Quantitative Audit: Low-Hanging Fruit
A quantitative content audit is basically an index of the content on your site. Just the facts. No frills. It’s the easiest thing to do when you’re trying to get your arms around what content you have and where it lives.
It’s a good idea to do a quantitative audit when you want raw, undisputed data about your site content. It also may be a “quick win” when you have a very limited timeframe to build a business case or prepare for an upcoming web project.
For larger websites, Lou Rosenfeld (Rosenfeld Media) makes a great case for doing a “rolling content inventory,” or a quantitative content audit that basically never ends:
- Inventory your content on an ongoing basis. A content inventory is a process, not a deliverable. A content inventory shouldn’t be something that you allocate the first two weeks of your redesign to; allocate 10 percent or 15 percent of your job to it instead.
- ... We’ve got to get used to the reality that ongoing, partial content inventories are likely to be far more cost-effective than trying to achieve the perfect, all-encompassing snapshot of our content. Traditional content inventory methods continue to make sense with small websites. But anyone who is trying to inventory the typical corporate, academic, or governmental site needs to stop tilting at the windmill of comprehensiveness.*
In general, a quantitative content audit is often the very first step in any content audit process. It can answer some or all of these questions:
- What content do you have?
- How is it organized?
- Who creates it?
- Where does it live?
Let’s see how the answers to these questions will help inform your content strategy.
What Content Do You have?
In 2002, Jeff Veen (Small Batch) wrote a very concise blog post on how to conduct a quantitative audit of your website content:
- Start at your home page. Identify the major sections of your site. For example, at adaptivepath.com, we’ve divided our site into these section: team, services, workshops, publications, and contact. If I were doing an inventory of [a] site, I’d start with [a] section, click in, and see what’s linked from it. For each page that I visit, I’d record the information specified in the columns of the spreadsheet. I’d follow every link and navigate as far as I could through the site, making sure to gather data about every possible page on the site.†
You may want to note what kind of content each page or component is. This is particularly helpful if you’re using a CMS with specified content types. Examples of different kinds of content include articles, marketing promotions, press releases, employee biographies, product information, frequently asked questions, and blog posts.
You should also record:
- PDFs and other downloads
- Functional pages (such as shopping carts and registration)
- ... and so on
How is the Content Organized?
Whenever possible, it’s most helpful to catalogue your web content like you would create an outline. List major website sections as your top-level “parent” (or primary) sections, and plug in pages and modules as “children” (or secondary, tertiary, and so on) sections or pages contained within each main section.
There are a few reasons to take the time to clearly document current-state content organization and hierarchy in your content inventory.
First, if you have a lot of web content, part of what’s great about an audit is that you can finally figure out where it lives and how exactly it’s organized. A content inventory can document that information in a way that anyone can review and react to it.
Second, if you don’t already have a numbering system for your web content, it’s a good idea to start one now. You can organize it in the same way you’d organize a document outline (1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1, and so on). By assigning a unique numeric ID to each page or component, you’ll have a much clearer picture of exactly which content belongs to which section of your website. It’s also incredibly helpful to have a system like this established when it comes time to link up the content inventory to other web project documentation; the number of a specific web page can correspond to the content strategy recommendations for that page, as well as the functional specifications for that page, and so on.
Who Creates the Content?
At a high level, it’s useful to note whether each piece of content on your site was created in-house, by a content partner (newsfeeds, articles, blog posts, and so on), or by your users.
For content created by your internal team, if you can, note who creates, approves, and publishes each piece of content. This information can be enormously helpful when you begin to ask questions about why certain content was done a certain way, or when you want to confirm it’s okay to change or remove the content. We’ll examine this topic in detail in Chapter 7, Workflow.
Where Does the Content Live?
If you’re dealing with a very large site that’s hosted on a number of different servers or platforms, take note of where the content lives within your technical infrastructure.
In your inventory, include a column for content location. Is the content in a content management system (CMS)? Static HTML? If so, what are the unique URLs? How is dynamic content (that is, content that is delivered in components versus entire pages) managed? Are people publishing content directly to a website from their desktops or servers?
Sometimes content may be stored in very strange places, so be prepared to do some digging.