Return on investment. It’s been the bugaboo of content marketing for far too long.

Getting to a positive ROI from content marketing requires a lot of things, of course. The most basic thing is to get results from your content assets in the first place.

If your content isn’t generating much business, your ROI is probably negative – whether you can measure it or not.

So how do you know if your content is generating business? And, more specifically, how do you know which parts of your content are generating business?

Obviously, you track results. The results of each individual piece of content. Otherwise, you’ve got the same problem John Wanamaker had nearly 100 years ago:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

I’d actually take that a step further, and apply the 80/20 rule: 20% of your content is probably generating 80% of your results.

But… do you know which pieces of content are in that golden 20%?

A content audit can tell you.

Except, the idea of an “audit” doesn’t’ sound very fun. But before you bail on this article, or before you grab a drink at just the idea of a content audit, stay with me.

I know that when a lot of people talk about content audits, they mean month-long (or longer) projects that are massive outlays in time, resources and money. One agency I know joked recently about a $250,000 content audit.

I admire that much thoroughness. I really do. And if you’ve got a massive organization with tens of thousands of pages of content, maybe an audit of that scale could make sense.

But for the rest of us, massive month-long content audits aren’t realistic.

Even if you could take the time to do a full-month audit every year, I’d far prefer you to do a one-week audit every three months. Three months is a nice tight time frame. It’s enough time to make a major pivot, and not so much time that the end of it seems distant.

But honestly, I’d actually rather you do some kind of assessment every month. This might not get you in with the agile marketing folks, but it would give your content machine the flexibility it needs to survive.

Here are a few things I’d want that assessment to find out:

  • Your key performance indicators from the last year
  • KPIs from the last quarter
  • KPIs from the last month
  • Your planned content for the next month and content topics for the next quarter
  • Your goal KPIs for the next month
  • Your goal KPIs for the next quarter

Those six items break neatly into two categories: Where have we been, and where are we going.

Ideally, none those snapshots should be longer than a page. We’ll manage our information like Winston Churchill did during World War II, when he reportedly allowed no document longer than a page to land on his desk That’s a good goal unto itself, but for most of us, it’ll take quite a lot of work to produce those tidy little reports. Here’s what you’ll need to do first:

What to do before you start an audit

  • Know what you want the content audit to achieve.

Even a one-week or one-day content audit works best if you have a goal in mind. It will focus your efforts beautifully.

  • Know what you want your company to achieve.

A content audit should align itself with your company’s larger goals. Maybe that means you’ll prioritize lead generation over website traffic. Or brand awareness over lead gen. Those larger, core content strategies must shape your audit or you risk doing an audit that doesn’t really help.

  • Have a narrowly-defined scope.

From the beginning, define what you are and are not going to look at. For instance, maybe you only want to optimize the company blog. Or you only want to optimize content for existing customers. Having an agreed-upon scope of work is one of the best ways to tame a huge content audit. It prevents the dreaded “scope creep” that bloats so many audits.

  • Bonus: Target one marketing channel or tactic that you suspect doesn’t work. If you’ve been wondering, say, if Facebook is no longer worth doing (many of the small businesses we surveyed are pulling back from the platform), then it’s smart to run an audit to confirm or dispute those suspicions. We all get so focused on doing more, I think there’s a real opportunity to ask “What can we stop doing?”
  • A content library or “vault” of every piece of content you’ve created.

Why content audits need content vaults

If you don’t have a content vault (or “content library” or “content hub”) already, creating one is going to be a big deal. It’ll be a separate project to create it.

Do it anyway.

Here’s why: There’s a statistic from Sirius Decisions that 60-70% of B2B content goes unused.

Unused. As in never published. This isn’t even under-promoted or unoptimized content. And it’s definitely not profitable content.

What kind of business would even pretend to hope for positive ROI if 60-70% of the assets they paid for sat unused?

Having a content vault will more than pay for itself. It will prevent you from creating the same or similar content over and over again. It will mean you aren’t paying for content that never gets published (and yes, that happens all the time).

The 60% stat might be overkill, but from what I see, it’s likely that at least 10-20% of the content that is commissioned and paid for never gets published. If you want to improve your ROI, simply stop that. Now.

A content vault will also make your content audits possible. Because you cannot audit something if you don’t know it exists.

Here’s what I’d include for each piece of content:

  1. Content format (and possibly content sub-format)
  2. Content topic
  3. Content topic tags
  4. Content quality (rated from one to five)
  5. Headline/title
  6. Date published
  7. URL
  8. Inbound links
  9. Interior links
  10. Social media shares (probably broken out by platform)
  11. Monthly traffic last 30 days
  12. Monthly traffic last 90 days ago
  13. Downloads/Leads generated last 30
  14. Downloads/Leads generated 90 days ago
  15. Content upgrade/call to action
  16. Last updated
  17. SERP click-through rate
  18. Phase of buyer’s journey / Stage of sales funnel
  19. Persona
  20. Associated content assets (ability to list/link to up to three other assets)
  21. Optimization opportunities
  22. Notes
  23. Author/owner

Once you’ve got a content inventory, content audits are far easier

Having this data available on your content assets basically means all you need to run a content audit is just to run a couple of reports, make yourself a to-do list, and execute.

Is that an overly simplified description of what needs to be done? Maybe. But it’s also true. Content audits wouldn’t be such a huge deal if our content assets weren’t such a mess in the first place.

If you had this data on all your content, you could do an instant mini audit simply by looking at:

  • Which content hadn’t been updated in the last year
  • Which content had no call to action, or a mismatched call to action
  • Which content was getting a lot of traffic, but poor conversions/leads generated
  • Which content had seen a drop-off in traffic recently
  • Which personas need more content developed for them
  • Where the “content gaps” are for different phases of your sales funnel
  • Which pieces of content have a poor click-through rate in the search results
  • Which content formats are generating the most (or least) leads

This is the secret to not drowning in data when you do a content audit: Have a good, well-managed and tracked inventory of content in the first place.

Trouble is, most content marketers have no such inventory. And if they do, they don’t have a system in place for tracking how the different content assets are performing. If they did, content audits could be much faster, much more focused, and thus done much more frequently.

They’d be more effective, too.

Who creates the content inventory

This has “summer intern” written all over it for me. But if you’ve got a lot of content and a large content marketing operation, you might want to go so far as to hire a “content librarian” to track all the metrics of your content assets.

That work scope might also be an ideal way to justify bringing on an analytics person, even if you don’t have full-time work in analytics yet.

If managing your existing content better means saving 20% or more of your budget every year, that hire could be justified easily.

Or have content marketing automation software manage your inventory

So yes, you can do all that content management manually. Or you can buy software to help.

There are many companies who offer this soft of content asset management. Just Google “content marketing software” – dozens of companies come up. In fact, if you’re considering investing in content marketing software, I’d argue that this feature – having a good content asset management system – is a core feature you cannot do without.


Content marketers have been too focused on just creating more and more content for too long. I’d argue that a lot of us actually have enough content already. We don’t need more content. We need to manage the content we already have better.

When you look at how we publish and just move on – without doing any audits, or managing our content inventory – it’s not surprising so many of us struggle to generate positive ROI.

We waste most of what we publish.

It reminds me of buying a $900 shirt and wearing it just once. ($900 just happens to be the average cost of a blog post for most companies. )

Many of us content marketers have the content equivalent of a closet full of worn-once shirts. And yet we claim we need more new ones.

That’s crazy.

It’s time we all got better at managing our content assets with the same rigor we manage any other type of business asset.