To update your site, you need to know what’s on there now. Everything.
Conducting an inventory is like cleaning out a closet. You’ll find things that you’d forgotten you had. Some can be hidden treasures that you want to clean up and show off. Others are items that have outlived their usefulness and can be discarded.
Looking at what's on every page allows you to check existing information for completeness and accuracy, and will help you determine what's out of date or just plain wrong. It also serves as a truth source and a snapshot of your “before” situation. An inventory will:
- Determine your existing content. What's on your site now? You might think you know, but when you dig into every nook and cranny, you'll be amazed at what you find. So far, our record for oldest item is a PDF from March 2000 on the ITS site. Think you can break it?
- Analyze your current site structure. How does your navigation work? How do people find the things they're seeking? During our work with previous sites, we've found real treasure — seven clicks in from the home page. Not many people will go that far into a site. A content inventory will show you how things interact and work ... or don't.
- Identify content relationships. You'll determine what links where, and in what context. It's a good time to think about how things connect and work together. And if you link off site from your primary home page navigation menu, we'll only sigh, shake our heads, and move on.
- Flag any holes in your information. Since your original site launched, programs might have been dropped or added, procedures could have been altered, and faculty and staff members have come and gone. Things change. Now's the time to deal with it, and to set up a plan to make sure your information is kept up to date.
Content inventories and content maps contain much of the same information, but there are differences between how they're laid out. While both should contain every page of a website, a content inventory is a more data-driven approach, while a content map focuses more on the relationship between each item.
What You'll Do
The lucky person tasked with inventorying your site will look at every page and record what kind of information it contains. They'll also click on every hyperlink, and record where those links go.
Compiling this information can be a bit unwieldy. We’ve found that setting up the information in a specific format can help you see what you have at a glance. Members of our team have recorded the information from a content inventory in two ways:
- Outline format. This is an indented word document with each line representing a page. It will have pieces of information for each item documented (name, URL), with the positioning of each item (indent level, items around it).
- Spreadsheet format. When using this form, each row represents a single page, and will include URL, page name, etc.
The Digital Team prefers the spreadsheet model, as we've found that easier to read, and it helps us visualize the relationship between pages. However, you can select the version that works best for you. Here are a couple of examples
- Content Inventory in outline form. (PDF) It's from Mason's Honors College site.
- Content inventory in spreadsheet form. It's from Mason's ITS site.
This can be a tedious process, but it's an important one. You need to know what you have before you start updating your site. Otherwise, you might end up with conflicting information on several pages. Or you could leave out something that's really important, thinking it exists somewhere else. That won't help you, and it makes for a bad user experience.
You'll use the information you gather here as the foundation for your new site. It's an important resource in the development of your Information Architecture. It'll also help you in the Discovery process, because you'll know what you have and what you need.