This post is a follow-up to the Content Strategy Workshops, a two-day practicum following LavaCon, held in Portland on October 9-10 2012.
For years I prided myself on knowing little about Microsoft Excel. This lack of knowledge was a badge of honor. After all, I am a words person, not a numbers person. A decade or so of professional work passed in this Excel-free bliss, but then something changed: I had to plan content budgets.
That was the start of a tumultuous relationship with spreadsheets, workbooks, and mathematical formulas. This culminated at the Content Strategy Workshops, where I learned how to “pop” critical information by applying functions and conditional formatting to content audits. Soon I hardly recognized my writerly self. And I wasn’t the only one going through this transformation. All around the room, 100+ content professionals were gasping and murmuring in pleased disbelief:
We were Excel powerusers!
It hasn’t been an easy transition, but I’ve learned to love Excel and what it can do for me. The Workshops cemented this change, and I wanted to share some of what I learned with you. The key? For content inventories and audits, spreadsheets still rule the roost. As daunting as they can seem at first, there currently aren’t better solutions. There are some good reasons why, and several of them were highlighted again and again during the Workshops:
1. A spreadsheet-style layout is still the best way to break down content sets.
It seems like there should be a more discipline-specific tool by now, but the truth is, Excel still does the best job, whether your content set is small or massive. Sapient’s Kevin Nichols, Razorfish’s Sarah Beckley, and SUBTXT’s Tosca Fasso all showed the power of Excel in breaking down complex content sets. My favorite? An audit from Sarah that had over 60 columns and 3000+ entries.
2. To accurately perform any audit, all your content must be in one system.
The most popular way to do this continues to be Excel. eBay Europe’s Lucie Hyde and expert Content Strategist Rahel Bailie shared from deep experience that audits and content analysis can’t be completed accurately unless all the content is in one system. This can be the most tedious part of the project, but it must be done right if you want accurate and quantifiable results.
3. Modularize first. Design later.
This concept helped me to let go of (most of) my remaining Excel prejudices. As content experts, we all deal constantly with single-sourced content and multi-channel delivery. Modularization is critical and fundamentally necessary. Once again, Lucie Hyde made a strong case for using the right tool for the job… an obvious observation, yet an important one to internalize.
Excel is a great tool for creating modular content structures. But it’s lousy for anything related to exporting or design. Audit, modularize, and tag your content in a spreadsheet, then look for the best design dBase or content design system to dump your modularized content. But don’t expect to do both well with only one tool. Some interesting post-modularization tools suggested by people at the conference are PugPig, TreeJack, and Dozuki.
Has your experience with creating content inventories or audits been similar? Wildly different? Leave a comment and share your experience!
Read the original blog post at Steyer.net