Content is an all encompassing word; but at heart it is shorthand for pieces that demonstrate knowledge and authority in your field. A content audit, therefore, analyzes how you deliver your expertise to the outside world and how far it reaches. Performing this necessary step in your content’s journey helps you make decisions about not only the right mix of content that you can provide, but also what the best mix is. Think of it like putting dinner on the table according to the tastes of your family rather than reading the recipe off the box. It’s a tailor-made analysis based upon real-world observations that can make your efforts more effective in the long run.
There aren’t a lot of audits that make you feel better about yourself, but being able to start fresh or reset what you’re doing definitely re-energizes your company. Knowing how to effectively conduct a relatively painless content audit requires learning from people who have done it before. Let’s explore the steps you should take to analyze your successes and failures and move forward with your content marketing.
As with any big task, breaking an audit down into smaller components reduces pain and the time it takes to complete.
- Wade in the content channels – Gather what you do on various channels (blog, social media, free guides, email, etc.) and brainstorm quickly on what you think your company’s strengths and weaknesses are in each area.
- Find drop-offs and rip-tides – Where there are gaps or dead-ends, solutions need to be found to fill them or to provide more elegant finishes. In addition, you will find bad habits and no-longer-correct information that have swept your company into dangerous territory. Research dead links, irrelevant past content, and ineffective messaging. You may be surprised at what you find when you reflect back on your history.
- Swim for the shore – You will end up with an action plan to get safely to the nearest shore. That shore may be different from the one you left but will be based upon real-world observations that can help propel your efforts rather than shooting in the dark.
If you just gather all your information and dump it in a metaphorical pile, you haven’t achieved anything. Organizing your content collection is the key. You will likely have blog posts, videos, case studies, photographs, archived webinars, free guides, infographics, interviews, and white papers that your company has created over the years. The first step you’ll need to take is to manually spreadsheet (Yes, I made it a verb), your content, and keep track of each piece with these fields:
- What the piece was about
- Target audience
- Links to where it exists (online or on a server or in the cloud; wherever it is you have to be able to find it)
- What type of content
- How it was delivered
- Who owns copyright.
Then I would add three more columns:
Reactions – What type of reaction did it receive and how deep did that reaction go?
Goals Achieved – You have a purpose for creating each content piece. Did you generate 10 leads; did it get 20 customers? Did it increase traffic to your site? Did it provide greater company name recognition? Whatever your goal was, did you meet it? Give each page or piece a rating based on what it achieved. This, of course, means being clear about goals when the article or free guide is created.
Worth Keeping – You have all this work production at your fingertips. It’s inspiring, yet more than likely overwhelming. That’s why the audit is taking place. You have to decide: do you keep it, get rid of it, re-purpose, or update it? That last category may be more popular than you think as you see new ways of looking at the subject or see a tweak that can make an old pie chart into a great infographic.
Measuring traffic to these pages is important as you decide what to jettison, but it’s only a small part of what’s needed. A page that has a lot of inbound links, for instance, obviously has value, even if traffic is low. You may even have little to no social media shares on a specific page, but you know you’ve grossed thousands (or millions!) of dollars because of it. Be wary of throwing away supposedly low performing content pieces based on faulty stats…do some digging!
However many software tools you have, this decision-making “worth keeping?” part of the content audit is the human aspect that will make the most difference. Don’t be afraid of showing that you’ve evolved as a company and your ideas have evolved, as well. A company just starting out on a content strategy will also need to perform this audit, though in a different way. The majority of what that new company talks about will be looking toward the future – what it should do to succeed.
For your website, exclusively, you can also use quick scan tools such as Google’s WebMaster tools, iGooMap or Screaming Frog to map out your site. Though you do have to be able to understand what you’re looking at, these type of software tools will provide bare information about what pages on your site get crawled and give you a basic page directory of what exists on your site. That ability can also be built into your website’s CMS software.
Drop-offs and Rip-Tides
Let’s look at an example…You are a restaurant owner who wants to be a great source for food knowledge as well as great food. You have a feeling your company hasn’t created enough content about one particular thing, maybe in this case it’s organic ingredients. Or maybe you’re just unsure of your company’s approach to content in general. In either case, an audit will give you the numbers to back up your intuition.
As you review everything in your spreadsheet, basic quality control issues come up. In the restaurant example, you suddenly notice you have way too many articles about cilantro and none at all about fava beans (which happen to be in two of your signature dishes). You also have Christmas recipes galore but entirely neglect the opportunity to provide people with new Independence Day menus and tastes. Then you notice that what you write or present is mostly well edited and other times there are typos galore and you are having trouble remembering what you were trying to say.
Blogs with multiple writers benefit from having different voices, but they all need the same editor to make sure the overall tone and message are the same. In other words, the quality you’re presenting to the world is variable and sometimes, it’s embarrassing. All of that goes toward the issues of trust and trustworthiness – you want to gain as much of that as possible. If it drops off, it takes a lot of work to get back above water.
Mike Collins at SEO Site Checkup asks a series of important questions about trust when it comes to looking at your own site. Two of the most important are: “Would you trust the information presented in this article” and “Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?” The first goes to the point of why should someone come back to your site or your content? The second goes to the point that you need people to spend money with you. These sound very basic but people seem to forget them in both planning and execution.
So, what are some things to look for that may have caused your efforts to sink below the shoreline? Take a look at this list:
- Posting Consistency (3x a week or drop-offs in posting for months)
- Categories that you cover in the blog based upon reader demand/interest
- Tone and Voice
- Grammar, spelling and general structure
- Intention behind Blog (not an individual post, but the entire Blog and its mission)
- Authority in topic coverage and ability to invoke trust from a reader
Swimming for Shore
Once you understand what you need to do after an audit, don’t do everything all at once. You’ll just get tired! Pick the top five things to get done in the next quarter. At first, a couple of those goals might be organizing a structure for achievement in the next quarter. Aim for short-term goals with a long-term purpose. You can’t keep on swimming, because eventually you’ll only end up flailing needlessly.
The Dynamic Duo: Content and Optimization
Now you know the best mix to work toward with content, you will also need to know how to best optimize each piece you’re creating. It’s worth noting, a review of your SEO efforts is different than a content audit. An SEO audit measures and creates a whole different area of metrics, with a much greater focus on visibility and authority online. They go hand in hand. Each time Google releases an update, it’s important to look at rankings and then how your content is hindering or helping that.
With all this time invested to audit what you’re doing, you’ll emerge from the ocean of information as a bigger fish in an ever-bigger pond. It’s time well-spent.