It’s no secret that in recent times, greater emphasis is being placed on establishing better return on investment (ROI) on marketing activity. And in the digital world, it’s never been easier, in theory, to measure the results of our activities. Why then when we ask the question ‘What were your results on this?, do we get answers like, ‘I’ve asked for that report and I’m still waiting on it. It’s been 2 months!! XXX can you call YYY and check? Or worse, ‘We don’t handle the metrics’.
Well, if your department comes in last in the race-for-budgets, or if you’re being asked to establish the ROI of your activities or function, then you’re going to need to get intimately acquainted with your metrics. And while it’s hard in larger organizations to cut the silos and gain access to ‘all the data’, all the data is not what you need.
What you need, instead, is a plan. And a good plan to establish ROI of any kind begins with a content audit.
What is a content audit?
At its simplest, it’s the somewhat structured act of taking all, or a subset of, your content and analyzing its performance.
To determine if each piece of content works as it should, needs to stay, move, get updated, be deleted, be brought together with other pieces of content, link to other pieces…
As digital marketing consultants with writing in our DNA, one thing we do everyday, and have learned to execute systematically at any size, is relevant content audits. Along the way, we’ve learned many lessons on what makes for a successful audit; and how to use it. If we had to summarize some of that into ‘5 secrets’, it would be these:
Secret 1 – One size of ‘content audit’ does not fit all.
Know your goal – why are you doing this? Are you doing an audit because you want topline ideas of where things are at? Is it a much-needed refresh of your last content audit circa 1654? Or have you received a bunch of reports about broken links and videos that won’t play? The way you’d approach an initiative to tactically clean up content is quite different than an audit approach that serves the goal of ensuring the portfolio is pruned for better conversion.
Secret 2 – Find the right people to read your content.
To get a proper audit of anything, you need, before anything else, eyeballs that can read. The more opinions the better when it comes to assessing what’s wrong with the content and what could make it better. This is a job you want a research-driven member of your team leading. This audit team could be one person, or a few people (with one leader, depending on the magnitude of the task at hand) who demonstrate meticulousness, diligence and a keen understanding of what your content is supposed to be doing. If your bandwidth is stretched and stress levels high as a team, we recommend you look outside to supplement manpower for content audits. The biggest benefit to outsourcing content audits is that you bring fresh eyes to the table.
Secret 3 – The technology you choose to document the auditing matters.
Normally we’re at the front of the line, advocating for as few specialist tools as possible to run your processes. But there are some times when ‘just a spreadsheet’ listing your company’s properties won’t do, and doing a large scale audit is one of them. If you are auditing tons of content, you need a tool!
If we had to quantify, we’d say any audit involving over 100 pieces is best handled on a system where they can be categorized and viewed in real time by multiple stakeholders.
One approach we’ve used (and loved; yassss! the geek will inherit the earth) is the virtual Kanban method using project management software like Trello (no affiliation, it’s just a tool that’s worked for us).
Kanban is a visual workflow management process that was developed by engineers in Japan for Toyota in the 1940s. It is a philosophy of LEAN production that involves creating things just-in-time, keeping it efficient, and reducing waste of all types of resources. Today, the Kanban method is used in project management, particularly within technology. It is 1 of 2 streams of agile project management used in a lot of software development.
A Kanban board, at its most basic, it a white/blackboard that is organized in 3 columns. ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’. You take a finite list of tasks, write each one on a separate sticky note and put them all in the first column. As you get started on each one, move that note to the ‘doing’ column. And as you finish it, move it to the ‘done’ column. It’s called flow. Things flow from one phase to the next, and through to completion.
It can, and does, get much much more complex in phases and number of items as a project needs, but the principle remains the same. When team members are involved, there is a daily 15-minute stand up with all team members. (This sounds painful to the uninitiated, we know; it really isn’t. Once you’re into it, you become cult-like in your devotion to it. It really clears things out quickly, provides full transparency and builds a great team culture)
Trello is our tool of choice. It’s not only intuitive and easy to use, it also allows a great deal of customization, including the ability to add information in various formats, put in lists, assign tasks to team members, and a lot more. It’s got a good search feature across boards that is particularly helpful. And perhaps most important, it allows for silliness like stickers and colouring of things:). A potential downside is that it was built with small businesses in mind, so it can get pricey if there’s many users and a lot of integration to other software needed. Also, it doesn’t automatically convert things to a Gantt chart (because deadlines would be considered the antithesis of the flow philosophy of continuous improvement that kanban subscribes to). And Gantts are often necessary when we’re summoned to hallowed offices of various definitions to report on goings-on. It can with some integration though.
(We’ve got lots more on that entire point. If you want in, drop your name here for ‘The Definitive Guide to using the Kanban method to audit your content’. The whitepaper will be ready at the end of May.)
Secret 4 – Have a baseline for where you started.
We’ve been told for generations to measure before and after. It’s a simple formula!
After – Before = Improvement
When you start with a baseline, it gives you everything you’ll ever need to prove ROI. So along with goals, be sure to articulate the current state. Here are some possible metrics:
- Overall content performance by content type (how-tos, opinion pieces, videos, podcasts, native social, etc) and how this contributes to your overall strategy
- What content performs well over time
- Successful content topics
- Marketing attrition, to determine how content (whether a campaign, topic or type of content) contributes to sourced and attributed revenue
- Time spent on social/page/topic
Secret 5 – Make an action list.
An audit doesn’t count unless you use it for improvement. At the very least, prepare to fix errors. Broken links, outdated information, and old formats have no space in modern digital experience. Fix those and hold yourself to a higher standard.
Then take it to the next level of improvement. Evaluate the formats used and see what works. It’s not enough to have a list of content, some metrics and an idea of formats you should be using. You need your audit team to dive deep to see if all opportunities within the company’s bios are being fully utilized. Are the opportunity for visuals being fully utilized? Are you tagging and optimizing? Are you automating as intelligently as possible for efficiency? Are you ruthlessly cutting, and repurposing for best distribution as the case demands?
Those are our 5 secrets to conducting a flawless content audit. If you’d like to read more about how we worked with Mackenzie Investments to update, centralize and automate their advisor content library, go here.