In a recent article from Copyblogger, Mike King writes extensively (with step-by-step instructions) on how to fill in the gaps in your content marketing plan that might costing you money. Read the original article here.
Content is not king.
Yep, I said it. (This guy did, too.)
In the realm of content marketing, the customer is ruler of our domain.
Without falling deep into a series of Game of Thrones allusions, let’s agree that all content must be created with the customer’s needs in mind. Otherwise we are wasting time and resources as marketers.
I’ve already written much on personas and their usages across digital marketing, but it’s tying those personas to user journeys and content that yields remarkable increases in conversion.
Using different exercises to identify content gaps helps you plug the holes in your funnel and get more out of your content.
How to use personas and user journeys for qualitative content auditing
When developing personas we get a detailed picture of who the members of our audience are and what makes them tick.
Most importantly we understand what it is that they need within the context of what our business offers.
Meet Dinky Danny, a persona I created for custom itinerary travel agency Trip.Me.
One of the key insights from this persona is that the user wants to feel like an expert before they make their travel decision. He or she is not necessarily just looking for the best deal in price, but the perfect deal … and will likely need content that speaks to every stage of their trip.
But what are the stages of their trip?
Naturally, the next step is a journey-mapping exercise with the goal of understanding the series of needs or activities that a user goes through within her path to purchase and beyond.
Journey mapping is an art and a science that requires identifying user needs and developing them into stages — some of which align directly with business transactional touch points, and some that can only align with content.
Here is an example of the process:
Alternatively, you can map it to the funnel and align it with the segments you identify in keyword research. I prefer to use that in combination with the ethnographic approach I’ve detailed in the past.
For example, this is the user journey for Trip.Me.
Through a series of ethnographic research activities, I’ve identified these phases of user activity and what those users are hoping to accomplish. Giving these phases names allows me to then review the content through the eyes of the target segments and see who is accounted for and what need states the content fulfills.
This is a large part of what is done in the qualitative auditing by either a research analyst or a content strategist. Ultimately, this is where content and audience come together.
How to perform a Qualitative Content Audit
Start this process with a crawl using Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider, which automates the collection of some of the required data points, most importantly the list of pages. (Of course, you’ll have to physically review each page as well and keep notes as patterns start to emerge.)
After you’ve seen every page type several times, you’ll start to notice that you can just glance at certain page types without having to spend too much time reading every single word. I’m not saying to perform a lazy content audit; but, for example, a product page is a product page, and once you understand how they have been laid out you’ll have a general understanding of what they are and how they can be improved.
And if a site is too large, then you can perform this with a representative sample of pages.
For each page you’ll want to collect the following data points:
This is just an identifier for each page that can be referenced across deliverables as you’re building out your content strategy. These are typically decimal numbers that reflect the site’s structure.
The homepage may be represented as either 0.0 or 1.0, while a first-level sub-page of main category could be 2.10 and its child page could be 2.11.
You can use whatever schema you’d like, just be sure to remain consistent.
Actual page title
This is the title of the page as defined in its metadata.
If these have been written correctly, they can act as a way to jog your memory as to what the page is about. If they aren’t … well then you have your first suggestion of what can be improved.
This can be easily obtained from Screaming Frog. You could also grab the meta description if you like, but in my experience most sites that I’ve worked on don’t have good meta descriptions when we’re in this phase, so I usually skip it.
Where does this content live on the web? Screaming Frog provides this.
What format is this content in: HTML, PDF, infographic, image, video?
This can be parsed from the Content field that Screaming Frog provides, however it is worth double checking by using other fields because sometimes what is identified in the header “text/html” is not.
What is it?
Give a short description of what the content is in your own words. This, in context with the page title, should give you a refresher or flashback of the page.
Based on the persona’s user story and needs, you are making a qualitative judgment call as to whether this content will resonate with them. This field can feature one or more personas, or none at all.
This is how we determine from a people perspective whether this content is worth keeping.
Target need state
Based on the user journey, what stage does this content fall into?
Again, you’re making a qualitative judgment call to determine whether the content fulfills a specific need. This time, however, it is somewhat irrespective of who the content is specifically for.
Is it link-worthy?
Would anyone link to this content? This is a “Yes/No” field.
This is also a judgment call based on what you know of the web and what type of content attracts links. A boring product page is not likely to be link-worthy while an infographic or entertaining video is.
Is it share-worthy?
Would anyone share this content on social media? This is also a “Yes/No” field.
What is share-worthy is often what is link-worthy. However, in some cases the converse is true. For example, while you may link to a white paper in an article, you might not share that white paper to your social network.
Is it unique, redundant, or outdated?
Understanding whether content serves a unique purpose or is up to date is incredibly important in developing singular paths throughout the site, as well as trimming the fat.
With this field you make the call as to whether the content is unique, redundant or outdated.
In your professional opinion what are some options for this content? Can we update it, delete it, or repurpose it? Are there typos and grammar mistakes?
Anything you think that should be done with it should be noted here.
The end result of the Qualitative Content Audit is a document that looks like this.
Throughout the review process you’ll begin to get a sense of what you have, what you don’t, and who it serves. For example, I can now filter for Dinky Danny and quickly identify which of her need states are met.
It should be noted that by no means are these data points exhaustive; you can review for whatever qualitative features you deem fit. The aforementioned fields are just those that are most often helpful to my clients and their use cases.
How to choose the right data for a Quantitative Content Audit
Additionally, you will want to pull data so you can support what is working and what isn’t based on quantifiable metrics.
After all, we are digital marketers. For us it’s not just about feelings and empathy for the user, but about hard facts and figures on their behavior.
Quantitatively, you can review whatever metrics are relevant to the business goals. In the case of Trip.Me I’ve used:
- Content ID
- Organic Revenue
- Request Conversion Rate
- Overall Conversion Rate
- Organic Search Traffic
- Social Traffic
- All Traffic
- Tweet Count
- Like Count
- +1 Count
- Inbound Links
- Bounce Rate
- Time on Site
All of these metrics should be self-explanatory and are not exhaustive. The quantitative data points should be chosen based on what matters most to the measurement plan of the website.
How to perform a Quantitative Content Audit
If you’ve started from the qualitative side you can simply copy and paste the Content ID and URL into this sheet as well. If not, then you start from Screaming Frog as shown above.
You can use Social Crawlytics or Neils Bosma’s SEO tools for Excel plugin to pull the share data andSEOGadget has an Excel Plugin for pulling data from a variety of other SEO-related sources such as Ahrefs, OpenSiteExplorer, Grepwords, and more.
I prefer to use SocialCrawlytics and pull the CSVs from the data providers and just use the VLOOKUP function, as it is often faster than direct data pulls within Excel. However, the tradeoff is that I lose the ability for automatic updates to these metrics at a later time.
I love Excel’s conditional formatting for this part of the process. It very quickly makes clear what pieces of content are the winners (see what I mean here).
Between these two sets of analysis, you can now figure out fairly quickly what performs, what the sticking points are, and what is missing entirely with regard to the user journey.
Now … finding the gaps
In my review of Trip.Me’s content I quickly noticed that most of it falls into two distinct buckets that are very early in their user journey: Explore and Book.
This makes complete sense as they are an early-stage startup, so for them it’s all about getting transactions.
The transactional phase front loads Trip.Me’s journey, but Dinky Danny specifically wants to feel like an expert. So even if she’s interested in Trip.Me’s tours, or if she happens across their fun Country Comparison tool, she doesn’t have enough information to make her feel comfortable with her purchasing decision. Thus, Dinky Danny will likely head back to the search results and do more research on other travel agency sites and blogs.
While she may ultimately come back to book with Trip.Me, there’s also the possibility that she may end up booking somewhere else that caught her eye during her research process. Therefore, Trip.Me must plug those gaps in order to get better at converting Dinky Danny from viewer to customer.
This is not limited to the travel context.
Here’s a customer journey for a company called Sunrun that offers solar power installations.
From what I gather, solar panels and power are complicated products to consider and buy, so there is a pretty long sales cycle.
While I don’t know anything about their market segments, I imagine that if Sunrun had no content about installation on their site, the process would feel daunting and few people would signup. But Sunrun is aware of this. They have identified this as a key phase and make it an objective to speak about installation in their messaging, with an entire section of the site dedicated to it.
Suffice to say, if you don’t have a piece of content or touch point for each relevant phase in the user journey, then you’re missing out on opportunities.
You’re losing out in search because your competitors may have content for this phase covered, with the opportunity to shape how the experience should be. And you’re missing out in social media because entertaining or educational content for each phase can be shared and used for brand awareness.
Identify action items from your content audit
Your content audit should yield a series of improvements you want to take action on.
You should look for the stages in the user journey for which the existing content is inadequate or non-existent. These are the holes in your funnel.
You should also look for things that can be repurposed — like white papers — that can become data visualization, or blog posts that can be updated and turned into evergreen guides that reinforce a user’s need state.
You should look for what content is serving no one in your audience … and prune it.
Finally, you should be looking at what performs best, and at which stages, and create more of it.
In the case of Trip.Me, it made us realize that we should be building more content for the rest of the user’s needs to help with brand awareness and encourage confidence, which ultimately encourages booking. For example, we realized that there were opportunities for honeymoon-specific content that would speak to the Dinky Danny persona.
So this idea …
Became this post …
And has started popping up in many of the site’s assisted conversion paths.
Mind the gap on exit
Once the business goals and the target audience have been determined, every content marketing campaign should begin here.
Content marketing campaigns can otherwise fly blind and miss the mark for users who may have been entertained or mildly educated, but not thoroughly satisfied.
Remember the consumer is king, while content is a jester in his court.
If content auditing and journey mapping are new concepts to you, then you may enjoy these parting gifts that will help you on your way.