When you started building content to market your business, it’s unlikely the notion of a content audit ever crossed your mind. I mean, let’s be real, most of us were probably hoping for a content marketing experience that looked a little more like the one above.
Many businesses begin creating content organically, with inspiration or necessity as their guide. But unless you’re one of those rare (and annoying) mortals who always plan ahead and keep immaculate records, at some stage you’ll need to get organized. You’re going to need a content inventory with lots of juicy details, and you’ll need to audit that inventory to gather insight into your content’s performance, identify gaps and adjust your strategy.
A content audit may sound like a monumental task – especially for small teams who feel pressure to produce. Yet, an audit can be one of the best ways to build efficiencies into your content operation.
As such, in this post, I’m going to share the process I use to audit content without becoming overwhelmed. And I’m going to explain how you can make the most of your audit by designing a system you can maintain, so you can get back to the fun part of content marketing – creation.
The Content Audit Process
Before you conduct an audit, it’s important to clarify what you’re looking for. The process below will address the steps to take before auditing your content, then we’ll move on to the creation of a useful inventory that you can audit with purpose and keep current.
1. Clarify the quantifiable goals of your business and how you expect content to support those goals
A deep content audit involves reviewing individual pieces of content, deciding how or if they support your goals and what to do with that information. If you have a lot of content, this could take a really long time - to avoid wasting effort, first clarify what you're trying to accomplish, then audit your content through that lens.
For example, imagine your business is planning to expand into a new market. You'll need fresh content to support this initiative. Before you start creating, you could audit your existing content to identify assets you could refresh or re-purpose to suit the needs of the new market.
Once you know what you have to work with, you can be more efficient with your content development efforts.
2. Define your target audience and the content they need at each stage of their buyer’s journey
Content is much more powerful when it’s designed to build a connection between you and a specific buyer persona, so before you audit your content, make sure you're clear on the following:
- Who is your target audience?
- What challenges do they face?
- How can your solution help with those challenges?
- What will they need to learn as they conduct their research and move through the buyer's journey?
Once you have the answers to these questions, deciding what types of content you should have on your website will be much easier. This will empower you to refine the data in your inventory, determine which materials already exist and spot gaps.
3. Identify and prioritize the topics you would like to be known for
You probably already have a general sense of the topics your business should discuss, but when it comes to creating content focus is key.
Identify and prioritize the broad topics you'd like to be known for, then determine the sub-topics you can address to demonstrate the depth of your knowledge.
Start with a simple brainstorm and create a list of the broad topics and sub-topics you wish to cover, then conduct keyword research to clarify the searcher’s intent, the level of competition and to determine if the volume of searches is substantial enough to warrant an investment.
4. Document your plans and confirm alignment with your colleagues
Prepare a document that briefly describes the current state of your content marketing efforts, what you plan to do to support the company’s goals and how you intend to make it happen. This is essentially a content marketing strategy minus a comprehensive editorial calendar.
One of your tactics will be to audit your content from the perspective of how (or if) it will help you accomplish your goals - this will help you to segment your content inventory and focus your auditing effort based on your company initiatives.
Be as realistic and specific as possible. Describe the resources you have at your disposal and set quantifiable goals and timeframes you can reasonably accommodate given your constraints. This will enable you to continue meeting the content demands of your business, while also planning for the future.
Then share your plan with key stakeholders and gather their input to ensure everyone's on the same page. The purpose of this document is to gain alignment on your direction, and avoid misunderstandings before investing time into an auditing effort and fleshing out an editorial calendar.
5. Establish a system for capturing your content inventory and performance data and for keeping it current
Content inventories typically contain a list of content assets, and any useful qualitative or quantitative information related to those assets. Unfortunately, this data often resides in separate systems.
For example, maybe you keep a list of your content assets in a spreadsheet, but your traffic data is in Google Analytics and your keyword position information is in Google Search Console.
Combining this information is a challenge, and it’s often compounded by the fact that the data changes every day, so developing a repeatable system for capturing and updating this data is one way you can make the most of your auditing effort.
There are solutions that can help, but they can be costly, and it’s tough to find one that will meet all of your needs. Many marketers download data from each system and parse it together in a spreadsheet - alternatively, you can use a website crawler, like Screaming Frog, which integrates with Google Analytics and your SEO tool to gather the data into one place.
Whatever method you choose, take the time to think it through so you can create an inventory and keep it up-to-date.
6. Identify critical information that is missing from your inventory
After you've gathered your data it can be tempting to start auditing right away. Resist the urge. You’re not ready.
Downloading data from the various systems is a great start - it can help you see the content you have and how it’s performing. But you’re probably missing the qualitative information that maps the content to your goals, such as:
- Target persona
- Journey stage
- Target keyword
- Focus product
- Action needed
- Action taken
- Next steps
If you already have this information, this is the time to integrate it into your spreadsheet.
Again, thinking this through is tremendously important.
What do you hope to achieve by auditing your content? Perhaps you want to identify blog posts that need to be retired, refreshed or re-purposed. Perhaps you want to cover a specific topic in depth and need to spot gaps. Most likely, you want to achieve both of these things and more.
If the data you need doesn’t exist, build the fields into your inventory so you can fill in the missing data as you audit your content.
7. Establish a prioritization system and start auditing
Now here you are, staring at a spreadsheet full of data and wondering where to start. At this point, go back to the agreed-upon goals from Step 4.
What initiatives do you need to support? Are you planning a website redesign? Launching a new product? Embarking on a seasonal campaign? Or do you simply need to do some housekeeping?
Whatever your goals, let them dictate how you prioritize your auditing effort. For instance, if you feel your website is overloaded with content, you might decide to retire blog posts that are more than five years old, have attracted no traffic in six months and are less than 500 words. Great. Isolate assets that meet the criteria and get to work.
Or, maybe you want to expand your coverage of a broad topic - in this case, you might skim through your titles to flag pieces that address the topic, so you can review them in depth.
The point is, you need to find a way to reduce the content you need to audit into bite-sized chunks, then work your way through them and keep careful notes - so you never need to start from scratch again.
Auditing your content can be daunting, but it’s a great way to build efficiencies into your content operation. If you’re unwilling (or unable) to hit the pause button on your content production activities, consider building the auditing effort into your content strategy, then gain alignment on your goals and break your auditing effort into smaller, more productive tasks. Use what you learn to enrich the data in your content inventory and flesh out your editorial calendar.
There’s rarely just one way to tackle a project of this sort, and this guide isn’t prescriptive - I’m simply sharing what I've learned. If you have another method that works well for you, I'd love to hear your thoughts.