Functional content, on-site content, static content or whatever term you prefer to use, is the lifeblood of any brand’s digital presence.

It plays a crucial role in search visibility, guides users through the customer journey and reflects your brand personality. But it is all too often neglected and left untouched.

One of the reasons for this are two dreaded words; “content” and “audit”.

Existing content

When it comes to investment in content marketing, it isn’t a huge surprise that much of it goes on producing new content, new material and new campaigns.

Plenty of marketers will talk at length about how much content they are producing, how packed their editorial calendars are and how they are preparing to launch their “next big campaign”, but what about the content that they already have?

Content marketers are focused so heavily on producing new content that meets the evolving needs of both their audiences and the expectations of search engines, that they are neglecting to ensure that their existing content does likewise. 

A daunting prospect

The phrase “content audit” conjures up many feelings, and few of them positive. 

For many, it is a laborious process that involves hours upon hours, days upon days or even weeks upon weeks of manual review, fiddling around in analytics, and identifying gaps in coverage. It’s not, for many, the most enthralling responsibility in the job description.

Even if you do manage to conduct a thorough audit, it can often be difficult to force through changes on key brand pages due to the influence of various stakeholders, compliance issues and various other obstacles.

Many also find the results and impact of a content audit difficult to measure, and so decide to focus their efforts elsewhere.

But content auditing is something that needs to be a prominent and regular part of not only your content marketing strategy, but your wider digital marketing strategy.

Just think about how many search algorithm updates that there may have been, how many new devices have been launched and how many new media platforms have emerged since you last reviewed your content – that could be quite a sobering realisation. 

The case for a content audit

The ultimate purpose of any content audit is to understand how your content is performing, how it is delivering for your customers and what value it is providing. 

There are plenty of both tangible and intangible measurements for successful content, but this doesn’t necessarily confirm that content is useful, relevant or could be considered ‘quality’ by most reasonable measures.

You could, for instance, use social shares as a measurement of quality content but, in doing so, it’s likely that you’ll reach conclusions that, whilst they may drive engagement, don’t necessarily drive a commercial return. Providing content that your audiences will engage with is undoubtedly a starting point but, and I hate to break this to you, human beings may not always be the best judges of quality.

What your content audit is ultimately about is ensuring that every piece of content on your site is making some form of contribution to improving conversion rates, search visibility, user experience, and relevance.

Get it right and you could even start stealing that prized Google Knowledge Graph real estate. 

The manual approach

If you’re in a position where you are managing a relatively small site with a handful of pages, then manual content auditing might not be such a hardship.

Starting with your URL and keywords, you can start to build a picture of where your brand ranks for these key terms, which pages consistently rank for those key terms, and how your competitors perform. 

It is then down to you to make a human assessment of each of these pages, and you can look at multiple factors to judge how well optimised your pages are for search, and how they contribute to the user journey. These factors could include URL optimisation, title tags, meta description, ‘H-tag’ optimisation and hierarchy, keyword coverage and word count.

You can then add layers of insight from Google Analytics, social monitoring tools and start to understand how these pages contribute to the customer search journey.

Are there pages that are haemorrhaging traffic through unusually high exit rates? If so, this page might not adequately serve the customer search query. 

With only this very top-level and basic approach to content, you can already start to understand just how much time that you're going to have to spend with your head in an Excel spreadsheet, and why many marketers are reluctant to run a manual content audit at any sort of scale.

A scientific approach

But content auditing doesn’t have to be such a daunting prospect, and it is possible to take a more scientific, algorithmic approach to content auditing.

At Stickyeyes we use SCOT (Stickyeyes Content Optimisation Tool), to look at content in the same way that a search engine may look at it, and identify key areas of success and areas for improvement. In short, addressing that critical first hurdle – where to start.

The factors we consider include technical elements, such as keyword coverage, meta data and the use of header tags, as well as engagement factors for which there is evidence of a correlation with higher search rankings – factors such as bounce rate, time on page, social engagement and brand awareness for example.

For those with sizable websites, this kind of process can be invaluable in understanding just where to focus effort and resource. Here is just one example of a typical output for a printing brand that we ran through the tool. 

What we can see clearly is that whilst the brand in this example does have some strong content optimisation scores, in excess of 85%, there are a number of revenue-driving keywords for which the domain scores poorly – notably “cheap leaflet printing”, “cheap flyers”, and “cheap flyer printing”.

Evidently, this brand has struggled to provide content for search terms with a “cheap” prefix and this therefore provides some direction for their content review.

Of course, it may be that the brand sees itself as a quality brand and therefore may not want to specifically target search terms such as “cheap” and “low cost”, but the level of insight provided allows the brand to make that decision.

Identifying the quick wins

Of course, any content appraisal and audit needs to have a degree of human intervention, but what this algorithmic approach does is allow us to automate large parts of the process and using this insight, content managers can start to make some key decisions and prioritise their actions. 

There are, in this example, a number of pages that score highly and, with a few minor tweaks, can potentially drive further value. These are what we would classify as “quick wins”. 

Of course, it isn’t simply enough to throw a few keyword-heavy paragraphs into the page in the hope that Google will deem that to be more relevant, but we can now start considering how we can enhance the user experience for these pages and these terms.

It may be that we create specific content for these terms, we may change the site structure to make our existing pages more prominent, or we may actually decide to remove certain pages to focus traffic on more valuable pages.

What we are essentially trying to do is enhance the user journey rather than hinder it; and there are different ways to do that depending on the circumstances. 

This process makes it easier to run audits on a more regular basis, allowing you to monitor the success of any changes that you do make, understand the contribution that your new content is making and identify the next key actions for your optimisation strategy. If something appears to be having an adverse effect, this can be identified and rectified very quickly. 

The impact on search

We have been using this approach for a number of brands and what we have found is that as we continually work on improving our content scores within SCOT, we have experienced increased visibility within organic search. 

Of course, what we can’t do is isolate the impact of these content amendments from the various other elements of activity that may have been undertaken to improve search performance, but there is evidence of a strong correlation between the quality of on-page content and search rankings. 

And it is important to stress that whilst we may be looking to introduce an algorithmic approach to content auditing, this shouldn’t be mistaken as an algorithmic approach towards content creation.

What we are trying to do here is to ensure that our content strategies plug key gaps in what our audiences are looking for, but this shouldn’t turn content creation and optimisation into little more than a box ticking exercise. 

What matters above all else is that your brand is still providing value to the end user and delivering the best possible experience. Adding a layer of technical competence helps to deliver that user experience, but is also valued by search engines as they look to deliver the most relevant results. 

Try the latest version of SCOT for free.

Michael Hewitt

Published 19 July, 2016 by Michael Hewitt

Michael Hewitt is Content Marketing Manager at Stickyeyes and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Michael on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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