If the thought of a content audit intimidates you, you aren't alone.
Yes, content audits require effort, but they are critical because they are the first (and arguably the most important) step in developing a solid information architecture (IA). Good IA isn't just a trend, but absolutely necessary if you are aiming for any level of intranet adoption.
A content audit is defined as the process of cataloging all the pages and files on your intranet (as well as file server and other content repositories) and determining the quality and usefulness of each content piece.
But before you organize anything, you need to know what you are organizing. This is where a content audit comes in.
Why an intranet content audit is important
Not only is a content audit an important step in building an optimized, user-friendly IA for a new intranet, it can also help determine if your current structure needs some TLC.
A content audit isn’t simply a rote admin task. Rather it lays the groundwork for many important next steps and can help to:
- Identify active content owners and build engagement
- Discover useful material you didn’t know you had
- Reduce migration costs and free up server space
View our guide on information architecture and become a content audit expert.Download now
Step-by-step guide to content audits
Based on our experience of conducting numerous intranet audits for clients, we’ve come up with a few steps to help you manage and sort through your intranet content.
STEP 1: Decide upon your content inventory format.
A spreadsheet will help you easily create specific headings you need to identify and categorize your content. Typical column headings in a content audit spreadsheet include:
- Content Name
- Current Location
- Content Type (page, PDF, DOCX, etc.)
- Content Description
- Status (Keep, Delete, Edit, New)
Status is likely the most important heading. The information here tells you exactly how much material you’ll delete, how much to rewrite, and what content holes you may have.
We often provide our clients with a content audit spreadsheet that is customized to their specific needs, however, you can find good free content inventory templates.
STEP 2: Locate all your content repositories.
A content repository is any place that houses information you want to move to your new intranet.
It may seem obvious to locate all your content repositories, but sometimes we assume only content from a specific site or repository is migrated. Or, we don’t know about other repositories.
Migrating content from an old intranet to a new one maybe obvious, but what about content on Shared Drives? Is there content in the HRIS (Human Resources Information System) that might be more suited on your new intranet? What other computer systems does the company have that may house important content?
STEP 3: Decide who will conduct the content inventory.
A content inventory and the ensuing audit (should it stay or should it go?) can take time. In some companies just one person (typically the intranet project manager) completes the entire content inventory and even the audit itself.
However, the intranet manager may be unfamiliar with much of the content and may be unclear on whether it is in good condition, or requires editing or deleting.
Alternatively if you involve several active stakeholders, you can spread out the burden inventory. This will improve the quality of the results and build engagement and ownership amongst your content owner group.
In those cases where the intranet project manager has to complete the content audit alone, it becomes critical to involve stakeholders to audit the content and make decisions about what to delete, migrate, and update.
STEP 4: Discuss & socialize your ROT criteria.
ROT refers to content that is Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial.
For some intranet teams the goal is to reduce as much content as possible before migrating to a new intranet. However, remember that each piece of content you save will need a home in the new sitemap, and may require editing. Clarifying your ROT criteria is to involve your stakeholders.
STEP 5: Start listing content in the content inventory spreadsheet
Start at the top level of your old intranet’s navigation and list out the main sections. You can do the same thing for the folders in a file share and other content repositories. Then go section by section and starting listing content.
We recommend completing as much as possible and listing every single page and file. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s necessary. If your content audit doesn’t go deep enough, you may discover ROTten content and material you’re unsure about.
STEP 6: Review your results
Once you’ve finished listing content, you need to review it and make sure it’s all marked properly.
Meet with each stakeholder/content owner or people from each content-owning department to review their section. Together you can decide what requires deletion, what needs editing, and what can be migrated over.
For an in-depth guide to analyzing content, see Content Analysis: A Practical Approach on the UX Matters website. It’s an excellent article written by Colleen Jones, at Content Science.
Before jumping into this process, review the intranet strategy, vision, and purpose with your content owners. This helps everyone involved stay committed to the shared goals.
STEP 7: Delete or decide when you will delete ROTten content
Some teams like to wait until they have migrated to the new intranet before deleting content. Others remove it right away in preparation for content migration, especially if any automation is involved.
Whatever you decide, don’t leave old content sitting around, forgotten. Make a plan to delete the content and track just how much you eliminate.
Common content audit pitfalls
As you start your content audit, here are some common mistakes to keep in mind:
Project plan leaves too little time for the content audit:
If you’re on a tight deadline a content audit may seem like a thankless task. However you need to allow time for your content owners to fit this into their schedules (assuming they are part of the process). Doing this will help you uncover potentially important content.
Saving time by going only folder deep:
Imagine building a new navigation scheme for your intranet and realizing it doesn’t accommodate material you skimmed over. As painful as it may be, take the time to go review even the low level content.
Ignoring/forgetting other content repositories:
Does the intranet project manager sit in the IT Department? Did they consult with the HR team about where all their content lives? Or perhaps the project leader in one department doesn’t know about other shared drives. Sometimes exploration is necessary when trying to discover relevant content.
Analyzing content without the content owner:
As tempting as it may be, don’t fill in the content inventory spreadsheet all by yourself. Your content owners will always understand more than you. It takes familiarity with content to know how people use it, who uses it, and when it needs to be updated, etc.
A final word
Successful intranets are dependant on employee adoption — which won’t happen if your content isn’t relevant.
If you allow time to conduct a content audit, and involve key stakeholders from the start, your intranet adoption rates will soar. And most importantly, your intranet will deliver a true business value.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012 by Ephraim Freed and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.