We’ve all heard the phrase “content is king,” and this certainly seems to be true. Companies are rearranging to focus on content simply because it works. You have to question, though, how can a strategy be a king? Aren’t kings usually people? Here’s the major downfall of this clever “content is king” catchphrase—it doesn’t actually put anyone in charge. And with no one in charge, frankly, nothing can get accomplished. Your content strategy can’t just be a king in and of itself—it needs you—a strong leader to ascend the throne. You’ll have to have a plan and take command to execute it. You’ll need loyal servants and have to deal with the usual royal politics.
Being king is hard work, but don’t fear. In the upcoming weeks, my series “Becoming King of Your Content Strategy” will help you learn exactly what you’ll have to do to carry out a successful content strategy from start to finish. Once you understand the steps to take and who to involve along the way, you can start producing content on a regal level in no time.
The Content Audit
Before you start creating any new content, you’ll first have to figure out what you already have. There are two major reasons why you need to do this. First, to find the content you created that really worked. You’ll make note of what content significantly increased your traffic, caused a buzz on social media, or was complimented by thought leaders or clients. You can then figure out what all of this good content has in common so that you can produce more of it. On the other hand, you’ll have to own up to your failures. What content completely flopped and why? No matter how good of an idea you originally thought it was, if it didn’t wow your audience, similar content should not make its way into your new content strategy.
Before you start digging into your content, you’ll have to decide how you want to keep track of it. An Excel spreadsheet will probably work best for categorizing individual pieces of content. To find a starting place—first pick a method that you’ll stick to throughout. You can choose to go through your sitemap top to bottom, or work at one layer of your site at a time. Just be consistent. This is also a good point at which you can determine how many people will be needed to complete this undertaking. If you have thousands of pieces of content to go through, assign the areas of the site for which each person will be responsible.
Additionally, as you’re going through your content you’ll want to make note of site structure—where does all this content live? Here your Excel spreadsheet might not be enough. You’ll need a visual record of your site layout so that you can clearly see the click through path people need to use to get to your content. There are a few different flow chart creation sites you can use to map out your content, including bubbl.us and Gliffy.
After you’ve used your layout to see how your site is set up for people to use it, check it against Google Analytics to see how people are actually getting to your content. Hopefully you have a logical flow to your site design and people are clicking through accordingly. If you see a big difference between the visual you’ve drawn up and the Visitors Flow report in Google Analytics, you may be able to pinpoint a problem. As you’re going through your content, jot some notes down about how you can rearrange your content so that your best work is the most easily accessible.
What to Track
First, make sure you have the basics, including page title, type of content, and format. While manually going through the site is the best way to make important discoveries, gathering these simpler criterion can be automated using a tool such as PageTrawler. Then, you’ll have a solid base to add onto. ScreamingFrog also works great for a more in-depth look at your metrics, including categories such as content type, H1 tags, 301 status and more. During this list compilation, you’ll hopefully start to notice if you have an excessive amount of one type of content and almost none of another. You should also start thinking about which content can be reformatted and reused. Do you have an article that would make a great infographic? Or can you expand and make it a whitepaper?
Making your own spreadsheet allows you to get as detailed as you want, as you can choose how important it is to track details like author, date created, and word count. However, if you’re looking for more guidance and simplicity, there are also several sites that offer spreadsheet templates with what you may need. This template from Demand Metric is great because it allows you to organize by priority level and status.
Next, track social metrics subjectively and objectively. Start by asking yourself if you would link to the content. Does it contain anything worth linking to? Then, tally up whatever social shares it actually received. To automate this process, use Excel plugins such as MozScape to find what URLs your pages are linked to and Niels Bosma’s SEOTools for a social numbers count. Under the “Social” tab of SEOTools you can find formulas that calculate Facebook likes, +1s and tweets when you input a URL. There’s also an analytics wizard directly in the toolbar that will connect to your Google Analytics and pull metrics the same way you can using GA—with a date range, segments, dimensions and filters.
Hopefully your opinion of what is link worthy and share worthy matches up with that of your audience. If you felt something was really great but see it didn’t take off socially, highlight this in your spreadsheet and come back to it later. Maybe it needs to be relaunched in a new format or at a better time than it was at first, or maybe you need to consult a coworker and ask for more feedback.
Finally, have a suggestions column in your spreadsheet where you can leave yourself notes about what can be improved upon for each piece of content individually. You can further break down these suggestions into their own categories, for instance, “to add,” “to remove,” “to edit.” Make initial recommendations as you’re going through everything for a first time. Afterwards, sort your information in a few different ways and see if you find anything interesting the second time around when organizing by popularity, date, or type of content.
A content audit has to be your first step, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Once you’ve started implementing your new strategy, take some time as you produce content to keep filling in your spreadsheet. This way, you can easily keep track of whether or not you’re hitting your goals for the types of content you want to see made and the type of engagement you’re hoping to produce, without having to wait another long stretch of time before you’re start over on a new content audit.