When was the last time you invested in a content audit for your website? A good content audit will help you decide which content to keep, re-write, update, or delete. If you keep convincing yourself that a content audit isn’t necessary, this episode of the Marketing Unf*cked podcast will change your mind.
The only actionable podcast to help you unfuck your marketing and run a business that gives a shit. Listen in on raw conversations with experts about ethics, privacy, and sustainability in marketing.
Siobhan: Welcome to the only actionable podcast to help you unfuck your marketing and run a business that gives a shit. I'm your host Siobhan ad this is Marketing Unfucked.
Today, we're speaking with Lauren Pope about content audits, accessibility, and overall content strategy. Let's do this!
Lauren, thank you for being here. Tell me - how do we unfuck marketing?
Lauren: Thank you for having me. I think one thing that would make a really big difference towards unfucking marketing is if people started doing less and thinking more about sustainability. I think there's a massive obsession with just doing new things all the time in the industry. And this big focus on novelty, and on quantity over longevity, and quality. And I think moving away from that would be beneficial.
Personally, I would love to see people slow down, focus more, and start looking back and reflecting on work that they've already done, and maybe starting to take some time to improve things they've already done as well.
Siobhan: That sounds really good as a concept, but how do we apply that, let's say… in your expertise of content strategy?
Lauren: So, I think it's in there in the name - content strategy. Firstly, it's about being strategic. You need to have a destination, you need to have a vision in mind, and you need to be working towards that and not just kind of doing anything and flinging things at the wall, hoping it sticks. It's about being really intentional.
I think you can ladder it down from there and have a few key strategic pillars that you're working on and making sure that all of your activities kind of aligned to one of those. And saying no to some of the things that sit outside it is a great way to start doing less and being more focused and more intentional.
I think another thing that really helps with this idea of doing less, thinking more, and being sustainable is just focusing on your user and focusing on your customer. So, it's not about what you want to tell them. We've been talking about this for years and years about being customer centric, but you know, it should be about what they want, what they need, and what you can help them with - not what you want to tell them.
The best work that you're going to do, you're going to find at the intersection, things that your users care about, and things that you have an authority on. And that's also the key to being authentic as well, which I think is something that people are starting to care about more and more.
Siobhan: So how do we do that, though?
Lauren: That's a really good question and it's user research. That's what you need to do. So rather than having a hunch about what your audience wants, you actually have to go out and find out. So ,you want to hire yourself a really brilliant user researcher, and start using their methodology and really learning from the insights that they bring back to you. And I think that can be kind of quite unfamiliar to start off with, and it can feel strange, but it's brilliant. It's so effective. I've seen it really revolutionise the way people approach content and their marketing.
Siobhan: So, let's say you're doing your user research, which is a great suggestion, how does that help you in slowing down, doing less and sustainability?
Lauren: I think how it can help is by allowing you to focus with laser precision on what's important. A good example of this is when I used to work for an energy price comparison site. I worked there 10 years ago. And when I started working there, I inherited some content and it was focused on some key user needs things like, how do I find out who my energy supplier is? Or how do I read my gas meter? So that content had been live for maybe five years when I joined the company, and it converted well. I did a little bit of light maintenance to it, while I worked at the company, and it converted well and it's still on their website now. It's probably 15 years old, maybe even older, still making money, because it's based on a user need and on an important insight - on something that the company can help the customer with. That then ladders up to their strategy and the products and services that they provide.
Siobhan: Okay, so the 15-year-old content, though, is it written for today? I mean, that would get me concerned, right, like I think the user need is still there. But how relevant is it? Is it speaking the language we need to be using today?
Lauren: That's a good point, I think it is still relevant because some of those needs and some of those questions are still the same. If you've moved house, you always need to find out who your energy supplier is (in the UK anyway). If you don't find out as soon as you move in, you've got to sort it out. So that's still relevant, some of the kind of specific points might have changed, which is why you need to audit your content, go back to it, look at it, check that it's still relevant and delete it if it isn't, you don't need to keep things around for no good reason. And you can cut your carbon footprint of your website by doing that as well, which is another good sustainable step.
Siobhan: How often do you see sites that are keeping their old content around and haven't necessarily audited it? is that a problem?
Lauren: I think it's a huge problem. I speak to brands all the time that have never done an audit of their content. I've seen sites with hundreds and
thousands of out-of-date pages. People create it, and then they forget about it. And then you know, maybe people leave, and it's somebody else's problem. And it really adds up.
Siobhan: Let's say, you've done an audit. Is this something you traditionally do when you start working with a new client, and you're talking strategy? Is this your first step? Is this is how you're going to develop your strategy? I mean, how are you getting to the points that you want to address - meaning, the sustainability, the authenticity, the accessibility, and maybe even inclusivity? I'm not sure how much you're including. Is this your first step in our strategy? Do you approach it differently?
Lauren: Yeah, I would, I always love to start a content strategy by doing a content audit. So, if a client is up for that, then definitely, it's something that I really recommend people do if they start a new role as well, this should be one of the first things that you do when you come through the door is an audit, so you know exactly what you've got. I audit against a bunch of different criteria.
So, I look at things like findability, conversion, accessibility, inclusivity, all this stuff. And they're the things that I find out, they give me a good steer on issues that the strategy needs to address, also kind of untapped opportunities, things like that, as well. It’s an important first step for any strategic work.
Siobhan: What are some good examples of things you've found, (you don't need to mention names) of things you found that were shocking to you, or that you really thought should have never been there, like things that people can look out for?
Lauren: I'd say a big thing is checking old links, and also like old PDF documents and things like that. So, for example, for one client, we found that they had a PDF that linked to some out-of-date medical advice, which somebody had followed that could have led to their death. So, that was a significant problem.
Another client in the mental health space was linking to an eating disorder charity, but their domain had lapsed, and it was being spotted by a company selling diet pills, which have done enormous harm to their audience. So, there's this huge risk that you can uncover as well. Another thing that I find loads, which is kind of on the more positive side of things is tonnes and tonnes of pages don't have a call to action. And it's just such a simple thing that you could put in that can make your content stickier and could potentially lead to conversion or to a sale, something like that.
Siobhan: Okay, so then let's bring this all back to this concept of unfucking your marketing, where you said, it's really about less waste, doing less and a little bit more sustainable and authentic? How does the audit help you with that? Are you mixing a lot of content? Are you making sure it's authentic? How are you approaching that overall purpose or mission with your audit?
Lauren: I mean, all of the above, really. An audit is about looking at your content from every angle, really examining it quite deeply. I'll look at every page and decide whether it's something that should be key, whether you should keep it, whether you should improve it or whether you should delete it. And a lot of the time, I find myself recommending that you delete thousands of pages, you know, maybe even as much as 50 to 60% of the stuff on your website, because it just doesn't need to be there. It's not doing anything for the business and it's not doing anything for the user. So, deleting it is one big kind of outcome.
But the other thing is a really long list of improvements. And those improvements can be in tonnes of different areas. It could be about making your content more accessible. If you've got tonnes of images that don't have an alt text, so somebody who's visually impaired or blind or uses a screen reader for another reason, they can't see the stuff that's in that image, it's really important to have alt text for them. So that might be one thing. It could be that the audit highlights where your brand voice isn't right or where your tone is kind of all wrong. And it's not going to connect with the audience. It could be things that are just really out of date and need to be changed that either represent a risk or they're misleading, or, you know, it just needs to be updated so that it's as good as it could be.
Siobhan: How many sites are you encountering that are not accessible or inclusive? Is it a common problem?
Lauren: Yeah, I'd say it's getting better. But I'd say it's really common. So you know, image or text is a huge thing. All it takes is to have one person in your organisation who's just not aware that that's something that they need to do. And then suddenly, you know, every image on your website is in that state. There are other things which are kind of, you know, like enhancements around readability and accessibility that again, if you somebody in your organisation doesn't have that knowledge, if nobody's taught them how to do this, there's all sorts of little mistakes that can creep in. And an audit is a great way to spot all of them and change them all in one go.
Siobhan: When you delete content, or when you suggest deleting content, how much pushback are you getting? Because I know that a lot of people will say, “Oh, for SEO, you need all the content.” How relevant is that? Is that a concern? And how much pushback Are you getting for that?
Lauren: It's often from kind of people who are concerned about search traffic, and I think there's always a really interesting discussion to have around that. So sometimes I think, yeah, Actually, maybe we can keep this content and if we slightly tweak it and improve it, and if we can find a way to make it relevant, let's keep it because we can make it better. But I think if you can't improve it, and if you're taking the user to a dead end, what's the point?
A really common scenario is that people will have pages on their website about events that happened in the past, maybe they kind of run like meetups, or they host a conference or something like that. And a lot of the time, you know, those pages might still get some traffic. And often I'll hear people who care about search traffic saying we need to keep that. But kind of my question in that scenario as well. Okay, so fine, what's the user going to do? They're interested in, say, a particular artist, you know, maybe if it's like a concert venue or something like that. So, they've come because they Google, like Kate Bush, or whatever. And they come to a page about a Kate Bush event that happened five years ago. Can you do anything with that traffic? Have you got another Kate Bush event coming up? No, you haven't, we'll get rid of the page, because you're kind of wasting users time. And you're also wasting carbon as well, by kind of putting another step between them and the information that they want.
Siobhan: Okay, I understood. So, there's kind of a pro and con for everything, right? If there are pages that need to be deleted, but let's say you've done your user research, you've done the audit and you've exposed whatever needs to be worked on - How do you then tie this all in and start building a strategy?
Lauren: Good question. So, I can take it back to what I was talking about at the beginning about having those kind of strategic pillars. So my process tends to be that I'll decide what the destination is. So where are we going with the strategy? What do we want to work towards? What's our vision, what's the thing that we really want to achieve? And then I'll look at where we are now with the results of the audit, and usually I'll do lots of kind of stakeholder interviews, as well, and loads of like desk research and things like that, looking at competitors and then working out what needs to happen to get from point A to point B. And usually, it's kind of some strategic pillars in response to kind of big challenges.
The process that I go through to help me develop this is kind of writing myself like maybe three or four questions. If we use the example of an events company again, so how do we make sure people find out about the events that we've got coming up in our program, and then I'll make sure I've got kind of a strategic pillar that addresses that key point, that key thing that needs to happen to get to the destination. The other thing that I do is break that down to a plan and have some concrete steps and actions that need to happen. Because I think a lot of strategy falls down if you leave it without the plan. If you just say, right, this is what we're going to do. But you don't actually set the steps that you're going to take and assign responsibility and get people to kind of take ownership of the different areas. So that's the other thing I'd add in.
Siobhan: Great. So then you're taking the strategy but what's the order of things because I feel like I have the order wrong. You're doing an audit, then building a strategy, then doing user research?
Lauren: I think it depends. What I would typically want to do is to come in when some user research has already been done. And I'd want to read that as part of my desk research to start off with, I want to do my content audit at the same time, because I'd want to get an audit based on what I've learned from that user research on what I know about users, because it's quite hard to judge the content, if you don't know who it's for.
If you don't know who the audience is, then I would I do some stakeholder interviews as well. So, I'd go and speak to different stakeholders for content from across the organisation, I find out about their challenges, their priorities, their capacity, the things that they care about when it comes to content, then I'd normally sit down and have loads of research in front of me and start kind of grouping it looking at themes, trends, things like that. And then boiling it down to kind of what my big questions are. So yeah, what are the questions that I need to answer to develop this strategy?
Siobhan: So, you're involving the stakeholders a lot and asking them what they want for content, then how are you making sure that you're actually giving the user what the user wants? Because a lot of times, I feel like there's a disconnect between the two.
Lauren: There's a huge disconnect. And that's the reason why I take quite a collaborative approach where I like to get stakeholders involved. So usually, when I've done the audit, and I've kind of got my challenge statements, those questions that I want to answer, I'll get everybody in a room, all the stakeholders, you know, the person who's brought me into the organisation, I'll show them all my research, I'll take them through the user research if they're not familiar with it already.
I'll show them everything from the audit so that they can understand where I'm coming from and why I think these things are important, why I maybe want them to stop doing something that they think is really important and start doing something that they haven't thought about before. I find that that steps is really important for getting buy in for the strategy and making sure it actually happens. Because otherwise it's just this strange woman, this consultant, who kind of comes in, you see them once a meeting, and then they give you a PDF document that sits on a shared drive. And yeah, who cares?
Siobhan: And no one does anything.
Siobhan: We know this story, right? What is the consequence of people not going through this process and not auditing and strategically thinking about their content?
Lauren: If you don't have a strategy, you're just kind of a tumbleweed. Really, you know, you're maybe making some progress, you're moving, but you're not moving in any particular direction. You're not aiming towards anything, you're not following a plan. You're just doing things for the sake of it and for the sake of looking busy. I know, that probably sounds mean, and it sounds cruel. But it is what it is, if you don't have a strategy, you know, why are you doing what you're doing?
And it's a similar thing with auditing as well. It's such a crucial step in understanding what you need to do if you don't have a clearer idea of what's on your website and what's performing well, and what isn't. I don't really understand how you can have an effective idea about what's going to happen next, what you should be focusing your time and your energy your budget on.
Siobhan: Do you have any examples of content audits gone bad? Or, maybe someone who hasn't done a content audit who has had consequences that they weren't expecting because of it?
Lauren: So, there was an instance recently in the UK, so energy prices have gone up dramatically here. And an energy supplier that's been increasing prices for their customers put out an email linking to some content on one of their websites, there was energy saving tips, it was things like I'll do some star jumps or hug your pet to stay warm. And people felt really angry and really affronted by this. Because if you're struggling with your energy bills, you know, those things aren't really going to help.
What we need is, you know, systematic change, because our system for energy in the UK is broken. And you know, turning down your thermostat, putting on an extra layer of clothing, that doesn't change the fact that energy's fundamentally unaffordable. And this got into mainstream media, it was on the BBC, it was in lots of newspapers, it was all over Twitter, it was all over LinkedIn, as well. And I think if they had been doing user research, they would have known how that content would have come across. If they've been doing content audits, they would have picked up, actually, maybe we shouldn't be doing this kind of content anymore. Maybe we could do that 10 years ago, when energy was a bit affordable when people were less switched on about how to save money on their bills.
Some of the other kind of newer energy companies, there's one called octopus who are really impressive, you know, at the same time, they sent out this email to their customers, I'm a customer. So I got it talking really, frankly, about the situation with energy. They explained very clearly, the reasons why prices were going up. And they laid out a detail plan for what they were going to do, to try and make things more affordable to their customers. And they were talking about systematic changes. So, spreading the cost of energy over multiple years. Something that you know, it's tough to read, it doesn't necessarily make you particularly happy. But it makes you feel like you're being spoken to by somebody who understands the situation, who understands how this makes you feel, who understands what your needs are.
Siobhan: Yeah, no, it's a really great example of the two contrasts and how the two companies address it really differently. In closing, I want to ask you, what are kind of the top three things that people can do - maybe your standard CMO, CEO of a start-up - what can they do to try and make their content more user friendly, accessible, and inclusive?
What are the top two issues you see maybe that you can do? I think you mentioned alt text and images is a big one. So, let's say that's number one. What else can they do that they can easily look for?
Lauren: I think alt text on images, it’s a very simple thing that you can do. But I don't want to focus on that too much because I think there's a there's a much bigger package of things that you need to do to make your content really accessible. So I would say, actually invest in training all of your staff in accessibility, and actually, perhaps look at who your staff are made up of. Do you have disabled people? Do you have blind people? Do you have visually impaired people on your staff? Are you asking people with disabilities, what they think of your website, how they find it to use at any stage in the process? If you're not, then it's probably time to start. You know, it's so important to do that. And to make sure that you're truly being accessible, not just paying lip service to the idea. And I think that just comes back to this idea of user research in general, just making sure that you are in touch with your users that you're allowing them the opportunity to influence the decisions that you're making about your content, that you're getting feedback through them through testing, and things like that.
I think another thing as well is content auditing, I think if you've never done
or if you haven't done one for a long time, there's no better time to start them right now, it's not something that you have to kind of start and do like the whole website all at once, you could just start doing a rolling audit. So maybe you do 100 pages a month, something like that. And you try and work through your whole website throughout the course of a year, something like that. And then I think the other thing that's really important, and it kind of builds on an audit as well, is just getting into this idea of like regularly measuring and reporting on what you're doing. So not just kind of publishing something, maybe looking at some kind of end of campaign metrics really quickly, but actually starting to kind of do this on a regular basis so that you're using data to inform your decisions about what to do next.
Siobhan: Great, thank you so much, Lauren.
Lauren: Thank you very much for having me.
Siobhan: Thank you for listening to Marketing Unfucked. For more about Lauren Pope and how to get a hold of her, check out our show notes. In the meantime, check out lapope.com/toolkits for your content audit template, and more.
See you in two weeks. Ciao.