Website Rx: content audit

By Denise Eisner

Do you find yourself looking at your organization’s website and wondering: why can’t we just throw it all out and start over? Wouldn’t that be better than working with stale content that no one reads? Or that was architected by previous management who have moved on?

We’ve yet to see a government department act on this impulse, which is fortunate. Starting from scratch undoes months of work and means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s likely some nugget of good content lurking here and there, and more importantly, some relevant thinking about audience segments, content types and tasks. So what is the logical next step for an ailing site?

A web strategy is always a good start. It has the benefit of setting a direction that then guides all future development. Another more hands-on effort (which can occur simultaneously) is a content audit. An audit involves conducting an inventory, identifying ownership and then having owners make decisions about their contents’ future.

Environment Canada recently used a content audit approach to sift through 100,000 pages. They ended up with a much leaner content repository that now stands at a third of the original. By getting rid of the stale content, the relevant content is easier for users to find

During an audit, you want owners to make decisions about their content. No owner willing to step up? Archive the content and take it off the site. No owners willing to make decisions? Give them plenty of notice (and gentle reminders) and explain the end goal (better site management, satisfied users, etc.) but give them a deadline you’re ready to act upon. As in, you’ll remove the content unless they decide. And do so. A reaction sets the stage for a fulsome discussion of the content value relative to the goals of users and desired business outcomes.

If you’re looking at a site with more than 500 pages, this is a full-blown project, requiring a dedicated coordinator and one or more other team members to talk to content owners and catalogue the results. The effort in days will depend on the number of pages, owners and complexity of the site structure. You’ll need well-written criteria to make content decisions and a communications plan to articulate the project to various stakeholders. Management should regularly be apprised of your progress and alerted of any issues or risks requiring their action.

A content audit sounds like tough medicine but it’s the most effective way to deal with sites that have lost their way, without throwing the good pieces in the trash by accident.

Denise Eisner is a consultant in the Government Service Excellence practice. Follow Denise on twitter


Denise Eisner is a senior-level web strategist and communications specialist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a member of the Government Service Excellence practice, Denise’s experience and specializations include web strategy development, information architecture, web analytics (WebTrends and Google Analytics) and web project management. She has led large-scale content audits, developed performance measurement frameworks, and coordinated site updates to meet Treasury Board policies standards and guidelines. Engaged in the evolving spheres of information technology, corporate communications and media for almost two decades, Denise has transformed business objectives into web strategies and information architectures for corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Canada.


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