Content audit: what is it and why do you need one?

Considering a content audit? Tale’s David Landes walks you through some of the questions to ask before you get started.

If you’re reading this, you probably already believe in the power of content. However, if you’re like most of us at Tale, you probably also believe that, no matter how well you think you’re doing, you can probably do better.

This means posing difficult questions such as: am I allocating my resources in the most effective way? Do I have the right mix of channels? Am I reaching the right audience?

In other words: am I doing it right?

A bit of self-doubt can be a healthy thing, especially in the ever-changing and fast-moving world of content. But how to channel that nagging feeling into something constructive rather than let it drag you down?

A good place to start figuring out what else you need to do is to stop and take stock of what you’re doing now. And in the world of content, that means carrying out a content audit.

What is a content audit?

Simply put, a content audit is a channel-by-channel review of all your content production and distribution over a specified period of time. It involves examining the content itself (text, video, audio) as well as the channels on which it appears (website, social media, etc.).

It also involves both quantitative and qualitative analysis. You need to dig into the numbers in Google Analytics or Facebook Insights. You also need to read articles. Watch videos. And scroll through your social media posts to better understand the links between content and performance.

In addition, a content audit involves looking at the audience. Who ultimately consumed or interacted with your content? Did it reach enough people? Did it reach the right people?

Sure, it can sound like a lot of work – and it is – but the methodology isn’t too complicated. And the investment can pay dividends over the long run.

Why do I need a content audit?

A content audit is useful for several reasons. First, it ensures you actually know what you are doing, content-wise. Second, it helps you assess the value of what you are doing. And third, a content audit makes it easier for you to then prioritize (and when necessary reallocate) your content resources more effectively.

It may seem strange to think that the communications or marketing department doesn’t already know what’s going on content-wise. But you’d be surprised how quickly content marketing efforts can morph into rather unwieldy beasts. And depending on the size of your organization and how it’s set up, it’s quite possible there are content projects out there you weren’t aware of.

A newsletter from a sales rep to an exclusive group of customers. A Facebook page for a business division based in a different location. Blog posts from a former VP that still generate organic search traffic, but are hidden from the visitors to the website. And what about that YouTube channel your predecessor launched but has languished for the last six months? Above all, the audit process helps you get your arms around everything and understand all the different content tools currently being used.

What can I learn through an audit?

Furthermore, having a better understanding of the various content tools you are using helps you assess the value of what you are doing. Many organizations invested heavily in content operations in the last decade as part of broader digitization efforts. In doing so, many then fell into the trap of producing content for content’s sake. (You gotta feed the beast, right?)

Others found themselves chasing their audience from one platform to the next. Or launching one channel after another without really stopping to think through why. Or understanding the effort involved in managing it all. Add to that the ever-changing digital media landscape, and it’s easy to see how many organizations are left scratching their heads when trying to understand the business value of all that content.

But through a structured content audit that looks at each initiative and the corresponding results, it’s possible to see more clearly how (or even if) those results create business value. The audit may reveal, for example, that your most popular content is actually delivering the wrong sort of traffic. Or that LinkedIn posts linking to product pages have more engagement than those linking to thought leadership content.

It’s insights like these that lead to the third way in which a content audit is useful: it helps you prioritize resources and make decisions about what sort of content you should be producing and where.

What sort of questions does a content audit help answer?

In addition, it’s helpful to review exactly what you already know and what you’d like to know. Deciding on a set of questions can be a simple way to structure an audit process to ensure it’s both manageable and useful. After all, you want actionable insights, not just another report that gathers dust (or clogs up your desktop).

The exact mix of questions you use to structure your audit can vary. But I recommend starting with a few basic ones that should be included in any audit:

  • What (type of) content am I producing?
  • What channels am I using?
  • Who is my content reaching?
  • Which content is most/least popular?
  • Which content is most/least valuable?
  • Is my content reaching the right audience?
  • Are there anomalies or trends in the data?

In addition to these questions, you may want to consider others that help reveal deeper insights related to a specific channel or audience segment. When looking specifically at your website, for example, you may want to ask the following:

  • Which pages are attracting the most traffic?
  • From which sources/sites is most of my traffic coming?
  • How do my pages rank for important search terms?

And of course, it never hurts to use my old journalism trick: for every answer to the questions above, follow up with: why is that?

When should I perform an audit?

It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but in general, there is never a “wrong” time to carry out a content audit. However, there are a couple of situations where performing a content audit really makes sense

  1. A change in leadership: for an incoming head of marketing or communications, a content audit is a great way to start off your tenure. Or if a new CEO has arrived and wants to take the company in a new direction. A content audit can help connect past efforts to future ambitions and reveal opportunities for innovation and new directions.
  2. Before a new content strategy: the sort of insights revealed through the content audit process can serve as valuable inputs for developing a content strategy. They help provide a picture of the current situation as well as clues about what needs to happen moving forward.
  3. Anytime you need to hit the reset-button: even if things seem to be humming along, an internal factor like new leadership or an external factor like new regulations can be cause for a rethink. A content audit allows you to take a step back, take stock of all your content, and analyze it in light of the new situation. You may not end up changing anything, but the exercise can help you and your team move forward, confident that your efforts are in tune with current conditions.

While content audits are ideally suited to the above situations, organizations may also want to look at adopting an approach that mirrors standard corporate reporting. Building in annual, quarterly, or even monthly content audits is a smart way to protect against your content efforts from ever morphing into that unwieldy beast we mentioned above.

How can I be better at carrying out content audits?

As they say, practice makes perfect: the more often you carry out a content audit, the better (and easier) they will be. Eventually, you’ll be able to implement procedures that integrate recurring content audits into your regular workflow. You’ll become savvier at analyzing data and keeping your “ear to the ground” in terms of what’s working and what’s not — and be able to make adjustments along the way.

And “listening” – as my colleague Johan Bratt points out – is a huge part of content marketing. We need to stay tuned in to understand which messages and stories spark the most engagement from our audience. In this context, how our audience reacts to different types of content becomes a window through which we can gain a better understanding of our audience – and have numbers to back it up.

Thanks to the shift toward more digital (and measurable) communications, we have the ability to “listen” all the time. A Google Data Studio dashboard, for example, provides an ongoing, real-time view of how your audience is interacting with your content. It’s possible to see trends as they emerge, rather than after the fact. This means you can make changes on the fly and incrementally – and in response to real data – rather than based on a gut feeling or focus group.

Eventually, you won’t need to make a decision as to whether or when to carry out a content audit. Rather, once your communications operation is fully digitized, an “always-on” content audit function will be a part of your regular operations.

But if you’re not there yet, don’t worry. You’ll get there eventually. After all, they say the journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step.

And that first step should definitely be a content audit.

If you want to learn more about how a content audit can help your communication, reach out to david.landes@talecontent.se.