How To Conduct A Content Audit

writing-content-ss-1920A content audit is the cornerstone of content strategy, which governs content marketing. The aim is to perform a qualitative analysis of all the content on a website (or in some cases, a network of sites and/or social media presences — any content for which your organization is responsible).

Why perform a content audit, which admittedly is a painstaking and exacting exercise? Lots of reasons.

First and foremost, an audit helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to the goals of the organization. It can help answer important questions: Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the organization? Is it optimized for search? Are tools and software, such as the content management system (CMS) up to the task of handling it?

Essentially, an audit helps assess needs, shape content governance, and help determine the feasibility of future projects.

Create A Content Inventory First

Start by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a text document by page title or by URL. Organize this information in outline form, i.e. section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages.

If it’s an e-commerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like: Shoes > Womens Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Dr. Scholl’s. An informational company website’s headings might look more like: X Corporation > About Us > Management > John Doe.

Content strategist Kristina Halvorson recommends assigning a unique number to each section, sub-section and page (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1, etc.). This can help tremendously in assigning particular pieces of content to the appropriate site section. Some content strategists also color-code different sections on spreadsheets. It gets down to a matter of personal preference, as well as the size and scale of the audit in question.

It’s also highly recommended that each section, sub-section or page contain an annotation regarding who owns each piece of content, as well as the type of content: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Is it created in-house? If so, by whom? Is it outsourced (third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who’s responsible for creating, approving and publishing each piece?

The resulting document is a content inventory.

Conducting The Content Audit

Once you’ve created a content inventory, it’s time to perform the content audit. This will essentially involve digging into the quality of the content.

As you go through the audit, it’s helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page – e.g., a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “pretty crappy” and 5 being “rockstar fantastic.”

Following are the questions you should be asking about each piece of content:

1. What’s It About?

What subjects and topics does content address? Are page and section titles, headlines and sub-heads promising what’s actually delivered in the on-page copy? Is there are good balance of content addressing products, services, customer service, and “about us” information?

2. Is It Accurate & Up-To-Date?

In other words, is the content topical? Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated and/or inaccurate information lurking in nooks and crannies of the site? As mentioned above, localities, employees, pricing, industry data and statistics and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as “update/revise” or “remove.”

3. Does It Support Both User And Business Goals?

Many stakeholders feed into a company’s digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing, PR and customer service (to name but a few).

Different divisions may be trying to achieve varying goals in “their” section of a site or blog, but fundamentally all content must very gracefully serve two masters: the needs of the business and the needs of the customer.

This means, for example, that calls-to-action must be clear, but not so overwhelming that they get in the way of the user experience. The content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while staying in balance.

4. Are People Finding And Using The Content?

This is where web analytics comes into play. What types of content — and what pages in particular — are the most and least popular on the site in question? Where do users spend time, and where do they go when they leave? Are they taking desired actions on a page? What search keywords and phrases bring them to the site?

It’s not enough that content is simply there. The data can reveal what’s working (and what’s not) and help inform a strategy that supports more of the types of content users prefer.

5. Is It Clean And Professional?

Is page copy consistent in tone? Are spelling, punctuation and grammar consistent and correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it being followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner, and properly placed/oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any predesignated rules (e.g., open a new page in a separate browser window)?

6. Is Content Logically Organized?

Does the site contain tacked-on pages that don’t follow navigational structure? Does the overall navigation make sense? Are there redundancies, such as a site that includes a “Personal Finance” section in the top-level navigation, then again lists that section in a sub-menu under the heading “Money & Careers”?

7. Does The Content Have A Consistent Voice?

Every brand or business has a distinct voice that expresses its personality. Serious, irreverent, scholarly, authoritative – all are valid, but the tone, language and mode of expression must be a fit and must be consistent with the brand. This step evaluates the content’s tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder.

8. Are Basic SEO Elements In Place? 

Review the page’s title, keywords, metadata, headings and image tags.

Are target keywords and phrases used on the page? Are page descriptions and metadata employed appropriately? Are images and multimedia files captioned, and is metadata employed to make them search-engine friendly? Are headlines optimized for search?

Search engine optimization begins and ends with content, so evaluating to what extent content conforms to best practices in search is an essential part of an audit.

9. What Content Is Missing?

Conducting a content audit focuses so much attention on what’s there that it’s often too easy to overlook what’s not there. An essential step in any audit is therefore to identify weaknesses, gaps and content needs.

A site may be rich in information on how to order, for example; but, are issues surrounding shipping and order fulfillment adequately addressed? Is the press/media section strong on press releases, but weak on photos and video offerings? Does the company blog address company issues heavily, but general industry trends not at all?

What’s missing speaks volumes about the forward direction of a content strategy.

Use Your Findings To Identify Needed Changes/Actions

This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s not enough to produce a giant spreadsheet. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

My Path From Film Critic to Digital Media Analyst – An Interview

Pivot_RebecaLieb-01Todd Wheatland just published a very in-depth audio interview with me that he conducted for the Content Marketing Institute late last year.

It’s not like me to post an interview with myself on my blog, but this one’s unusual in that I open up quite a bit personally, and discuss my path from film critic to digital media analyst.

You can give it a listen here (since I can’t figure out how to embed it).

Content Marketing: What To Consider Before You Outsource

How many major brands want to create their content marketing in-house?

One hundred percent.

That isn’t a made-up statistic. This was an actual finding a couple of years ago when I was conducting content marketing research, interviewing senior executives from over 50 brands such as Nestlé, GE, Adobe, IBM and Coca-Cola.

The next finding was even more interesting. We asked these brands what type of agency they were likely to select for content creation: an ad agency, PR agency, social media agency, or one of the much smaller breed of storytelling agency (e.g., Story Worldwide) when they did outsource.

Once again, a result was universal. While responses were divided more or less equally among the shops they would consider, some 95 percent of these executives said social media shops would notbe considered candidates. “Too boutique-y” “too trendy” were the top reasons provided.

There’s no shortage of agencies of all stripes that are eager to get your content business. In addition to the aforementioned flavors, there are also the custom content divisions at established publishing brands, as well as more channel-specific tactical expertise from any number of companies that formerly branded themselves as email or search engine marketing providers, but are now in the content marketing business. Finally, of course, there’s no shortage of smaller, more local content marketing agencies.

The trend really picked up momentum around 2013 when, in the PR sector alone (just to pick one of these verticals at random) Weber Shandwick launched Mediaco, Porter Novelli birthed PNConnect. In early 2014, Waggener Edstrom created Content360. The momentum is still going strong – at CES just this month, FleishmanHillard unveiled FH ContentWorks, a global initiative. (As an analyst covering content marketing, I’ve worked with Edelman, Ketchum and their clients on content marketing training and initiatives).

So what should you look for when engaging a content agency? There are many criteria you should consider – here are the primary ones.

Why Do You Want An Outside Agency?

Content creation? Technical expertise you lack in-house (e.g. video production or mobile app development). Strategy development? There are myriad reasons – nailing yours down will help to limit and focus the range of candidates.

Industry/Vertical Expertise

Don’t expect them to be peers in the knowledge sector, but they should possess a fundamental understanding of your vertical and/or industry, audience, region, or other individual criteria that are essential to your strategy.

At the very least, they should be great listeners who are genuinely interested in you, not just the job.

Strategy Before Tactics

If a documented content strategy doesn’t already exist, you need one in hand (or to commission one) before diving into tactics with an outside provider. If you need to create one, make sure you choose an agency with a proven capability for developing strategic frameworks.

Reminder: “You need a Facebook page” is not a strategy. It’s a tactic.

Are The Cobbler’s Children Wearing Shoes?

Does the company practice what it preaches? Look at its own content marketing: the quality, quantity, channels and responses to it.

Its dedication to both strategy and practice will be demonstrated if it is as dedicated to content marketing as it likely claims to be.

Relevant Case Studies

Request them and evaluate them. Discuss them with the firm. Even if they don’t reflect your industry or vertical, the shop should help you to understand how they relate to your issues.

Talk With Current & Former Clients

References matter. A reluctance to put you in touch with former (or current) clients also speaks volumes.

What Are The Success Criteria?

Any plan or proposal should be accompanied by success criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs).

How will the plan be measured? What indicates success? Look for metrics that impact business results (e.g. increased leads, revenue, shorter sales cycle), not mere volume metrics (30,000 likes!).

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Four Digital Media Trends to Follow This Year

Content strategy and content marketing are where a great deal of my time and attention are focused as an analyst. Last month I discussed the trends in that sector that my research indicates will expand in 2015.

But wait — there’s more. Not only around content marketing, but around technology, channels, media and advertising, that bear watching this year, either because they are at the beginning of the disruption curve or about to hit its peak. Here’s what I, as well as many of my colleagues, will be watching this year with interest and curiosity.

Internet of things (IoT)

There’s plenty to be fascinated by in this emerging sector: wearables, smart devices, new equations of interoperability and integration, and of course lots and lots of new types of data. I’m also having many fascinating conversations with my colleague Jessica Groopman about her ongoing (and soon to be published) research on the IoT related to use cases for connected devices, and to a lesser extent, what kinds of content surround and are generated by the IoT. This represents the tip of a very big iceberg that will garner much attention this year — and for the next decade, at least.

The ethics of big data

Again, credit due to a colleague here.  Drawn from her inspirational TED Talk, Susan Etlinger is researching an important and too often overlooked aspect of big data: its ethical implications. From data collection to communications (remember Target telling the father that his daughter was pregnant based on her buying pattern data?), Susan has pinpointed six broad categories, each with a host of specific areas, in which brands will be challenged with unprecedented ethical choices and policy issues. As more data stream in from areas such as the IoT, big questions will continue to swirl around big data.

Native advertising

In late 2013, I published the first research on the topic of native advertising. Native is still new and still disruptive, but this year we’ll see it normalize. Every major and reputable digital publisher and social media platform now offers native advertising products, and more formats are rapidly being developed. At the same time, policies, guidelines, ethics and technologies are not just springing up, but are also maturing. I predict that this year, native takes its place at the table as a critical and permanent component of digital marketing and advertising.

Channel convergence

A couple of years ago, together with then-colleague Jeremiah Owyang, I looked at how paid, owned and earned media are overlapping and combining to create new forms of media that, to consumers, are just…media. Distinctions between advertising, content, and social are blurring, if not dissolving. The same is beginning to happen with media channels. Is it radio? TV? Digital? Print? Is it projected or is it streaming, and do consumers care? (My hypothesis is that they don’t.) When all media can be consumed on all devices (large or small screens, phones, billboards, watches), what are the implications for media? Entertainment? Advertising and marketing? Mobile is TV is digital is audio is news is visual — portable, mutable, large and very, very small.

Those are the four trends I’ve got an eye on this year. What are yours? Let me know in the comments.

This post originally published on iMedia 

A Culture Of Content: The Success Criteria

team-collaborate-ss-1920

Fundamentally, content has become bigger than marketing; it spans across the enterprise, particularly in public-facing divisions such as sales, customer care, recruiting, PR and product groups.

All these constituencies have the capability to create and to distribute content, to contribute to the overall content pool, and to become part of the content circulatory system.

But how does an organization foster a culture of content (CoC)? We identified the following seven success criteria.

1. Customer Obsession Guides Content

An obsession with understanding customer wants, preferences, behaviors, trends, passions, and so on, helps drive a culture of content (CoC) because these data inform how brands use content to serve customers.

Whether listening to customer feedback directly or monitoring customer interactions across various touch points, companies with a well-defined CoC are equipped to optimize rapidly based on customer insights.

This is embodied in the convergence of media, where paid, owned and earned must work together because the consumer sees only one brand, not specific departments. As such, content helps define the human side of a brand – creative, helpful, passionate, contextually sensitive, even vulnerable.

Instead of letting editorial calendars dictate content cadence, try the following:

  • Listen for consumer insights across channels.
  • Design content to unify the customer-brand experience.
  • Assess all content for worthiness.

2. Align Content With Brand

Every company should have its own understanding of purpose, differentiation, philosophy, and vision — and brands must be able to articulate how content serves those elements underlying the very identity of the brand.

How content embodies brand values must be clear to every level, from the C-suite to functional leads to practitioners. This alignment should be a guiding force and benchmark for what constitutes worthy and authentic branded content.

To align the content with the brand:

  • Crystallize how the content supports the brand vision.
  • Incorporate that vision into training and evangelism.
  • Only publish content that supports the brand vision.

3. Drive Content Leadership From The Top Down & The Bottom Up

The content leader must facilitate a top-down and a bottom-up approach to drive a culture of content.

Top-down content leadership helps drive investment in content marketing initiatives and promotes a company-wide mentality of the value of content. Simultaneously, a strong leader or advocate is nearly always required for education, evangelism, training, and testing, which drives buy-in from the bottom up.

Bottom-up content leadership can manifest through greater departmental buy-in, alignment, demand for content, and internal participation down to the practitioner level. As the value of content is translated across other business functions through evangelism and small, inexpensive programs supporting those functions, hard numerical results aligning with business objectives help justify deeper executive support.

To drive content leadership:

  • Evangelize and test department-specific initiatives to drive bottom-up support.
  • Leverage cross-functional results and support to drive top-down support.
  • Both C-level and content leaders must reinforce an ongoing culture of content.

4. Culture Requires Constant Evangelism

While culture is pervasive and powerful, it is not built overnight. It slowly gains acceptance and takes steady reinforcement. Terms such as “constant,” “relentless,” “frequent,” and “reinforcement
” are commonly used to describe the process of creating a culture of content.

Why? Because content leaders must constantly demonstrate business and consumer value across the organization. Securing participation from divisions, groups, and territories is based heavily on WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) and demonstrated by metrics that relate to their goals.

This evangelism must continue over time through results, case study and best (and worst) practice sharing as well as centrally shared tools and resources. To create a CoC:

  • Content leaders must lead the content evangelism.
  • Articulate and demonstrate WIIFM, both bottom-up and top-down.
  • Commit to ongoing cross-functional evangelism, support, communication, and optimization.

5. Test & Learn

Brands must be willing to take risks in the content they produce. This requires a spirit of piloting small, tightly scoped content initiatives with predetermined key performance indicators that align with business objectives.

These initiatives, especially early on, don’t necessarily have to be resource intensive. Testing and learning are less about new channel, device, or content plays and more about creating ostensible business value that can be reported back to leadership in order to drive program and resource expansion.

These tasks are inherent to a CoC because they require taking risks, which may result in failure or in tangible justification to use when evangelizing content across functions and to leadership.

6. Global Must Enable Local

Whether you’re a large multinational corporation with presences across dozens of countries or a company with numerous locations in one country, a CoC must be enabled locally.

Divisional authority and autonomy with strategic oversight is important; large brands must empower local practitioners with local content that reflects local tastes, context, and language.

Perhaps a local division would like to use a case study better suited for a German-speaking audience. Or perhaps they wish to tweak branded content to reflect regional realities, such as weather or news (for example, promoting snow tires in New England and beach umbrellas in Florida).

As brands are forced to become publishers, enabling local authority is critical to standing out. To enable local:

  • Global must provide strategic oversight, support, resources, and direction.
  • Enable local teams with appropriate cultural, linguistic, and contextual resources.
  • Appoint regional and/or local content leaders to scale training and ongoing evangelism.

7. Integrate Across All Cultural Components

In a true culture of content, integration and shared insights should exist across every component of the culture: people, processes, mindsets, and the content itself. A CoC doesn’t work in an environment rife with silos.

Integrated workflows across teams, business units, and internal and external parties help streamline and scale content deployment. Integrated technology systems with shared access, reporting, data, and automation enable agility and meaningful measurement.

Even media itself must be connected through workflow and divisional coordination, designed for optimizing resources, as outlined in Altimeter’s report, “The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Will Combine Paid, Owned, & Earned.”

Integrate Insights:

  • Integrate across people: workflows, tool access, collaboration, best-practice sharing.
  • Integrate across technology: data sets, systems, third-party tools, and analytics.
  • Integrate across media: paid, owned, earned, local, and so on.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Content marketing in 2015 (Research, Not Predictions)

Predictions? Humbug. Never done ’em, never will. As a research analyst, predictions are antithetical to my methodology, which is research followed by analysis. My job is to work with data, information, and pattern recognition to draw informed conclusions — not gaze into a crystal ball.

The scene thus set, let’s look ahead to the new year and what it will bring insofar as content marketing is concerned. Based on my research in the field, I’m seeing seven overall trends in the field that will develop and strengthen in the coming year.

Content-Tool-Stack-HierarchyThe content stack

The next big thing in content marketing technology, the content marketing stack, will develop significantly in 2015. Content stacks are necessary to consolidate the eight content marketing use cases identified in research we published on the content software landscape. No use case is an island. As organizations mature and become more strategic in their content marketing initiatives, it becomes imperative to seamlessly link execution to analytics, or optimization, or targeting, for example. We’ll soon see end-to-end offerings from the big enterprise players: Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. All are scrambling to integrate multiple content point solutions into seamless “stacks,” similar to the ad stack. In fact, content stacks will talk to the ad stacks, helping to integrate paid, owned and earned media. A couple years out, these two stacks will comprise what we refer to today as the marketing cloud.

Culture of content

Content is bigger than just the marketing department. It’s rapidly becoming nearly everyone’s job — and with good reason. Not everyone in marketing is a subject matter expert. Or understands customer service or sales concerns. Or is charged with recruiting new employees. Or develops new products or product features. That expertise and knowledge is embedded deep within the enterprise. Organizations that foster a culture of content by educating and training employees to participate in the content ecosystem can better ideate and create useful, meaningful content at scale that addresses numerous goals and serves a wide variety of internal, and well as external, constituencies. Watch for many more organization to follow the lead of companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, and Nestlé. They will train and empower employees, partners, and stakeholders to create, ideate, and leverage content.

real-time marketing use case quadrantReal-time

Time is a luxury, and will only become more so as brands face the challenges of remaining relevant and topical. Moreover, research indicates real-time campaigns can raise literally all desirable marketing metrics. Success in real-time is grounded in content strategy and often isn’t real-time at all in the literal sense. Instead, it’s meticulous preparation and advance creation of relevant content assets that can be deployed at the appropriate time or moment. Starbucks, for example, has content for warming beverages locked and loaded, so when the snow falls in your town, you’re tempted by that pumpkin latte. Training, assets, preparation, workflow — all these and more are elements of “real-time” marketing.

Social media normalizes

Social media will fade into the background. It’s not that social media is going away. But it’s fading into the background, which is a good thing, because it denotes normalization. “Social” will become just another channel, like search or email (the bright, shiny objects of earlier eras). Social media software vendors will reposition as content marketing purveyors. Their offerings will essentially remain the same, but this new positioning is more topical, and more broadly relevant.

Native standardizes

We define native advertising as a form of converged media that’s comprised of content plus a media buy. Native is surging in popularity, much more quickly than best practices are being established to govern it. This growth will fuel more disclosure, transparency, and policies in 2015 as native becomes much more closely scrutinized by regulators, industry associations, consumers, publishers, and brands.

Rise of context

For most of digital marketing’s relatively short history, personalization has been the ne plus ultra of sophisticated marketing. Addressing the customer by name, knowing their age, gender, date of birth, purchase history — all these data points help marketers deliver messages that are more meaningful and more relevant — and that, by extension, result in higher conversations and deeper loyalty.

Personalization is now being supplanted by technologies that can drive even deeper marketing and experiential relevance. Context’s untapped opportunity is to get an extremely granular understanding of customers, then to anticipate their needs, wants, affinities, and expectations, and develop unique insights to power better marketing across all devices, channels, localities, and brand experiences. Context, in other words, takes not only the “who” into account, but also the when, where, why, and how. Simply put — it’s deeper targeting, and more on-point messaging.

This post originally published on iMedia

Context: The Next Digital Marketing Frontier

Context screenshotFor most of digital marketing’s relatively short history, personalization has been the ne plus ultra of sophisticated marketing. Addressing the customer by name, knowing their age, gender, date of birth, purchase history – all these data points help marketers deliver messages that are more meaningful and more relevant – and that, by extension, result in higher conversations and deeper loyalty.

Personalization is now being supplanted by technologies that can drive even deeper marketing and experiential relevance. Context’s untapped opportunity is to get an extremely granular understanding of customers, then to anticipate their needs, wants, affinities and expectations, and develop unique insights to power better marketing across all devices, channels, localities, and brand experiences.

Context, in other words, takes not only the ‘who’ into account, but also the when, where, why, and how. Simply put, it’s deeper targeting and more on-point messaging.

Under the auspices of our client SDL, I recently authored a white paper, Why Context Is Essential to Digital Marketing (PDF downloadthat looks at marketing beyond the right message, to the right person at the right time. Contextual marketing goes further by considering the platform consumers are using; their physical location (perhaps, using iBeacon technology, down to the store shelf level); even real-time information such as atmospheric conditions (is it raining?) or geo-spatial movement (whether they are in a vehicle stopped at a red light, for instance).

What type of coupon should a customer receive? When, and for what type of offer? MGM Resorts makes these determinations contextually; sending offers to guests’ smartphones based on where they are on the resort property (which restaurant, shop, show, or casino) as well as in the context of their individual loyalty member status and stated interests.

Context in marketing can only be fueled by powerful, integrated technologies. Its components range from semantic technologies to machine learning and predictive analytics, customer data, product/service data, flexible, dynamic content, and journey-mapping.

Without a doubt, context is complex. Moreover it is growing in importance, not only because it’s increasingly technologically feasible and effective, but also because newer technologies (the Internet of Things and Beacons, for example) will enable additional layers of context to meet consumers’ growing expectations for contextually relevant experiences and messaging from the brands they interact with in an increasingly digital world.