Lessons Learned from a Massive Content Audit

This post is part of a creative, generous effort called Blog Secret Santa. Many thanks to Margot Bloomstein for the germ of the idea in 2013, and to Ben Chadfield and Max Johns for leading the effort to take it to fruition for a second year. I am honored to have gotten Mindy as my content strategy Blog Secret Santa giftee!

– Currently anonymous guest blogger

I recently completed an enormous comprehensive content audit, and on the heels of that effort, I wanted to share some major lessons learned. Since Mindy is a content strategist working on large-scale efforts, I thought this would be an appropriate post for her shiny new blog.

1. Try and scope the effort.

All told, it took two people, over the course of about 10 weeks, a total of 442 hours to turn a 135,000-line spreadsheet of website directories, pages, and documents into a complete, comprehensive assessment. The audit captured topic, content type, owner, program or section, format, creation date, last updated date, and unique page views over the past year.

Reader, I did not correctly estimate how long this would take. I was under pressure to try and stick within the client’s budget, which allowed for just six weeks, while at the same time deliver a result that would exceed the client’s expectation on the effort.

The math shows that we assessed the content at a rate of about 170 pages per hour. I’m proud of the speed at which we completed this project, and of the end result, although I had to take a loss of $6,800 in terms of work that I will not be paid for (not to mention the $500 I paid to an Excel expert).

Next time I’m faced with trying to scope an audit of this magnitude, I would do it very differently.

2. Articulate the goals.

Before looking at a single page or document, I would delve more deeply into what key facts the organization hopes the audit will uncover, as well as what they plan to do with the completed audit. While we had several discussions with the client, we didn’t have complete clarity about this.

In this case, I think the client had several goals for the audit:

  • Identify content that is useful and relevant based on data rather than perception
  • “Clean house” of unneeded and unused content before they built a new website
  • Show content owners that they did not need to keep a comprehensive library of their content
  • Uncover opportunities for improved content management

3. Set expectations for the data we need.

I would also set expectations for how we need to receive the data:

  • Complete URLs
  • Department/person owning the content
  • Creation date
  • Last updated date

Converting from partial, relative URLs to complete ones took learning and time, and we had to circle back with the client to get the other information.

4. Have the analytics integrated right away.

The final lesson is that, although the analytics data came from a different source than the inventory, it should have been integrated into the inventory information before we started.

In this case, we analyzed many, many pages and documents that we knew were outdated and suspected were not relevant or used. But we were not able to integrate the analytics data until the very end. Doing this integration ended up taking several days because it required extensive data cleanup and complex formulas. (No automated tool could help me with this baby, unfortunately….)

What we learned was shocking: a whopping 94 percent of the content had ZERO page views over the past year. That fact alone could have altered the course of the rest of the audit, enabling us to do an in-depth analysis on only a subset of the content.

12/30/2014 update:

Turns out this lovely post was written by the amazing Hilary Marsh. Thank you so much, Hilary!

If you like what you read, you should peruse Hilary’s articles and resources. Some of my favorites include her 10 content strategy lessons and her super-useful Content Lifecycle Criteria Worksheet.

I also recommend browsing the other published Content Strategy 2014 Secret Santa posts.