My first content audit – a lesson in ROI

Tony Hallett

Tony Hallett

Managing Director

October 26, 2016 3:35 pm

This post was first published on 7 Jan 2015.

Doing content audits is something Collective Content both talks about and does quite often. (Perhaps too much.) But we don’t often talk about their biggest risk.

Most people assume the biggest risk is in not auditing past content. The idea is that you pull together all past sources – white papers, blog posts, infographics, videos but also price lists, technical documents, brochures and more – see what should be re-used or updated or killed and build from there. That’s the audit process in about 30 words.

But that’s not the biggest risk, in this writer’s opinion. What we see more and more these days is that companies, especially large companies, commission an audit and then never act on it. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

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Just over 10 years ago I took part in what was my first content audit, only I wouldn’t have known to call it that at the time. As the editor of a technology publication I was a little surprised – and a bit upset, to be honest – when one of the 10 largest tech companies said we were habitually biased against them. It wasn’t true and I knew it. But how to prove it? They were about to pull all their advertising and our publisher wasn’t happy.

He and I agreed that I would review all content from the previous two years that mentioned them. An audit typically involves looking at items of content to see what they’re about, who created them, how well they’ve worked (all kinds of KPIs) and so on. A decade back I was only measuring one thing – whether the content could be characterised as positive, negative or neutral in regards to this company.

After lots of reading, I ended up with a bell curve. Most articles were neutral, as I expected. A few, in equal measure, could be deemed positive or negative. Our contacts buying the advertising were satisfied. We had allayed their fears and, as an editor with no axe to grind, I felt vindicated.

The process of me checking 400 or so items took a while – at least a week, inbetween the rest of my job. The response from the media agency who had complained took less than five minutes to come back.

The situation with most audits today isn’t too different. They can take a very long time – weeks isn’t uncommon – and then, what? Owners of the content usually get a full breakdown of the audit, with details about every item. Sometimes they’ll get an executive summary. But even that can run to a few pages. The bottom line, I’m sad to say, is that a line or two of recommendations are what it comes down to – and they can be totally ignored.

And the danger is that this inaction goes on too long. As more content is created, often at a rate of knots, the overall mix of an organisation’s content changes. Usually, after about a year, someone suggests it’s time for another audit.

If we’re not careful, organisations end up with the classic ‘paralysis by analysis’. Don’t let that be you. We totally believe in a discovery and learning phase as the first part of a content strategy. But it must be followed by action.

* photo credit: Renaud Camus via photopin cc

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