When was the last time you took a stroll through your website and looked around at what was there? Did you look below the surface at not just what was there but evidence of how it was working (or not) for your site visitors?

It’s one of those tasks that is often pushed down the To Do list or is put off because of the scale of the challenge, particularly when you manage an organisation’s entire web presence or intranet. Sometimes it’s easier to assume you know your website, because you’re the manager and that’s your job, than set aside the time to plan and execute a content audit, analyse the findings and get your recommendations taken up.

I have just started looking at auditing my organisation’s website, as part of the work toward my MA dissertation (more about both on the About page). I’m collecting a load of information about the content (initially a sample of 300ish pages) including mapping the structure, where the content is stored server-wise, what type of content it is, keywords, unique page views over a three month period, feedback from users, enquiries into our contact centre and elements of content on the page (such as documents, images etc).

As well as collecting all this information there is a more heuristic evaluation involved in checking the content for accessibility and usability, currency, compliance with our style guide, whether it is (or could be) transactional, who the owner / author is and which business goal or user need this is supporting.

Putting aside the academic reasons for doing this audit from an organisational point of view the findings should help to identify content which needs removing or archiving certain areas of content, improving areas which should be but aren’t working for the site visitor and formulating a plan for development for specific content and the governance of it as well as for the site as a whole.

I’ve made a first pass over the 300 pages in my sample and the findings weren’t unexpected but were a little surprising in places. Some pages got a lot more external traffic than I’d assumed they did, others which support high priority services barely registered with visitors (based on stats and visitor and channel feedback).

There were also some likely candidates for archiving simply because the information was not current. Of course the content owner may be able to update it to give some current context making it relevant to visitors.

I’m looking forward to getting to know this content better as I head back into the audit for the heuristic elements and linking it to the business goals and user needs. It’s making for an interesting dissertation but also knowledge without which I’m not sure I’d ever been really, truly managing the organisation’s web content or supporting authors in our service areas where they are responsible for managing the content.

There is always loads of talk about how creating channel shift to online will create efficiencies for local government / public sector but one of those efficiences surely needs to be in the way we manage and nurture the online content? How can we do that if we don’t know what is there or how people are already using (or we’re failing to support them using) it?

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