How-to guide for intranet content audits


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If you’re building a new intranet, you have lots of work to get done. Aside from the budgeting, strategy setting, stakeholder communications, software selection and other important intranet planning activities, you need to build a site that employees will actually use. If you aim for sustained adoption of your new intranet, then it’s good to start with building a user friendly information architecture (IA) that helps employees easily find what they need.

Many of our clients hire the ThoughtFarmer Professional Services team to guide them through the IA design process. ThoughtFarmer’s user experience (UX) designers carry a full kit of user-centred design tools for building an intuitive intranet navigation scheme. Three of the most useful tools are 1) content audits, 2) card sorting and 3) task testing (also known as navigation testing), all of which can help you craft a solid information architecture. When used correctly, these three design tools can deliver a greatly improved intranet navigation.

However, plenty of other clients prefer to build the IAs for their new intranets themselves. In order to assist those clients, along with any other intranet teams that discover this post, we have crafted this guide to conducting the first of those three UX tools: the intranet content audit.

Video: Build a site navigation in ThoughtFarmer

Once you have conducted a content audit and other exercises to create a user-friendly information architecture, you then need to build the navigation using your intranet software.

This brief video demonstrates the simple steps to building a complete hierarchical intranet navigation using ThoughtFarmer:

If you like the look of these simple site-building tools, sign up for a live demo to see more of ThoughtFarmer in action.

What is an intranet content audit?

A content audit is an effort to catalogue all the pages and files on your existing intranet (as well as file server and other content repositories) and then determine the quality and usefulness of each piece of content, in order to make a decision on whether or not the content is worth adding to the new intranet.

Other common decisions that result from an audit are whether or not new content needs to be written, content needs to be transformed or edited or lumped/merged together or split apart. One typically completes the content audit in preparation for building a new site navigation and migrating content.

A content audit typically involves listing every piece of content in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet using a format that conveys the basic hierarchy of content (either navigation structure or folder hierarchy). For each piece of content, you note certain attributes, such as the location of the page, the owner, whether or not to delete or update the content, etc. The result is known as the content inventory.

If right now you’re thinking “we have tons of content and that sounds like a lot of work!” don’t you worry. Compared with the benefits of a clean, well-designed new intranet, the effort of conducting a content audit is minimal. For small companies or those without existing intranets, the process may be very brief. But a content audit is an important first step in buildling a user-friendly new intranet navigation. How else will you know how to design the IA for your new site if you don’t know what content you’re organizing?

As you read through the below guide and prepare for your content audit, keep in mind the rich reward that will ensue. Conducting a content audit is like completing a spring cleaning and then holding a yard sale: it may require a bit of momentum to get started, but you’ll experience great satisfaction from sorting through and discarding old content and starting fresh, with a gleaming, clean new intranet.

Why is an intranet content audit important?

Thinking about the diligent effort of conducting an intranet content audit can be a little daunting. But experienced intranet and web pros like Kristina Halvorson, CEO of BrainTraffic, know how important content audits are. She even wrote that The Content Inventory is Your Friend.

A content audit isn’t simply a rote administrative task occupying a line in your intranet project plan. Rather it lays the groundwork for many important next steps and can help to:

  • Identify your most active content owners
  • Build engagement amongst content owners
  • Discover useful material you didn’t know you had
  • Reduce lame content by identifying old and irrelevant material
  • Appease the IT department by deleting old content and freeing up hard disk space on the company’s servers
  • Provide critical material and insights for card sorting
  • Lay the groundwork for a smooth content migration
  • Reduce costs by not migrating material that doesn’t need to be migrated
  • Lower the cognitive load of searching and browsing through a bloated intranet

Trying to conduct usability exercises such as card sorting and task testing without first completing a full content audit is akin to making a cake without first buying all the needed ingredients.

If you’re still not convinced, the article Taking Stock: Intranet Content Audit by writer/journalist Paul Chin provides a more in-depth explanation of a content audit’s value.

Step-by-step guide to intranet content audits

Step 1: Decide upon your content inventory format

Before you take a single step forward, you’ve got to decide exactly what information you need to capture about each piece of content. This involves thinking through how you plan to use the content audit and what information you need about each piece of content.

Typical column headings in a content audit spreadsheet include:

  • Content Name
  • Current Location
  • Content Type (page, PDF, DOCX, etc.)
  • Content Description
  • Owner/Maintainer
  • Status (Keep, Delete, Edit, New)
  • Notes

Of all these headings, we think that “Status” is the most important. The information in this column tells you exactly how much material you’ll be deleting, how much you have to re-write to get it up-to-par with your fancy new intranet, and what holes you may have in your existing content.

Intranet content audit spreadsheet with column titles

We provide ThoughtFarmer clients with a custom, proprietary content audit spreadsheet, but you can find good free content inventory templates, such as this downloadable content inventory spreadsheet template from Donna Spencer of MaadMob.

You can find another good example of a content inventory spreadsheet in the article Doing a Content Inventory by Jeffrey Veen.

STEP 2: Locate all your content repositories

A “content repository” is just a place where files and pages live, either your current intranet, a shared network drive, or even printed binders. A content repository is any place that houses information you may want to move to your new intranet.

It may seem like a no-brainer that you need to locate all your content repositories, but sometimes people assume only content from a specific site or repository will be migrated, or they don’t know about other repositories.

This step is all about scope. Perhaps you know for sure that you’ll migrate content from the old intranet to the new one, but what about content on Shared Drives? Is there content in the HRIS (Human Resources Information System) that might better belong on your new intranet or vice versa? What other computer systems does the company have that may house important content?

You may find that deciding upon which content repositories to include in the content audit leads to larger questions about the scope of your new intranet. You could even experience light turf wars if you haven’t yet built a clear shared intranet vision amongst all stakeholders.

Such potential hiccups are good reasons to expose these issues at the start of the design process. The best way to do that is to engage your stakeholders and build a clear intranet stategy at the start of your project. This strategy can set a clear intranet purpose and vision, which will guide the scope of the intranet’s content.

STEP 3: Decide who will conduct the content inventory 

Here you’ve got to balance your stakeholder engagement strategy with very practical concerns. A content inventory (the cataloguing of content) and the ensuing audit (should it stay or should it go?) can take time and your stakeholders may not have much of that. In some companies just one person, usually the intranet project manager, completes the entire content inventory and even the audit itself.

However, a potential pitfall to this tactic is that the intranet manager may have very little familiarity with much of the content and will be unclear on whether it is in good condition, needs to be edited, or could be deleted.

Alternately if you involve several active stakeholders then you can spread out the burden inventory, improve the quality of the results and build increased intranet project engagement and ownership amongst your content owner group.

You may find that the intranet project manager has to complete the content inventory alone. In becomes extra important to actively engage with stakeholders to audit the content and make decisions about what to delete, migrate and update.

No matter which route you take, you’ve got to figure out whatever will work best for your intranet project overall.

STEP 4: Discuss & socialize your ROT criteria 

ROT refers to content that is Redundant, Outdated or Trivial. Some of the content you inventory will be marked for deletion, for which you must decide upon clear criteria. The best way to go about this is to gather together all your big-time content owners to review the content audit process and look at sample content.

For some intranet teams the goal is to reduce as much content as possible before migrating to a new intranet. No matter how ambitious you are, remember that each piece of content you decide to save will need a home in the new sitemap, will need to be migrated (most likely in a semi-manual way) and may need to be edited/updated.

Once again, having a clear intranet strategy and vision will help clarify this process. The key in clarifying your ROT criteria is just like that of defining your strategy and conducting the audit itself: Involve your stakeholders!

STEP 5: Start listing content in the content inventory spreadsheet

Now it’s time to poor yourself a cup of coffee, play the Mumford & Sons Pandora station through your headphones and jump in.

It may be easiest to 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.

Filled out intranet content audit in MS Excel

We recommend that you be as complete as possible and list every single page and file within your scope. Sometimes it’s tempting to save time on the content audit by only listing sections or folders, but by avoiding a more granular effort you’re stacking the deck against yourself for the actual content migration. When it comes time to move content to the new intranet if your content audit didn’t go deeply enough into your sitemap, you’ll likely discover ROTten content as well as material you’re just not sure about.

You may find it useful to set a specific day as your content inventory day. You and other stakeholders conducting the inventory can work concurrently and share any questions or concerns that arise during the process.

STEP 6: Review your results

Once you’ve finished listing content, you need to review it and make sure it’s all marked properly.

You may want to meet with each stakeholder/content owner or people from each content-owning department to review their section of the content inventory. During these meetings you can decide upon what material can be deleted, what should be edited, and what is in good enough shape to move straight over to the new intranet.

For an in-depth guide to reviewing and analyzing content, see the article Content Analysis: A Practical Approach on the UX Matters website – an excellent article written by Colleen Jones, principle at Content Science.

Before you jump into this process, review the intranet strategy, vision and purpose with your content owners. This can help everyone involved stay committed to the shared goals of the project.

STEP 7: Delete or decide when you will delete ROTten content

One of the great joys of completing a comprehensive content audit is the cleansing feeling of deleting dozens or hundreds or thousands of pages and/or files.

Some teams like to take a cautious route and wait until they have migrated to the new intranet before deleting even their ROTten content. Others remove it immediately in preparation for content migration, especially if any automation is involved.

No matter what, don’t just leave old content sitting around, forgotten. Make a plan to delete the content and track just how much you eliminate. Reporting on this to the IT Department and to project sponsors may win you some serious brownie points.

Common pitfalls

Since the content audit sets a foundation for many ensuing steps, taking shortcuts at this early point in the project can lead to extra work later on. As you start your content audit, beware of these common mistakes.

Project plan leaves too little time for the content audit: You’re likely on a tight deadline and the content audit seems like a thankless task you just want to be done with. While those feelings make sense, the content audit is still very important. Remember you need to allow time in your plan for your content owners to fit this into their schedules (if you’re involving them in the process) and you’ll likely discover extra “dark matter” content that had previously flown below your radar.

Saving time by going only folder deep: Giving in to this frequent temptation can cause a major backfire. You’ll save time up front, but will likely run into unexpected surprises come content migration time. The last thing you want is to build an entire new navigation scheme for your intranet and then realize it doesn’t accomodate material you skimmed over in the content audit. Go the extra mile here, as painful as it may be.

Ignoring/forgetting about content repositories: Does the intranet project manager sit in the IT Department? Did she consult with the HR team about all the places their content lives? Or perhaps the project leader in the Internal Communications Department doesn’t know about a Shared Drive used by the sales team. The point of these examples is that you need to do some exploration and try to discover where all the relevant content lives. Be prepared to learn more about the dark underbelly of your organization’s content than you ever suspected.

Analyzing content without the content owner: Your content owners/stakeholders are busy, so you filled in the content inventory spreadsheet for them. Don’t assume you can analyze that content without them as well. It takes familiarity with content to know how people use it, who uses it, when it needs to be updated, etc.

A final word on intranet content audits

People sometimes find content a little bit boring, especially on a social intranet project involving interactive software like ThoughtFarmer. But no matter how social your intranet is, content is still king.

If you don’t provide the content employees need and make it easy to navigate and search, your new intranet may struggle to see adoption and provide true business value.

If you give yourself time in your project plan to conduct a content audit, and from the start you involve the stakeholders responsible for key content, you will smooth the way for each ensuing phase of the project.

How to build your IA in ThoughtFarmer

This brief video demonstrates how you can quickly and easily build a complete hierarchical intranet navigation using ThoughtFarmer:

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Join The Discussion

  1. Fredric Landqvist

    Great post! All editors would like the “machine” do their laundry 🙂
    In large intranet spaces where you have dispersed editors and a more loose power relation to the organisation it takes yet another collaborative tinkering dimension. Content corpuses are connected but lack coherent ownership and organising principles. With 100+ editors doing their content edit excel might be cumbersum ? Who will do the IA aggregate and map a road-ahead? Do you have and smart ideas to lever content audit collaborative spaces?

  2. Ephraim Freed

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments Fredric.

    You’re right that some intranets, especially those for very large companies, are huge with expansive amounts of content. Often in large companies you can end up with dozens and even hundreds of content owners.

    This makes content governance harder and means any effort at a content audit require substantial work. The key in these situations is to start with a clear intranet strategy.

    What is the purpose of the intranet? How is it going to help employees on a daily basis? What information is needed to do that?

    Once an intranet team has a clear vision, they can narrow their content audit focus onto the material that best supports the intranet vision.

    This process can reduce the scope of the audit substantially. Or it can at least focus the audit.

    Related to loose power relations it’s important to remember the core of governance: Relationships.

    Intranet governance is about building and managing relationships, not just writing a governance document. With 100+ content owners an intranet team must spend a lot of time in conversation with the content owners, developing relationships that can underpin any efforts to improve the intranet.

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