If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you don’t have a content strategy. An effective, efficient content strategy really just comes down to just two elements: Every piece of content on your organization’s website should have a job to do. And success means finding that sweet spot where content meets your users’ needs as well as your business needs.
Once you feel somewhat confident you know what your users’ needs are, and your organization has clearly defined business goals, you’re ready to take the first step toward developing a content strategy. It’s time for an audit.
Fear not. A content audit is more like cleaning out a long-neglected closet than facing green-eyeshade enforcers from the IRS. A content audit should help you answer the following core questions:
- How much content does your organization have across its publishing landscape? Is there more, or less, in some categories than you expected?
- Which business goals and user needs are served the most and least?
- How much content is out of date or inaccurate?
- What content do you want to keep, or leave behind?
- What content needs to be rewritten?
Your audit should include not just the content on your website or in your blogs, but also your email newsletters and any customer-facing information from your affiliated websites (such as e-commerce, webinars, YouTube, conferences) and social media.
Quantity and quality
As authors Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach put it in their useful e-book “Content Strategy for the Web” (2012, Pearson Education), a content audit can be viewed in four categories: Substance, Structure, Workflow and Governance.
Substance refers to the quantity and quality of the content you’ve published. Structure refers to how well your content is categorized, or indexed (by keywords or a more formal taxonomy of topics and subtopics). Using your website’s analytics, the quantitative part of the audit should answer the following questions:
- How many items do you have for each source?
- What are the most popular content types (blog item, article, video, photo slideshow, etc.) for each source?
- How many items are there under each topic/subtopic? How many are not indexed, but should be?
- How do your pages fare with search-engine optimization (SEO)? There are free tools available online to help you assess this, such as SEO Quake and Moz.com.
- What are the most popular referrals by item count?
- Which categories of items most often result in users staying on/leaving the site (bounce rate)?
The qualitative part of your audit is more difficult, but also more fun and revealing. Here is where you get to apply some judgment, by ranking your content according to some key attributes. You can decide what those are, but some common attributes include:
- How usable is the item? Does the link work; is the page buggy? Are the paragraphs too long or too short? Is it written well, in the voice and style you want to best reflect your brand? Does it meet a valid user need, as well as a business need? (If not, toss it.)
- Can you find it easily? How would a user find the item in your navigation, site search or third-party search?
- Is it timely? When was it last updated? Is the information still relevant today?
- Most importantly: Is there a call to action, something that would cause the user to take the next step in consuming your products or services?
The qualitative survey should help you answer the ultimate questions of what content to keep, what needs to be rewritten and what to remove from your site. You’ll also be able to assess what items need to be improved so they are part of an intentional customer journey, targeted to a specific user need, that results in an action.
Workflow and governance
The other two aspects of your audit involve how you publish and market your content. Look at your workflow — the steps you and your team take to conceive, create, produce and publish a piece of content. Are there ways to improve your workflow to improve quality and gain efficiencies?
Finally, consider questions of governance: Who makes the decision on what and when to publish (and how many get to make that decision)? Do you have a shared calendar that dictates when emails are sent and content is published? Who enforces writing quality, voice and branding guidelines?
Once you’ve answered these questions, congratulations: You’ve survived your audit, even if much of your content likely did not. You now have a kind of baseline MRI of your entire content publishing and marketing operation. From there, you can develop your content strategy, knowing better the steps you need to take to make your content work smarter for your organization.