Design Artefacts Part 2: Content Inventory | May 5, 2008
If you’re redesigning an existing site, and especially if the site is a traditional content driven site, then one of the best ways to start is by performing a content audit. The process involves going through every page on the site and noting what the page is about and where it sits within the existing navigational structure. Looking at the content from a macro level allows you to generate a clear picture of how the site is currently structured and whether this structure makes sense.
If the site has been around for any length of time, new content will almost certainly have been added since the original schema was devised. Unless the structure is particularly robust or well planned, there is a good chance that some of this new content will have ended up in areas where it doesn’t quite fit. This is understandable as it’s very difficult for organisations to anticipate their content needs several months in advance, let alone several years.
Unfortunately websites tend to become dumping grounds for content that doesn’t fit elsewhere in the organisation. I’ve seen countless sites become little more than glorified filing systems, full of annual reports and messages from the board. Content that nobody cares about or will ever read, but that needs a home. This is very much an organisational-centred rather than a user-centred approach to content, but sadly one that is still prevalent in many of today’s websites.
There is a strong chance that the site publishers haven’t taken a proper look at their content since it was initially developed. So a site audit is a handy way to find and cull out of date or irrelevant material. Stuff that has been hidden in the dark recesses of the site for years and left to gather dust. As such it’s a good idea to note the date the material was created and who has responsibility for that page. That way you can pass the information back to the relevant people and get it updated or removed.
With a full understanding of the existing structure, you can tell wither the schema is still working. If not, the process should have provided you with enough insight to start forming opinions on a credible new structure. This is ultimately the goal of the content audit.
However there is one added benefit of the content audit which I’m yet to mention, but which I think is vitally important. A structured review of the site forces you to read every singe page, understand the content and talk confidently about the results. By doing this you gather a huge amount of intelligence on what the organisation does, how they work and how they communicate with the outside world. It’s a great way of developing your domain knowledge and getting up to speed on a project or organisation.
A thorough content audit will often unearth important information that has hitherto been brushed over or forgotten. Stuff you may never have learnt from your clients or only found out when it was too late. You may even end up knowing more about the organisation than many of its employees, who will often have a particular specialism, area interest or personal bias. This thousand-foot view can come in very handy as it allows you to cut through a lot of the politics and make informed strategic decisions.
The information architecture reasons for a content audit should never be overlooked. However it’s the deep understanding you develop for the content, the organisation and ultimately the domain where I think the real value lies.
Posted at May 5, 2008 10:47 PM