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Why You Need to Conduct a Full Content 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 a content 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 content 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 a content 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.