Skip to main content
Content StrategyField Notes

Field Notes #080: Content catalogs: the key to scaling governance and optimization

Content catalogs: the key to scaling governance and optimization

At this point, most marketers and SEOs know the value of optimizing existing content pages. 

Often, the expected value of doing so is excellent, because the content already exists, which means the input cost tends to be lower, and one can quickly quantify the upside of taking an action. 

Conversely, it’s difficult to create a new page, and while we can predict with some degree of variance what the search traffic upside is, there’s a lot more uncertainty involved. 

Further, it’s clearer now that your site, as an entity, matters. Meaning if you have a few great pages and many more thin and terrible pages, your site as a whole is likely to suffer. We’ve seen this with a handful of clients who have come to us from less than reputable agencies who have scaled really terrible content. It’s a tough hole to dig out of. 

Here I’ll showcase three ways to mining your existing library for utility, from the basic to the sophisticated:

  1. Content update reports
  2. Content portfolio audits
  3. Content catalogs

The Content Update Report

The content update report is a great starting point. It’s goal-oriented and singularly focused on one utility: update old content. 

Content performance will decay – over time it loses traffic, ranking positions, and efficacy. This can be due to new competition entering the organic market, fluctuating algorithm changes, or many other factors. 

Content can also become irrelevant due to information gain – for example, an article on generative AI may need to be updated quite regularly. Or you may launch new products or features that would benefit from inclusion in old pages. 

When a client has a significant content library, we invoke the content update report as part of the initial research and strategy, collating it with net new content, and applying prioritization parameters to treat content updates similarly as we would new content. 

We review all content quantitatively and qualitatively and diagnose what needs to be done to improve content performance. This could be as simple as adding a few paragraphs or as heavy as a full rewrite. We prioritize opportunities based on estimated effort, potential impact, and alignment with goals.

This is easy to do with an out-of-the-box Google Search Console and GA4 account and an Ahrefs account. Look for pages that have lost rank, lost traffic, or are in striking distance of visibility and performance. Model out the delta between the existing performance and the hypothetical performance if you could achieve position X (model a conservative position like 3-5 and use a conservative click-through-rate). 

Ideally, you do this quarterly, or as often as you ideate, prioritize, and implement new content ideas. 

The Content Portfolio Audit

Next stage, we have the content portfolio audit. 

This differs from the update report in that it is not singularly focused. Rather, it is the swiss army knife of content optimization. 

Here’s what you do:

Review all website content quantitatively and qualitatively to diagnose opportunities to improve performance. Here we bring in additional data like technical insights from Screaming Frog, conversion opportunities and conversion rates, referring domains, metadata, and SEO evaluations based on multiple dimensions (page authority, site authority, on-page scoring).

Think of it as broader scope with a variety of outcomes or action items, including but not limited to:

  • Content updates
  • Content pruning and merging
  • Internal link optimization
  • Technical fixes
  • Simple tweaks like title tags, meta descriptions, author bios, etc. 
  • Conversion optimization opportunities
  • Topic authority depth analysis
  • Indexing your existing portfolio against your search TAM to model out growth scenarios. 

My co-founder Allie ran one of these while at Shopify to great benefit. Here’s her story:

“My goal with the Shopify Inventory project was to gain a clear understanding of our existing blog content and assess what could be optimized or pruned. Updating older content was a more efficient approach than continuing to layer on new, potentially redundant content, especially considering the value established by these pages and links over time. Additionally, I wanted to learn from past content to guide our future content strategy and identify any gaps that needed to be filled.

While I scraped the entire blog to capture the pages, I also manually reviewed each URL to analyze and make note of elements on each page that could drive conversions (like calls to action or signup forms), highlighting key product features, and evaluating the overall value each piece offered. I also created and assigned clusters to inform our internal linking strategy moving forward. Lastly, I cross-referenced data from Google Analytics and Search Console (GSC) to identify the search queries that each page was ranking well for.”

As she stated, the project benefits were three-fold:

  1. It provided a solid base for ongoing historical optimization. This involved updating older content to ensure alignment with current search engine algorithms and best practices. She was also able to identify which pieces of content should be updated annually for optimal performance (trends pieces, annual reviews, listicles, etc.)
  2. She strategically merged and/or pruned about a quarter of the blog content, resulting in a ~50% traffic increase and major keyword boosts for the blog. 
  3. The content inventory served as a central resource for her team, as well as the broader marketing and product teams. This facilitated content linking within the website, informed campaign planning efforts, and ultimately fostered better collaboration across teams.

This is truly an inventory with insights that span far beyond content updates and may touch multiple teams. It’s our preferred approach at this point, because content updates can sometimes be a hammer looking for a nail, whereas a content portfolio audit gives you multiple angles that present a variety of tools to drive growth. 

Again, all opportunities are stack ranked based on expected value. 

The Content Catalog

The content catalog is the final evolution in the optimization mise en place

It takes the content inventory and adds automation, collaboration, and thus, proactive monitoring and real-time actionable insights. 

The idea here comes from data catalogs, which are:

“A collection of metadata, combined with data management and search tools, that helps analysts and other data users to find the data that they need, serves as an inventory of available data, and provides information to evaluate fitness of data for intended uses.”

Nowadays, these are automated and augmented with AI, but the core purpose is to serve data consumers in mature organizations with tons of data and get everyone on the same page. 

This one, perhaps unfortunately, it’s customized to the situation at hand. What data we pull in depends on what we have access to and what business outcomes we’re hoping to achieve. 

Like I said, one goal of the content catalog is collaboration.

In the same way a content calendar, especially well structured one with stages, multi-user collaboration, and automations, gets everyone on the team (writer, editor, designer, developer, SEO) on the same page, a content catalog can do the same with your existing inventory. 

Changed a page title tag yesterday? That’s logged. 34 existing pages with no author links? That’s a triggered notification. Key money page lost traffic and rankings, beyond a normal deviation? That’s triggered and you can quickly identify optimization opportunities. 

Content catalogs are complicated because you need to work with APIs, scripts, and multiple tools to build what is essentially a database for organic growth. 

What we’re usually working with here is your classic analytics data (GA4, Google Search Console, Amplitude, HubSpot), SEO data (Ahrefs, Semrush), and supplemental SEO data from tools like Surfer SEO, Conductor to monitor the SERP landscape and page changes. 

Think of it like the content inventory, but instead of manually conducting it once per quarter, you build out the automation functionality once (theoretically – you obviously manage the automation functionalities over time), and it is regularly and automatically updated, giving you proactive SEO analytics to drive growth opportunities, identify broken stuff quickly, and collaborate with everyone from developers to SEOs to writers and stakeholders.

Want more insights like this? Subscribe to our Field Notes.

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.