Content creation is vital to the life of any online business. After all, people visit websites and use apps because of their content. To better understand how your content serves both your users and your business needs, you need to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze your data. A content inventory is one of the necessary procedures to help achieve just that.
A content inventory isn’t something many UX practitioners dream of doing. It’s not as fun as creating new layouts and can be a tedious and monotonous job that hardly anyone talks about. But it’s nearly impossible to design great information architecture for a content-heavy product without doing a content inventory, which will act as a blueprint for your information architecture (IA). When a team works on a product’s IA, they return to the content inventory again and again to remind themselves of the relationship among pages.
Let’s explore the concept of a content inventory, what comprises one, and some practical recommendations on how to best use it during IA design.
What’s a content inventory and why is it important?
A content inventory is the process and the result of cataloging the entire contents of a product in an accessible format. It enables your team to understand the types of pages you’re creating and how that information is organized.
Creating a content inventory can be beneficial when you want to do the following:
- Prepare new content for your website but you’re not sure whether you already have something similar published on it already
- Group related content together and create small and large categories on your website
- Remove content that is of low value to your visitors and focus on optimizing high-performance content instead
- Identify inconsistencies in your messaging
At the end of a content inventory, you will have evaluated the content against the same set of goals, and you’ll be able to more easily identify current challenges as well as where improvements can be made.
Content inventory vs. content audit
The terms content inventory and content audit are often used interchangeably. Though they are allied practices, typically conducted in tandem, they are not the same thing.
What’s the difference? A content inventory is a quantitative analysis of a product, and it answers the question: “What content do we have in our product?” A content audit, on the other hand, is a qualitative analysis of information assets and an assessment of content’s role in user experience. A content audit will help answer the question: “Is this content valuable for our users?”
When UX practitioners perform a content audit or analysis, they evaluate content that has been structured as the result of a content inventory.
What should a content inventory include?
The content inventory, a list of a product’s information assets, is usually presented in a spreadsheet format. (Spreadsheets are great at holding large amounts of information in a reasonably manageable way. Plus, if you use online spreadsheets, such as Google Sheets, it’s easier to share them with team members.)
The actual information collected in these spreadsheets depends on the nature of your product. When a team conducts a website content inventory, it will generally include the following assets for all web pages:
- ID number
- Location (URL)
- Meta elements (page title, page description, and keywords)
- Content type (landing page, blog post, etc.)
- Media assets (audio and video files)
- Documents (.doc, .ppt, .pdf, and other types of files)
- Intended audience
- Time last updated
Here’s an example of a content inventory template in progress:
But the assets specified above are just a baseline. If you have access to analytics, you should include the following information as well:
- Page views
- Average time on the page
- Bounce rate
- Page “score”
How can a content inventory support IA design?
Creating a single, shared location for information in a product can be helpful for all product teams. Here are a few benefits that a content inventory can offer information architects in particular:
- Better navigation. Creates a clear picture of content hierarchy, which, in turn, supports designing proper relationships between content.
- Missing content identification. Identifies places where users need more information.
- More accurate information. Spots irrelevant content, which information architects can remove from the product, and outdated content, which they can now update.
- Broken link identification. Locates 404 (not found) error messages, which can be removed or corrected.
Content inventory tips for IA design
The inventory sheet, once completed, will serve as a resource for maintaining product governance and guide the mapping of information architecture. For example, taking a good look at all the content will help you create an effective menu and naming systems. Here are five tips for making your content inventory development more efficient.
1: Conduct the content inventory before the product design or redesign
Do the content inventory at the beginning of a product redesign (ideally, before content development). It will help you to create a baseline for your information architecture and define requirements for navigation.
2: Define scope
Establish what your content inventory will include. If possible, follow a kitchen sink approach (in other words, include everything if that’s realistic). If you have something like 100+ pages, you should inventory all of the content; if you have thousands of pages, you should start with the sections that are most important for your users. How do you identify those? Conduct user research and business analysis to understand what areas of your website are the most important for both groups, and then focus your content inventory on those sections of your site.
3: Add a content hierarchy to your spreadsheets
A content hierarchy shows the basic relationship of each content item. By adding a column for “Content Hierarchy” or “Page Level” into your spreadsheet, you make it easier to understand the content’s level at a glance.
It’s relatively easy to create a hierarchy of pages. Choose one page to start with (usually, a homepage). If that page has subpages (pages that users can navigate to from the homepage), make a list of each of them, and repeat the process for each of these in turn. If you are looking to create a full site redesign, you may even want to look into using IA templates for inspiration on how to set up the site’s hierarchy.
Whenever you add information about a page, be sure to specify the pages it links to. This will help you see which pages are connected, help you identify patterns in navigation structure, and define a clear internal linking strategy.
4: Differentiate content with the OUCH method
In your spreadsheet, distinguish content by its usefulness for both short- and long-term purposes. This differentiation will help you track which content should be revised. To do this, try identifying each page with one category of the OUCH method (OUCH stands for Outdated, Unnecessary, Current, Have to Write/Work in Progress). OUCH will make you identify and track the content’s value and determine how up to date it is.
5: Use content inventory automation tools
Doing a content inventory manually can be a long and painful process because content can quickly become outdated, and a team has to invest a lot of effort in keeping the spreadsheet accurate. Luckily, there are content inventory tools that can automate and speed up the process of getting the necessary quantitative data, such as Screaming Frog and Semrush. These tools will show you what content you have and track every page’s content metadata.
Then, you can analyze your content using tools like Google Analytics to understand what’s doing well for your users and what’s not. (Go to Reporting > Behavior > Site Content > All Pages to find this information in Google Analytics.)
A valuable content inventory is the result of long, thoughtful work, but the effort is worth it. When you’re done, you’ll have in-depth knowledge about one of the most important aspects of your website—its content. This understanding will help you design better information architecture and, as a result, improve the user experience for all.