Get Your Hands Dirty: Create a Content Inventory

by | May 11, 2013 | Content strategy

The content inventory is the unsung hero of content strategy – it’s an invaluable tool for content planning, but few people want to hike that deep into forest. It can get scary out there.

I’ll admit it: creating a content inventory is monotonous work. But the value of the task makes it worthwhile. Just make sure you’ve got some good tunes queued up to listen to while you copy, paste, and evaluate.

The name says it all. A content inventory catalogs all the content in a site or within a section — whatever the project you’re tackling. And I mean all of it. A content audit can be valuable for understanding generalities about a site; the content inventory reveals the breadth – all of the beauty and ugliness that a site holds.

Spreadsheets are fun

The goal of a content inventory is to find all the existing content and quickly assess whether they are worth keeping. I use a spreadsheet for this. Spreadsheets are made for managing a lot of lines of information, and that’s what you’ll end up with. One of my typical content inventories features column heading such as:

  • URL: Existing page URL, so you can find it again. If the site uses URLs based on the structure, the URL also quickly shows the page’s place within the architecture
  • Page title: Helps with differentiating among all the pages
  • Description: A brief overview of the content of the page. If it’s well written, there should be a paragraph near the top that you can copy
  • Type: If the site uses templates, this can indicate which template is used. Can also be used to catalog various kinds of content – text, images, PDFs
  • Keywords: Use a controlled vocabulary when picking keywords – you can later search within the document to find like kinds of information
  • ROT: Redundant, outdated, or trivial – identifying the content that can be swept away
  • Notes: A general field to capture other thoughts you have about the page, like “Holy smokes! This page needs an editor.”

When redesigning sections, I will often add a column for “new page ID” that I fill in later to show where that page fits within the new information architecture.

Content inventories can also be used as maintenance tools. Add a few more column heads and you have a way to track who is the content owner and when the item was last reviewed. See? I told you these things were valuable.

I’ll have more to say about content inventories in other posts – it’s really a rich topic for something that seems so boring on the surface. But one last piece of advice regarding when to create a content inventory: I recommend starting the content inventory after you complete the content requirements; that way you know the scope of the project before you create the inventory. No need to inventory content that isn’t part of the project. Content inventories may be useful, but you don’t want to spend all your time in spreadsheets.