It’s Time to Audit Your Information Architecture

Do you really understand the content within your website? If you haven’t taken the time to complete an audit, you probably do not. As the name suggests, this is not something that most people enjoy doing. However, like many other audits, it is quite necessary.

Why You Need to Audit

Your site is a collection of information built upon a defined Information Architecture, making it easy to navigate through. However, if you don’t know what content you have, it’s hard to put together a useful architecture. Whether you’re creating something from scratch or redesigning an existing site, completing a content audit with your team will help you take stock of all of the information you need before you begin assessing IA.

Think of Information Architecture as a department store and content as the products being sold inside. How would you describe your store if you had no idea what it was being sold? Sure, you could get away with picking a few popular items and advertising those; but what about the shoppers looking for the item you didn’t mention? You could hope that they come into the store for a different reason and notice the product they were looking for, but it is much better to let them know it’s there.

Besides helping you understand exactly what a site has, doing an audit for Information Architecture can also help you understand the desired tone of the site. You’ll be able to determine whether IA labels should be strictly business, or maybe a bit playful. The content audit will let you know.

Before You Start

For an optimal content audit, you need first understand the “information ecology” of your IA. Context, content and users are all important aspects of your project, both individually and collectively. While you will be tempted to ‘organize and connect the dots’ between the information without first visualizing the information ecology, resist that urge. It is just going to make things confusing if you try to do it too early.

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Auditing Content When There Is None

Even if you are building an IA design from scratch, you can still complete an IA audit. In fact, it can be quite helpful. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page that’s supposed to be your sitemap. An audit can help get the juices flowing, and make sure you don’t miss something.

So, how can you audit a site that you don’t have information for? Believe it or not, there is a way. I would recommend tackling two aspects of the information ecology first – the context and the users. (In case you aren’t already aware, context refers to the business goals).

After you have a full understanding of the information ecology, you can begin brainstorming the type of content you will need. Princeton University has a useful guide for creating website information architecture and content that is accessible online. You can also try completing a task analysis or approaching it from a jobs to be done mindset.

There is also an open card sort of approach where users can write in and add their own content. You can find more information about this method on this article, published on Boxes and Arrows.

The Challenge of Auditing Current Content

If you already have a site, redesigning the IA is not necessarily easier than starting from scratch. In fact, for years, Information Architects have dreaded the process. In 2002, the website, Adaptive Path described it as painful, calling it “A Mind-Numbingly Detailed Odyssey through Your Web Site”. The good news is, this was written in 2002, and since that time many tools have been developed that make the process easier, but it is still quite tedious.

While a content audit can be a pain, it is definitely worth the effort. One reason is because a content audit can be used for much more than IA Design. In fact, lists 13 different reasons to complete a content audit, and suggests there are even more.

All of this is not meant to overwhelm you, it is meant to help you focus. By thinking about what you hope to gain, you can make it easier on yourself. What you’re using the content audit for will determine what information should be audited. (You may not have to audit it all!) If you spent time thinking about the information ecology first, this part of the process will be a lot easier.

A Simplified Approach to Content Auditing

At its most basic definition, there are only a few steps to completing an information architecture audit.

The third step will vary based on the goals of your audit. If you are doing an IA re-design, a simple content description should be enough.

The majority of your time will be spent categorizing and assigning hierarchy, however for the audit, you are only looking to assess the content you have or need.

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More Resources

For more information on performing a content audit -including pointers to tools that make gathering a list of URLs a whole lot simpler – try the helpful articles on these sites:

Jenn Marie

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