In user experience, content strategy, and content marketing circles, sooner or later you’ll hear talk of content analysis. If you listen to the chatter about analysis methods ranging from content auditing to eye tracking, you might be intrigued, confused—or a little of both.

Content analysis is an area where it’s easy to know “enough to be dangerous” but hard to take the right approach with the right methodologies. As a simple example, I recently met a very intelligent Ph.D. who was interested in content analysis. He said, “I really want to do an eye tracking study on our Facebook page.”

Eye tracking is exactly what it sounds like—recording where people look on a computer or mobile screen. Would tracking his Facebook page bring him much insight? No. Aside from the limitations of eye tracking, this methodology wouldn’t shed light on whether posting content on Facebook was effective. The goal of posting content on Facebook is to get your content into your follower’s feeds and have people respond or engage. The goal is not to have people read your Facebook page top to bottom. To boot, more and more people use Facebook through small mobile screens, so their eyes can’t go to so many places, anyway.

That’s one simple example for a social media channel (or touchpoint). Now, imagine having to sort through methodologies to analyze and evaluate your web content across all channels? Not an easy task.

To pick the right content analysis methods, l advise not to start with methods. You’ll quickly stop seeing the forest and focus on the trees (probably the chlorophyll in the leaves on the trees). Take a step back and consider your goal for the content analysis. Then consider these two critical types of content analysis: formative and evaluative.

Formative Content Analysis

Let’s walk through the high points of this analysis.

Purpose

The purpose is to understand your current content state, with an eye toward forming a content strategy. Sometimes, people call this discovery. What I don’t like about discovery is the implied lack of focus. This analysis is not a wide open expedition to uncover anything and everything. It’s analysis with the goal of forming a plan for content. The analysis has to stay focused or it will not be timely or useful.

Sample Scope

Typically, the scope of this analysis falls into two categories: the content itself and its context.

A major outcome of this analysis is knowing the current state of your content.

Content landscape – What content (or source material for content) do you really have?

Content quality – What level of quality is the content? Is it following best practices to work well for users, content management systems, and search engines?

Content performance – What content are people using and not using?

To fully understand the current content situation, you might need to know more about the context such as:

User / customer / audience – Who are they? Who is most important? What works about the content for them and what doesn’t—and why? Are there any gaps between what they need and the current content? What channels are they using?

Business or brand goals – What are you trying to achieve online and with content specifically? What is your mission or brand, and does your content reflect your mission or brand focus?

Competitor / ecosystem – What other organizations offer related content to these same users / customers / audiences? What are they doing differently, better, or worse?

Process / workflow – How is content managed, curated, or created? What works well and what doesn’t? How does process (or lack thereof) affect content quality or effectiveness?

Technology / engineering – What platforms or tools are you using? How do they limit or enable reusing content across channels? How do they limit or enable making content easy for your users / customers / audiences to find? How effectively do they support your content process or workflow?

content analysis

Who Uses It

In my anecdotal experience, content strategists talk about or use this kind of analysis often. Content marketers and communication professionals do so less often but could benefit greatly from it. If you’re like most content marketers, you do not have a documented content strategy (44% of B2B content marketers have one and 39% of B2C content marketers have one.) A useful step toward filling that gap is to conduct a formative content analysis.

I find content marketers focus more than content strategists on the second type of content analysis, evaluative. Let’s take a closer look at this type.

Evaluative Analysis (Content Evaluation)

I often call evaluative content analysis content evaluation. Here are some key points about this analysis.

Purpose

The main goal of content evaluation is to assess content impact or effectiveness and identify opportunities to refine your content strategy or optimize your content tactics.

A frequent side benefit of content evaluation is finding out whether your context has changed significantly. For example, I once worked with a government agency that discovered through ongoing evaluation of their website that students were becoming a larger and more influential user group than the agency expected. As a result, you can consider whether to change your content strategy significantly.

Sample Scope

The scope of content evaluation often encompasses areas such as these.

Impact on perceptions – How does your content affect what your users / customers / audiences think or decide? Do people perceive you or your content in the way you intend? Why? How does changing specific content affect a particular perception?

Impact on behavior – How does your content affect what your users / customers / audiences do with your content or as a result of your content, online and offline? Why? How does changing specific content affect a behavior or action?

Achievement of business or content goal(s) – Did implementing your content strategy achieve or make progress toward your goals? To what extent and why? Is there an actual or projected return on investment?

Changes in context – Have user / customer / audience needs changed? Has the competitive landscape or content ecosystem changed? Have business or brand goals changed?

Who Uses It

In my anecdotal experience, content strategists do not talk about this kind of analysis much, which leads me to think they’re not doing it often. Those who do talk about impact, however, tend to get more resources for their work or promoted to higher profile roles or projects.

Also anecdotally, content marketers tend to focus on understanding impact on behavior and optimizing content (using methodologies such as A/B testing) to increase a particular behavior. Content managers or engineers tend to focus on impact on process or technology efficiencies. In other words, evaluating content tends to be as “siloed” as creating content is. Everyone involved in content for an organization would benefit from coming together and widening the scope of content evaluation to tell a complete story of content’s impact.

Uniting These Analyses + More Under Content Intelligence

As we have evolved our practice, we have brought these analyses together under the practice of content intelligence. I provide my definition and perspective on content intelligence here. And this diagram illustrates some of the key elements:

diagram of content intelligence by Content Science

Now that you have an overview of these types of analysis, some resources to dig further into them might be handy.

Resources

We do and advise others about content analysis often and have learned a tremendous amount along the way. I’ve assembled a selection of resources that we created and that other talented people created.

Articles + Reports

Books

Tools and Products

The Author

Colleen Jones is the CEO of Content Science and cofounder of ContentWRX. She regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content. Colleen shares insights and guidance from her experience in these highly rated books:

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