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Content Strategy

How to Inventory Your Content Warehouse

Remember when I said to treat your content like a product? Now is the time to take practical steps. Your website is like a warehouse: full of treasures. To bring those treasures into your shop window, you need to know what you have and where it’s stored.You have created lots of content as advised in this introduction to content marketing. Now, your site is bursting, with all the subjects you’ve been covering. If that hasn’t already happened, it will. Faster than you might think.
You should, therefore, take a content inventory. The good news is, you can stay at your desk. To inventory a real warehouse, you’d have to climb up and down ladders, lift boxes full of expensive things, and count. Content inventories are fun (in comparison, anyway). Believe me, I’ve done both. Many times.

The Benefits of Content Inventories

The pay-off is always huge. As Kristina Halvorson says, content inventories change lives. Once you have completed it…

  • you’ll see what content exists, how accurate it is, and how to make everything better
  • you’ll identify core messages and topics and see what content is lacking
  • you’ll find all the redundant, outdated or trivial content that you can merge or delete
  • you’ll have a place to check if content on a particular topic exists: you can see what can be re-used and stop creating duplicates
  • you’ll see clearly how to organize your existing content better to make sure people find it easily
  • you’ll be able promote your content on social channels such as Twitter and Facebook more effectively

…and you’ll find answers to specific questions about your content and your business that nobody could help you with before. All of that with an inventory!
 Old Wool Warehouse, Deal Street, Halifax by Tim Green
Convinced? So, close the door to your office. Sit down. Promise yourself a reward. Here we go with a journey around your warehouse!

How to Get Started

You are going to create a spreadsheet listing all your site content. Instead of paraphrasing, I will refer you to Jeffrey Veen’s how-to about content inventories. Go read it, I’ll wait.
Done? OK. Doing it completely by hand: copying and pasting is, as Veen says, mind-numbing. However, as it forces you to look at every single page, it makes you thorough and will produce better insights.
But if you feel an irrepressible need to cheat, you can use PageTrawler. It’s in beta and will exchange an inventory of your first 50 pages for your e-mail address. It outputs CSV files (comma separated values) that you can then open with every major spreadsheet editor. I can’t wait to see it become a full product!
Easy tools such as PageTrawler will multiply soon. For the moment, though, we’re stuck with link checkers and sitemap generators which are difficult to bend to our purposes and don’t supply all the information we need.
Sitemap generators like Xenu Link Sleuth and others can follow links on your website and list the address of every page. But unless you know how to convert XML into CSV files and manipulate them, using these tools might prove more pain than they are worth. Settle for the repetitive task. Most of the time, you’ll be better off.
Remember that the more thoroughly you read and report all of your content in your inventory, the more you’ll be aware of inconsistencies in categorizing, tagging, naming conventions, tone and so forth. You will also find more opportunities for content re-use.
If you have a little energy left, you can also add a column or two about audience responses: report the number of retweets, comments and visitors each article gathered during a period of reference.
Once all pages are listed with all the basic information, treat yourself to that reward. You deserve it.

Analyse and Brainstorm

At this point, you’re either exhausted or boiling with great ideas for improvements. Probably both. Hence, it is a bad time to make hasty and inconsiderate decisions. Write down your great ideas and save them for later. We’re going to take a few more hours for analysis. Involve as many people as you can who have an influence on your content, brainstorm with them and create a document describing

  1. your objectives
  2. how the content is supposed to help you achieve them
  3. who should read/watch your content
  4. what these people need from content
  5. a description of your content (topics, form, length, tone)
  6. and how you’re creating content at the moment.

I would also suggest that you take a look at other publications serving the same audience and see how they are doing. Take copious notes. With all this information in hand, you can now see…

  • what themes would differentiate you from your competition most effectively
  • what topics to publish about next
  • which words to use to name things consistently across your site (for clarity and search engine optimization)
  • which changes to make to your workflow to achieve better results.

No Shortcuts, Just a Few Quick Wins

You’re probably thinking: “I don’t want to do all this”. You should do as much as you can, really. If you insist on instant actions, there are a few simple steps you can take to make your content better right now.
You can put the content that is beyond repair offline. The definition of “beyond repair” is up to you. Look at topics, accuracy, form, length, tone, voice and consistency. It is very hard to assess the quality of your own writing. When in doubt, request confirmation from a friend or a professional.
You can make the categories or tags better. Take a tour of other publications covering the same topics and record their categories. Note their strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of categories or tags you plan on creating for your publication. Now, test it on the inventory before making changes to your website.
Create a new column in your inventory for “new categories” or “new tags” and, for each piece of content, list the categories or tags it would belong to. Doing this on a portion of your content will make the potential problems with your new scheme apparent. Rinse and repeat until satisfied. Then, make your changes.
Once you have cashed in your quick wins, go back and complete the analysis phase described above. It will be invaluable when you start to create content again, I promise.
In the meantime,  tell us the pains and benefits your inventory has caused you in the comments. I would love to hear.
Photo credits: Old Wool Warehouse by Tim Green; stock clerk by Alfred T. Palmer for The Office of War Information. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
I wrote “How to Inventory Your Content Warehouse” on Paper.li’s blog, it was originally published on May 23, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.