Content Marketing Goes Far Beyond ‘Storytelling”

storyTo effectively create content marketing, you must be a master of storytelling.

True?

Nope.

Storytelling can indeed be an important, if not critical element of content marketing. But it’s not the be-all, end-all of content marketing strategy.  Now, I like a good story as much as the next person. Four of the most magical and riveting words in the English language are “once upon a time.” A story is a wonderful way to capture attention and interest. But it’s not the only way.

Recently I took part in a panel discussion on “branded content.” The proponents of that term asserted that all “branded content” is contingent on a marketer’s ability to tell a good story. Certainly content marketing tells plenty of great ones, from classics like Unilever’s Dove Real Beauty to newcomers like First Kiss, which (though arguably a stealth campaign for Wren Clothing),  was as narrative as it was riveting.

But there are two other types of “branded content.” (OK, I dislike that term, which has its roots in print advertorial, from which is probably picks up the storytelling association.  From now on let’s just use good, old-fashioned content marketing).  Storytelling plays little, if any, role in these types of content, but both types of brand-generated content can be equally as effective as brand storytelling.

There are three types of brand-created content marketing (as distinct from content not created by a brand, e.g. user-generated content, ratings, reviews, aggregated and curated content). The first bucket, content that entertains, is what generally falls into the storytelling camp. Think entertaining videos and other forms of narrative entertainment.  The two other types of content marketing are:

1. Educational or Informative Content

This type of content is  used in B2B or long-sales cycle purchases. Think automotive. Consumer electronics. Computers. Appliances. Consulting services. Much of it centers around how-to’s, or what to look for when buying…a flat screen TV; child safety seat; a mainframe computer. Different elements of this type of content are often geared to the sales cycle, or around educating customers around a new product category.

Educational/informative content can be thought leadership: white papers, opinion pieces, executive or specialist blogs, new product introductions. It can be instructional (how to use, set-up, activate, make an informed decision). Or it can cross- or upsell additional products and accessories for an existing purchase, e.g. why you might need a new attachment for that lawnmower. Or mixer.

Bottom line, it’s helpful, useful, instructional, and helps all along the purchase cycle, from awareness through to purchase, brand loyalty and advocacy.

2. Utility Content

Utility content is utterly devoid of story. It exists to help consumers get something done, e.g. complete a task, provide highly timely or tailored information, or understand a need. Most often, utility content takes the form of an app or a calculator. Ever calculated an interest rate on a bank’s website? Looked up calories, or a recipe from a brand’s database of ingredients? Then you’ve used utility content.

Because this type of content is app-ified, it’s gaining tremendous momentum on mobile devices. Think Better Homes & Gardens real-estate tool. Location aware, it locates nearby properties for sale, but also delivers information about average sale prices in the neighborhood, nearby schools, taxes, and other information a home buyer needs to make a purchase decision. Sit or Squat, an app developed by Charmin, is the Yelp of public restrooms, helping people who gotta go find the nearest accessible public restroom, complete with ratings and reviews (likelihood of toilet paper, or cleanliness, for example).

In fact, as I write this column in-flight, I’m realizing I just used Delta’s app to check in and ascertain my status on the upgrade list (alas, no dice). At the gate, I got a push message from Marriott telling me my room is ready at the other end of my journey.

All of the above is content. All of it is – or can be – branded. Only some of it tells a story. And that’s OK.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

Image: http://windling.typepad.com

 

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Micro Content, Maxi Effect — How Shifts Toward Visual Content Will Impact Marketers

The written word seems to be on the decline, at least in the online space. Articles and white papers have morphed into blog posts and status updates. Hashtags, acronyms and emoticons stand in for sentences. OTP, BRB, LMK, OK?  :-)

How low can you go? In a year or two, 140 characters — a miserly allotment now — will seem a luxury, a vestige of an era marked by logorrheic verbosity.

If you doubted it before, believe it now: a picture really is worth the proverbial thousand words. Maybe more.

Opinion? Sure. But the facts bear this out. Facebook keeps redesigning to feature bigger, bolder images. Oh yeah, and the company bought Instagram for a cool million. Videos now auto-play on the platform. Yahoo, meanwhile, snatched up Tumblr. Twitter continues to make images and videos a more prominent part of the user experience. And don’t forget the increasing popularity of Pinterest, YouTube, and SnapChat — you can easily see where all this is going.

Research, too, bears out the hypothesis that visual (and audio-visual) content is subsuming the written word. As an analyst, when I ask marketers about the types of content and media channels they’re leaning toward in the future, all forms of written content are on the decline, from press releases to blog posts.  Investment is around multimedia and images.

Content types

The chart above highlights the reason behind this shift in the we communicate online: mobile. Simply put, no one’s about to read War and Peace on a smartphone. Mobile means a lot of things, but mostly it means that screens are getting smaller. The smaller the screen, the pithier information must be in order to be comfortably communicated and absorbed by its target audience.

Ease of use is key here as well. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter don’t create content, rather they enable its dissemination — and if no one updates their status, then these platforms don’t stand a chance. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to upload that shot of your Hawaiian vacation (or delicious lunch, or mischievous puppy) than to narrate in detail why such things are interesting — especially while using your thumbs and combating auto-correct.

Content Strategy Implications

That content is becoming shorter, less verbose and more visual obviously has tremendous ramifications for content strategy. Here are three major points to bear in mind.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published. 

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Content Marketing: What’s the Big Idea?

bulbrite-g30-main-white-lgThe beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

What’s the Big Idea?

Take IBM.  IBM is a ginormous, multifaceted, global conglomerate offering a broad palette of products and services. What Big Idea could possibly unify their diverse offering? Simple (but smart): Smarter Planet. If you look at the initiative’s home page, you’ll immediately see the Smarter Planet idea easily encompasses every industry vertical, global territory, channel and capability that IBM offers – or serves.

As diversified and complex as IBM may be, the company seems almost one-track when compared to a conglomerate like GE. From transformers to light bulbs, media to microwaves, commercial lending and power grid infrastructure – how can all this possibly be united under the governing principle of a Big Idea?

It can: Ecomagination.  The concept works for B2B, B2C, home appliances and municipal water supplies. Ecomagination is the concept that GE content ladders up to, and is accountable to. It’s no abstraction.  Ecomagination is clearly defined by the company as, “Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to build innovative solutions for today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth.”

The beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

Arriving at the Big Idea

The Big Idea is way, way too big to belong to the content team alone, or the social media group, or communications. The Big Idea is (yet another) Big Reason – particularly in an era of  converged media - for smashing silos. Every marketing message must incorporate, address and answer to the Big Idea. It’s therefore the responsibility of every marketing division to arrive at what the Big Idea is, and to effectively communicate it to all internal and external stakeholders.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Content Strategy Gets Tactical: Establishing The Content Workflow

Content strategy — creating repeatable processes to govern content marketing and make it accountable to measurable goals — has many components.Content

Your first steps in putting together a content strategy include determining the goals, developing personas, analyzing content needs, and designating someone to serve in an editorial leadership capacity.

From there, you’ll want to establish a content workflow. This is the point at which content marketing gets tactical.

It’s a nuts-and-bolts process in which you will lay out content calendars, creation, approvals, style guides, templates and tools. Get this part right, and you’ll be ready to run a newsroom!

The Editorial Calendar: The Hub Of Your Content Workflow

At the very core of the content workflow is the editorial calendar. An editorial calendar establishes what content will be created, what format it should take, which channel it is meant for, and when it will be published. A digital editorial calendar also tracks the connections for a given piece of content, including how it will be repurposed and amplified in social media channels.

Editorial calendars track how often content is created (e.g., Twitter – 2x daily; Blog – 3x week; Newsletter – 2x month on Wednesday). They are also critical tools for tracking content ideas.

For example, a company striving to post four times per week on its blog may shoot for one originally authored piece, one commentary on current industry news, one guest post from an outside expert, and one round-up of curated links on interesting topics related to the business. Having specific goals helps to alleviate that “white page” syndrome when you know you have to create something, but you don’t have a clue what that something should be.

Many editorial calendars also incorporate the production process into the mix, which is a great way to ensure content creation is on track. This can include who’s responsible for individual content elements, the due date of a first draft, who conducts the copyedit, and a date (often, with a specific time) for receiving and proofing the final draft, entering it into the CMS system (or newsletter template, or blog platform), and when it will be pushed live, or published.

The editorial calendar should help outline a process for promoting and disseminating your content on various channels. For example, say you’re publishing a white paper or research report. How and when will that information be broken down, repurposed and funneled into other channels such as your blog, a press release, or an update on a social network? What about ad creative?

On that note, your calendar should include reminders to collect appropriate graphic elements and/or multimedia content (such as photos, charts or graphs) to enhance the written word.

The editorial calendar should be governed by a master calendar that takes into account key dates and events. It provides not only an overview of what content will publish by day, week or month, but ties that broader schedule together with specifics such as holidays, trade shows, company announcements, events (such as webinars), or new product launches.

Don’t forget to take international holidays into account if content is targeted to foreign countries or territories. These key dates should also help inform the editorial calendar with ideas for content themed for the Christmas season, perhaps, or a major industry conference at which you’ll be releasing a white paper.

Those holiday reminders in the calendar should be taken seriously, and they should be leavened with common sense. Seasoned editors don’t publish their best material late on a Friday afternoon in summer when the target audience is beach-bound, just as a financial services company should hold back publishing on a bank holiday Monday. That’s just common sense; you want your content to have the maximum possible reach and impact.

More Tools Of The Trade

The editorial calendar is a must-have tool for any content marketing strategy, and one that can be adapted to varying needs. What follows are a list of additional resources for the content “newsroom” that range from nice-to-have to must-have elements of content marketing initiatives, depending on the organization and goals.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand.com, where it originally published.

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Is There Really a Content Glut?

credit: "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life"

credit: “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”

You are just beginning to wrap your mind around the fact that content marketing is the new “it” thing in digital marketing when you hear it’s over. Too much noise, not enough signal. Too much content. Too much bad content. No one will ever find your content due to the glut of other content incessantly pouring into digital channels at an accelerating, unceasing rate.

You may as well hang it up and go home. Better yet, if you haven’t already, don’t even start doing this whole content marketing thing.

This argument, surfacing recently in a spate of blogs and articles, is as pointless as it is predictable. You may as well argue that you shouldn’t market via email because of spam. Or (as was suggested in a recent interview), claim it’s time to trash your website because all websites ”look alike” and are “boring.”

These are kneejerk reactions to disruption, more indicative of human nature than they are of the efficacy of new marketing strategies and techniques. Here’s what’s really going on:

  • It’s cool to be the first to the party.
  • It’s even cooler to declare the party’s over before anyone else does.

Only with content, you can’t do that because content is a constant. As I’ve said before in this column, content is the atomic particle of all marketing. No content = no website. No content = no email. No content = no social media, advertising, “creative,” DM, you name it. All those tactics and formats are, in effect, content envelopes.

Has a surge in the popularity of content marketing foisted more bad content upon us? You bet it has. So what else is new? Bad content, boring content, superfluous content — the world’s always been full of it and will continue to be full of it.

Even bastions of impeccably produced content, The New York Times, for example, can be tarred with this brush. For more decades than I’m willing to admit, as a print edition subscriber, my first act of the day was to bend over, pick up the paper, and chuck the sports section. That (to me, at least) is boring, superfluous, irrelevant content (though I can appreciate that you may be of an entirely different opinion). This did not, however, impel me to “turn off” my New York Times subscription.

If there’s a content glut, it’s because we’ve reached that very predictable stage in the disruption curve when a trend becomes a bandwagon. This results in spray and pray tactics, irrational exuberances, content “gurus” emerging from every quarter (most of them were social media gurus yesterday, and search gurus a couple of years back).

I won’t dispute for an instant that bad content is being created at a healthy clip. But I do disagree that all this noise drowns out the genuine signals.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

What’s In Your Dream Content Marketing Toolbox?

What tools do you use in conjunction with your content marketing program?

What tools would you like to use?

Marketers aren’t holistically considering content needs before investing in tools. Far too often, they procure solutions with overlapping capabilities.

To date, there hasn’t been a detailed map of the content vendor landscape (though Curata maintains a good list). More important, the available content solutions haven’t been mapped to actual use cases.

There are tools out there for creation, curation, collaboration, compliance, and plenty of content chores that don’t start with the letter C, such as distribution and syndication, measurement and analytics, optimization, topic discovery, defining and finding an audience, and workflow management (among many others).

Who buys these solutions? How are they sourced? Who uses them inside of enterprises and agencies? Do those end-users actually have a say in the selection? Is there a budget for content technology in the enterprise? If there is, what types of solutions will it be spent on?

This is where I could really use your help. We’re researching the above questions to hopefully bring clarity to what is a somewhat confusing and tangled landscape of vendors and tools. We believe more clarity will emerge around the content vendor landscape, but not without marketers weighing in and making their wants and needs known.

May I ask for less than 10 minutes of your time, if you’re at all involved in content marketing, to respond to our research survey on the topic? The findings will be published and made publicly available.

The purpose of our research is to explore the plethora of content tools available, and map them to marketers’ actual needs and use cases, as well as how content tools are sourced, evaluated, and purchased. Some of the questions we’re trying to answer include:

  • How do real world content marketing cases use map to specific content tools?
  • What types of content tools are available to the market?
  • How do companies select/purchase content tools based on needs and use cases?

Once we have your responses, we’re going back to the vendors (more than 100 of them) with a questionnaire designed around the survey responses. In other words, we don’t want to evaluate content tools from a research analyst perspective or base our evaluations on what the vendors say they do. Rather, we are digging to uncover the needs and the processes in the marketplace.

Thanks very much for taking the time to weigh in on the survey. (And for passing the link along to your colleagues).

This post originally published on iMedia.

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Nine Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2014

crystal-ballLongtime readers know not to expect a list of annual “predictions” so prevalent in trade publications this time of year. After all, I’m an industry analyst. Un-endowed with the psychic abilities that would enable me to read crystal balls or entrails, I must instead rely on my innate powers of observation and analysis.

That’s not said casually. Observation and analysis of digital marketing and media is what I do.  Based on industry movement, technology developments, and industry trends, these are the areas I’ll be watching most closely in the new year.

  1. Enterprises Organize for Content  The hue and cry up to a year or so ago from content marketing evangelists was “hire a chief content officer!” The sentiment behind this exhortation was and remains correct: content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. To create, maintain and enforce strategy, guidelines, processes, governance and guardrails are entirely necessary. However not every board is disposed to create a new C-level position. That’s why companies are taking seriously the need to organize for content marketing.  Last spring we identified six real-world models. Expect to see companies begin to adopt these with some alacrity in 2014.
  2. Native Advertising Will Surge Brands, publishers, agencies, technology vendors – virtually the entire digital advertising ecosystem has a stake in the ground when it comes to native advertising. The IAB and the FTC have chimed in with the beginnings of defining the space and the rules of engagement. Virtually all the members of the Online Publishers Association now offer some form of native advertising, and major brands are allocating budget for serious experiments. You’re going to hear a lot more about this form of converged media (paid + owned) in the coming months.
  3. Real-Time Marketing Another form of converged media is real-time marketing,  the strategy and practice of reacting with immediacy in digital channels.  As more channels and media operate in real-time, and as real-time events such as television converge with digital channel on mobile and social media platforms, virtually all marketers will be challenged this year to define a real-time marketing strategy, and indeed to determine what real-time means for their organization and marketing efforts.
  4. Content Marketing ‘Stacks’ Emerge It’s already happening. Adobe has formally announced what we’ve long known they would: their Marketing and Creative Clouds will merge. Oracle bought Compendium and Eloqua (expect Salesforce to do something very, very similar quite soon – ExactTarget isn’t quite in the content bucket).  This trend indicates 2014 will usher in an important new chapter in content marketing maturity: end-to-end, cloud-based technology solutions similar to ad stacks, rather than the boutique array of much more limited solutions that are currently available. This matters not just as a technology play, but as something that will make content a safer and more integrated enterprise investment.
  5. Media Continue to Converge Paid, earned and owned media continue to collapse into blended forms of marketing. This trend is only accelerating with consumer trends such as cord-cutting, that make platforms such as television even more digital than they formerly were. Concurrently, OOH signage and other forms of media are more digital, too, allowing owned content and forms of shared media such as tweets to circulate freely through media ecosystem.
  6. Breaking Down Silos If number 6 comes as a surprise, you clearly haven’t read the first five trends. Media converging, a greater emphasis on content marketing, native advertising, real-time marketing and other blended forms of marketing means teams must collaborate more than every before. Goal alignment, resource sharing, and content portability – none of this happens internally, much less with vendor and agency partners, unless barriers and divisions are smashed.  There’s no more time to wait. Silos must be abolished now.
  7.  Interoperability Much more than a byproduct of convergence, apps, gadgets, devices are becoming interoperable – seamlessly interoperable. AS a for instance, my personal fitness monitor smoothly syncs with my Android phone, laptop computer, iPad, Walgreen’s loyalty card, stand-alone weight and food trackers, and (if I wanted, which I don’t) with all my social media accounts. All this at the flick of preference radio buttons. The days or “either/or” “Mac/Windows” customer experience are over. Customers expect – and demand – seamlessness from their digital life.
  8. More Mobile Yeah, we hear this every year, but mobile really has come to the fore. More smartphones and tablets are flying off the shelves than PCs and laptops, and mobile finally commands more consumer time than the boob-tube.  This means new experiences, media strategies and (looping back to the top of the list) more content, real-time and native in marketing plans.  “Mobile first” is no longer a hollow mantra. It’s really, actually true.
  9. Measuring What’s Undefined  Is this really a genuine trend? I hope it will be. There’s this unrealistic expectation in digital that everything’s measurable. It is, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really LIKE to see in 2014 is, in additional to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably and aligned with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out. Square pegs, round holes.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Content Strategy Is Foundational To Real-Time Marketing

When the curtain went up on the Emmy Awards, HBO was ready.

As usual, the cable network was nominated for a plethora of awards. Naturally, there was no way of knowing who, or what programming, would win which categories. At the same time, there were plenty of knowns: those shows, actors, directors and talent who were nominated in each category.
[KGVID width="640" height="360"]http://medias.gifboom.com/medias/a66a4280060e0131455800259057bfee.mp4[/KGVID]
So, the social media team, led by VP of Digital and Social Media Sabrina Caluori, sprang into action weeks before the actual event. They created content for every possible award outcome. But first, they informed internal stakeholders (management, legal, communications) about their overall strategy and what the team planned to do and react to. From this, guidelines and rules of engagement were developed around the content, much of which was locked and loaded in advance of the event.

“We know we need freedom to develop content on the fly, but we need to know the guardrails [and] if anything we did needed to be escalated,” she said. “There are built-in parameters for the campaign.”

HBO aced the evening (mostly on Twitter) with responses to the awards, winners, and show itself that were immediate, timely, on-message and on-brand.

HBO is just one of the many brands we spoke with for a new research report, “Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now’” (download available at no cost under Creative Commons).

We’ve identified six business use cases for real-time marketing (RTM) and outlined best practices based on our research. But if successful RTM boils down to just one thing, it’s having a clear, mature, fully developed content strategy in place before leveraging the “right now.”

RTM initiatives fall into a quadrant of initiatives that fall on a sliding scale between reactive/proactive and planned/unplanned. Being proactive and planning is ideally where you want to be when marketing in real-time, as illustrated in the above HBO example (there are many other such case examples in the report).

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published

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The Six Business Cases for Real-Time Marketing

As digital channels operate increasingly in the ‘now,’ all marketing organizations must consider to what degree they will function in real-time, and even define what real-time is relative to their operations and marketing organization.

The payoff? That digital marketing ideal: the right message to the right person at the right time. The right instant, even.

Real-time marketing (RTM) can add tremendous value to customer interactions; making brands appear relevant, with-it, informed, dynamic and buzzworthy. The movement toward RTM is also driven by consumer expectations as immediacy, relevance and access increase with technology.

Our new research report, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now,’ identifies six business use cases for real-time marketing that fall into a quadrant of planned/unplanned and reactive vs. proactive interactions. In numerous interviews with agency and brand-side practitioners, we found all successful RTM requires enormous strategic and tactical preparation, beginning with a strong , clear and well-defined content strategy.

real-time marketing use case quadrant

RTM Use Case #1: Brand Events
Brand events include product launches, conferences, media and customer-facing events where content strategy, pre-approvals, media plans, hashtags, creative, editorial calendars, etc. can be prepared in advance. During events, staff are available to push out content and react to posts in social media.

RTM Use Case #2. Anticipated Event
A growing number of organizations are preparing for real-time events that are anticipated in advance. Business goals, strategies, teams, and approvals are ready, content is locked and loaded.

RTM Use Case #3: Location/object-based
A small but promising use case of RTM taps into location and object-based triggers. Hand-crafted examples of this type of RTM include local food trucks publicizing specials and current locations. Increasingly sophisticated technology, such as iBeacon, target a consumer’s location down to the store-shelf level and push a promotion to that person’s phone in the moment. That’s literally targeting the right person at the right time and the right place.

RTM Use Case #4. Predictive Analytics-based
Another relatively small but growing area of triggered RTM is based on predictive analytics. Amazon has long used predictive data to display recommendations to customers based on browsing and purchase history. This trend will gain momentum as data solutions become more accessible and simpler to implement.

RTM Use Case #5. Customer Interaction
Customer interactions take many forms: CRM, customer service, handling complaints, and community interactions being primary examples. While many organizations handle such interactions to customer service, the very public, visible and occasionally even viral nature of these interactions in social channels means they are increasingly becoming a marketing function. This holds particularly true now that customers have come to expect brands to respond to their digital queries and complaints in near-real time.

RTM Use Case #6. Breaking News
The most reactive form of RTM is responding in a legitimate, relevant manner to unanticipated breaking news. This can also be the riskiest, most spontaneous, and difficult type of RTM. Advance preparation is all but impossible. Breaking news isn’t always good news, so an acute degree of sensitivity is called for. Often, this also requires following a story as it unfolds. The opportunity is hitting it over the fence by appropriately leveraging the event in a way that is relevant, both to the event and to the brand.

As with all Altimeter Group research, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now’ is available at no cost under Creative Commons.  Help yourself!  And please let us know your reactions, as well as how your organization is functioning in real-time.



Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

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How to Conduct a Content Audit

You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. You might think you know where you are, but without a thorough website content audit, it’s likely you don’t.

Why perform a content audit (which admittedly is a painstaking and exacting exercise)? Lots of reasons. It helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to the goals of the organization. Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the organization? Is it optimized for search? And are technical frameworks, such as the content management system (CMS), up to the task of handling it? Finally, an audit helps assess needs: teams, workflow, management, and identifying gaps. It will also shape content governance and help determine the feasibility of future projects.

A content audit is a 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). A content audit is often performed in tandem with a content inventory, the process of creating a quantitative analysis of content.

Step 1: Create a content inventory

Create a content inventory 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 > Women’s Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Dr. Scholl’s. A company website’s headings would align more closely with 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, and so on). 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. Was the content created in-house? Who created it? Was it outsourced (e.g., 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. Now, it’s time to dig into the quality of the content — the content audit. For each of the following steps, it’s helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page (e.g., a scale of one to five, with one being “pretty crappy” and five being “rockstar fantastic”).

Some practitioners say you can shortcut through certain site pages or sections, arguing that certain pieces of content are evergreen. While that can certainly be the case, a thorough perusal of every piece of content on every page just might surprise you. Elements that you thought were set in stone, or changed site-wide, have a nasty habit of coming up and biting you in the behind. For example, the page displaying the address of the office your company moved out of five years ago, or the “contact” email address pointing to a long since departed employee.

So long as you’re taking the time to audit the content, it pays to audit all the content.

Step 2: What’s it about?

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

Step 3: Is it accurate and up-to-date?

In a word, 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.”

Step 4: Does it support both user and business goals?

Many constituencies feed into a company’s digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing and PR, and customer service, to name but a few. Different divisions could 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.

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