Have you caught the remodeling bug? It seems everywhere we turn there are TV shows, Pinterest boards and Instagram pics showing amazing before-and-after shots of remodeled kitchens, revitalized outdoor spaces and updated bathrooms. Part of the draw is the wow factor. It’s easy to get caught up in believing we can take our inefficient, disorganized or unattractive space and turn it into a beautiful and functional living area. A great before-and-after photo has us salivating and planning our next DIY project, without really considering what it’s going to take to achieve our goal.

But long before we can snap glossy photos of the finished room, someone on the remodel squad needs to assess the space in order to determine the positives and negatives, what they have to work with and exactly how to achieve the new vision. These elements must be aligned with the actual budget and a timeframe before anyone starts swinging a sledgehammer.

A content migration process is akin to a before-and-after project. You’ve seen a competitor’s shiny new website or been wowed by a vendor’s snazzy content management system, and you’re ready to take the leap and ditch your current, inefficient, disorganized or unattractive situation for something better. But before you start swinging your digital sledgehammer, you need to survey the current situation. And that requires a thorough content audit.

Once you establish a clear vision and define the goals of the new end system, you’ll need to establish a budget, assess staffing and resources and determine the timing for the creation of the new system. Part of this process includes the need to conduct a content audit to discover what content you have, what’s missing and what needs to be revised or created to achieve your goals. Here are seven key steps involved in a successful pre-content migration content audit.

1. Identify Your Content

A thorough content audit helps you create an accurate inventory of all of the content you have. Many websites are like a patchwork quilt, with content being created by different departments and people. As a result, pages might become orphaned when links are changed or broken, old or outdated content might be overlooked and PDFs may have proliferated and been left in place long after their usefulness has passed. Technology may have rendered aspects of a web page unreadable or inaccessible. An audit maps out what pieces of content exist and gives you the ability to determine what you’ll keep, delete or rewrite. The inventory provides the basis for creating a project plan, budget and timeline to address the revisions and new content creation before launch of the new system.

2. Embrace the Details

A content audit is all about getting into the weeds. Choose an auditor who is detail oriented and adores documentation and organization. Give them the time to develop an organized process. The auditor needs to look at every page of the website, follow the links, evaluate the visual components and find all the problems. They need to develop a means of recording the data in order to share their conclusions. Part of the documentation should include:

  • Categorization: identify each type of content you have and how it supports (or doesn’t) your end goals. Is the content inspirational? Educational? Factual?
  • Ranking: develop a system for ranking each piece in terms of how it helps achieve your goals. If your goal is to primarily have inspirational content on your new website, you’ll rank fact-based content as “tier 2” in the audit.
  • Grading: Give each page of content a grade (A, C or F) and for those rated as an F employ the ROT system.
    • R is for redundant; this content appears in multiple ways and some of it can be deleted.
    • O is for outdated; decide whether it needs to be updated or deleted.
    • T is for trivial; this content is no longer mission focused and can be deleted (and redirected!).

3. Use a Wide Angle Lens

The auditor needs to think broadly even when they’re in the weeds. Think about the full spectrum of content on your website or content management system and across your social media. Take stock of written content, both on page and in PDFs. Look at each image, graphic and video. Measure how each of these addresses the purpose of the website (or social media channel) and the mission of your company.

4. Focus on Goals

The first task of a content audit is to answer specific questions regarding the purpose of the website and the job it is supposed to do. For example, the purpose of a college’s website might be student recruitment, and the website’s goals may be to persuade high school students it’s the right choice for them, to reassure parents a degree is worth the cost and to engage alumni and supporters. The audit’s goals would be to determine if the website is persuasive for a high school audience, to evaluate how well it convinces parents the degree has value and to consider the level of alumni and supporter engagement. The primary goal of an audit is to determine how well your content does its job.

5. Understand the Rube Goldberg Effect

Websites don’t exist in a vacuum. There are multiple stakeholders, processes and goals for any website. Be sure to carefully think about what content pieces affect other content pieces and how moving those into a new system might “break” other parts of your system. For a hotel chain, the goal may be room bookings, and the process for hotel managers to create a seasonal offer may be to input a content code in the CMS to trigger the creation of the offer. If suddenly, post-launch of your new system, you realize the new platform can’t support this action to create the offer on the website, you may find your team scrambling. It’s important to understand that whatever system you choose needs to accommodate your current processes and content or that you will need to create and communicate new processes or content if it doesn’t. But before you can do that, you need to know what your content and processes are by way of a carefully executed content audit.

Managers, it’s extremely important that you not skip this step. Although everyone, from CEO to front line content producer, may agree that a new website or content management system is a must, executives making decisions about systems can get caught up in the big picture and forget that there are specific workflows and processes that need to be evaluated before jumping into a migration.

6. Include Front Line Staff

At the very early stages of making decisions to migrate content, include front line content and technical staff who would be the ones conducting the content audit. Although managers, directors and higher are great at seeing the bigger picture and thinking strategically about future content, front line content creators and programmers can often help steer the ship by their sheer volume of knowledge about the day-to-day content creation, workflows, processes and problems associated with your current system, the way people work and your current processes. Including these employees early on in the evaluation and decision making process of new content systems can save you time and money as well as provide you with an opportunity to grow their skill sets.

7. Document Everything

An auditor needs to remember their report will be shared with stakeholders who won’t know the website inside and out. Take screenshots of repetitive issues, poorly written or misspelled text, broken links or videos and other issues revealed during the audit. These images can build a compelling case for those who are reluctant to go through a major content migration into a new website or CMS.

Bonus. Take Advantage of Technology

Take advantage of search engine crawler software to capture key data quickly. This software can find all the URLs on a website, even when pages have been orphaned and are no longer linked to from the site. The software’s report can detail errors, such as broken links leading to error messages, temporary redirects, titles that are too long, too short or simply missing, duplicate content and other issues directly affecting search engine performance. But as easy as it is running one of these pieces of software, don’t forget the human element. Actually looking at and reading every page provides a comprehensive view that can’t be achieved by using software.

By proactively conducting a content audit prior to a content migration, you’ll be able to take an organized, educated approach to content migration. This will save you time and money, not to mention headaches and heartache.

Aubrae Wagner – Content Creator

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