The first step in a website content refresh – the content audit

You’re a web writer/editor and you’ve been given a website to update, and it really badly needs it.

You want to jump right in and edit those pages. You want to get rid of those ‘click here’ links and break up the large chunks of text and make it look and read brilliantly. Hold on. Stop. Take a step back. You really need to establish what’s there first.

Figure out what’s already there – do a content audit

You need to get an overall picture of the existing content by reading what’s there. You also need to document existing pages, and documents (PDFs, Word docs etc).

I know, it’s a boring process, and quite time consuming, but very satisfying. Or maybe that’s just how I feel once I’ve done a content inventory.

I’ve tried to use existing site maps and build from those but the best way is to go through the website page by page and link by link.

It won’t hurt to access the content management system as well because this will undoubtedly have orphaned pages sitting there which need to form part of the content audit even if they will be permanently removed. Although hopefully part of the content strategy takes care of old files. In my experience, though, this doesn’t happen and a CMS is littered with old images, documents and webpages that are no longer used.

To document the content, I create a spreadsheet.

Things I’m thinking of while doing it are:

  • Who’s the audience for the site?
  • Is the content up-to-date or out-of-date?
  • Does the content need removing altogether or updating?
  • Does the content belong to this area? For example don’t repeat information that belongs to another agency or group, link to them instead as they’re responsible for updating the website.
  • How many page views has the webpage had? Hopefully you can get access to website analytics.

On the spreadsheet, add columns for Page name, URL (you can use conditional formatting in Excel to highlight duplicate values so you don’t go around in circles), Group or person responsible, who the audience is, and my initial thoughts about the page. For example it might be really obviously out of date, really lengthy and I can immediately see that text can be cut. There might be no headings to split up the content for ease of reading. Or, you might find that the really important information is only in a Word doc containing FAQs.

I’ve seen so many instances of PDFs containing important information that should be webpages, but they’re not. It really doesn’t take that much time to make it web-friendly. And by web-friendly it usually needs editing.

Example of a website content audit spreadsheet

content audit example

Click on image above to view a larger one.

Once you’ve done the content inventory you’re in a really good position to meet with the content owners to discuss where it goes from here.

The spreadsheet is not something I give to the content owner as their eyes would glaze over, but I certainly make notes from it to run through at the meeting. What you can do however, is ask if certain pages and/or files are still needed. For example, do you want the media releases from ten years ago that have links to really old information that are now broken?

At the top of my list of questions is what’s the main purpose of the website and who do you see as the target audience or audiences?

Then I’m able to say that this section, or this page doesn’t meet the objectives of the website, or the needs of the target audience if I think that’s the case.

Hopefully after the content audit and the initial content owner meeting you’re in a good position to start editing and rewriting.

Next I’ll cover how to keep the relationship going with the content owner. This can be the tricky bit.

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