Content Strategy

Is It Time for an Audit? Strategies to Revitalize Underperforming Content

By Kyle Harper on July 31, 2018

I actually enjoy job interviews. I like the challenge of answering questions, learning someone's cues on the fly, and the potential reward for a job well done. But during one particular interview, I remember being asked a question that threw me for a loop: "How would you react if, after putting a lot of work and effort into a project, it was dropped for something new?"

I didn't have anything witty to say to that. Honestly, I'd probably feel not great.

Deciding how to deal with low-performing content often gives me much the same feeling. Whether I've put 350 or 3500 words of effort into a project, the idea that work I've done might need to be revamped, or even pulled from a site down the line, feels unsatisfying. I imagine this feeling is very common among content creators and marketing managers. It may be one of the reasons so many brands can be sluggish about auditing their underperforming content.

But content management shouldn't be a point of dread for content marketers. Low performance can (and will) happen for myriad reasons, from changes in audience interest to search algorithm updates to once-timely topics that are simply out of date. Auditing this content isn't just a vital part of keeping your whole marketing engine healthy-it's also an invaluable opportunity to learn from your content and to revitalize pieces that might be losing their shine.

But what, exactly, does underperforming content look like?

A Portrait of Low-Performing Content

"When we review content, we're always asking 'should we still be talking about this thing in this way?'" explains Skyword's director of content marketing services, Matt Holliday. "Of course, visits are always a simple measure to look at."

Measuring content performance is both a science and an art. Some indicators like web metrics can give you an automated way to quickly spot underperforming content that needs to be addressed. But keeping your audience's experience front of mind will also help you spot content that fails to perform due to inaccurate, obsolete, or counter-strategic information.

Matt suggests conducting a full-scale content audit once a year, keeping these questions in mind:

  • Does this content still align with our brand's strategy and presence?

  • Is this content still relevant? Is the information accurate and important to audiences?

  • Is this content driving traffic?

  • Is the user experience of interacting with this content pleasant?

The first two considerations can't be automated at the moment. Content alignment and relevance are abstract qualities that require the nuance of human intuition. There's no fast or easy way to fully evaluate a piece of content for its broader strategic contributions. Or as Matt very simply put it, "With audits, time equals quality."

white board planning

Image attribution: Startaê Team

All of this means that before you even begin your audit, you should have two clearly defined questions you are setting out to address: What is your current brand strategy, and what is most important to your visitors?

You could refer to your marketing plan and latest focus group results to guide this discussion, but it's also fine to just make sure you can reference your audience personas and a copy of your mission statement to guide your thought process.

The final two considerations Matt raises, however, are much easier to track from a technical perspective. Site traffic and engagement are familiar web metrics to content marketers, and as far as an audit is concerned the solution is simple: Pages that aren't getting visits or are bleeding out visitors need attention.

Likewise, evaluating content through the lens of user experience can help you identify many of the problems that might harm your content hub. Understanding how expanded content formats like video or infographics render on your page, how long load times are on different devices, or how intuitive it is to navigate your content hub all go a long way towards improving your overall site experience for your content writ large.

If this sounds like a lot of work, well, that's because it is. But it's essential. "For anyone who wants to be serious about their content," Matt says, "this is an absolute necessity."

Fixing Low-Performing Content

So you've conducting an audit and you have the list of content you want to address. Now what?

You'll be encouraged to hear that content audits never mean throwing stuff out. Even if you ultimately decide to remove content from your page, it should still be archived. You never know when a stakeholder might ask about an old blog post, or when a shift in your community might make a video that seemed irrelevant suddenly timely again.

But where possible, the goal should be to revitalize content. And as with our considerations for identifying low-performing content, the revitalization process is both an editorial and a technical one.

Beginning with brand and relevance, content fixes will typically be mean rewriting or editing your material to be in line with the present state of your brand initiatives. Brand alignment can involve anything from adjusting overall tone and themes to tweaking specific language or promises made in your material.

Relevance, on the other hand, is a much more straightforward matter to address. Are there dates or time frames in your content that need to be updated to reflect the present? Have any of the people mentioned in your posts changed title or position since you last wrote about them? Have the links you included remained useful, and are they even still live? While this sort of work can be tedious, these small details add up to a huge impact on how authoritative visitors consider your content to be.

Content relevance is also important as we move into thinking about site traffic. A page that isn't performing well for your site usually suffers from one of three issues:

  1. Its SEO doesn't align with current searching behavior.
  2. Its "hook" and headline aren't interesting enough for users to engage with.
  3. It contains a more fundamental technical error, like a broken site map that is preventing your content from being seen.

More often than not, this type of analysis will come down to understanding how your primary keywords have changed over time and then updating old content to align with your most recent SEO strategy.

A notebook with wireframes

Image attribution: Jeffrey Betts

And lastly, there are the UX considerations. Site experience may seem like a broad and vague topic to tackle, but it's often much easier to wrap your head around than you think. Approach the problem from an audience perspective, and go through the site navigation flows that your users do. Engaging with the same behavior you observe from your visitors can challenge your assumptions about how your site should work and show you how it actually does work. You can further support these investigations with UX plugins for your analytics like cursor and scroll depth tracking, or you might even run a usability test for persistent and curious problems that you discover during your audits.

Like so many other practices in content marketing, content management is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event. Auditing may never be a content marketer's favorite activity, but it's a vital opportunity to both keep your large pool of content useful and to learn more about the changing interests and behaviors of your audience. Review annually, keep your eye set on relevance and brand alignment, and always, always remember to put yourself in the shoes of your visitors.

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Kyle Harper

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?