While there’s no question that regularly publishing high-quality and valuable content works — both for your readers and your business’ bottom line — many businesses don’t take the time to go back and check, tweak and update the content assets that may be underperforming.
In fact, recent statistics from Curata show that 37% of content marketers never complete a content audit. This leaves a potentially powerful and effective tactic untapped. If you’ve been running your site for a few years, then there will almost certainly be some quick wins and benefits to be had from a content audit.
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When Is the Right Time to Conduct an Audit?
You might get conflicting advice from various sources, but the truth is there is no single answer. Ultimately it depends on how often you publish new content but also more nuanced things like the nature of the content you’re producing and how quickly it dates.
Doing an audit once every couple of years is a good rule of thumb. But if you’re a big website with lots and lots of new content, then it could be as frequent as every year or even every six months.
You should also think about conducting an audit if you:
- Don’t remember the date of your last audit
- Haven’t done an audit since your first published content
- Have content with old and outdated information
- Grew your content repository significantly since your last audit
- Intend to apply a new content strategy or want to modify your brand voice
- Want to move to a different CMS or use a different technology
Panda and the Power of Content
The Panda update in 2011 took the SEO world by storm, as Google turned their algorithmic eyes to the quality of content that websites publish. The days when certain SEO companies could get away with filling web pages with tons of over-optimised poor quality copy were well and truly gone.
Demoting low-value content on the search engine results pages (SERPs) pushed online marketers to step up their games and increase the value they bring to their readers. Good copy was now a prerequisite to any decent SEO strategy, as content quality and user experience became ever more closely tied to website performance and domain authority.
Conducting an audit means you’re making sure that you stay compliant with the Big G’s rules, especially since content continues to be one of its most important ranking factors. Not only this but it gives your users a reason to stay on your site, something in and of itself is a ranking signal. Perhaps more than anything though, good up to date content inspires trust in your potential customers and pushes up those all-important conversion rates.
The Benefits of a Content Audit
Conducting a content audit will bestow many benefits which we’ve broken down for you here:
1. Remove low-quality pages on your website
Once you have a better idea of how each of your content is performing, you can start removing pages that do not generate traffic or advance any of your goals. I like to think of this a bit like pruning. Much like the horticultural practice, you’re removing the dead branches not just for aesthetic reasons, but in order to help the healthy ones flourish.
“Crawl budget” is a term you may have heard SEO people throw around from time to time. It doesn’t really come into play on smaller sites (1000 URLs or less) but on big sites with many thousands of pages, like ecommerce sites, it does come into play. Crawl budget refers to how much attention your site will get from search crawlers. The more pages you have, the more crawl budget you require for those pages to be indexed and crawled by Google after they’re published.
It’s important to take note of this, as according to Google, “having many low-value-add URLs can negatively affect a site’s crawling and indexing.” While many other factors affect this, pruning unnecessary content remains one of the top things you should look at to maximise your crawl budget.
Of course, you don’t always have to get rid of low-quality pages from your site. You can also update the information and/or expound on the topic, allowing you to add more value to the page in question.
2. Get a better understanding of your existing content
When a website gets too big, especially if that publication calls for multiple articles within a day (think: Buzzfeed), some owners tend to lose touch with the content they have produced so far.
An audit will give you a much clearer picture of your content by:
- Reminding you of topics you’ve already covered
- Spotting any redundancies and preventing duplicates
- Recognising relationships between content for better internal linking
- Identifying which pieces are working well
- Focusing on filling gaps in your content inventory (more on this in the next section)
- Identifying content opportunities, as some ‘tweaks’ or additional link building could rank better on Google Search and drive traffic
3. Identify your outdated content
Information, statistics, and studies tend to be outdated fast these days. For instance, if you publish news or strategies in an industry that is evolving rapidly (e.g. technology, medicine, finance), this calls for regular audits so you’re able to find information that has become obsolete or outdated and needs to be updated. If you’re pivoting, you also need to keep product/service information up to date on all your site pages.
If some of your content has not stood the test of time, you don’t always have to resort to completely removing those pages from your site. You can also repurpose it for other media (e.g. video) or platforms (e.g. Slideshare, social media). This way, you won’t be starting from scratch with new content. You’ll be taking something that’s outdated and breathing new life into it.
4. Maintain consistent messaging and style
Consistent messaging is vital to your brand, as it helps people trust you, better understand and remember who you are, and appear more credible.
With an audit, you’ll be able to make sure that your messaging across all platforms stay within your brand guidelines and maintains a consistent brand voice. For instance, if a customer comes to you off the back of a podcast you guested on, follows your social media, then ultimately ends up on your site, the same information about you should show up across these channels. Otherwise, they could begin to question your consistency at best or your credibility at worst.
Additionally, an audit can also tell you which content strays from your brand guidelines. You can then use that data to inform your site authors how to write their content moving forward for consistency in style and voice.
5. Audience insights
Content audits also provide remarkably important business intelligence and market research. You’ll find out which topics do not particularly appeal to your audience (e.g. those with less engagement or traffic), so you can stop wasting time and resources on producing content of this kind.
How to Do a Content Audit
Since a content audit requires that you produce a complete list of your site’s content and then analyse that list, you can expect to invest a significant amount of time in the task. If your website has a significant amount content then it would be a wise invest to engage with an SEO agency to help you with this.
Ryan Stewart talks you through his own content audit template, which he offers as a free download
There are methods for analysing thousands or even tens of thousands of pages on a website so don’t worry, you won’t necessarily have to go through each page manually. In this section, we’ll show you a step-by-step guide to how to conduct a full content audit:
1. Determine your goal
Similar to any marketing strategy, setting goals are important as this will drive the entire process. What you intend to achieve in your audit will depend on what you want to do with your website, whether that’s to migrate to a different CMS, optimise and streamline your site, do a complete overhaul of your content, or redesign your site from the ground up.
Here are different types of goals that you can set:
- Get rid of outdated content
- Find out if your content helps or harms SEO strategies
- Find out if metadata is being used properly
- Check if all content passes your company’s quality standards
- Support future content planning
- Discover any content that is inconsistent with brand messaging
- Increase audience engagement
- Improve conversion rate by finding the content that generates the most number of leads and/or revenue
- Find content that needs improvement
- Find content to build links to
- Find content to promote further (e.g. those with good engagement and/or social shares)
Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to just one goal. You can track multiple goals that you (or your team) are capable of handling. The important thing here is that you set the goal(s) in the first place.
2. Set the corresponding metrics
The next step is to set the corresponding metrics that will help you accurately track your progress so you can tell whether you’re hitting your goals or not.
If your goal is to increase engagement, look at the following metrics:
- Social media likes
- Content shares
If you want to increase your revenue, track the following:
- Leads that interacted with your content
- New leads generated by your content (e.g. new social media followers, new email subscribers)
- Conversion rate (e.g. those who followed your CTA like newsletter sign ups, clicking to get to your contact page, ebook download, etc.)
- ROI relative to the cost of producing content
- Cost to acquire one customer (cost per acquisition)
If it’s user behaviour that you want to improve, these are the metrics you need to track:
- Page views
- Average session duration
- Bounce rate
- Pages per session
- Traffic sources
- New and returning users
If you want to make sure your SEO strategies are effective, especially when it relates to content, look at these metrics (note that some of these are similar to user behaviour metrics):
- Organic traffic
- Bounce rate
- Backlinks (make sure that you’re only getting the good backlinks)
- How long visitors stay on the page (so you’ll know if they read your content)
- Unique visitors
- Pages per session
- The ratio of new and returning users
- Traffic sources
- Conversions (depends on the purpose of the content like email sign-ups or contacting you)
3. Create an inventory of all your content
When creating your inventory, you first need to take stock of all the content you’ve published so far. Then, place the list on the leftmost column of your spreadsheet. This should include all blog posts, podcasts, site pages, long-form content assets, landing pages, etc.
Small sites can do this manually, but if you have a big site, you will need content audit tools and content audit software to create your inventory:
- Ahrefs — You can use this tool to check for search volumes, backlinks, competitors, and content that work well in your niche
- Google Search Console — Use this to check for keywords, pages, clicks, impressions, and your current indexing status
- Google Analytics — A powerful free tool that’s one of the must-haves so you can track and generate accurate, real-time reports on your site traffic
- Google Sheets — This is where you’ll collate all the data you’ll gather; you can use Google Sheets or Excel. As an agency, we use Google Sheets as it is built to be collaborative and can be accessed from anywhere. There are also some pretty cool plugins that let you connect to other services like Google Analytics.
- Screaming Frog — This SEO tool will let you crawl your entire website and spot information that you need to audit, including errors, word count, broken links, duplicate content, page titles, meta data, and other elements needed for a technical audit
- Surfer SEO — This tool will help you identify on-page SEO elements that you need to optimise especially for creating content that will stand out among competitors, including word count/article length, common keywords, and keyword density
If your site has too many pages, you can also hire a programmer who can build a simple tool to help you pull all the data you need.
Sample of a website content audit spreadsheet (Source: Moz)
Next, you need to identify the types of data you’ll measure, which you’ll then put in the columns next to your content list.
Include all necessary data (both quantitative and qualitative) for the audit. What you include will, of course, depend on your goal. For instance, if your auditing goal is for SEO purposes, your spreadsheet columns should include search volume, backlinks, meta descriptions, backlinks, etc. Meanwhile, If the goal is to increase content engagement, then spreadsheet columns should include social media metrics like shares and likes, the topic of the content, and the number of comments on the post itself.
Although there’s no one way to identify the types of data you’ll use (as, again, this all depends on your goal), vital points to include are:
- Category (the topic of each content)
- Type of content (e.g. blog, podcast, landing page, etc)
- Meta data
- Action (what you will do with each content like leave it as is, update, redirect, delete, etc)
It’s important that you dedicate a couple of columns for Action and Priority Level, so you’ll know what to do for that particular content and when you need to do it.
Pro Tip: If this is your first time doing this, you can also take a look at free content audit templates available online, such as this template from CoSchedule and this list of audit facets from Content Marketing Institute so you won’t start from scratch.
Remember, however, that this audit is ultimately for your business, so you only need to capture relevant information that will help you advance your goals. Don’t fall into the trap of investing time into capturing more information than you need and end up not using most of it.
4. Audit your content
Once you’ve done your inventory and captured the data you need, it’s time to analyse it and assess whether each content is working for you:
A. Get rid of low-performing content
If a piece of content doesn’t give you any traffic or sales, you can delete it or 301 redirect it to a similar page. You can also combine it with another page. If you find multiple pages tackling the same topic, it can sometimes make sense, from both a UX and SEO point of view, to merge all of them to create one long-form asset.
The important thing to remember is to manually review a page before deleting it, as you might accidentally delete vital pages like the Contact page or Terms of Service (pages that don’t usually generate traffic but are nonetheless vital to your online business).
Also, don’t delete anything published within the last 6 to 12 months to give it the chance to rank.
B. Improve remaining content
For content pieces that do perform well (whether that’s through attracting a lot of organic traffic and/or conversion rate), check if you can improve them further. This could include:
- Adding images and videos if the content is too text-heavy
- Updating the content by including internal/external links and replacing outdated information
- Optimising for mobile use
- Optimising old content to make sure they follow recent algorithm changes
- Optimising for voice search
- Removing any internal links that lead to deleted or redirected pages
C. Identify content that your readers like
Go back to your customer persona or your ideal reader. If you haven’t fleshed out this detail yet, Hootsuite have written a great guide on creating a buyer persona. The more you understand them, the more you’ll be able to pinpoint what your readers are interested in.
Next, create a separate content ideas spreadsheet that details all the topics and keywords that your readers find interesting. You can also use the tools we mentioned above to list down relevant keywords. This spreadsheet will be crucial to the next step.
D. Perform a gap analysis
Take a look at your content audit spreadsheet and your content ideas spreadsheet. Find out if there are any gaps in the content that your readers are interested in but you haven’t written or produced yet. Make it a point to produce more content under these categories.
5. Come up with a new content strategy
A common mistake that people do is to devote so much time and effort to collecting and analysing data, then end up with no clear action plan.
Go back to your content audit spreadsheet. Under the Action column, indicate what needs to be done for that content piece. Then:
- Prioritise the actions you need to take, so you can come up with a realistic timetable
- Assign each task to someone in the team
- Address the weaknesses you found (e.g. pages need updating, add more images or videos, CTAs, etc.)
- Create new content based on your gap analysis
- For content that is doing well, find out how to promote these more, repurpose them, break them down into smaller pieces, and/or post on other sites for backlinking
- Resubmit newly updated pages to Google Search Console
Remember that your audit isn’t made for it to collect digital virtual dust in your computer’s hard drive. It should always lead to tactical plans for the advancement of your goals.
Keeping it Fresh
Content audits, especially if you regularly publish new content or pages on your site, should not be seen as an optional task for site owners. It can be tedious and time-consuming, but it’s an integral part of both the content marketing and the SEO process. Keeping your website fresh, valuable and relevant are all things that users appreciate and Google’s algorithm rewards. After completing all these steps, mark your calendar after a year or two for your next content audit.
Here at Superb Digital, conducting thorough and meticulous content audits is something we do all the time and is part and parcel of all our SEO strategies. If you think your website is in need of a serious content audit, why not book in your free strategy call with us today.