By Benjamin Estes
Say a SaaS company hires you as a content marketer. They’re in the People Operations space, and your mandate is to kickstart their thought leadership program. Your employer has plenty of smart people designing software, and many of them have already written articles in their area of expertise. Some of them have even created microsites—on team building, compensation practices, inclusion, and more. However, you notice that the tone and design of these microsites don’t quite seem to match your brand message.
Your teammates’ expertise makes a thought leadership program possible, but what do you do with the materials they’ve created? What do you do with the materials they’ve created so far? How do you wrangle your existing content, and reconcile it with the content you want to create for this thought leadership platform?
One approach is to begin with a content audit. When it’s essential to understand and align your content to achieve your content strategy, an inventory and evaluation of existing content will give you the information you need to define a way forward and make recommendations on how to proceed.
A content audit is an inventory of content assets that evaluates the quality of that content or measures its effectiveness.
Depending on your goals, a content audit may also include producing additional recommendations or a long-lived index of content.
We’re providing a content audit template that we use as a baseline with our clients. Take a look at it to familiarize yourself. However, a content audit can’t rely on pre-baked metrics. Unlike our technical audit, there is some preparation work you must do before starting the execute this audit. There are two reasons for that:
The idea is that the structure of this sheet is a useful outline for whatever measures you wish to use. To get the most out of it, though, you’ll need to develop custom grading criteria.
What do you need to know to take the next step with your content? That’s the stuff you want to record. Our template comes with a representative set of qualitative and quantitative dimensions to inspire you. Here’s our rationale for including each of the categories in our content audit template:
Some of the data you’re gathering is objective: how many times was this page viewed in the last 30 days? Other observations are subjective. Does the copy match your brand? Does the design? You probably need to record a judgment about these.
It can be paralyzing to evaluate the quality of a document with a single number. With an open-ended question like, “how good is the writing on this page?” we’ve seen analysts take twenty to thirty minutes or more.
Instead, we break our evaluation into pieces so small that grading is trivial. The questions are so simple that it takes only a moment to evaluate them. There is little discretion in giving any specific score, and the 0-4 grading system is reassuringly coarse.
The upshot of all this is consistent scoring, less stress, and a lot of time saved.
The choice of content will depend on your goal. We’re supporting our clients’ digital marketing. So we usually look at what you could think of as their “marketing site”.
If you invest in evergreen content, you might want to include all of it. If you’re a publisher, and your content is ephemeral, you’ll have to make a judgment call on what is helpful to include.
Ultimately, if you have fewer than a thousand pages, you probably have time to look at all of them.
Now that you’ve drafted your grading criteria and know the pages you want to evaluate, it’s time to look at your content. Ideally, you’ll spend two to five minutes per page. If your evaluation criteria are granular enough, you’ll be able to delegate work to your team with confidence. Have at it!
A page with perfect structure, tone-of-voice, and grammar is useless if it’s peppered with spelling errors. The formulas for the top-level scores in the Writing and Design sections of the audit take this into account.
Put into simple English, the formulas mean, “The score is the average of all the other scores unless the page failed on some measure. If it did, the lowest score it got becomes the score for the page.” That guarantees that no page can appear to be outstanding if it has an apparent flaw.
No matter how well you plan, performing an initial content audit is a drag. Even at two to five minutes per page, you’re still likely to spend hours on it. Make your life easier by keeping the evaluation criteria as simple as possible. Paradoxically, the less time you spend thinking about the pages, the more useful your grading will be.
Particularly with the quantitative data sections, it can be tempting to add more and more data. The internet makes an immense amount of information available to us. Surely more data will mean better decisions? Not really!
What kind of decisions will you need to make about your content? What data will help you make those decisions? If you accomplish what you want to, which of these numbers do you anticipate changing? Those are probably the only ones you need to measure.