quicksand warning
Getting stuck in minutiae early on in a content inventory will bog any company down PHOTO: DaveBleasdale

We have a problem.

As an industry, we have two shortcomings in our approach to reviewing content: 1) we look too narrowly at improving our digital presences (i.e., just looking at “our” part of a website) and 2) we look at content a bit too literally (i.e., slogging through too much content in order to make a decision). 

Getting bogged down with minutiae in the early planning stages is almost always a backwards approach — although vendors easily pass the task off on unwitting clients. 

Before diving into a content review, we want to define rules for how to approach content during a migration and on an ongoing basis. Identifying patterns helps us manage our content intelligently by creating standard approaches for similar content and ensuring our systems support those patterns. 

But how do we find those patterns in a large body of content? 

Random sampling is an easy and effective way to deal with the problem. It surfaces forgotten content and provides an initial view of the different layers of content.  

3 Ways to Review Content

We can look exhaustively and deeply. In this model each group is responsible for looking at every piece of their content. 

This inefficient approach makes broad patterns less obvious and cannot be applied consistently. Depending on what you are attempting to accomplish, you may have no cause to look specifically at every piece of content. 

exhaustively and deeply
Looking exhaustively and deeply

Clicking around results in haphazard results, and will also probably be top-heavy (with everyone focusing on the same pages), dependent on who is doing the analysis, and probably will miss deep pockets of information. 

clicking around method
PHOTO: Exploring by clicking around

Randomly sampling gives a broad and deep view of the digital presence. 

Random sampling
PHOTO: Random sampling

Steps to Uncovering Content Patterns

Step 1: Get the full, enumerated list of the content on your site

Regardless of whether you spider your site or generate the list from your content management system (CMS), you need a full list of all of your content to get started. Depending on the number of sources this might be difficult, but make sure you are really looking at all of it. 

At this point we are not (yet) concerned about gathering information from a number of sources — we just want the list of content. 

For example, here’s a quick spider I ran against my business site: 

a sample of a content list

Note that if you can’t create an enumerated list, you won’t be able to randomly sample. Ideally your inventory will reflect your entire digital presence — after all, some of the problems on your site may relate to an inconsistent experience across your presence. Hopefully you will see that concretely in the inventory. 

Step 2: Randomly sample that list

Next, we want to randomly sample that list. For instance, below is a randomly sample of the list above:

random sample of content inventory

The preferred way to sample is programmatically. I used Add-ins.com Random Sampler to generate the above, but you could also do this by just scrolling around in spreadsheets. 

One advantage of a spider is that it can find problems with pages outside of your CMS. For example, when I sampled my site the spider showed a problem with my webinars.davidhobbsconsulting.com subdomain. 

Remember, clicking around your site picking pages to look at is not randomly sampling. 

Step 3: Look for patterns and opportunities for further exploration

Now look at all of the sample pages from the full list. Note that although you are now clicking to view the site, the pages you look at were determined by random sampling. 

As you look at the sampled pages, try to find patterns and outliers. For example, in a migration look for pages that might challenge how you define consistency across the site. Pick your battles. Another time you may choose to look at outliers that result in a poor user experience for visitors. 

Whatever the case, dig into the outliers you found or dig further to discover if the patterns are valid. If you are developing a dynamic inventory, click around for this deeper dive. For instance, if you realize a whole section of the site needs further analysis you could either randomly sample within that section or realize you need information from more systems to answer questions. 

Step 4: Define approach and then dive into an item-by-item review or intervention

After you complete your analysis, you may find you do in fact need an item-by-item review. But this should be within the framework of your process moving forward.

For example, in the case of a migration your analysis may uncover a need to manually rewrite all the old product descriptions. That will spawn a manual, item-by-item rewrite, but not an item-by-item decision on what to do with the content. The overall decision has already been made.

A Clear Choice

Random sampling uncovers patterns without the hassle of narrow and exhaustive reviews. By establishing patterns and rules for how to handle content in advance of a content migration, you can make an onerous task a little simpler.