Most companies have no idea how much branded content they are publishing on the Internet everyday, with even less knowing exactly where it all lives. In our desire to deliver knowledge, news and marketing messages to our target audiences, we often start pumping out content without too much worry about tracking where it resides, or about developing a solid strategy behind its purpose and delivery. Not only is this sloppy, it is irresponsible. 

Content is everywhere on the Internet. And where there’s content, there should be a content strategy behind it. If you don’t currently have a solid content strategy behind your content generation, it’s past time to sit down and develop one. This will only make your content better.

There are some preliminary steps that need to be taken in order for you to develop a solid content strategy. You must know exactly what content of yours currently exists online, where it all lives, and what it is about. You can gather and record all of this information by conducting a content audit.

Content Audit Explained

A web content audit is a full record of all the content your business currently has published online. This task can be very tedious and time consuming for larger websites, but the finished product is extremely valuable to your business. Without a content audit, you are blindly publishing content on your website or sending it out into the Inter-Web without a clue to where it is going.

Think of it this way: Would you send your college freshman off to college without knowing where to find them? You spent 18 years preparing them to take on the real world, to say ‘no’ to peer pressure, and taught them how to manage money and make (wise) decisions – wouldn‘t you want to at least know their dorm room and phone number? Possibly have their mailing and email address in your iPhone? With a content audit, you not only have your content’s dorm mailing address, but you also know what it is wearing on its first day to English 101.

Your business can make informed decisions about any form of web content project. You can find marketing message gaps that need to be filled. Maybe you are leaning too heavy on one primary marketing message and ignoring the other two. By knowing what content you have, you can then determine what content you need. So, how do you record all of this precious information!?! With a content inventory, of course!

What is a Content Inventory?

The Content Inventory is one of the best audit tools you can use for this process. During your audit, you will be clicking through every single page of your website and any other web content your organization is responsible for, and recording everything you find into a document called a content inventory.

The Almighty Spreadsheet

A content inventory is usually a spreadsheet that captures information for each web page you are responsible for creating, reviewing, or caring for. These spreadsheets are organized like an outline with each page clearly labeled in its appropriate section.

The amount of detail and explanation for each page is up to you or your business objectives. Below are the most highly recommended areas of information to be gathered, one column at a time.

  • Page ID: Establish a clear labeling system for each web page. I labeled our home page “0.0”, while our home page tabs each received a subsequent whole number. Once you get deeper into the site, you will want to start using appropriate decimal numbers for page ID. Are there three sub-landing pages on your “About Us” page? Use 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3. Capiche?
  • Page Name: You don’t need an English degree from “Havahd” to fill out this column. Enter in the name of the page that most appropriately describes it. Most of your main pages will have straightforward names: Home Page, About Us, Sitemap, Contact Us, Our Team, Company Blog, etc.
  • Page Title: The Page Title is what appears at the top of your browser, just above the URL box, when you are currently on a certain page. If you properly search engine optimized your site, these page titles should include your primary keywords and your company name and/or slogan. Enter these page titles into your next column. This not only helps with content siloing, but search engine optimization decisions as well.
  • Page Address: The Page Address column is simply used to record the web page’s URL. Just copy and paste it into this cell and you’re good to go.
  • Page Description: Use the last column to describe–in detail–every piece of content on each web page: the headline, the body copy, links, modules installed, calls to action, PDFs and other downloads, videos, forms, shopping carts, registrations, etc. For larger, more complex sites, this column is very helpful to those not intimate with the website itself.

Optional Columns

  • Content Creator - this column notes who is responsible for creating, approving, publishing, and maintaining this specific content.
  • Content Location - this column is slightly different than the URL column. If you have a larger site, there could be situation where content sits on different servers or platforms. Is it in your CMS? Is it published on an affiliate site? Use this column to record this information.

This Is A Process, Not A Project

A content inventory is an ongoing process. As content is created, edited, deleted, or moved, you need to adjust your spreadsheet accordingly. It may wise to assign this responsible to someone in your company who is passionate about content and has a strategic approach to projects. You may also want to ensure they have the time to conduct such an important process.

If you or your company does not have the time or resources to add this process to someone’s job capacity, then you can execute a quick, quantitative audit on your site. This is the same spreadsheet with just raw, definitive data about each page on your site. No detailed explanation of every module, node, and link that graces the page. Keep it sweet and simple.

Why Content Strategy Matters

By now you’ve heard the digital cliché: “Content is King,” it may mean something to you or it may not. But chances are you are either here to be converted, or to sing with the choir. Shalom.

When websites seek business from online consumers, there is no better feeling than landing on the front page of Google. But when consumers find your site there and make that ever-so-satisfying click-through, what are kind of content are they going to find? Videos? Flash animation? Images and copy? What does it say about you as a company?

When you offer a product or service that fills a need for someone, you are also addressing a pain. Take a look at your homepage. Does the content stoke the fire of their pain or does the content soothe their ills?

Choosing Their Own Adventure

Do you remember those books growing up called “Choose Your Own Adventure”? At the end of every chapter, you could choose what the main characters did at a critical point in the story. Depending upon which decision you made for the character(s), you were directed to a new page number to begin reading again. By doing so, you were choosing your own adventure through the book. There were only a set number of possible story lines that you could follow.

Your website is very similar. When your traffic clicks onto your website, they are stars and all the content should address them. There are also a variety of different endings to your site. The ideal ending would be a conversion of some kind – newsletter signup, download, or purchase.

Here are a few questions to help gauge your site:

  • What are the different possible endings for your site?
  • How easy is it to follow the different possible stories on your site?
  • Is your target audience the star of your site, or are you the star of your site
  • If you couldn’t answer any of these questions quickly and concisely, it may be time to talk to a content strategist.

Voice, Tone, and Vision

Websites are no longer the ugly duckling for businesses. In certain (to most) cases, they are actually the life blood of a company’s success. Too many companies spend oodles of money on design to sell, Sell, SELL and forget about the conversation the customer wants to have. It happens all too often that the decision makers just want to see results, so putting 10 boxes for sell on their homepage to help solve financial problems will bring a flood of dollars. Are they addressing the pain? What kind of tone is that setting with the visitor? “We know you are in financial trouble, so check out all these products on our homepage that also cost money.”

When you are being a good friend (which I know you are), you listen to the problems of a buddy, co-worker, or family member first. You acknowledge their pain and relate, to show that they aren’t alone and you are compassionate. You don’t try and sell them a solution within the first five seconds of the conversation. It may work for 4% of your visitors, which is great.. but that is also a 96% failed rate.

Does your Site Sound Like This?

I know it's Latin, but hopefully you get the point. You need to establish the correct voice, tone and vision throughout your website - let your visitors know that you feel their pain, you are listening, and then provide solutions. If your website provides the right adventure, your products will be flying off the shelf.

While search engine optimization helps your site rank well in Google, a well-implemented content strategy can drive customers through your conversion process once they are on your site. Make sure your website speaks to your target audience, and isn’t just talking about yourself. Too many sites have an inner dialogue and don’t even engage potential customers. Their perspective of valuable content is telling people how good they are at what they do. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to establish some credibility. But if companies are talking about themselves on their websites too much, do you think that reflects the way they do business?