How to Automate Your Content Inventory

Posted August 17, 2016 by Garenne Bigby in Content Inventory

automate content inventory

The key to maintaining website content successfully is the duty of understanding what your assets are. In short, your content is your assets. There are so many ways of understanding the technology that is behind running a website, but what you have as the inventory is the main way to realize what exactly it is that the technology delivers—the content. A quantitative content inventory is the document that will list all of the website's pages and the data about those pages. This type of content inventory is no doubt time-consuming, but it is a practice that yields much rewards to website managers, information architects, website designers, and content strategists.


Though a quantitative content inventory can be done manually, there are programs that exist that will save valuable time by gathering this data about the website for you. You will need to provide an accurate list of the website's assets so that the tool can help you to spend more time to focus on the quality of the content rather than the quantity. This will, in turn, help you to build additional assessment tools like qualitative content audits.

A quantitative content inventory will relay how many pages the website has, how many and what type of content assets exist (documents, images, videos) and which pages they are associated with, what the URL structures point to the content types, how many links go in or out of a page, and where they pages are located (as defined by the URL).

What is the Reason for a Content Inventory?

For as long as content inventories have existed, website professionals have been conducting them manually. This means that the webmaster would click through every single page that was on the website and then record it in a spreadsheet or use a tool that was built for this purpose, like a website crawler. This would have saved them time by cutting down on copying and pasting. Some experts say that the benefit of using a tool in order to automate some of the work is that it will give the user an exhaustive list of URLs without much effort on their part, and it is able to run in the background while the person does other work, like their audit.

Content inventories play a large role as the foundation for content audits. A content audit (while sometimes used interchangeably with content inventory) will measure the performance and analyze the quality of the content as it relates to your overall goals and the content's intended audience. You generally would not perform a content inventory without the intention of performing a content audit, and there is no way to perform a content audit without a content inventory. This is the reason that the terms are used interchangeably, although they do not consist of performing the same processes.

The Role of Content Inventory Regarding Managing and Maintaining a Website

There are many uses for a content inventory. One of the main employments of a content inventory is to make sure that your brand will always have the necessary information to understand your content catalog, enabling you to make decisions based on the evidence presented. When you have this comprehensive assessment of the pages on your website, you are then capable of building a plan for the life cycle of your content, like continual maintenance, future development, and re-use or migration of existing website content. These inventories are vital documentation when it comes to large projects like website redesigns, migrations, and refreshes. There are tools available to help the webmaster communicate the size of the website to stakeholders, create things like base documents for content audits, and to simplify the process of gathering using only one tool.

Reasons You Should Be Tracking Content with Tools

An owner of a small website might not know the benefits of automating their content inventory, simply because they do not have a lot of content to manage. There are websites that have over 200,000 URLs, making it physically impossible to manually inventory each one. And even with that, not all content management systems are created equal, so not all content management systems have the ability to provide an automated inventory. Each of these things directly affect management and staff's power to make informed decisions about their website's content. It is important to have an easy to read and accurate inventory so that parties may communicate effectively between themselves.

The majority of content inventories are collected and sorted in spreadsheets. This allows the team member that is working on them to quickly see information and distribute it to multiple parties. The user may also export is easily into Microsoft Excel or any other spreadsheet software, giving you the maximum amount of flexibility when customizing the reports to be distributed to various parties.

The Benefits of Content Inventories

Software for content inventory on websites will help you to save time when discovering the largeness of your website's content. When you work with a website every single day, you will have a pretty good idea as to how much content is on it and how it is structured. Performing a content inventory may seem like a redundant activity, but it will ultimately aid in communicating the breadth of the website to its stakeholders. If the people in these important positions don't know (but do want to know) what is exactly on the website, you will need to provide them with a quantitative inventory. When you gather and present these quantitative facts about the website, software for content inventory will help to work for an understanding that is more accurate regarding the content.

Content Audits Rely on Content Inventories

After a content inventory has been completed, it is possible to perform content audits. These content audits are documents that allow the user to view the content page by page and observe how it is performing as compared to a predetermined level of effectiveness and quality. Content analysis tools build content inventories for websites, and these then act as the foundation for a comprehensive content audit by utilizing the information that is needed most. This would be things such as how much content there is, what the types of content are (audio, video, documents, pages), and even the URL structure. Provided by this are valuable clues about the content type and how the website is structured.

Once you have a good idea of the complexity of your content, you can then establish the parameters necessary in order to evaluate and analyze the content. In short, this means that you will define what type of information you will want to gather from the content—title, author, word count, and the like. This metadata is already associated with the content, the effort comes with extracting it into a readable format that can be further analyzed and utilized to make your content and brand more successful.

Automating Your Content Inventory

Automation allows webmasters to spend just a fraction of their time working on a content inventory, as opposed to the countless hours that it would take to do it manually. In order to start a content inventory that is assisted with tools, you'd need to implement a program such as CAT (content analysis tool). This will help to speed up the content inventory process and put you on the fast track to a content audit. It would give you information about the content such as the images, documents, and videos that are associated with each individual page, along with the links that go in and out of the page, and any of the metadata associated with the content types, like their titles, keywords, and descriptions. CAT will put this is a format that is easy to read as it saves the webmaster so much valuable time so that they are not collecting the information manually.

When you get into automated content inventory, the line between an inventory and audit starts to become blurred. When the tool provides the links that go to and from the pages, you can deduce the overall structure of the website through a strategy known as cross-linking. When provided with the list of documents on the site, you will be able to deduce if the website tends to rely heavily on content that can't be indexed, like PDFs.

You will be able to see information such as URL structures and metadata for each web page, and this will let you see how your website is performing, in regards to search engine optimization and website taxonomy. When planning on a website migration, it will be valuable to know all of the links that will be needed for tracking as part of the strategy to redirect, including all of the files that are associated with them, as they may need to be migrated along with all web pages. This will save valuable time in the future.

Nothing can substitute true human analysis, but taking the effort to employ some tools will take away a portion of the time consuming and tedious tasks that are part of the content inventory process, while also digging into the content audit process. These tools will help the webmaster to be more efficient and will allow them to use their time more wisely.

Tools to Save Time

Time is a very valuable resource for all web based projects, and it is rare when a team member has a plethora of it. Having enough time is important when a project consists of a thorough analysis, strategy development, designing, and delivery. When too much time is spent on the process of performing all processes manually, it can lead to a lot of time basically wasted with sorting through all of the data, cataloging the information, managing changes, and tracking the work.

Tools like DYNO Mapper help by freeing web workers of the tedious, clerical, manual tasks of putting together the content inventory, and provide those precious hours to be used elsewhere on the project. This allows the tools to do the things that our brains would be doing but providing more accuracy, comprehension, and satisfaction. From the perspective of the client, an automated content inventory will result in a product that is better designed, managed more efficiently, it is more usable, and it is more useful than a simple spreadsheet—no matter how hard you worked on it to gather data manually.

There are so many other tools available to content professionals to help them with spending much less time on manual labor and more time being creative and strategic. They are spending less time on the things that used to take the most time, and are able to focus on analyzing the given content inventory and provide valuable information regarding how to proceed. The real results can't be given until all of the content has been inventoried, so allowing this to be automated is cutting the time of the entire process down to just a fraction, while yielding results that are timelier and more accurate. The web master can still take charge of what type of information is collected from the content, so they do not need to fear that the collected results would be below standards.

Conclusion

With all of these great tools and concepts at your fingertips, there is very little reason to ever do another content inventory manually. You will be able to rely on these programs to perform this quantitative analysis for you and your clients, likely providing results that are more accurate and timelier than any human can ever produce.

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder @dynomapper
Garenne Bigby is freelance Chicago developer and founder of DYNO Mapper with over 10 years experience in both agency and freelance roles in design, development, user experience, SEO, and information architecture.

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