Content marketing is one of the most effective methods for improving authority within your niche, establishing a loyal following, boosting website traffic, and acquiring new customers.
While it requires a consistent upload of new content over a period of months (or even years) in order to be successful, the reward of content marketing is so great that business owners and marketers are prepared to make this commitment. In a 2016 study, 60% of marketers stated that publishing blog posts was a priority for them.
Content marketing is particularly useful for attracting new visitors to your site, without the need for paid advertising. In a 2015 study about blogging frequency, companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got nearly 3.5X more traffic than companies that published 0-4 posts per month.
While inexperienced marketers use the ineffective ‘Publish and Pray’ approach to content creation, those with more experience create content in accordance with a predesigned strategy and evaluate their results meticulously.
If you aren’t auditing your content marketing efforts, then you will never fully understand what is working and what isn’t. As the age-old business adage states: “What gets measured gets managed.”
By successfully auditing your content, you can stop wasting your efforts on things that don’t produce results and put your energy into avenues that will drive your business forward, as verified by the data. A data-driven approach (both quantitative and qualitative) is essential if you’re serious about taking your content marketing to the next level.
If you’re going to perform a content audit, it’s important that you do things correctly. Many companies make vital mistakes during their auditing process which ultimately results in lessons not being learned and ineffective practices being carried on in the future.
Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when performing a content audit.
Poorly Defined Content Strategy
Before moving onto the audit itself, a content strategy should be in place. If you don’t have a content strategy with clearly defined goals, then auditing your content will be an exercise in futility.
In a 2014 study, only 44% of B2B content marketers stated they had a documented content strategy.
Ultimately, a content strategy should be designed to improve the long-term profitability of the company. This is achieved by delivering high-quality content to a targeted audience on a regular basis, which improves niche authority, brand awareness, website SEO, and eventually turns returning readers into paying customers.
If you have a clear vision of what a successfully executed content strategy will look like (with definitive metrics to back it up), planning your blog posts becomes a lot easier — as does auditing them.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a strategy, typically you will want to define your core goals, messaging (market differentiation), methods of content production, methods of distribution, and perhaps most importantly, your consumer profiles.
Consumer Profile Creation
A consumer profile contains the key attributes of the ideal person who will be consuming your content. It’s best to separate this into demographic and psychographic attributes.
Demographic attributes include age, income level, gender, and marital status. Psychographic attributes include values, desires, pain points, and interests.
You may even wish to give your ideal consumer a name and find a photo of him or her to accompany it. If you have a specific person in mind every time you go to create a blog post, it becomes a lot easier to deliver high-value content.
With a clearly defined consumer profile, your auditing process also becomes easier. Instead of simply looking at the metrics available, you can ask yourself whether Bob or Suzanne would have resonated with the content and gained actionable insights from it.
Ultimately, content isn’t there just to generate SEO juice for your website, it’s there to connect with people and generate long-term trust for your brand.
Choosing the Wrong Metrics
The first step of a content audit is to create a content inventory, with every piece of content on your site included. Alternatively, you may wish to perform an audit just for your blog posts.
However, a content audit can quickly become dysfunctional if you’re making assessments based on inferior metrics — or even worse, inconsistent metrics. The metrics you choose should depend on the goals stated in your content strategy, but here are some of the things you definitely should keep track of.
- Article title and length: It doesn’t matter how great your article is; if the title is lackluster and includes no emotional words then people will be unlikely to click through to read it. Conventional wisdom states that the ideal length of a title is between 50-70 characters.
- Meta description and length: A compelling, descriptive meta description can dramatically improve your CTR. The optimal length of a meta description should be around 155 characters.
- Bounce rate and time spent on page: With a low bounce rate and a high amount of time spent on your page, this is an indicator that your content is engaging. If you see statistics like this but your article is still attracting minimal traffic, then the problem is with your title, meta description, or promotion.
- Social shares: Check out Shared Count to determine how many social shares you are receiving per post. A low count may signify underwhelming content, but it may also mean that your social sharing buttons are inappropriately placed or too small.
- Page views: Traffic is one of the most significant indicators of how effective your content is, especially when you cross reference other metrics such as bounce rate and social shares. Determining the most common ways that people arrive on your site is also helpful in terms of planning your outreach strategies.
Some of the other things you might want to record are the number of images per article, the length of each article, the most popular times of the week for publishing new content, the quality of your writing (give yourself an honest 1-5 grade), and the amount of comments generated.
I know it’s tedious, but try to record as much as possible before you start your analysis. Missing data can have dire consequences when you try to determine trends relating to your content’s performance.
Ineffective Trend Analysis
Gathering the data is the first hurdle in performing a content audit, but if you aren’t able to analyze it once it’s collected, then your efforts will be wasted.
Oftentimes, you can find yourself staring at a spreadsheet for hours trying to observe trends with no success. This is why it’s best to get a fresh set of eyes to look at the data with you — particularly someone who isn’t involved in your niche so they have no preconceptions.
If you spend your entire working life involved in a particular subject area, it’s easy to miss obvious things that other people will see straight away. Don’t make any immediate strategy innovations based solely on your own analysis — run through the data with your associates to make sure your deductions make sense.
While it’s highly recommended that you gather data for all your content, some of the most blatant trends emerge when you compare the top five and bottom five performing blog posts within a time period.
Scan the two groups for commonalities, such as image quality and count, influencer quotes, post structure, headline length, and article length.
You might find that list posts perform better than all other types of articles, or that posts with influencer quotes generate more shares on social media. The more information you have at your disposal, the more obvious the trends will be — so remember to record everything relevant to your content strategy.
Not Soliciting Customer Feedback
A content audit can be augmented with customer feedback. By surveying your customers (or readers), you can get some excellent qualitative data to complement the statistics in your spreadsheet.
Try sending a survey to your mailing list and see how they respond. You can cross reference their responses with your data to see if your analysis is correct.
Here are some great questions which can be verified with audit data:
- Do you prefer list posts, how-to guides, infographics, or other styles of content?
- What is your ideal blog post length?
- What factors make a blog post shareable for you?
- What makes you want to skip a blog post?
- Do you feel images improve the quality of our content?
Surveys also give you the opportunity to understand your audience better, which will help you define your consumer profile. With the right questioning, you can get better insights into your audience’s pain points, desires, and aspirations.
These answers will help you improve the content you publish in the future, which you can subsequently audit to see if the numbers add up.
Neglecting Online Tools and Resources
Sure, you can perform a content audit armed only with an Excel spreadsheet, but you’ll be making things much harder than they need to be. Fortunately, there are numerous tools and resources online that can rapidly expedite your content auditing process.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
This is a great tool for scanning through your pages to check if there are any duplicates or broken links. You can identify titles that are too long or too short, as well as analyze the metadata of your pages. Although the free version of the tool has a crawl limit of 500 URLs, the paid version is unlimited and features full Google Analytics integration.
Open Site Explorer
One of the best ways to determine the efficacy of a piece of content is by the backlinks it generates. With Open Site Explorer, created by Moz, you can quickly determine which pieces of content are generating the most engagement with your readers. The tool features an easy-to-use interface and should be a part of any content auditing arsenal.
Why go to the trouble of painstakingly creating your own audit template when you can download one for free? Check out the Content Quality Audit Template by Content Strategy Inc. or the Content Inventory Spreadsheet by MaadMob.
Online XML Sitemap Generator
This tool is excellent for large companies that want to detect broken links. Simply run the tool and create a sitemap of up to 5,000 URLs. All the pages that are generated can be added to your content inventory for further analysis.
Neglecting the Impact of Post Length
Enormous amounts of content have been written about the most desirable length of blog posts. While marketers used to advocate for shorter, snappier blog posts, we’re now seeing a move to long-form content.
Neil Patel, entrepreneur and co-founder of Quick Sprout, found that his posts of 1,500 words or longer received 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes than his shorter posts. To see if a similar trend applies for your niche, I recommend comparing the statistics surrounding your shorter and longer posts.
If you have a large selection of content to draw from, you could categorize your posts in the following way:
- 700 words or fewer
- 701 words to 1,500 words
- 1,500 words to 2,500 words
- 2,500 words and above
By looking at the traffic, number of comments, backlinks generated, and social shares relating to each length category, you should have a better idea of what articles will resonate with your audience in the future.
That being said, if you find that longer content generates more engagement, you shouldn’t be tempted to create low-value, underwhelming content just to hit the 1,500-word mark. Ultimately, quality trumps quantity — Google are constantly updating their algorithm to prevent bad content from ranking.
Not Optimizing Highly Performing Articles
Once you know which of your articles are receiving high amounts of traffic, social shares, and backlinks, it’s a good idea to optimize them.
Try adding some high resolution, shareable images to encourage engagement. Keeping the content up to date (and openly stating that it is in the meta description and opening paragraph) is also recommended for high performing articles.
Social Sharing Buttons
Research suggests that social sharing buttons can improve a blog post’s shareability by up to 700%. If your blog posts do not have easy-to-use social sharing buttons in an obvious placement (such as at the end of the post or in the sidebar), this is an easy improvement to make.
As a general rule of thumb, visibility is more important than placement when it comes to social sharing buttons. Feel free to include sharing buttons in several placements on your blog, but don’t risk cluttering your site and slowing it down.
Additionally, featuring social sharing buttons that have a low amount of shares can act as negative social proof. While you shouldn’t artificially enhance your social shares, you may wish to consider turning off the amount of shares until your articles are getting shared frequently.
Email Opt-in Forms and Giveaways
Your email opt-in forms should be optimized on all articles, particularly the ones that receive the most traffic. Oftentimes, you can dramatically improve your newsletter opt-in rate by including a compelling headline for your form, making it look more pleasing to the eye, and split testing the form’s placement on your page.
You may also want to create a free giveaway that specifically pertains to the topic of the article, such as a free report or step-by-step checklist, deliverable by email in exchange for signing up to your mailing list. Specifically targeted, high-value gifts like these are excellent at improving on-site conversions.
Not Repurposing Old Content
If some of your articles performed poorly according to audit data, this doesn’t necessarily mean the subject matter was wrong for the audience. It could be that the way you presented the information was incorrect.
Presenting your customer survey findings as a wall of statistics might not be ideal. Instead, try taking the same data and conveying it as a vibrant, emotionally engaging infographic.
As a word of warning, bad infographics can damage your brand reputation, so if you’re going down this route, it’s important to take the time to create something high quality and shareable.
In a world where it’s increasingly difficult to get your message across, visual content is highly effective at cutting through the noise. In a 2016 study, 51% of B2B marketers stated they were prioritizing the creation of visual content.
One of the hardest parts of creating an infographic is researching all the information and ensuring your facts are air tight. If you already have some great facts and statistics but you aren’t able to get people to pay attention, try presenting them in a visual context.
Repurposing isn’t only for underperforming content. You might find you can repackage high-performing content and receive even better results by presenting it as a Slideshare presentation, animated explainer video, or infographic.
Ignoring Post Publication Times
While content audits are typically focused on the content itself, you will get an edge over your competition if you also analyze the effectiveness of your content promotion.
Most companies track sharing numbers but completely neglect post publication times. Much has been written about the best times to publish content — unfortunately, the advice is usually anecdotal and contradictory.
While I thoroughly recommend recording the necessary data and tailoring your publishing strategy according to your audience’s behavior, data found by Dan Zarrella and Search Engine Land indicates:
- A higher percentage of men read blog posts in the evening and at night.
- 70% of users state they read blogs in the morning (among other times).
- The average blog usually gets the most traffic on Mondays.
- The average blog usually gets the most traffic around 11am.
- If you post more than once per day, your chances of getting unique views and inbound links are higher.
Disregarding Bad Inbound Links
Finding broken links in your content and replacing them is highly recommended. It’s also essential to see how many inbound links are generated for each individual article.
However, many companies forget that not all inbound links are created equal. Bad inbound links to your content, such as those from casinos or pornographic websites, will be detrimental to your SEO efforts. Likewise, links from websites set up solely for SEO links will hurt you.
To get rid of an unnatural or bad inbound link, send an email to the site’s webmaster and politely ask for its removal. For more advice on this topic, please check out this informative guide by Alan Bleiweiss.
Deleting Old Content That Shows Low Engagement
If you have older content that is underperforming, it’s important to be honest regarding how much value it truly provides. If the writing is inferior compared to your new content and it doesn’t provide any actionable advice or unique insights, then you may wish to dispose of it as it will do more damage than good.
Sometimes, you can give old content a new lease in life by optimizing its long-tail keywords, upgrading its title, and adding higher resolution images to the post. If the article itself is good but it doesn’t add up according to the metrics, don’t delete it right away.
As you continue to grow your reputation within your niche and accumulate more SEO juice for your site by regularly publishing high-quality content, you might find that your underperforming articles start to receive more attention due to the influx of new visitors to your site.
Just because an article isn’t performing well at the time of publication doesn’t mean you need to obliterate it from existence — particularly if the topic is evergreen and has significant relevance to future viewers. Try optimizing it and audit it again at a later date when your site is more popular.
In a 2012 survey, 68% of marketers stated that creating engaging content was a challenge for them. The best way to improve your chances of creating content that will resonate with your audience is by performing a content audit and innovating your content strategy based on the results.
I hope you’re able to avoid these common mistakes when conducting your content audit. Are there any mistakes I’ve missed? Please let me know.
Featured Image: Pixabay
In-post Photo 1 (keywords): Pixabay
Screenshot by Aaron Agius. Taken March 2017