In April I introduced a new tool tor assessing the suitability and quality of existing marketing content. It can also be used to assess new content while it's still in the draft stage, helping you to strive for a better finished piece. In this blog, I delve a little deeper into points one to five, and invite you to request the full 24-page e-book.
Things change fast, and even the best content can soon become out of date. This part of the audit is designed to spot when that has happened. A simple way to think about this is to break the task down into considering the internal and external environments.
Sometimes internal changes mean that the content is no longer relevant to your organisation’s current strategy or activity. I saw a classic example of this while working with a client recently. They had just launched a new product with a distinctive name and were in the middle of a PR campaign to promote it. But two years previously they had used the same name for a very early version of the product that hadn’t really taken off – and their website was littered with blogs and other pages using the product name.
There was a big risk than when someone Googled the product name after seeing some publicity about it, they would be taken to a blog about the earlier version. Old content often ranks high in search results, especially if it has been extensively visited and shared. In this case, if someone landed on an old blog it would have confused customers, potentially losing sales.
If you’ve studied marketing, you will remember the ‘STEP’ model for analysing the external environment. You can use it here, considering the Social, Technological, Economic and Political factors that may make your content look out of date. (Other versions of the model are PEST, STEEPLE or PESTLE, but they all do the same thing.)
A typical scenario would be where a piece of ‘thought leadership’ content becomes out of date after changes in the economic situation. Imagine if you are a financial adviser and you have a major piece of content from 2008 discussing mortgage options. The housing market has changed since then, as have interest rates and rules around mortgage availability.
It’s amazing how often something that the writer thought was very clear looks less clear when looked at again a while later. There’s something about coming back to a piece that gives us a different perspective. This is one reason why checking for clarity ('understandability') is part of the audit.
If you want to assess how clear and understandable a piece of content is, here are some tips:
Read it properly
We often just skim through a piece of writing, missing out words or phrases and trusting our brain to fill in the blanks. You want to avoid that here. Now is the time to read the content properly. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph.
Be very tough on the content. If there is anything you don’t completely understand the first time you read it, it needs attention.
Read it out loud
When you read something out loud you perceive it in a different way. You’re more likely to spot any problems with clarity. If you find yourself stumbling over parts of the content, it’s probably an indication that there’s a problem.
Think like the reader
Again, be very tough on the content here. Look out for any word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that may be confusing to readers. Pay special attention to whether any abbreviations or industry jargon you’ve used will be understood by everyone the piece is aimed at.
A definition of jargon is ‘special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand’. But the problem with that definition is that it assumes everyone in a profession or group has the same level of knowledge and familiarity with jargon. That’s an unlikely scenario.
Identify the density
Unless you’re a brilliant writer, it’s likely that long sentences or long paragraphs will confuse or slow down many of your readers. I don’t usually give ‘rule of thumb’ advice but in this case, applying these three tips across a piece of content almost always improves it:
- Identify any sentences over 25 words and see if they can be rewritten or split into two.
- Insert line breaks in any paragraphs longer than three sentences.
- Insert subheadings after every three or four paragraphs.
In many cases, the best content gives readers all the information they want. It answers their questions and leaves them feeling glad they spent time with it. If I take the time to publish a page about a training course I’m running, I want people to see who the course is for, what’s included, how it’s delivered and how much it costs. If I don’t do all of that, I’m pretty certain that many people will click somewhere else rather than ask me for the missing information.
Most SEO experts also agree that comprehensive content tends to perform better. Google likes giving its users answers to their questions, and comprehensive content is usually more likely to do that. As a quick test, I googled ‘best way to control weeds’ and the first five pages listed were all 800 words or more.
The audit has already made a start on this, but now is the main place to ask whether the piece is really focused on the readers. (Usually this will be customers or potential customers, but other stakeholders may also apply here.) In short, is this something they will want to read and then be glad that they did?
Here’s a handy list of qualities that you can use to help with this assessment. The content may not fulfil all of them, but it should probably score well on at least one of them.
- Helpful. The reader can do something better as a result of reading the piece.
- Unique. It’s information that readers can’t get elsewhere, or if they can, they might struggle to find it all in one place.
- Interesting. The content maybe doesn’t have any practical value, but it’s informative nonetheless.
- Actionable. The readers can go and do a specific task after reading the piece.
- Inspiring. The content will inspire emotion, changing how people feel.
- Targeted. It’s clearly aimed at a specific segment/persona/situation.
On the other hand, non customer-focused content looks like this:
- Useless. It’s trying to help, but really it doesn’t.
- Obvious. It’s all stuff that the reader already knows.
- Generic. Lots of content is available elsewhere that says the same thing.
- Boring. Even if the subject matter is good, the writing style is totally uninspiring.
- For everyone. There's nothing specific to any particular type of reader. By trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no-one.
This is about getting people to the content in the first place. The question to ask is this: if people just saw just the headline, and maybe an associated image, would they be likely to click to through to the content? So, assuming that the content itself is strong, with good subject matter and well written, how are the title and image performing?
The headline/title. Look at the headline and ask yourself:
- Does it properly convey just how awesome the content is?
- Is it really likely to generate clicks?
- Is any data on click rates available to help you assess the title’s performance?
- Does it include words or phrases that your target audience are likely to use, including when using search engines?
The image. If the piece has a picture that appears in emails, on social media or elsewhere:
- Is it a good one?
- Is it likely to compel people to click to the content?
- And if there is no image, can you add one?
Would you like the complete content audit resources?
In my next blog I’ll take a closer look at points 6-10 of the audit framework. The ultimate resource is my new e-book, which includes more detail and examples across all ten criteria, a checklist and scorecard, and hints and tips for easy fixes for the most common problems. if you’d like to be among the first to receive your copy.