Autumn is not all “mists and mellow fruitfulness.” (Apologies to John Keats.) There is rot alongside the abundance. How best to manage your bounty so it—and you—survive the harsh winter to come? You need to take stock of what you have. As in the garden-croft, so with your website.
There are many processes out there for assessing, or auditing, the content on your website. Here is how we carry out a content audit at IU Communications.
Before you can review your site, you’ll need to compile a list of all the files it contains: pages, images, documents, apps. We use Xenu, a PC-only application, to crawl websites. Screaming Frog SEO Spider is another crawl application. Xenu produces a spreadsheet inventory of the site with sheets for all the file types just mentioned. The sheets will likely have more information than you’ll need: you can ignore server type, characterset, and other technical information for the purposes of a content audit.
We reduce the crawl information to a single-sheet spreadsheet with columns for:
- Page Source—the url
- Title/Description—the page name and folder path
Include relevant information about images, documents, and apps in this sheet where appropriate. For larger sites, we create a sheet for each main section.
Don’t discard the original crawl report. The technical data, such as the number of links from and to pages, can be useful. Refer to it when needed, but limit the data represented in the audit spreadsheet so you don’t lose the big picture in the details.
At this point, we implement some spreadsheet magic to organize the pages by folder structure.
Separate the wheat from the chaff
The first two columns are informational, though you might use the Title/Description column to consider the accuracy of the page name.
Keep/Edit/Delete (KED for short) is where you decide what stays and what goes. We keep this column simple, entering K, E, or D to record the fate of the page content. You’ll need to clarify at the start if you are referring to the content on the page, the page itself, or both. This is especially important if you will be handing the audit off to another developer to update the site information architecture.
You’ll find you work through the Redundant/Outdated/Trivial (ROT for short) column as you work through the KED column; it records the justification for your decision to keep, edit, or delete. Fill this column with the appropriate initial and a brief explanation, if necessary (e.g., “R: same content as the index page”). The so-called ROT analysis is the heart of the audit. Be vigilant . . . and relentless! Decay can spread and ruin your whole crop.
Use the Documents column to note and assess any PDFs, Word files, Excel spreadsheets, or other document types currently on the page. (Remember, these will turn up in on the documents sheet of the crawl; transfer that information to this column.) Questions to ask: is the content in the document necessary? If so, can it be converted to web copy? If not, is it accessible? Every PDF, Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or other such file on an IU website must be accessible, which requires careful thought and preparation when the document is created.
The Forms column works like the Documents column; ask the same questions. Consider converting your forms to MachForms, if they aren’t already in that format. MachForms offer lots of useful features, like ease of creation, workflows, and adherence to accessibility standards. Contact IU Communications if you want to learn more about MachForms.
Finally, Use the Notes/Comments column for all insights and tips for consideration as you or someone else on your team carries out the actions recommended in the KED and ROT columns. These should be as clear and concise as you can make them. E.g., “Combine with page above and rewrite all,” “Great quote from Herman B Wells,” “Events are on this page (delete); remaining content to About page,” “405 error—works, but need to update content and switch to MachForm; needs to print out because donor must send check.”
That’s it. Use the content audit as you update your website, or hand it off to the person who will. Now, take some time to sit back and watch as “gathering swallows twitter in the sky.