“Hi, I’m the new marketing manager, and I think we’ll just keep things the way they are,” uttered no new marketing manager ever.

It’s a rule of thumb for us as an external agency, that when a client hires a new marketing manager or director, we need to work doubly hard to prove our worth.

The reason? They need to prove their worth too. And you don’t do that by maintaining status quo. Besides, each has their own way of working, each has their own ideas about how best to promote the business, and each likely has a preferred supplier. Marketing managers have to make changes, otherwise, why have they been hired?

Once your feet are under the table, your eye will doubtless turn to content at some point. Wanna make a splash? Audit the hell out of it.

We’ve highlighted the five central pillars that contribute to content success – your audience, your brand, your website, your content, and distribution.

Here’s how to audit each, plus a few handy tools and tricks to help along the way.

1. Audience

Personas

If you don’t know who you’re talking to, you may as well shout your USP out the office window at passers by. If your business doesn’t have customer personas, that work needs to get underway as soon as possible.

Even if your business does have existing personas, question them rigorously: When were these last reviewed? Are they tested or assumed? How detailed are they? Are they right?

Tools:

  • The phone: Call your best clients, ask them questions about you, them and their experience with you. They will give you more insight than anything. If you have thousands of clients/customers, try and talk directly to 10-15 of them. Then survey the rest.
  • Survey Monkey: It’s slightly clunky, but once you get to grips with it, it’s an invaluable tool. Don’t just send one email request and be done, plan a series of 4-5 emails, with the last mail as a thank you.

Tone of voice

Once you have a clear picture of your target audience – their hopes, fears, drivers, thoughts and breakfast choices – then you can work out how to talk to them. Pull together a tone of voice guidelines.

One of the key questions in your survey should be the types of thing they read online – websites, blogs, news sites and the like. Their answers should give you an idea of how they like to be spoken to (and hopefully some topics for future content).

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Establish reading habits: Model your tone of voice on what your audience likes to read.

Now, if you’re a law firm and your audience reads Viz, that doesn’t mean that you shed your professional image and start talking like a potty-mouthed navvy (although that would be genius in my opinion). But, it would suggest that you could afford to be a little more relaxed and informal.

Tools:

  • Archetypes in Branding: We use the persona cards that come with this book all the time with clients. Honestly, get management involved. It gets the creative juices flowing, and gives you insights into how the business should talk.
  • A copywriter: A professional copywriter will be able to take your brand and make it sing. Or talk proper. Or scream. Or politely suggest. Whatever your tone needs to be, a great copywriter will understand.

Competitor research

Forget keeping up with them; you need to build a gold-plated extension big enough to keep the Joneses permanently in the shade – or better still, blinded by the glow of your work.

If you join a business and they don’t have a firm handle on what the competition is up to, or even who they are, get that research done. Find out where they live, what their shrubbery looks like, and what’s cluttering up their garden shed. Know everything.

If you join a business and they don’t have a firm handle on what the competition is up to, or even who they are, get that research done.

Not only will it help you better understand the game you’re playing, it will also give you an insight into what does and doesn’t work in your field. If one competitor has thousands of people engaging with them on social media, for instance, what are they doing differently to you?

Tools:

  • Networking: The best way to know your competitors, is to get out and meet them in the flesh. Size them up. Growl at them (okay, don’t do that, but certainly probe them).
  • Digital stalking: Everyone (and often their dog) has a website, social channels, personal social channels, blogs, newsletter, etc. Research is easy.
  • Rival IQ: Digital stalking, just without the effort. Of course, like most things that make your life easier, you do have to pay: a minimum of $200 a month. There’s a free trial though, so do that.
  • Social Mention: Okay, it’s a little bit of a clumsy tool, but it does give you an idea of who else is competing for your audience’s attention.

2. Your company

Branding

Your brand, as Luke Sullivan, author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This says, “isn’t just the name on the box. It isn’t the thing in the box either. A brand is the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities, and gossip that exist in the marketplace about a certain company.”

You need to assess the company’s USP, check the brand guidelines and make sure you have a consistent ‘feel’ across all your marketing materials and channels.

While you have management together looking at brand archetypes and customer personas, try this neat trick from Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former communications chief turned messaging guru for large organisations.

He asks the senior team to fill out postcards that read ‘the main objective of this organisation is…’ on one side, and ‘the strategy to meet our objective is…’ on the reverse. “Nine times out of ten, I gather in a stack of different objectives, strategies which are tactics, or strategies which are objectives,” he says.

It’s a simple trick, but an illuminating one.

Tools:

  • Meetings: Take a company day with senior management, and talk. Get out the office, think big picture, put branding at the heart of the agenda.
  • Social Mention: Yes, again. Put your company name in there. What’s the chatter about?
  • Google Trends: Do people give two or more hoots about what it is you sell? Google trends will give you a rough idea. It is far from perfect, but it can be a handy guide.

Structure

If you want to produce winning content, there needs to be a long-term, manageable structure in place for its production.

You can put yourself forward as the editor-in-chief, or perhaps outsource, but there needs to be a key contact by which the content flows. You can’t produce it all yourself. Too much input from too many people and content will forever loiter in development hell. One person, final say. Easy.

Continuity between sales and marketing is also key. The two departments are famously cantankerous bedfellows, but while this isn’t always true, it can be. Make sure communication channels are open, make sure targets are clear, and reporting is fair, set expectations at the beginning, and work with the sales team to marry up activity from both parties.

You want a healthy relationship with your sales-focused brothers, not a dysfunctional one.

Tools:

  • Common sense: I was struggling for tools, okay? However, if you don’t align your marketing efforts with sales, the whole thing is pointless. Have meetings.
  • Our forthcoming ebook: If you want to talk about development hell, how about nine months to write an ebook. I’m fuming. When it comes out, though, it will lift the lid on how to produce an effective in-house content ecosystem, blowing your tiny mind in the process.

3. Website

You’ll have looked at your company’s website before you started working with them; I wonder what your first thoughts were. If it was ‘Jesus, that’s fugly’, your potential customers are thinking the same thing every time they click through.

If your website is slow, poorly written, off-brand, unsecure, smelly, racist, or one of those websites that squeezes toothpaste from the top rather than the bottom, people will be instantly turned off. There are so many moving parts to a website that it makes sense to get on with the tools.

Tools:

  • Test my site: A decent place to start. This tool from our Google overlords will tell you how your site performs over desktop and mobile, offering handy hints on how to improve it (or at least pass to a web dev to sort out). There’s a focus on speed and ‘friendliness’ (i.e. is your site responsive). The quicker, the better.
  • Google Analytics: If you can’t monitor activity on your website, then the success of your content marketing is strictly anecdotal. Senior management wants indications that the time and effort spent on content works. Set it up. And get a dev to filter out the spam traffic too.
  • Website Grader: Similar to ‘Test My Site’, but this will tell you whether your site has a security certificate (i.e. one that begins https:// rather than simply http://). If you’re collecting a lot of data, or plan to (think newsletter sign ups, ebook downloads, etc.) a secure site is a must.
  • Grammarly: It’s amazing how many stellar companies let themselves with poorly written copy, riddled with errors *frantically checks our own website*. Grammarly won’t teach you how to be a copywriter, but it will proofread for you.
  • Your eyes: You’re new to the business, look objectively at what’s before you. Is there a clear customer journey through the site? Is it obvious what you want people to do at every stage? Are there calls to action on every page? Do you have sign up boxes for your newsletter? Is it easy to navigate? Are there broken links? Is it on tone? Is it on brand? Is the brand message clear?

Your website is a hub – the heart of your digital brand. Content, social, advertising, PR, whatever; all this activity is designed to drive people toward it.

While a complete overhaul might be tempting, it’s unlikely the FD will go for that without much grumbling to the MD (if they’re the same person, even worse). Go for these quick wins, and if your site desperately needs improving, drip feed content about the importance of websites to whoever’s in charge.

4. Content

 

Web copy

Touched on briefly in the website section above, web copy is the workhorse on your site. Despite Facebook’s insistence that online is all about video content (it isn’t), words matter. A pretty video with shiny colours everywhere cannot express your brand as succinctly as a strapline. Compare Apple’s ‘Think Different’ with this video:

Ugh, cut the chase. Yes, the video looks nice and the music is dramatic or whatever, but it doesn’t cut through like those two simple words: ‘Think Different’. Look at the messaging on each and every page of your website. What is it really saying? Does it capture the essence of what your business is about? Does it convey the brand, the mission and the benefits of your business to the wider world? If not, make changes.

Tools:

  • A copywriter: I’m conscious that I keep referring to copywriters as tools here, but a great copywriter can give you an objective appraisal of your business, and the messages you’re promoting. Words are a craft, find a talented craftsman.
  • Grammarly: As in the previous section. Make sure everything’s spelled all good.

The blog

If you have existing content, analyse what’s there, how consistent the content is with the brand and the customer, the types of content, and the targeting of said content.

Most businesses have a blog page, and many in our experience have tried content before, it hasn’t brought in results, and they’ve stopped. The only thing worse than no blog is a blog left unloved for the last six months.

Ask senior management what happened with the blog before. Why did they stop producing content? What were the goals last time? What were the measurements of success? Find out as much as possible about why it failed, and address those concerns. Often, a failed content push comes from a lack of cohesion, a lack of strategy, or a lack of ‘success’ – without proper measurements of what constitutes success in the first place.

Check the content mix on your blog. Do you have a healthy combo of feature-style articles, case studies, news pieces, interviews and more? Company blogs that only offer one type of content are like ice cream vans with only cider lols in the freezer; nice for a short time, but a bit much after a while.

If you don’t have a blog: well, that’s a lovely blank slate you’ve got to work from. Don’t just start writing. Audit the rest of the sections in this blog, make sure the foundations are concrete, document a content strategy and execute against it.

Tools:

  • Grammarly: Again? Yes, again. And stop asking so many questions. Spelling and grammar should never be underestimated. You could write a thousand word essay but miss one ‘w’ out the word ‘twits’, and that’s all people will remember.
  • Readability score: Are your blogs a confusing lump of indecipherable grammar goo, or crisp, clean and concise missives to make Hemmingway proud? As with Grammarly, don’t base your entire writing style on it, but do use it to check yourself.
  • Eyes: There is no substitute for your eyes. As a newcomer, you have the advantage of being dispassionately objective. Use that to your advantage.

Key content

Lead magnets – do you have in-depth pieces of downloadable content like ebooks or white papers behind a sign-up box? If so, are they generating leads? Are they being advertised properly? If not, get them on the to-do list: they’re bits of bread and butter content.

Images

Where are the images on your site taken from? If they’re original snaps taken in-house, chillax. If they look a bit ‘stock’, then check for attribution. If your site and your blog is full of crisp looking, unattributed images, you could be in for a big fat fine from the likes of Getty or Shutterstock.

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Stock images: Use them wisely, ensure attribution is included if needed (no attribution needed)

This isn’t an empty warning: we’ve been spanked with a £500 fine for just one misused picture. Even if you pay for a stock photo subscription, they usually ask for attribution on your site. Check the t’s and c’s.

And it’s not just attribution you should be checking, assess the relevance of the images to your business, and the quality too. If they’re poor resolution or dull as ditchwater, they’ll need work. We ape-like bipeds are a visual bunch: a blog or website with uninspiring images will actively put people off, and leave a poor lasting impression on your visitors.

Video

The questions to ask here: Do you have any video? Is it branded? Do they have a mix in length i.e. short, punchy spots, or longer form case study/company videos? Finally, and more importantly, is it interesting? If not, why is it there?

5. Distribution

Social media

Whether your social feeds are bustling metropoli (metropolis’s? metropolise?) of interaction, or vacant trailer parks of disappointment, get auditing. Are they consistent with your branding? Is the information about the business in the profiles uniform? i..e are the phone numbers right? Is the address formatted the same? Does the bio match up? Is the web address there? A phone number? A description of what you do?

Is content regularly posted, are you retweeting and conversing with the right people? And do you have reporting setup for each channel? If so, what’s the strategy here? Is it an influencer strategy? In which case, are you following and interacting with the right people? If there’s no plan in place, question all the activity up till now. What’s been happening over the last six months and what’s the effect?

Oh, and check for dead channels. There could be an old useless Pinterest account that hasn’t been touched for a while. Put it out of its misery, eh?

We’re not here to talk strategy, so save your social advertising chat for another time. What we’re interested in is the foundation across all channels. However, if you do have a clear, documented social strategy, audit that. Does it map out a clear plan to reach your intended audience? And is it working?

Newsletter

Got one? Ever had one? Who’s on the list? When’s the last time we hit them up with a ‘hello’? A database is a ready-made opportunity for engagement. We visited a new client recently who have a database of people who have been sent quotes, but never followed up on. Analyse the mailing list, find out what’s been sent to them, and look for opportunities for content.

Audits for the win

A content audit is the best way to start a new role: it gets you under the skin of the business, it allows you to analyse all the moving parts, and it allows you to spot the gaps in your content plan.

You’ll also come out the other end with a list of key actions to kickstart an effective content campaign. The only thing to do then is to prioritise your activity. Our advice? Start with the audience. Know who you want to target, and find out as much about them as possible. From there you can hone your brand message – which feeds into the web copy, which gives you a solid platform from which to launch a content push into outer space (with a great strategy of course).

Just don’t come running to us when you’re drowning in a sea of leads and new business enquiries. Second thoughts…

Want someone to just take this audit off your hands and provide you with an in-depth, actionable report? Check out our Content Healthcheck.

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I’m the Head of Content for Future Content and the man in charge of words. As a former journalist for a number of publications, from Chat to MailOnline to that’s Shanghai, I have a wealth of editorial experience and a way of making words do good.