No One Content Matrix to Rule Them All

Content audit and inventory methods evolve as the content strategy practice matures and changes. Our peers create new ways to audit, recommend, and improve content ecosystems across the web. They add their own flavor to the collective formula.

Considering the growth of omni-channel approaches and new device types to model and structure content for (e.g. wearables, connected homes and cars), there are countless methods and tools to capture and organize data.

As we continue to tackle new content initiatives, or make improvements to previous efforts, we go back to our tried-and-true matrices. Sometimes we borrow new elements of information capture from our peers. There are often times where we raze what we have to the ground and begin anew.

It can be fun. It can be repetitive.

If you’re operationally-minded, there’s an attraction toward automation and creating templates for your matrices over time. You see the patterns, and then you want to make life a little easier on you and your peers. It saves time and work.

There are talented strategists and developers who have means of automating matrix building for us. Some that come to mind are the lovely folks at Content Analysis Tool and GatherContent. There are even organizations out there who are promoting starter kits across social media. While getting a helping hand is great and all, I’m a strong believer that there’s no one content matrix to rule them all.

We should always be improving our methodology and approach. However, considering the variance of user and organizational needs, it’s much better to have a nimble, adaptable matrix than to just use a singular template, fill it up, and call it a day.

Templates and tools are super helpful. It’s less time staring at cells and more time to do thoughtful work. Just make sure your content matrix template or app has room to transform into a valuable, useful asset rather than a bunch of spaces and check boxes to fill out. Shoot for effectiveness rather than completing a matrix for the sake of getting it done.

The following are a few principles that I like to follow whenever I create a content matrix. They’re three rules that I use that typically extend well to content projects of all shapes and sizes. Use them with a template or use them with your own creation. Most importantly, have fun.

Rule of Thumb: Solve for the Objective at Hand

You can have the most fancy spreadsheet or web-based solution to capture and assess content. If it doesn’t yield the insights that you need to accomplish user or business objectives, why did you use that solution in the first place?

If you’re using a template from another company or a peer, please trust me– it’s not infallible. Think about it. That matrix template has a specific use case. Its author shares it to be generous to the community. By no means is that template some kind of content strategy gospel.

If you’re really paying attention to the discovery or alignment phase of your content project, your eyes are on the prize. You want to make sure your content initiatives achieve some kind of overall project objective.

To achieve results, sometimes you need to break stuff. Get comfortable with that. Not only do you end up rebuilding something insanely useful to you, but you’ll learn a lot about the tools you use along the way.

Okay, maybe you can’t break someone else’s app. You can be sure to use what you need from it to accomplish your goal.

Does the spreadsheet include a scoring guide that doesn’t fit your organization or client? Change it!

Does the table have fields that suit content migration, yet your project involves NO migration? Delete those fields!

Be bold enough to add your own after-market changes to the inventory to perform to your expectations. Make it easy on yourself by using a template, but please, don’t adhere to its every detail if it doesn’t benefit you and your organization in the end.

Make It Easy for Teammates to Use

One time I borrowed my friend’s car to run some errands. I’ve had my license since I was 16 years old. It was no big deal. Easy-peasy

One time I borrowed some tools from my father-in-law. I had no idea what I was doing, nor how to use the tools, and ended up botching up parts of a project.

While a full-featured content matrix makes total sense to the Content Strategist, it might make zero sense to your creative or account-side teammates.

When it comes to a content matrix in a multi-disciplined team, be sure that you export your deliverable into a format that your teammates can use. Just because you’re an Excel wizard doesn’t mean everyone else is.

This goes back to solving for the objective at hand. Export your work into a format that’s easy for your teammates to use. I LOVE keeping all of the magic (the boring stuff to others) in a document so that I can explain its context. Unfortunately, unless I’m talking to other Content Strategists, no one else really has time for the story about the magic. They want the useful output– the insights.

Cater the output of your matrix to what they need to do their job better. The more mental space and cognitive wear and tear you can save them throughout the day, the more they’ll love working with you. If the team is working and melding well, typically the work output has a chance of being that much better.

Client-Proof It

It’s not that clients want to break your stuff, they’re likely looking for specific pieces of information that they need, but couldn’t get from you or your team. To prevent the destruction of your beautiful work, create a process or template that outputs client-friendly versions of your content matrix.

Sure, all that work might contractually belong to the client at the end of the day, but there’s nothing wrong with hiding cells or limiting fields so that they have something that’s useful to them.

Marlowe Beckley, Content Strategy Manager, SapientNitro, taught me this years ago and I can’t tell you how useful her advice was.

When you provide a useful matrix for a client to review, it’s an opportunity to set expectations for that dialog and to make any kind of meeting or conversation fruitful. There’s less time spent poking around at a spreadsheet or matrix and more time answering key questions and making sure that the project is on track.

Regardless of the Path, Get There

We content professionals have the goal of creating the best circumstances for content to accomplish our organizational and user goals. The inventory is one of the first steps towards accomplishing this. It sets up the audit, which fuels recommendations, which leads to all the other magic.

It’s critical that we use inventory methods and tools that suit our respective missions. Use the awesome tools out there if it saves you spreadsheet face time. However, don’t feel that you need to adhere to every detail of the tool if it doesn’t suit your objectives in the end.

Inventory and audit on, friends. I’m sure I’m missing out on all kinds of other modern inventory and audit tools. Let me know and I’ll add them. Chime in about your own inventory hacks, too!

4 thoughts on “No One Content Matrix to Rule Them All”

  1. Andrew,

    I think one source of confusion is the superficial similarity of content inventories (current state) and content matrices (future state). The spreadsheets have many of the same fields, but the content matrix has a different objective, and often involves more variation that an inventory spreadsheet.

    1. Michael,

      You’re right. They’re similar, yet totally different in terms of output and expectations.

      I’ve been playing with a B2B single-source inventory and audit matrix. It’s a headache for now, but I think if I iron it out, it can be a sustainable hit.

      What do you typically rock, Mr. Storyneedle?

  2. Nice post, Andrew. I couldn’t agree more. What we always have to keep in mind for our clients or brands is _why are we doing this?_

    We have to always ask that question, whether creating strategy, creating tools and processes, or ultimately creating content. Following someone else’s road map will only take us to someone else’s destination.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts, Isaac. I definitely agree.

    There’s enough formulaic stuff on the web that people deploy out of ease and ends up diluting quality and originality. As content professionals, we have such an opportunity to really think through how content will live and breathe, not just for the immediate need, but also for the future.

    Let’s grab some coffee again sometime soon!

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