Content audits and inventories

Auditing your website content can seem an interminable task, but it’s long been regarded as an essential part of pre-redesign planning and content inventories are increasingly recognised as vital long-term tools for the effective management of web content.

If you’re just beginning to grapple with a content audit, below are some articles, books and example spreadsheets which you should find helpful.

Articles

Doing a Content Inventory, (Or, a Mind-Numbingly Detailed Odyssey through your Web Site)
This short 2002 article by Jeffrey Veen is a good starting place for learning about content audits.

The Content Inventory: Roadmap to a Successful CMS Implementation
Article by Kassia Krozser which depicts content auditing as an essential part of a CMS implementation process. Helpfully points out that content inventories ‘almost always take longer than anticipated’.

Doing a Content Audit or Inventory
This blog post by Scott Baldwin includes some useful suggestions for applications which can speed up the auditing process by automating some of the listing process.

How to do a Content Audit
Hilary Marsh provides practical tips on content auditing, including advice to start at the highest levels of the site before working downwards and to be careful when ordering columns in Excel that you don’t just change the order of a single column.

A Map-Based Approach to a Content Inventory
Interesting article by Patrick C. Walsh, describing how he used Microsoft Access and Visio to create a maintainable site map and content inventory at the same time.

Why you shouldn’t start IA with a Content Inventory
A heretical article by Leisa Reichelt suggesting that starting redesign projects with a content inventory can be undesirable in that it immerses the designer in the existing way of doing things and constrains their ability to take a fresh approach. This provoked several responses, including an interesting rebuttal from Donna Spencer and The Rolling Content Inventory by Louis Rosenfeld, who champions content inventories as an ongoing process rather than a one-off exercise for redesign projects.

Books

Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning by Daniel M. Brown (Peachpit Press, 2007)
Contains a chapter on content inventories, with some helpful suggestions on formatting, linking an inventory into other website documentation and presenting the results of an inventory at meetings.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson (New Riders, 2009)
Has detailed practical advice about auditing content and tying the findings into an effective content strategy for your site.

Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy by Ann Rockley (New Riders, 2003)
A thorough treatment of all aspects of content management. The chapter that covers Performing a Content Audit is available free online.

Sample spreadsheets for content inventories

I’ve already mentioned Jeffrey Veen’s article Doing a Content Inventory, which has includes an Excel template for an inventory. It lists Page ID, Page Name, Link, Document Type, Topics, Owner,  ROT (Redundant, Outdated or Trivial?) and Notes. It uses colour coding and indentation to reflect hierarchy.

Donna Spencer provides a simple content inventory spreadsheet on her blog. It includes fields for Navigation Title, Page Title, Files, Last Updated, Owner, Comments and whether the content needs to be deleted. Again, there’s use of indentation to indicate hierarchy and an example of freezing the Navigation Title column in Excel, so that it’s always visible as you scroll to the right – a nice technique to use for presenting large inventories.

Finally, the Seneb Consulting site has an example content inventory by Sarah A. Rice. It includes use of Excel’s Group and Outline features to allow the reader to expand and collapse groups of content, as well as instructions for using the Split Screen feature when dealing with larger inventories.

Review: Content Strategy for the Web

content_strategyTextual content is a red-headed stepchild when it comes to website design and development. It’s left to the last minute in site redesigns, viewed as a commodity by most site owners and as a simple item in a to-do list for UX designers. Website text is rarely approached correctly in web projects as a ‘complex, ever-evolving body of information which needs ongoing care and feeding’.

This is the striking viewpoint of Kristina Halvorson’s book on content strategy which lays bare the complexities of content production. She offers plenty of common-sense advice about how to build website text into a key business asset, keep control of it over the long term and set measurable objectives for success.

Key to this is developing an appreciation of the political nature of content, engaging with content providers and giving reviewers plenty of notice for their contributions. ‘Don’t leave content management to your CMS’ is the clear message. You need people for meaningful, actionable content and the key person required is someone in overall charge of content – an editor-in-chief empowered to say no to the business when necessary.

The content audit is thoroughly explored as a content management tool. There are useful practical tips here, such as using indented outline numbers in your audit documentation - 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 , etc – so you can easily link specific pieces of content to matching references in the site map and other documents later. There’s also an interesting discussion of the use of page tables for content planning and advice on how to include qualitative judgments in your audit as well as just conducting a quantitative analysis of content

There’s a whole chapter on content maintenance – a subject you rarely see people write much about. This advises developing a maintenance plan, having enforceable well-documented rules and using regularly-scheduled qualitative audits to question the ongoing purpose of each piece of content. The latter point draws on Gerry McGovern’s useful advice that all content ought to be regularly reviewed and removed if it’s not meeting a business objective or helping users achieve a task.

The book has a lively pugnacious style which makes it an easy read about a subject that could easily have come across as dull. The author makes a stack of suggestions which anybody working on websites could benefit from. However, reading it only confirmed my pre-existing assumption that content strategy can be a hard sell.

Improving the status of content creation in most organisations involves fighting against the general assumption of management that ‘anyone can write content’. Within the professional web world it’s up against the status of more exciting and saleable web disciplines in design and development and specialisms like SEO which contribute more transparently to improving the bottom line. In this context, long-term content maintenance is never going to be generally considered as important as implementing an exciting new content management system or launching a flashy new site design. Recognising the centrality of textual content to a successful web presence is therefore always going to be difficult to sell to a lot of organisations, but this book is one of the best pitches I’ve seen so far.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson is published by New Riders.

Related posts

Letting Go of the Words is another recommended book on writing for the web which I reviewed last year.

Free content management white papers

I came across a nice collection of free white papers on Alterian‘s website the other day, including several about content management: ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Content Management’, ‘Best Practice Implementation of Content Management Systems’ and ‘Using a CMS for Search Engine Optimization’. Others that I found interesting include ‘Creating a Web Strategy’ and ‘Build or Buy – The Route to a Successful Intranet’.

All the papers are free, but require registration on the site.

Review: Drupal Multimedia

Drupal Multimedia

Drupal Multimedia offers an in-depth look at how to integrate images, videos and audio into a Drupal site. The intended audience is beginners and intermediate developers who want to learn how to better control and display media on their sites. Dealing with multimedia with Drupal often feels much more complicated than it should be, but this book definitely helps to make it more comprehensible.

Getting the learning curve right in the first chapter of an intermediate Drupal book can be tricky. I think ‘Drupal Multimedia’ does well here – assuming a bit of knowledge of Drupal, reviewing the basic building blocks of the system briefly, then diving right into installing the CCK and Views modules. Examples of using these are worked through, before moving on to discuss theming and overrides – again with simple examples. A lot is covered in the first forty pages, but without overwhelming the reader.

The second chapter begins to look at dealing with images, with good introductions to using the Image module and its related Image Gallery to easily create a simple gallery. There’s also a discussion of embedding images in articles with Drupal, which looks at how this can be done by enabling editors to use full HTML or, more usefully in many cases, how to use Image Assist to allow images to be added to posts more easily. Installing TinyMCE as a WYSIWYG editor which works with Image Assist is also covered. This chapter will be very useful to new users of Drupal, for whom the lack of a built-in editor and basic image-adding functionality is likely to be something they miss straight away. The next two chapters go into more detail about using images – looking at more complicated development and theming issues. There’s examples here of using the ImageField and ImageCache modules and coverage of how to customise your image output.

Video is covered in two chapters which look at dealing with both third-party and local video. Using the Embedded Media Field module for third-party video is covered, followed by a look at using the FileField and jQuery Media modules for serving local video. A chapter on file asset management covers options for managing media files, looking primarily at the Node Reference, Asset and Media Mover modules. Audio is covered in three chapters looking at audio nodes, audio fields and theming audio. These discuss the Audio module and also revisit the FileField, jQuery Media and Embedded Media Field modules.

The final chapter is an interesting preview of the future of Drupal multimedia. This offers a tantalizing glimpse into an easier future for handling multimedia with Drupal 7. For me, two of the biggest drawbacks of using Drupal for building and maintaining sites are the hoops you have to jump through to deal with simple file handling and the hideous complexity of the administration menus. A lot of the administration options are frankly unintuitive and difficult to remember if you’re not using them constantly. It’s good to learn from this chapter that the Drupal development community is actively working to improve things in these areas.

I got a lot out of this book overall – especially from the detailed recommendations for the use of particular modules. The author puts across complicated concepts very accessibly with well-chosen examples which build up satisfyingly to help you understand the big picture.

Drupal Multimedia by Aaron Winborn is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I’ve looked at other books on Drupal in previous posts on Learning Drupal and Drupal 6 Themes.

Review: Drupal 6 Themes

Drupal 6 Themes

There’s an ever-growing number of decent books appearing about Drupal, covering in detail various aspects of this complex CMS and catering to different experience levels and levels of coding ability. ‘Drupal 6 Themes’ by Ric Shreves fills a niche for detailed coverage of Drupal’s theming functionality for users with decent HTML and CSS skills, and maybe a little bit of PHP. It’s a book that I think designers and web managers wanting to add Drupal to their skill-set can get a lot out of reading and it’ll certainly help a lot if you’re starting out on the labour of wrangling with the design of a site based on a theme someone else created.

The book’s well written with a sensible structure, moving from general discussions of how theming in Drupal works to specific demonstrations of how to modify existing themes and build new ones from scratch. There’s a very clear explanation of the best ways to employ intercepts and overrides to achieve style changes and useful coverage of theming Drupal’s forms.

One of the most difficult things about changing the look of Drupal sites is the sheer number of CSS and template files you usually have to wade through. This book includes a short introduction to tools which can help with this – like Devel’s Theme Developer module, and the Firebug and Web Developer extensions for Firefox. There’s also detailed listings of Drupal’s theming elements and core CSS files.

Overall, this is a good solid read which can really enhance a new or intermediate Drupal user’s appreciation of how to get the most of theming. However, theming isn’t the only thing you need to master to get a Drupal site looking exactly the way you want. For an all-round understanding of  Drupal’s front-end, I’d also recommend you look at O’Reilly’s recent Using Drupal as well, which has demonstrations of using CCK and Views – as well as a good chapter on theming (although it doesn’t go into as much detail as this book). There’s also a forthcoming book on Front End Drupal due out next month which I definitely want to pick up.

Drupal 6 Themes: Create New Themes for Your Drupal 6 Site with Clean Layout and Powerful CSS Styling by Ric Shreves is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I looked at a number of other starter resources for getting to grips with Drupal this January in a post on Learning Drupal.

Free ebooks for web project management

I’ve noticed that Internet.com has some interesting ebooks on project management available which  just require free registration with their site to download.

One of the most useful of these from a web project perspective is Best Practices for Developing a Web Site by Paul Chin. This is written for business users, but has material which may be useful for designers to help them better present web development concepts to clients.

The book includes sections on developing a web site strategy, defining the concept for your site, the pros & cons of building in-house vs. outsourcing and guidance for finding a web site host. It also has useful checklists for defining web site anatomy and for evaluating web site designers, web site hosts and domain name registrars.

Developing a Content Management System Strategy is another free Internet.com ebook by the same author. It’s got a good emphasis on the cultural factors which impact on CMS deployment and a discussion of reasons you may consider open source or commercial CMS software. There’s also a simple checklist for evaluating CMS tools.

There are also some general project management books on Internet.com which may be of interest, including Becoming a Better Project Manager and In Search of the Holy Grail for Projects.

Related posts

I wrote a post last year which presented a selection of free resources for web project requirements gathering.

Learning Drupal

drupal logoDrupal is an open source content management system which you can use for free to build all kinds of sites. For an  introduction, see the About Drupal page on the drupal.org website. It scores highly among open source CMSs in terms of its flexibility and the large number of available modules offering bolt-on functionality. However,  this flexibility and vast choice of add-ons comes with a cost in terms of a steeper learning curve than some other systems. You will therefore probably need to do some reading before getting started.

I’ve recently been looking through some of the entry-level Drupal books to plan a project and this is what I thought about them:

Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress (Expert’s Voice in Open Source) by Robert T. Douglass, Mike Little and Jared W. Smith. (Apress, December 2005)

The oldest of the three books I looked at, this covers three web applications for the price of one – including a decent basic guide to the features of Drupal by Robert T. Douglass. If you’re using the latest version of Drupal (version 6) then you’ll need to hunt around the interface a bit for some functions which have been moved since this guide was written. However, I still found it usable and it’s an ok buy if you have a starter-level interest in all the three applications covered. An updated edition would be great though.

Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6 by David Mercer (Packt Publishing, April 2008)

This is an ok choice if you want a straightforward manual-type run-through of Drupal’s functionality. It covers Drupal version 6, so is more up-to-date than the previous book. The declared audience is “people with little to now experience in website design, people who are not familiar with PHP, MySQL or HTML, and above all people with little to no experience in using Drupal.”  For such non-experts there’s a nice introduction to concepts like building a site in a development environment before deploying it and good advice on maintaining back-ups. However, if you’re not new to Drupal or content management systems, then you will probably not get as much out of this.

Using Drupal by Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Nathan Haug, Jeff Eaton, James Walker and Jeff Robbins (O’Reilly, December 2008)

This is a big book (464 pages) and I haven’t worked my way through the whole thing yet, but its already my definite favourite and the Drupal book I’d recommend you get if you only buy one. It goes beyond being a simple manual that explains Drupal’s functionality and looks at case studies of the types of site you may want to build and how you would go about using Drupal to construct them, including choosing and configuring modules. The case studies include a job posting board, product reviews, a wiki, a photo gallery, a multilingual site and an online store.

The fact that its examples involve the latest versions of dozens of modules means that this book will no doubt date quickly. However the authors have foreseen this and do provide a more generalized discussion of  principles for selecting modules which will stand readers in good stead in the long term. For the moment though, this book is an excellent snapshot of Drupal’s potential as well as having  immense practical usefulness if you need to develop the types of site covered.

These are the three books I’ve looked at, but there’s a full list of currently available books on the Drupal site at http://drupal.org/books, including more advanced texts on developing Drupal modules and themes if you want more than just guidance on using Drupal effectively to run sites.

If you don’t want to spend money on a book, there are plenty of free resources for learning about Drupal on the drupal.org site. These include the Drupal documentation (http://drupal.org/handbooks),  including case studies at http://drupal.org/cases. You can also browse the Drupal forums at: http://drupal.org/forum, especially the “Before you start” forum at http://drupal.org/forum/20. There’s also a listing of Drupal learning resources at http://groups.drupal.org/node/5674 (although it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and some of the links are dead).

Finally, Lullabot has a great selection of articles, videos and podcasts about Drupal at http://www.lullabot.com.

Related posts

Review of Drupal 6 Themes by Ric Shreves

Review: WordPress.com Essential Training

I’ve been a subscriber to the lynda.com online training site for almost a year. I really enjoy the video training courses on offer there and find them especially useful for learning applications. Following along in books can quickly become dull and I find explanations which actually show the use of the product to be very effective. When I joined lynda.com, content management systems were at the top of the list of topics which I wished the site had more coverage of. I’ve therefore been very pleased to see recent training titles appear on Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress. Hopefully I’ll get around to looking at all these courses in time, but for now I’ve been going through the WordPress.com course hosted by Maria Langer.

Maria is a great host for the training and is very clear and enthusiastic. She uses a couple of her own blogs as examples through the course, which lends a nice personal touch. She also gives plenty of advice which sounds authentically drawn from personal experience. The training could easily be used by people with very little technical knowledge and starts from first principles: “What is a blog?” is the title of an early video. However, all the video lessons are free-standing and more advanced users could just skip to the later videos for the features they are interested in. The full version of the training has exercise files which let you develop the exact elementary school blog example built in the videos. However, unlike with some lynda.com titles, the files aren’t really essential and you could follow along easily enough without them.

Among the sections which would probably be most useful for a WordPress newbie, there is a clear description of the difference between categories and tags which people starting out with the package can find confusing. The section on working with comments is also very useful and contains some sensible advice for people new to blogging. The discussions at the end of the course on blog promotion and maintaining your blog are interesting and I would have welcomed it if these segments had gone on for longer.

However, the biggest issue for a lot of people with this course is likely to be that it only covers using the online service at WordPress.com and doesn’t include any specific training for the server install of WordPress. Although a lot of the subjects covered are still relevant for people using the standalone application, there is plenty to know about installing and upgrading WordPress which you won’t learn here.

If you want to hear Maria discuss some of the pros and cons of using WordPress.com vs a server install, there is a useful interview with her available on MacVoices which serves as a nice supplement to the training course.

MacVoices #8112: Maria Langer Talks WordPress.com Training and Why It Is Better on Video

The current WordPress.com training title is still a great guide for beginners seeking to start blogging and for people who’ve used other packages who want to get a basic idea of WordPress’s features. Maybe a good way for lynda.com to develop their WordPress training in future would be to keep this as the beginner’s level title, but also to produce an “advanced” WordPress course which includes discussion of the server installation, upgrades, backups and possibly further discussion of promotion and SEO for WordPress blogs. [Update (27/02/09) - I've noticed that  an advanced WordPress course by Maria Langer became available on lynda.com in January - see Self-Hosting a WordPress site.]

WordPress.com Essential Training is available from lynda.com as a CD-ROM, or online via subscription.

Why aren’t RSS feeds more popular?

When I suggested adding RSS feeds to our website at my workplace over two years ago I explained the need to do so partly by explaining that “They aren’t mainstream now, but many more people will be using feeds once IE7 comes out.” IE7 came out, IE8 will soon be here and RSS still doesn’t seem to be much better understood by the general public – which doesn’t say much for my predictive abilities. I still have to regularly explain from square one to users how to access our feeds, since the vast majority of people still seem blissfully unaware about what they are and how to use them.

A Hiveminds article from a couple of years ago called 5 Reasons Why RSS Feeds are Not Popular still seems largely accurate today. It remains pretty much the case that only really keen Internet users subscribe to RSS feeds. Below are my 5 reasons why RSS feeds still aren’t popular today:

  1. RSS is still unknown to most people. As the Hiveminds article put it: “The average Internet user still has no idea what RSS is or how to go about using it. … To the average website visitor RSS feeds seem to be a geek toy requiring knowledge that they don’t have time to gain or just are are not interested in.” This is still very true and it can be tough to explain to non-technical users how to use feeds due to the variety of different readers available – browser-based, online services and stand-alone feed reader applications. People are stuck in their ways and like email alerts because they have plenty of experience in using them. Understanding RSS and the tools to use it is an effort for many people, as the concepts can seem fuzzy compared to the concrete experience of e-mail which everyone shares.
  2. Corporate IT types generally aren’t interested in RSS. A lot of regular IT guys don’t seem to have much of an idea about RSS, unless they’re specifically web developers. Corporate IT departments don’t tend to support RSS readers or promote their use. There seems to be much more enthusiasm for RSS among Information Management or library professionals in organisations, but they don’t usually have as much influence on organisational priorities.
  3. Marketing people generally aren’t interested in RSS. There also seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for RSS among marketing professionals. In large part, I think this is because there is a perception that RSS is a boring textual medium and that they will have more control over the look of an email than over how a feed will be received. Because a lot of feeds don’t even have basic styles applied to them, there must also be a lot of people who have clicked on them and been frightened by the fact that they look like code.
  4. RSS feeds still fail frequently. This was mentioned in the Hiveminds article two years ago and still seems to be a problem today. The idea that validating “doesn’t matter” or “is nice if you can do it” is still prevalent with web teams, but with RSS it does really matter. RSS feeds are also out of sight, out of mind – since a non-functioning feed isn’t as visible as a page which isn’t displaying properly. The fact that so many feeds are generated automatically by a content management system means that a lot of web editors / communications team running a website don’t understand the reasons why RSS feeds fail.
  5. When feeds fail they don’t necessarily get fixed quickly. This is in large part due to the low priority RSS feeds have in organisations or personal web projects – fuelled by reasons one to four above. The people who work in an organisation, who are often the first to complain if a page doesn’t display properly, are less likely to understand or care about an RSS feed. Because RSS is low in the priorities of business managers due to indifference or ignorance, it’ll be low in the priorities of the web team, who are likely to be preoccupied with stuff they find more exciting. This similarly helps to explain why RSS feeds are often not redirected when sites are redesigned and pages are moved around. Feeds are probably among the last thing people generally think about in redesigns, as opposed to visual elements and cool functionality.

The Hiveminds article concluded that “if web browsers included feed readers by default it would probably increase RSS usage 10 fold”. It now looks as if browsers providing built-in feed readers will not in itself make subscribing to feeds a mainstream activity, since IE7 has been providing a feed reader since its launch. RSS’s successes with the general public have been away from the direct subscription model – with services like MyYahoo where people don’t even know that they’re using RSS.

People using sites pulling content dynamically from feeds don’t need to understand what technology’s behind the content they’re browsing. Many people will continue to benefit from RSS without realising it in this way and it looks like the future for mass adoption of RSS lies in this less demanding model of feed consumption, where the underlying technology is invisible to a user who just has to decide what stuff he wants to know more about.