Content Audits – The Five Ws and One H

photo credit: Jonathan Lin on Flicr.comGetting to a consistently high level of quality in your content starts with understanding what you already have. And the essential tool for that is the Content Audit. The audit not only uncovers your content assets, it’s key to evaluate the current state quality; to improve content processes including repurposing existing or creating new assets; and to reach markets more effectively and tap new revenue channels. We’ve put together this handy set of questions—the Five Ws and One H to guide you in the business case for content audits.

Who Should Conduct a Content Audit?

Content creation happens throughout your organization for various purposes, so the team you assemble to complete the work will vary by project type. For example, if you work in an Information Design department and you might realize your company’s brand message is being presented differently in your content than in content produced by the siloed Marketing department. Or, you might work in the Quality Assurance department and recognize that content being published for support purposes is inaccurate and in violation of your company’s or association’s compliance policies. People representing those groups need to participate in the content audit.

What is a Thorough Content Audit?

Much like capturing an inventory of your shoe closet and to determine which pairs are good quality and which just plain stink (in both senses of the word), you perform a thorough content audit to evaluate all of the content you have available in various formats throughout the organization. To be thorough, you’ll need to identify and evaluate printed books, Word documents, image files, PPT training decks, videos, looseleaf binders and more.

Despite checking all the sources, to be thorough your content audit doesn’t necessarily require you to review every single piece of content at once. You might determine it’s best to prioritize the review effort on the most essential content as determined by the context and purpose for your audit. For example, after your instructors have delivered a series of in-person training sessions, you might decide that some of the straightforward content could be repurposed and provide value when you morph them into online learning content that can be accessed and tracked within a learning management system (LMS).

Where Do You Look?

Anywhere and everywhere! You could be sitting on a pile of useful content that just needs to be uncovered. Every organization winds up with multiple physical and digital storage locations (some forgotten about collecting dust in a basement), such as filing cabinets, servers, or the cloud.

And it’s not just the physical or digital copy that you can evaluate or review. Once you have collected the inventory, you can assess common metadata, keywords, phrases, file naming conventions, background images, and style elements.

When Should You Schedule a Content Audit?

The timing for a content audit is determined by your business need, scope, budget, and intended outcomes. Potential situations that present the need and opportunity for a content audit are:

  • Mergers and Acquisitions – If your company has gone through one or more mergers and acquisitions, you inevitably end up with mounds of written content written that can present challenges to quality and consistency. Multiple authors in across entities and departments using technologies that may be out of date or insufficient mean you’ll be looking at consolidating processes and repositories, so you’ll want to evaluate everything that’s ended up in the collections.
  • Reuse and Repurpose Content – When you are ready to move from unstructured content that is housed in multiple locations to reuse, repurpose, and reproduce content, you will want to complete the content audit to determine what messages are current, valuable, and consistent.
  • Upgrade Content Development Quality – The opportunity to improve the writing style, design, and audience reach for your content presents another essential time frame for auditing content. You’ll need to know what you have that works, and then create a plan for improving the rest.
  • Upgrade Content Technologies – A vast collection of content created in outdated technologies, without any structure or quality management presents a convincing business case when you’re looking to upgrade software tools.

Why Do You Audit Content?

A content audit often proves valuable throughout the company’s development lifecycle. The main reasons to conduct a content audit are to evaluate the content you already have available and determine how to reuse or repurpose it. In addition, a content audit will aid development of a business case for hiring highly qualified staff members or to request resources to train current staff; or for researching available content technologies to streamline development/delivery processes.

How Do You Complete the Process?

To get the green light for conducting the content audit and ensuring it provides value, build your plan following these essential steps:

  1. Determine the business need and value for conducting the content audit.
  2. Present the business case for the content audit to managers and other stakeholders.
  3. Determine the timeframe for conducting the audit.
  4. Assemble your project team and assign tasks.
  5. Create a file to contain the inventory of materials, including location, title, type of content, descriptor, and any other related metadata.
  6. Review the available materials and assign quality factors, such as timeliness, accuracy, completeness, consistency, original purpose, original publication, and more.
  7. Create a plan to prioritize the next steps, whether you will simply repurpose portions of content into other publications, revise entire collections of written and visual content, or a combinations.

Look for our practical checklist that will help you make the business case for a content audit and help you track your collections (coming soon).

Jill Parman

Jill is the owner of ForWord Consulting, LLC, which provides instructional design, technical communication, and business analysis services. She is a master of useless trivia, has a slight obsession with Pilot fine tip pens, and spends her free time chasing around a toddler and two dogs.

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