If you’re doing a sample audit you need to choose what content to include, and what to leave out.
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Choosing a sample of content is tough, and it’s one of the things I get asked about most. It’s part science, and part art. You can make some rational choices in advance about what to focus on and what you want to cover. But you’ll also want to leave yourself enough flexibility to dig into anything interesting or surprising that comes up.
Ask yourself some questions
On the rational side of sampling, it helps to ask yourself some questions:
1. Why are you doing the audit?
First of all, go back to the reasons you’re doing this audit. Your reasons will influence the breadth and depth of your sample.
- Breadth: the number of different content types, navigational sections, authors, etc. that you’ll audit.
- Depth: the number of pages in a particular category you’ll audit.
Some reasons will demand a broad sample of content, others require more depth.
Taking stock? Go broad.
Consider a broad audit if you want to take stock of your content. For example, if you just want to get a general idea of what you’re dealing with you can probably opt for a smaller selection of pages across as many categories as possible.
Focused on one area? Go deep.
Consider a deep audit if you’re looking at one specific product/service/campaign/journey. In this scenario, you’ll probably want to look at as many pieces of content as you can within the category.
Preparing for a redesign? Go broad and deep.
Consider a broad and deep sample if you’re prepping for a big redesign project, or if you need to create lists of pages to improve, migrate, delete, update, redirect, etc. In these scenarios, you’ll probably want to cover as many pages as possible across all categories.
2. How much time do you have?
Now give yourself a reality check. How much time do you have? This is really the most important question when it comes to choosing your sample of content.
Do a rough calculation of how much time you have to spend on the audit, and how much help you are likely to be able to call in.
You’ll probably be able to cover an average of six pages per hour when you get up to speed.
For example, if you have three people who will all spend one hour per day auditing for four weeks, you’ll probably be able to cover 360 pages in depth. (There are some types of content that you’ll be able to audit faster – see question 3 below.)
3. What are the different categories of content?
The next step is to create a list of your ecosystem of categories of content. I’d usually approach this by listing out all the different ways content is categorised on a site. For example:
- navigational or information architecture (IA) categories (your content inventory will help with this)
- content types
- content authors/owners
You might end up with something like this:
Who we are
Who we are > Team
Who we are > Our history
Then you can prioritise your list to make sure you’re going to get the right mix of content in the sample.
You can just go by navigational category, but if you have a flat site without a lot of hierarchy, you might find that you miss some pages that should be included in your sample.
4. Where’s the repetitive content?
When you’re looking at your list of content types, try to identify repetitive content. This is content that follows the same structure every single time with slight variations. This might include things like bios, product pages (especially if you have products with slight variations), directory listings.
For these kinds of pages, it’s quite likely that it’ll be enough to review one or two instances and then apply your findings to all pages of that type.
5. What can you leave out?
Looking at your list, there’s also likely to be content that you can just leave out. For example, anything you know you don’t want to keep or will be a definite ‘delete’. Old news stories and old blog posts (with low/no traffic) often fall into this category.
Write a hit list and prioritise it
The final step is to list out – in priority order – the different categories of content you’re going to look at. Add some rough target page numbers, and some instructions for which pages to pick too. I often find it’s helpful to let the metrics guide the pages you pick. For example, you might want to focus on content with particularly high engagement/traffic/conversion. Or you could choose two pages from opposite ends of the scale and see what you learn.
It might look something like this:
Review one variant of each type of product. Copy the results across the corresponding variants (For example: ‘Blue XL beanbag’ gets the same audit result as ‘Red XL beanbag’ by default).
Choose the two case studies with the best engagement scores, and the two case studies with the lowest engagement scores.
Who we are
Look at ‘Who we are’, ‘Team’, and ‘Our history’.
Do a quick check to make sure all bios seem to be following the same format. If so, choose two to review. Copy the results across the other 20 pages.
Look at the ten news stories with the highest traffic. Automatically assign any old news stories with very low traffic as ‘delete’.
Product pages > XS bean bags
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