Why you should learn to love content audits

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Content inventory and audit. Did your heart just skip a beat?

You’re not alone.

Most marketers aren’t fans of them either, because they don’t know what an inventory and audit is, or how it benefits their company. Sure, they’re “important” and something everyone “should” do, but no one wants to put the effort into it. We’d all prefer to put our heads down and keep churning out the same content we’ve been producing up to now. It’s the path of least resistance.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let’s turn that negativity into something positive. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll love your next content inventory and audit, at least you won’t dread it like you do now.

Let’s start at the very beginning

With a few definitions, that is. By clarifying what I mean by the terms “inventory” and “audit,” hopefully you’ll begin to feel less stressed about the entire process.

  • Content refers to everything you publish, both on- and off- line, such as web pages, blog posts, infographics, PDFs, photos, whitepapers, case studies, and any leave-behind assets like brochures and one-pagers.
  • A content inventory is a list of the content you produce for every part of your business, organized in whatever way works best for you. For example, you may classify it by categories like published, unpublished, archived; online/offline; and so on.
  • A content audit is the process of gathering published content assets and data about those assets into a comprehensive list for future analysis. It’s not just a matter of creating a giant list, but rather, gathering the right information about what you need to make decisions on the content you have.

The sweet words management needs to hear

Because content inventories and audits take a lot of time and resources away from existing work, many marketers just aren’t able to do them as often as they want, or should. This is why getting management buy-in for it is key. Management always likes to see numbers about any project, whether it’s the amount of sales it’ll generate, or the number of resource hours it’ll save.

Start with the notion that inventories and audits will give everyone a “baseline” for how the marketing content is working. Then layer that on to how it’ll affect and be affected by business objectives and strategies. Finish it off with a dash of processes and procedures, and a side of future time savings.

If those sweet words and numbers don’t change their minds, then how about these mythbusting realities?

Dispelling myths about content inventories and audits

One of the reasons marketers hate content inventories is the idea of having to count and catalogue all of the content they produce. They have visions of a giant spreadsheet so unmanageable that it’s out of date almost as soon as it’s finished.

Management hates the idea of the time and resources being pulled away for this “simple” activity, so they almost never approve the hiring of extra resources to help out.

Ready to bust through these myths?

Myth: A content inventory is just a list of assets.

Reality: It might start as just a list, but it certainly doesn’t end with the list. It really is just the start of the entire process. Think of it as discovering the “what” of your marketing. What kind of content are you producing and how many? It’s the audit that pulls the inventory together, leading to tactical plans your marketing team can take to improve the content and address any issues they discovered.

As Paul Roetzer of PR 20/20 said at Content Marketing World, “Data without analysis is simply noise.”

Myth: A content inventory and audit is something you only ever have to do once.

Reality: In an ideal world we’d do them on a regular basis, yet that’s not always possible. Your team may be pressed for time and can’t look at and analyze every piece of content.

So why not schedule different levels of audits at different times of the year? Do the deep dive audits during the slow periods, and shallower ones when you’re busier. It’s the regular analysis of your content that’ll show you where to improve, what to change, and what to leave as-is going forward.

Myth: Only the copywriters and content strategist need to be involved in inventories and audits

Reality: Getting everyone involved in the entire process has a number of advantages: You can get through more content because you’ve got more help; you get a more comprehensive view of all your content; and you encourage organizational buy-in. So enlist the help of your content strategists, and bring in the writers, managers, SEO specialists, support agents, and whoever else plays a role in creating and managing the content.

They’ll appreciate the stake you’re giving them in the content outcome.

Myth: Publishing new content is more important than evaluating existing content.

Reality: Yes, you’ve invested in your current content, but it’s the audit that tells you whether it’s working for your business. You’ll see if it’s bringing in traffic to your site, converting leads into customers, or is too expensive to produce. It’s always easier to tweak or revise existing content than create it.

Myth: We only need to inventory and audit when business is bad

Reality: An inventory and audit when a significant business issue arises (like a drop in sales or an increase in support calls), but they should also be done whenever new projects or initiatives are being planned. Large business changes can have both positive and negative effects, and inventories and audits will help marketers deal with both. After all, not having anything ready in the good times is just as bad as letting things slide in the bad, right?

Myth: Inventories and audits only ever point out the bad in our marketing strategies

Reality: Taking stock of where your marketing content is can lead to interesting insights about your marketing. When Buffer did an audit of their blog, they found that posts longer than 2,500 words were shared more than the shorter posts. The folks at Buffer could’ve taken the news that they were “wasting” their time on the shorter posts, but instead, they chose to look at the fact that the effort and resources they put in to the longer posts was paying off. You should do the same.

Now that we’ve explored what inventories and audits are, let’s look at some of the tools you can use to do them.

Content inventory and audit tools

These tools are split into two groups: automated and manual tools.

Automated tools

These are the automated tools that’ll do an inventory and audit for you. They’re not all free, yet if you’re still wary about doing them, or if you have a LOT of content to sort through, they may be a good option for you.

Content Insight: Their Content Audit Tool (CAT) inventories online content for you, integrates with Google Analytics to help you draw insights from it, and lets you create custom filters, columns, and tags to further audit the content.

Blaze Content: This tool performs an online inventory and audit, giving you strategic insight into your content based on filters and metrics customized for your business.

Kapost’s Content Auditor: The Content Auditor is a free tool that is pretty comprehensive and robust for being free. It does a lot of the same things tool the paid ones do.

The biggest thing to note is that a lot of these tools only deal with content stored on your website, so if you have content elsewhere, like on shared drives or in collaboration tools like Confluence or SharePoint, they may not pick them up.

These tools often will do the analysis of the content as well, providing you with recommendations and reports you can use to plan out your future work. Fix any issues, plan more content for the formats that are working well for you, and identify content and resource gaps you’ll need to bring up to management.

Manual tools

This list contains the manual content inventory and audit tools, which you have to use in combination with each other to reap the full benefits. The process is much more manual than the automated tools, but as I mentioned earlier, once you set it all up, it’ll be easier to do in future inventories and audits.

Plus it tends to be more comprehensive as you’ll be able to add in the offline/non-website content more easily.

  • Screaming Frog: A website index spider that’ll find all the pages and content on your website.
  • Shared Count: A social analytics tool to help track website shares, likes, tweets, and more.
  • Google Analytics: A free service to track your website. Check out the All Pages report under Site Content to see the data for all your pages/content on your site.

These three free tools will give you the data you need to inventory your site. Use any other internal tool your business may have to gather data about the content available away from your website. For example, SharePoint has reporting functionality you can use to create reports about any documents you’ve posted on a repository.

The human element

Now comes the hard part: adding the human element. At some point someone’s going to have to sit down and plow through a list hundreds of lines long, copying and pasting information from a report to a spreadsheet, but there’s just no way around it. Likewise for the audit portion of the process. A true audit requires human intervention and interpretation, as each business is different.

But like I mentioned earlier, that’s why you got organizational buy-in; you can spread the work among more people, getting it done more quickly.

For more information on the exact steps you can take with these tools, check out this post from Buffer and this one from QuickSprout.

Show your content some love

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now that you know more about inventories and audits, they shouldn’t seem as scary as they used to. Yes, they’re a lot of work, but the investment is worth it.

You’ll now be able to confidently say which content is prompting people to engage with your brand, which leads them to buy, and which keeps them loyal to your business. Or in the paraphrased words of The Simpson’s Ralph Wiggum, you’ll know which content makes people “choo-choo-choose” you.

You’ll finally take control of your content, understand its strengths and weaknesses, and make smarter use of your existing content and the resources that produce them.

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons

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Julia Borgini

Julia Borgini

Julia Borgini is a technology writer, copywriter and consultant for B2B technology companies. She helps them connect with people and grow their business with helpful content and copy. Visit her website to see who she’s helping today: www.spacebarpress.com