So how long has it been since you did a Web content audit on your institution’s homepage? A year? Two? Never? I’m not talking about just surfing from page to page making sure everything checks out but a real content inventory of every page and inspection of the content quality.
What is a content inventory?
A content inventory is a document, most often excel, which is an index of every page on your site. Now at an institution it may be one document per site which is still acceptable but may lead to complications later. Having it all in one just makes it easier to scan and spot duplicate or unnecessary content.
I will admit, the process is painful from a cold start but once you get rolling you can easily see why it’s worth it. Below I started a base document for a generic institution. I suggest starting with the columns below as the base minimum, you can always add more later but you don’t want to leave these ones out.
- Page ID
- Page Title
- Last Updated
- Accomplishing Goal?
- Content up to date?
Download an Example (xls)
Inspecting the content
The goal with looking at every page is to determine first if the content is relevant and up to date. Determine a goal for every page, the primary audience and actually read the page to determine if it is accomplishing the goal.
List out who actually owns the content on the page. Ultimately who’s responsibility is it to provide the content. Not every page is going to be in the marketing department. Seeing which chunks of content belong to who can give you a complete understanding of which areas are overworked and who is being delinquent.
Next list out for the past month how many visitors each page received. This will give you a good understanding how important it is to make sure the content is up to date and relevant. Or may sway your decision to remove the page.
Lastly make sure you give an honest answer for how up to date the content actually is.
Remove and edit
The less content you produce the easier it is to manage. If you can cut 10-20% off in the first round you are doing good. Remember to think of the point of each page, do you really need three paragraphs to get to the point if can you do it in just one? If you have five pages that all talk about the same type of financial aid why not combine them?
After you trim the fat it’s time to get down to business. Read each page one after the next to make sure they all follow the same tone, energy and flow. Make sure the calls to actions are findable and lead the user to be successful. Make sure related information is helpful and within reach. Always ask yourself, where does the user need to go next? What would they do if they had a question right now? How can they request more information? Be sure not to leave them at a dead end, it may be the only thing they remember about your site.
Who is your web strategist?
With potentially hundreds of content editors across your campus who is keeping them in line? Do you have a central content strategist to get them all beating to the same drum? If not, why not? In most cases a dictatorship doesn’t work, with hundreds of pages published per day it would be too much for one person to review and edit them all. I have found a partnership is the best long term solution.
Having one department, usually marketing or communications with oversight is necessary. Otherwise what is published will sound like it’s coming from eight hundred different directions and can impact how a prospective student sees your institution, very disjointed.
A single published and understandable content strategy document should be the central source for content contributors to look to when publishing. It should spell out the tone, voice and best practices for each audience. The document should be a helpful resource, not a burden for editors. Make sure it is human readable and understandable.
Rinse and repeat
This process may take you a few weeks or months the first time but the second and third it should only take a fraction of the time. Make sure it gets on the calendar and the time is allotted so it doesn’t sneak up on you.
In the end it will increase the end user’s experience and their impression of your institution. Not to mention having a single document you can look to when someone asks to add something to the site. With a full overview of how things fit in context you can make wise decisions based on the real situation.