The Basics of Auditing Content (Part 2)
By Paula Land | March 12, 2015
If we want to treat our content as a business asset, we must be able to measure its business value. Just as we evaluate any business asset against a set of standards for quality and effectiveness, we can apply a similar process to content.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one, “The Business Value of the Content Audit,” here.
Establishing the Standards
The content audit process involves assessing against the guidelines and objectives set by the business. In my previous post, I discussed how those objectives might align with how the organization measures value—brand loyalty, sales, internal efficiencies, and so on.
Before beginning a content audit, it’s important to know what those values are—what business objectives and user needs the content is intended to support. These values can be gathered in several ways, often beginning with stakeholder interviews. Stakeholder interviews involve speaking with the people who own, create and manage the content to gather their perspectives on what is working, what isn’t and what the ideal state is. By its nature, this kind of feedback tends to be subjective and contextual, so it should be supplemented with any hard data that is available.
If the organization has established metrics for performance (for example, direct sales or lead generation), then knowing what those metrics are, how and why they were established, and how they are measured will be valuable to the audit. Gathering other available website data, such as page views, time on page and bounce rate can help measure user interaction as well.
Other ways to understand the business objectives and user needs are to review customer personas, customer journey maps, and brand and style guidelines. Research-based customer personas and journey maps help you immerse yourself in who your customers are and what their ideal interaction with your content should be. Brand and style guidelines detail how content should be written and presented.
Finally, gather any direct customer data—feedback, reviews and ratings, social comments and shares—any interaction that illustrates engagement, whether positive or negative.
Conducting the Audit
Once you have all of the data and guidelines at hand and have immersed yourself in the business context, you have a background in the why and the what—why do we have this content and what should it do for us? Now you can assess the how—how well is it performing against our standards?
Starting with the data gathered in your content inventory, begin by determining what you will audit. If your time and resources are limited, you may need to scope your audit to a subset of your content. Depending on your business objective for doing the audit and where you believe your biggest issues may be, you might decide to take a horizontal or a vertical cut. Going horizontal (i.e., looking at the top two or three levels of content) might be the best choice if you are auditing for brand and style adherence.
You might also use the analytics data to find the least effective 10-20 percent of content from a user engagement perspective and tackle that first. If sales is a business objective, go vertical (i.e., following the customer’s journey through the website from product location and evaluation, to purchase). When you’ve established your scope, you can simply start going through your inventory and adding your qualitative assessment.
Every audit is unique, because it needs to reflect the business goals and the available data. A typical audit, however, generally includes identifying the business owner (so you know who to ask for review and decisions about the content), indicating which persona or customer segment a piece of content is intended for (so you can map it to the customer journey), and, based on your reading of the content against the standards you’ve set, a determination of whether the content should be kept as-is, revised or removed altogether.
The Ongoing Audit
Leaving content untended creates risk—risk that customers will fail to engage, that brand image is tarnished, or even that inaccurate, outdated information might create legal problems.
Conducting a thorough, useful content inventory and audit takes time and resources, particularly if done infrequently or in response to an urgent need. But there is tangible business value in carefully managing content as a business asset. If you can create a regular process for ongoing audit and continual content improvement, you will make the audit task less daunting and maintain a steady level of consistency and quality. Your customers’ improved experience and engagement will prove your return on content investment.