Content auditing: Helping marketers fight the war against wastage

‘Fun’ isn’t a word we’d use to describe it. But as a hygiene habit for many a content marketer to adopt, content auditing can be a reliable tactic to prevent wastage, bring clarity to strategy and nourish new audiences at a minimal cost.

Imagine you’re the owner of an art gallery. Your collection is fantastic – it’s a beauty to behold. People wander through the halls and corridors all the time to gaze upon that gorgeous watercolour of a numbat, that captivatingly candid portrait of Huey that fascinating sculpture capturing the soul of Campbell’s chicken soup.

Because you’re constantly updating the collection though (as well you should), these masterworks are soon pushed into the dark recesses of the stockroom to gather dust. The artists behind them might have skipped evenings the pub for months to create the work and now it lies forgotten, after but a brief stint on the spotlighted walls.

When marketers don’t audit their content, they are exposing their own works to the same kind of neglect. At the same time, mediocrity has a better chance of creeping in. With 60-70% of content going to waste, the content audit is a method for organisations to separate the wheat from the chaff, take back control of their content program and consolidate their business vision going forward.

What is a content audit?

An audit is a way of delving into the sum content on a website (or websites), methodically recording what’s there and performing a qualitative analysis to define strengths and identify weaknesses. From this, evidence-based recommendations can be made to maximise the value of content for a business and audience.

Now, audits are not the most exciting job to perform. They can be laborious, and demand nit-picking attention to detail. Companies often will outsource the job to ensure a fresh pair of eyes and perhaps save themselves a few hours more happily spent.

Still, for most publishers, it would be unwise to avoid them. For brands launching a new content strategy, or revamping their approach, it’s something we ourselves at Mahlab often recommend for clients as an important first step.

Why bother with one?

The reasons for doing a content audit will differ across organisations according to guiding objectives and desirable outcomes. High on that list will be wanting to ensure their previously produced content is aligned with their content strategy – with the same tone of voice, and matched with the same audience pillars. It’s also a prime opportunity to take stock of what is working well and what isn’t.

Others may feel slightly nauseous at the swamp of outdated products and information that’s been left to stagnate in the back catalogues – an audit being a way to get on top of things, improve user experience, and reduce the number of email complaints. Or, perhaps a company has updated the coding system supporting website design and is anxious to ensure that all existing content is compatible.

Most commonly for content marketers however, the driving goals are to identify:

  • What content can be rebuilt
  • What content can be repurposed
  • What content shouldn’t be there, but is
  • What content should be there, but isn’t

Content auditing to green up your evergreen content

A 2016 report by the Content Marketing Institute found the biggest challenge for Australian marketers was producing enough engaging content. What’s more, a full 84% identified creating even more engaging content as their top priority for this year.

The pressure to produce is staggering, and it’s taking a toll.

Yet for all the effort that goes into creating and polishing content till it gleams like a jewel, all too often these gems are given perhaps a week’s championing on the fast-moving feed, and then abandoned entirely as marketers rush to the next thing (then the next, then the next). The content may occasionally crop up on search engine results pages, but with Google prioritising recent content, it is destined to slide down the list, and – sooner or later – vanish entirely. This is where content auditing shows its worth.

Count the benefits:

  1. As Google considers how recently a web page has been updated as a ranking factor, refreshing content may give a boost in search engine results.
  2. Updated evergreen pieces can be promoted and targeted anew across social media channels. Remember: not all of your audience will have been with you from the beginning of your content journey. In fact, a sizeable proportion may have never come across a significant percentage of previously published content. Re-promotion can therefore mean optimising the return on investment for that content – so long as it is redelivered to the right people, and at the right time and place.
  3. Content audits put marketers in touch with their full inventory of content. This means you have a stack of quality resources ready at hand to use as sales enablement assets, or to swiftly present in direct exchanges to interested customers or prospective clients.
  4. Content audits can save money. Lots of it. After Contently guided Canadian insurance company Manulife through a content audit, the company shifted from “accessing existing assets rather than always developing them from scratch.” As a result, the company saved $1.2 million.

And now, the ‘how’

The precise methodology will depend, as mentioned above, on your unique business goals. It usually begins however with a spreadsheet. It will always include URL and the page name/headline. It may also include a lot more, not limited to:

  1. Headline length
  2. Meta description
  3. Meta description length
  4. Word count
  5. Author
  6. Originating department
  7. Author
  8. Current categorisation
  9. SEO keywords
  10. SEO performance
  11. Style
  12. Audience
  13. Purpose
  14. Stage of funnel
  15. Content pillar
  16. Promotion details
  17. Call-to-action
  18. Key performance indicators/statistics (e.g. bounce rate, time on page, on-page conversions)
  19. Number of backlinks
  20. Quality of backlinks (i.e. domain authority and/or page authority)
  21. Key insights

Fortunately, you don’t need to wade into the weeds of your website and fill in every column one by one. There are a couple of industry trusted tools to help you quickly and efficiently compile URLs and their associated key metrics. Here are five:

It is likely, however, that some columns will require manual filling. Sorry about that. This is one area where Artificial Intelligence isn’t quite where we’d like it to be.

After you have finished, treat yourself to a self-congratulatory pie of some kind. Then sort everything into three piles:

  1. Stuff that isn’t worth repurposing, and should either be removed or left as is
  2. Stuff that can be immediately repurposed
  3. Stuff that can be repurposed, but only after some elbow grease is applied

Slide (2) into your content calendar. And get to work on (3).

Content auditing is never going to be a riot. But the method is proven solid in giving your content assets the longevity, your strategy the strength, your content producers the relief and your audience the value that all of them deserve.

Articles you may also be interested in:
What does a winning editorial calendar look like?
Experimenting with new content: take risks, carefully

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About the Author

Job Title: Group Managing Editor

About James Chalmers: James is the Group Managing Editor at Mahlab. With a background in journalism, he has helped lift the content marketing game of universities, associations and myriad more organisations besides. If he had his own way, he would do all business from his bike – even after it catapaulted him over its handles last year and planted his face in the road. To the distress of his colleagues at conferences, he does not have a Twitter account.

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