Building a Website Series: 1. Auditing Content

Several weeks ago, I was commissioned on the build of a new website for a client. Their existing site is huge, spanning multiple service offerings, but with extraordinarily variable copy. As one would expect, the largest segment of the business has well-developed case studies and brochures, with glossy pictures and video content, but the smaller divisions are so out-of-date that I originally assumed they were no longer in operation. As I’ve written previously about how my work with websites, I thought I’d take the opportunity to approach the project from a case study perspective, looking at the process I’m following and explaining how it works. In the first article of this series, I’ll be looking at how a company can go about Auditing Content.

When I was originally approached by this client, I was told that the current team acknowledged that the existing site was unfit for purpose and that all stakeholders had agreed that changes were needed. Whilst this is a more promising starting position than some other projects I’ve started on, I realised that the scope of the project was potentially huge. As part of my proposal, I was quickly able to create a checklist of points which I felt their existing site was missing. These included things like;

  1. A coherent message across pages.
  2. A clear service offering.
  3. A clear benefit to clients.
  4. A Call-To-Action on relevant pages.
  5. A well-maintained presence (fresh content, posted on a regular basis).

Although my client believed they have a clear understanding of what they wanted, I took a conscious decision to take them a step back and ask them the basic questions around who their ideal customers were, what services they sold, what they thought they did well, what made them different from their competitors and so on. This isn’t because they don’t know, but simply because they’re not used to articulating it in a manner that someone else could digest. When I initially made this comment, I was told;

It’s all on the existing website, just reuse what’s already there. That’ll do, right?

Sadly, this wasn’t really the case, as what was on the website was confused, poorly articulated and didn’t really match how the business operated. I realised that if I told them that all their existing content was unusable, I was unlikely to get a warm response, so I had to find a way of analysing which bits of the site could be used, tying what content they currently had with how they wanted to position themselves in the market. The current website was enormous, running to several hundred pages, with nearly 500 downloadable documents; mapping this was certainly going to be a challenge.

Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I broke the content down by business division, then looked at the quality of it, creating a colour code system of green, amber and red to visually show the quality of what was currently present. I hoped that by mapping out everything thoroughly and creating a simple guide, I could help the team to visualise what ’good’ content looked like.

Of course, once completed, this posed another challenge – how could we agree on what ‘good’ looked like.

When deciding on ‘good’, rely on your experts.

Fortunately, I’ve got some experience with content creation, so could provide a solid idea of what ‘good’ content looks like. We agreed that the content needed to be easy to read, visually appealing, to clearly demonstrate the benefits and expertise of the business and to be in a suitable format. By agreeing on these points up-front, I could demonstrate that two-thirds of the content currently on the site was unfit for purpose; it either demonstrated the wrong skills, missed out the benefits of working with the company or was visually lacklustre.

In my experience, it’s far better to have a small library of extremely high-quality content than to have masses of poor quality filler. Rather than creating brochures, case studies and white papers, reams of web pages and video content as a random exercise, I managed to get the team to agree to only create content which expressly supported the positioning of the business and which presented the values of quality and authenticity to which they supposedly ascribed.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Rather than simply saying ’it’s all rubbish’, I was able to gain stakeholder buy-in to rewrite or scrap elements of the existing site by taking the time to audit what was currently on the site. This buy-in will be critical at later stages of the project for getting a satisfied client, but also for helping the team to see the final site as something they’ve contributed to and are happy with.

The next steps for the project are to ensure we have the same level of quality across all service offerings, to ensure that the business is being positioned in the correct manner, and to begin wire-framing the site to ensure that the topics we want to cover are being covered. In the next article in this series, I’ll be looking at how that wire-framing process works and what it needs to cover.



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