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Content Inventories: Get Them Right the First Time

Posted by Jamie Young on February 20th, 2014 at 2:28 pm

So your company has decided to redesign its website. Keep in mind that before you migrate content from your current site over to the newly designed one, you’ll need to do a content inventory to determine what content should be eliminated and what should be saved.

Content inventories, especially for large sites with more than 1,000 URLs, can take a lot of time to complete and require a level of detail that can be daunting for teams that haven’t done them before. Ideally, you would have a content strategist conduct the content inventory, but in the event that’s not possible, here are some tips for how to do one successfully on your own.

Before you assign multiple people to work on a single content inventory — and chances are that the competencies of each auditor will vary — it’s important to think through what you’re trying to accomplish so that you can set up a well-defined process.

Creating the Inventory Template

A content inventory refers to a complete list of URLs that make up a website. The content inventory identifies duplicate URLs and broken links that need to be redirected. By clicking on each URL on the existing site, you can determine which links are still working and which ones aren’t before you migrate your content to the new site.

Content inventories are sometimes referred to as content audits, but, really, they are different. A content audit is a qualitative analysis of a given set of content. The level of detail required in a content audit depends on a variety of factors: the nature of the project, the business objectives, the budget and time constraints. When appropriate, a content audit can be folded into the content inventory as a single deliverable. Other times, it may make sense to have it assigned as a separate task should a full audit of every page not be needed.

To make the process more efficient and affordable, create an Excel template for the content inventory. Establish clear criteria for the inventory that should be captured and how it will help in the redesign process, especially for migrating content.

The content inventory should include, at a minimum, the following information tied to each URL:

  • Page title
  • Whether the link is broken
  • The content relationship (usually the site hierarchy).

Other helpful items include: content type, interactive elements, content owner, date posted and meta data. (meta data refers to the source code information for a given web page that allows search engines like Google to better connect relevant audiences to your content.)

You might ask why should I include meta data in my inventory — isn’t that a developer’s job? Nope — here’s why. When you view the source code for a page, you’ll want to ensure that the title tag, meta description and H1 information is correct. You’ll change this when you update your content, so it’s the perfect time to capture this while you already have a page open.

What about keywords? The truth is, Google has changed its search rules (algorithms). No longer can websites cheat the system by stacking content with popular keyword search terms in order to earn a higher ranking in search results on Google. The quality of the content and its relevance to the audience are what count. So the stronger your content and the more useful it is to those seeking it, the better chance you have of ranking higher in Google searches and generating more links.

Lastly, to further save time (and budget), use some free and paid digital tools. For paid services, I like Screaming Frog and Content Insight. I often use a free Java Applet-based tool by Audit My PC to create a simple spreadsheet containing all URLs from a website.

A Quality-Based Audit

In addition to completing a content inventory, the client should consider conducting a site audit if it is not going to be included as a part of the inventory process. By auditing the content for its quality, you can focus on making recommendations for what needs to be archived or repurposed, or where to develop new content that’s more relevant for the user and, at the same time, meets your goals.

So how do you assess quality? A simple way is to rate each piece of content from 1-5, 5 being most valuable based on the objectives for that content in relation to the new website.

Depending on the type of site being audited, I might also evaluate the popularity of content via: Facebook likes and shares, Twitter posts, LinkedIn posts, Google +1s and the number of page comments and/or reviews. Once you look at this data, you can then recommend future content to create or to cut back on.

Keeping It Fresh

After you’ve completed an audit or inventory, how do you ensure that the new content remains fresh and relevant? This is where content governance comes into play. Propose a content plan to continually evaluate content popularity. This is an important approach that’s often left on the drawing table.

Again, ideally you will be working with a content strategist who can articulate a content plan informed by a content audit. But even if you’re doing one on your own, remember to take the added steps to get it right — whether using an audit or a full inventory to capture, digest and evaluate critical information to make a redesign and future governance of a site a success.

One Response to “Content Inventories: Get Them Right the First Time”

  1. Redesigning a website can be a huge undertaking. It's important to create a very extensive paper trail of what your old site used to have so you know the new website has all the old elements you wanted to keep AND preserve any SEO value the old site used to have. It's very easy to miss a form or landing page here and there, and not notice it's missing until it's too late.

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