“Content is most useful when it’s clear, consistent, orderly, organized—in other words, when it’s well-structured. But well-structured content doesn’t come from inserting “the structure” at some point in the process; it comes from applying a structural lens to all of our content activities, from beginning to end,” says Lisa Martin, independent consultant in information architecture and structural content strategy.
I had the fortune of attending Lisa’s content strategy session at ConFab Central 2017 a few weeks ago. Beyond her opening remarks above, Lisa suggests that structure teaches us how to read content. When content is consistent and coordinated, it’s easy to follow, and the information is useable and more memorable for your audience.
“Structure helps us better understand, organize, and connect content,” Lisa adds.
Organizations that produce content as a business deliverable are accountable for helping people (buyers, customers, employees, etc.). The best way to help people is to make your content useful and easy to understand. If you plan to redesign your content strategy (including the content itself and your website), Lisa recommends starting with the overall structure of the content. Below is a quick look at five content audits to get you started.
Consider the quality of your message, voice, and tone. Ask yourself: is this content easy to understand? If your content serves a customer but was written by an engineer, it’s probably not easy to follow. And it probably won’t convey the voice and tone of your brand. So think about the types of content you put in front of your customers. Make sure it fits their needs not yours.
“This type of audit is messy and time consuming,” Lisa warns. “It’s a lot of work to end up just saying “this content is kind of bad.” Though a quality audit isn’t a personal favorite of Lisa’s, she insists there’s genuine value in using the approach.
Take a look at the volume of content you have. Then analyze elements like distribution and organization across departments. Do you have two departments producing similar types of content for the same audience? If so, consider ways to minimize the duplicate work so that your audience doesn’t have to decide which content is best. Having duplicate content across your website can also cause internal competition with your content rankings. Eliminating duplication is critical to successful content.
On a more granular level, you can look at things like the number of images with alt text. Ask yourself: is that alt text helpful? Does content with alt text perform better than content without it? You can also analyze things like SEO, URLs, and meta data. Just make sure to be specific with the kind of data you need to measure.
[Photo credit: Quality Content]
“Volume and distribution show a lot about a company’s priorities,” Lisa suggests.
If you’re looking to build a new site map, restructure an existing site, or combine multiple sites, this audit is invaluable. The goal is to find out how each page of content coordinates with each other. This type of audit is usually manual because you have to comb through your content section by section—comparing all the links and crosslinks.
To get started, look at the hierarchy, categorization, navigation, and relationships between your site pages. Are the most important pages the ones that your audience finds first? Is their journey effective and efficient (for them and your organization)? And how easy is it for them to navigate through your site to find other relevant information? If none of these questions have positive answers, you have your work cut out for you.
[Photo credit: Blue Fountain Media]
When it comes to auditing the presentation of your content, look at things like content modules, buttons, interactions, bulleted lists, and visual patterns. These elements often show the type of story that your content tells. If your site contains support content for a product, then the presentation of your content should be instructional and helpful (and easy to understand).
Lisa suggests these types of audits work best in conjunction with another type of audit, such as a quality audit.
The goal of this audit is to determine what’s getting in the way of people finding your content. Remember how your content is supposed to be useful and easy to understand? Well, your audience has to be able to find it first.
So ask yourself, how are people finding your content? Could an SEO strategy help with findability? When people find your content, how’s the navigation and narrative? Are your web pages accessible for everyone? And is the functionality interactive or does it control the journey?
Understanding these elements and being able to answer those questions can help you create a content experience with utility.
Though Lisa stands behind the power of content auditing, she suggests that one size does not fit all. If you can’t do all five audits, start with the ones you know you can handle. And leverage the insights to influence your tactics. Build relationships between your content don’t just focus on the categories.
After you audit and build your new content strategy, test and integrate your redesign for best results, and always keep next steps in mind. “Always lay a foundation for future design, development, and governance plans,” Lisa adds.