear up some main terms:
What is content?
A piece of content is the information that is directed towards a customer or a user. Content appears in many forms, such as headlines, text bodies, videos and images, and through different channels. In our class, and for the purpose of this article we focus on digital content presented on websites.
What is an inventory?
You might be familiar with the term inventory. For example, every supermarket needs to conduct inventories – maybe quarterly or at the end of the year. At a specific time, supermarkets need to check which products (WHAT) are located within their storage (WHERE) and further to which extent (HOW MANY) and what kind of quality.
What is a content inventory?
Just like in a supermarket, you should regularly check what kind of content and how much content you have, where it is located and what the quality of it is. To be able to do a comprehensive and full audit, a content inventory needs to be conducted. It is a quantitative analysis that usually includes all pages of the website. It can also comprise other content, e.g. social media content, PDFs and other media types - even printed materials.
Phase 1: Definition of the audit
Before starting a content audit some questions should be asked to define the purpose and the scope of the project. The answers to these questions are essential - not only for the inventory but for the audit as a whole:
Why is the content audit happening?
What are the objectives of the company/organization?
How to measure the success of the audit
To be able to understand business goals, the following steps can be carried out:
Stakeholder analysis: identify everyone who contributes to content including cross functional teams.
Assignment of measurable metrics to goals.
Prioritization of musts and shoulds.
Listing long term and short term goals.
Definition of the addressees: Who does the organization serve?
Definition of the most important user tasks and goals.
Definition of criteria for the successful information retrieval and fulfillment of user needs by the website.
In order to understand the goals of the users you can proceed e.g. by
Development of personas
Visualization of customer journeys
Additionally an auditor should be aware of:
Resources and budget
Long term content strategy and planning
What an auditor will work with
Answering those questions is considered as the “define” section, afterwards the “assess” section starts, which consists of content inventory and audit.
Phase 2: Establishment of the inventory
To be able to conduct a comprehensive and full audit, a content inventory should be conducted first, which is a quantitative analysis of all pages of the website. It can also comprise other content, e.g. social media content, PDFs and other media types and even printed material.
A content inventory contains structured data in the form of a spreadsheet. How many and which data the inventory contains depends on the project definition. All content inventories of a website should comprise: URLs, file types, media including videos and images, meta data, word counts and H1 tags. If a tool/software is used to create the inventory, it is suggested to start from the home page and to follow the navigational structure. It is essential to label every item of the inventory with an ID in addition to the URL, to prevent confusion in the future when URLs change and to be able to sort the content easily.
There are 2 ways to create an inventory:
Manual inventory: It provides detailed insights about the content, as the auditor collects information about each content item piece by piece. This approach makes it easy to identify patterns. However, as the webpage grows, manual inventories become tedious and time-consuming. In many cases a manual inventory is restricted to relevant or representative parts of the content. Which and how many content items are inventoried manually depends on the goals that were set for the audit.
Automated inventory: For an automated inventory all pages on a website are collected by a tool. Usually, every item of a website is fetched via its URL. This approach is fast, comprehensive and detailed. However, the generated inventory only gathers data. Unlike manual work, it doesn't create insights and it is not hands-on. In addition, automation will display a lot of information in an unstructured way, so you will still have to structure it manually afterwards. The most important tools for automated inventorisation are ContentWRX Audit, Screaming Frog SEO Spider and URL Profiler - Powerful Content and Back Link Auditor Software. In the image below you can see an example of the spreadsheet
(c) Victoria Brödl, Eli Stolzer, Carina Kornberger, Elisabeth Reisinger
Phase 3: Preparation of the qualitative audit
When the content inventory is ready, an auditor basically has the list of what they need to audit in their hands. Voilà: the audit can start as you complete your inventory. Depending on the type of the audit, additional columns are to be added to the inventory. Usually, these columns are filled manually even if the inventory has been generated by a software. By using the inventory as the base for the assessment of the content, it is possible to achieve a much higher degree of reliability and independence from bias compared to analysis of content items selected by chance or subjective preferences of the auditor.
For you to consider different types of content audits, here’s a brief of them:
A qualitative audit analyzes the effectiveness of content and how it performs for desired actions.
The competitive audit is an audit type focused on best practices in the market by comparing audience, type and quantity of content, language format including tone and voice, community features, frequency of publication, overall impression and any other differentiating features across organizations.
A brand audit mainly evaluates terminology, tone and voice, imagery and messaging. The main purpose is to evaluate how content delivers the brand messages and represents the organization. If the brand audit sounds interesting to you, make sure to also read the article Three steps to a brand-driven content strategy!
A content performance audit uses analytics data, site metrics, search data and customer feedback to see how content is performing towards quantitative business objectives.
An audience audit elaborates if content meets the users' needs by focusing on user types, needs, tasks, flows, customer journey map, and gap analyses.
The structural (functional) audit focuses on user interface and user experience. It identifies content elements, interactions, navigational models, templates and content types.
The global audit analyzes sites for localization efforts including language support, breadth of translation, cultural relevance, navigational model, imagery, design consistency, regional and local content and localized meta content.
Where to go from here
Paula Land's book on content audits (Land 2014b) is still the most comprehensive introduction to the subject. It also provides comprehensive information about content inventories. You can find a detailed review of the book here in this knowledge base: Audits and Inventories – A Handbook by Paula Land.
Paula Land's short article in The Language of Content Strategy (Land 2014a) contains links for interesting texts from the early phases of content strategy, one of the first typical tools of which were content inventories.
Land, P. (2014a, May 29). Term of the Week: Content Inventory – The Language of Content Strategy. The Language of Content Strategy. http://www.thelanguageofcontentstrategy.com/2014/05/term-of-the-week--content-inventory.html#.YETQLP4o_fA
Land, P. L. (2014b, May 29). Content audits and inventories: A handbook. Laguna Hills : XML Press Ibswich, Mass. : EBSCO Publ. http://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=1810528