By Anthony Gaenzle published March 14, 2014

Why You Need to Conduct a Full Audit for Successful Content Marketing

colorful venn diagram-fast-cheap-greatWhile I was conducting my daily browse through the world of LinkedIn’s content marketing groups, I came across a comment that really stood out to me. The original discussion was started by someone seeking ideas for how they might boost the effectiveness of their website and increase sales. As you can imagine, there were a number of creative responses — accompanied by a number of dimwitted counterparts. One of the latter popped off the page:

It referenced a “quick” audit. I can’t recall the exact wording, but the gist of it was that one of the people who responded stated that they had conducted a “quick” audit of the site and then followed that statement by making some random suggestions like, “Add two paragraphs per page,” or “create more content,” etc. It wasn’t necessarily the suggestions that got me riled up, but more the notion that a content audit could ever be a “quick” task in your content marketing process

If you are ever approached by a content marketing agency that says they have conducted such an audit and would like to create some content for you, just say no! Conducting a “quick” content audit is like trying to figure out why your car won’t start by glancing at the paint.

A colleague of mine recently put together a spreadsheet for an audit we worked on for a client. Based on the sheer size of the effort and the amount of hours she and our team put into the audit portion of this project, I would venture to guess that she would take great offense to the word “quick” being placed anywhere near the word “audit” in a sentence.

To give you an idea of how much can go into an audit, just check out these stats about the contents of the spreadsheet she laid out. Keep in mind that this was for one client:

  • 1 Excel spreadsheet
  • 11 tabs of data
  • 8 URLs
  • 1,669 unique URLs
  • 2,875 linked pages
  • 3,074 lines of data

Even “The Six Million Dollar Man” couldn’t run through all of that data quickly. It takes time, dedication, and patience to conduct an audit that is thorough and really provides information that is deep enough to make valid recommendations for making any steps toward a content marketing strategy. To help you make sure you don’t miss any steps along the content audit journey, here are a few tips to take with you to your laptop.

1. Know your content marketing purpose

Before you set forth on your journey, know the audience that you or you client is trying to reach. Understand their objectives. If you don’t know who is being targeted or what outcome is being sought after, how can you possibly make solid recommendations as to whether what is currently existing on the site is working or not? You can’t.

For example, if you are conducting an audit for a university, there will be a few different audiences that you need to consider. Think about current students, prospective students, alumni, fans of any athletics teams, and so on. Then consider the university’s objectives. Does it want to increase admissions? Focus on graduation rates? Develop stronger relationships with alumni? Disseminate information to the rabid fan base of its football team? The answer, likely, is all of the above.

No matter what line of business you are in, to build a successful content marketing strategy, you need to know the answers to these questions, as they relate to your goals and aspirations. If you don’t have an end purpose in mind, no amount of auditing work will result in the production of valuable content marketing recommendations.

2. Establish a hierarchy of content quality and value

Before you start your process, develop a grading system for the pages you are about to audit. It’s up to you how you ultimately want to rate them, but one way that has worked for us is the traditional letter grade method. Pages that receive an A are the ones that have everything in place and don’t need any revisions or new content. You don’t have to redo every single page. It’s a bit cliché, but keep in mind the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Pages that earn a B simply require a little love, but once you start getting into the area of C and below, you are looking at a much higher level of effort to fix the page’s ailments and get it set up to effectively achieve its intended objectives. You will probably find that you have far more pages than you ever knew existed or thought were possible. So if you find some Fs floating around, it may be time for them to go.

Don’t be afraid to drop pages. You might find duplicates of a piece of content in more than one place. You might find pages that were relevant years ago, but somehow lost that relevance and were never removed or updated. Whatever the problem might be, you need to be ready to cut pages if they are hindering the achievement of stated objectives.

Once you’ve got the grading system in place, you need to know what the elements are that you’ll be grading.

3. Have a focus for your evaluation

It’s important to know what to look for, as well. It’s not just the words and images on the page that matter, although they certainly are critical elements to a site’s success. You need to focus on a number of other elements, too, that will help you reach the right audience with the right message and convince them to take the right actions.

So what do you need to focus on, then? Here are a few items that you don’t want to overlook:

  • URLs
  • Page names
  • On-page copy
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Internal links
  • External links
  • Comments
  • Meta-page titles
  • Meta-keywords
  • Meta-descriptions
  • Navigation details
  • User experience considerations
  • Social buttons

Keep this list in front of you while you work. Have it laid out in a spreadsheet to ensure that you don’t miss any important elements of the content marketing audit process. This will help you keep on track and stay consistent in your evaluation of every page that you visit.

But don’t just focus on your own pages. No matter what line of business you are in, there are others that are trying to do what you do, so your audit should also include a bit of competitive analysis.

Competition check

Ok, by now you are likely totally exhausted, and you don’t want to look at the website you are auditing ever again. Good news. When you’ve exhausted your internal analysis, it’s time to clear your head with a check on the competition.

Who is the competition? Who else is doing what you do, and are they doing it better than you are? Who has the potential to steal some portion of your target market? Don’t just focus on those that are doing business on the same level. Focus on those that are doing it far better, and even on those that are doing it far worse. This will give you a reference point to which you can relate the findings of your audit.

Benchmarking against competitors is a time-tested marketing tool. There will always be someone who is doing it better, different, cheaper, and the list goes on. Finding out what they are doing and how it is working for them can be a highly beneficial exercise that can result in new ideas, innovations, realizations that you may be falling behind, or even realizations that you are at the top of your game and need to be watching your back. 

So that’s all?

It’s a good start, but even after all of that, there are still some other items that need to be attended to. You need to conduct analytics to determine how the site is performing.

Google Analytics can provide you with a great deal of insight into how various pages on your site are performing. It can also tell you a lot about the actions visitors to your site take when they arrive there. Do they bounce after one page? If so, something is wrong. Do they make it through the funnel and end up on the pages you want them to? I could go on about the benefits and uses of Google Analytics for an hour, but you get the idea.

In addition to analytics, you will need to think about branding. What color schemes do you want on your site? Do you have a logo you want to prominently display? Branding is another topic in itself, but it’s something that should be on your mind.

I’m sure you have grasped the point that I am trying to make, but it bears repeating one more time: A content audit is never “quick.” It is a long, involved content marketing process, and if you don’t treat it as such, your resulting strategy will never be as successful as it could be.

We’d love to hear any other tips and tricks you use when conducting a content audit. Please place your thoughts in the comments below.

For more ways to get the most out of your content marketing, read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.

Author: Anthony Gaenzle

As founder and lead strategist at AG Integrated Marketing Strategists, Anthony Gaenzle works with businesses by helping them develop and implement effective marketing strategies that help bridge the gap between their digital and traditional marketing. He works across a variety of industries and has a wide range of expertise, including content marketing, SEO, graphic design, social media, and strategy creation. Anthony has an MS in Marketing from the University of South Florida and is currently pursuing an MBA from Clemson University. Follow Anthony on Twitter.

Other posts by Anthony Gaenzle

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  • Renee Munro

    Great article, Anthony! Do you have any recommended tools (spreadsheets?) to help with this process? Thanks.

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      Renee, we have our own template that we developed in-house, but there are tons of free examples out there for download. I can’t say there is any one particular example that stands out in my mind, but if you do a quick search, you will find so many downloadable templates and suggestions that it will have your head spinning. They should give you an idea of what should be included, but a good idea is to piece together parts from a variety and come up with an all encompassing document that you are comfortable with.

  • Jen Dennis

    This is a good outline! I’d add: For pages that get an “F,” make sure you capture any “good reason” the page was made in the first place. You might kill the page, but decide the topic merits a blog post or video that better makes the point…

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      Very good point Jen. Don’t haphazardly delete any pages. There is always a reason that the page was created in the first place. That reason should be kept in mind.

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Fabulous stuff, Anthony. I had a meeting with a client on Wednesday that wants to begin a content marketing initiative. After a lengthy conversation, they started their “To Do” list with ‘research’ as the first task. I told them the first step had to be an audit of their existing content. “How long will that take?,” they wanted to know. I told them they needed to budget at least a month. They looked at me like I was nuts. Now I’m going to send them this post as an endorsement.

    I love your suggestions. I hadn’t considered adding images to the audit but it’s entirely necessary. I imagine the ALT TEXT for images is important, too.

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      It’s quite common to receive a confused look when you explain the time and investment that goes into a content audit, that’s why it’s important, as content marketers, for us to continue to educate on the benefits of our services, as well as the necessity to take your time and be thorough.

      Hopefully this helps convince your client that you are right!

  • Adam P. Newton

    Thanks for this fantastic article. My boss recently suggested an audit for our company’s website, and your suggestions will be instrumental in ensuring our efforts will begin with the right processes in mind.

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      Adam, I’m happy I could help. It’s an exhaustive process, but well worth it in the end.

  • Ruth Zive

    I would argue that a ‘quick’ audit could be enough to indicate that there are challenges that require attention. But you need to dig much deeper to actually determine how best to address those challenges. Sometimes, companies become complacent with their online infrastructure and content marketing strategy (or lack thereof). A quick review of what’s working (or more importantly what’s not) can be a helpful reality check. But it’s definitely not enough to implement change. That requires a much more thoughtful strategic project that examines a breadth of considerations.

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      My sentiments exactly Ruth. That’s a great point. A quick glance might tell a company that something is not working, but in order to be effective they really need to know the “why” part. A quick audit is not helpful in the least when it comes time to develop a strategy. If a company bases their strategy solely on what they think is or is not working, there is a good chance that they aren’t addressing the base of the problem.

  • Kruzon

    For us amateurs handling our own sites and its promotions this simply is a huge task for which we have no measure. is there a free s/w package spreadsheet that pulls apart and builds reports laymen can understand. Even Google analytics are humbling. How can you trust Google charges to be real clicks not their s/w creating clicks?

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      When you are considering the effectiveness / health of your website, it’s not wise to look for free solutions. Tools like Google Analytics are wonderful, but to really understand what is going on, you need to have an expert eye delve deeper and review your site on all levels. Google Analytics should definitely be a component of your audit, but you really need to conduct an all-encompassing review and sometimes paying for an outsider to do the work is the best route to take. An unbiased eye is always a plus.

  • James Curtis

    Great advice, though I’m sure for many entering the audit process for the first time it feels like entering a minefield! Can I also suggest that content audits also consider off-site content? Obvious I know, but it pays to scrutinise not just the site content, but all that historical content contributed through different channels and the relationship with your own site.

    If you’re removing pages on your own site, are you ensuring third-party content directed that way is correctly redirected or altered? Was B or C grade content on your own site actually telling an interesting story through your social channels? Content marketing is more than just owned media for sure.

    Unfortunately, such considerations are only going to add to the depth of research needed. Saying that, I do think it is possible to do quick overviews to note massive oversights and easy quick-wins, but the degree of granulation in a proper audit could be infinite!

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      Great tips James. All those are importance components. The way we approach the social media aspect is to conduct a separate social media audit. This would involve all content within a company’s social media channels and pages, but would also offer insight into how the social media efforts are effecting the website (driving traffic, referrals, landing pages, bounce rate, reaching goals, and so on.) But I digress. I could do a whole other article on that!

      Related to the removal of pages, the purpose and origin of a pages should always be considered before taking such an action. Removing any page should definitely never be done on a whim. There should always be strong supporting evidence for any such decision.

      • James Curtis

        Thanks Anthony. I think a social media audit article would be great to read, look forward to the day you get round to it.

        I would be intrigued to see where the division would be – from a big picture I guess the aim is to try and use content synergies between all channels employed where possible. A fragmented appreciation of current efforts may lead to all those difficulties that silos generate – absence of joined up thinking, inconsideration of the effect each channel has on the other, plotting the customer journey and more.

        Though, as you rightly described even channel specific audits are time-intensive tasks!

  • ronellsmith

    Anthony,

    Great to see that you’re from my old neck of the woods. I lived in NE Georgia for quite a while after college. I visited Greenville often. A hidden jewel with a great downtown.

    This beginning of this blog sums up so much of what’s wrong with content marketing. As agencies, we must be willing to push back when a client asks for “just a little content,” and we must demand more of ourselves when the desire to “simply do what the client is asking for” rears its head.

    After all, they are paying us as experts. Sometimes that means delivering stiff, stern medicine.

    RS

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ericingrand Eric Ingrand

      Thanks Anthony for this Article, indeed to write a clever strategy document without taking the time, and sometimes this means quiet a lot of time to dig into the
      organs of a website and really get your hand dirty is crucial. Quick audit…will just scratch the surface, and solutions, unfortunately rarely pop out of the surface, that can happen and it is called Luck 😉 And yes Ronnell,
      you absolutely right customers pays Agency for their
      expertise, leadership, creativity, ideas not only to do what they are asking for…. My experience is
      saying NO once and and clearly saying why, like “my advice to you would be to to
      this instead and not follow this path” may on the short term postpone or
      loose you a deal, but if you are right it will make the Agency expert
      position a lot stronger in the future. At @EnVeritas and Anthony knows
      this very well we have always been advocates of long term quality content
      strategy and white-hat SEO practices, well this was a bold bet only a couple years
      ago when Black hat SEO and affiliation market was reaching its pike, we have lost some deals refusing to do dodgy link building
      practices, fake comments and cheap re-generated articles and trying to convince that the right path here was to first plan and execute a full digital audit, work on multichannel content strategy to start with before creating quality content to answer queries from identified audiences to drive steady long term results …..Well the song of SEO magic practices seduced many of my customers, but many if not all realise NOW that our approach was the right one and we are now brought into very large pitches and briefs because we have earn respectability by not saying YES YES YES and run with the check to every customer requests but saying yes BUT, to make it a success and reach your objectives, this is how we would do it and this is the reason why we think like this. Once this trust is won and once you say no once and prove to be right, your level of expertise and confidence goes up and stay strong. Anthony, Thanks for taking to time to write and share this article.

      • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

        Great points Eric. While saying “no” may lose you a deal or two, the most important thing to keep in mind is the need to offer the client the most effective services that you can. Don’t skip the critical steps just to make a buck. In the end, you will be exposed for your flaws and clients will begin to see the shoddy work that you do. If you want to run a successful, sustainable organization you have to be able to say “no”

    • http://www.enveritasgroup.com anthonygaenzle

      Ronell, I moved to the Upstate a little over a year ago. My wife and I absolutely love it here. Beautiful scenery, great people. Couldn’t ask for a better home!

      Thanks for the comment. You are 100% correct. We need to stand up and say “no” sometimes. That needs to be one of the strengths that we development in the content marketing field. If we take on work without serious knowledge of what is existing and without a strong strategy in place we will undoubtedly fail. And that comes back on the agency.

      It is OK to produce content, provided someone else has conducted a thorough audit and developed a strong strategy and you are on board with it. Then you can feel confident executing it. However, if that groundwork hasn’t been done, then we need to stand firm and educate about the importance of an extensive audit.

  • pokemawe

    uptil I saw the paycheck which was of $8750 , I didnt believe that my mom in-law woz really receiving money part time on their apple laptop. . there mums best friend had bean doing this for only 9 months and by now paid the mortgage on their villa and bought a gorgeous Alfa Romeo . website link ­m­a­c­2­2­.­c­o­m­

  • http://expresswriters.com/ Julia McCoy

    What a great blog, Anthony! Thanks for sharing these ideas and thoughts.

    Have you heard of/seen companies, in your avenues, that offer content auditing as a service? Curious.