What we learned from a large scale content audit

We’ve been working closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) and its agencies to support them to improve their content and make it easier to find on GOV.UK.

Here's what we’ve learned from doing an audit of 7,396 content items, and how this can benefit the way content is managed.

The problem

We need to improve content to make it more effective and easier to find. It's not just search and navigation that sometimes makes things difficult to find - it’s also the page content itself.

Back in 2016, we started to address this problem by working closely with the Department of Education to conduct an audit of all their early years content.

We’re now doing a similar process with the Department of Transport and its agencies.

What we learned

During the last 6 months we’ve learned a lot about how different content teams work across transport organisations and how to do a large-scale content audit.

Split your content into manageable chunks

We started with an inventory of all 7,396 transport content items on GOV.UK. We then split this into sub-themes - like maritime, driving, roads and aviation.

Auditing these sub-themes turned out to be a bit unwieldy, because:

  • they were still too big
  • some agencies had content that spanned several sub-themes - so they had to keep switching between spreadsheets
  • the spreadsheets had a mix of content from different agencies - so it got messy with everyone working on the same spreadsheet at the same time
  • some content was duplicated across spreadsheets, particularly content that had been tagged to multiple organisations

We know now that we should have:

  • created a dedicated spreadsheet for each agency
  • sliced the audit into manageable chunks - based on a specific user need, policy area or popularity
  • avoided auditing and improving all content at once - it would’ve been better to pick smaller chunks to audit and improve to allow us to capture (most) new pages as they were published

Use a clear list of questions

We worked with DfT to iterate the audit questions. This is what we came up with:

  • Does the title need to change?
  • Does the summary need to change?
  • Does the page content need to change?
  • Do any file attachments need work?
  • Do we need to change the GOV.UK content format?
  • Do we need to check if the content is current?
  • Do we need to remove a duplicate or unnecessary page?

Then we put all of those together to answer the overall question 'What level of work is required?'

This seemed to work well, but in retrospect we'd shuffle the order so that 'Do we need to remove the page?' is first - as that question has a big influence on the answers to the other questions. This is because it will save time and effort in answering questions that would later be made redundant as a result of answering 'yes' to it being removed.

Document decisions as you go along

To add to our current writing guidance and to allow teams to audit consistently, we kept a record of the questions we were asked and the guidance and advice we gave.

We shared this with all the agencies, so they knew what to look for and how to answer tricky audit questions.

It covered things such as:

  • keeping upcoming content in mind, as it could affect existing items - for example a policy update
  • thinking about whether a title works well alongside other titles - for example in a collection page, or in both GOV.UK and external search results

Get someone to work only on auditing

We also asked Gavin Dispain at DfT what he’d learned from the audit:

"It has been great working with GDS to audit the transport content on GOV.UK. Auditing content is time and resource intensive - so plan for it accordingly and try to dedicate someone to exclusively work on auditing."

What’s next

DfT and its agencies finished their auditing in July. We’re now helping them to improve content that's been identified as needing work.

We're focusing on a topic at a time (like 'dangerous goods'), so that the work is manageable and it's easier to work together with subject matter experts.

DfT and its agencies have also been busy tagging all their content to a new user-focused taxonomy, which will help users find groups of related content easier. The taxonomy team are currently validating all the taxons (tags) by conducting user research and working closely with content and policy teams across the transport sector.

Mark and Steph are content designers on GOV.UK. You can follow Steph on Twitter.


  1. Comment by Hugh posted on

    Thanks for this post.

    It was confusing reading "Department of Transport (DfT)". It would be less confusing if you wrote "Department for Transport (DfT)" which I found from Wikipedia article is the correct nomenclature


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