Let’s get one thing straight… There’s nothing sexy about the content audit process. This isn’t the kind of project you’re going to rush home to tell your wife and kids about, and it isn’t the type of thing that’s going to get you a gold star from your supervisor. But that doesn’t mean that this kind of work isn’t critically important to your website’s success!
A content audit involves taking a look at all the content on your website (or in your marketing funnel at large) and assessing their relative strengths and weaknesses in order to prioritize future marketing activities. This process should not be confused with a content inventory, which is simply an accounting of all these different assets. Although a content inventory is part of the audit process, the audit itself goes much further in-depth.
When performed correctly, a good content audit will help you to answer questions about the content pieces on your site that are performing best and which subjects your audience is most interested. It will tell you where you need to focus your future efforts, whether you’re looking at your content from an SEO or content marketing perspective. And it can even give you insight into potential changes that will improve your sales and marketing processes.
Before Beginning Your Content Audit
If you’re struggling to understand your visitors’ behavior on your website or why your current marketing initiatives aren’t working, a content audit is easily one of the best things you can do for your business. But before we get into the step-by-step process of conducting a content audit, you’re going to need to do some homework by answering the following questions:
Why am I conducting a content audit?
There’s no one correct approach for conducting a content audit – the exact steps you’ll take will depend on your reasons for undergoing the process in the first place. Typically, content audits are conducted for two primary reasons:
- SEO – Conducting a content audit for SEO purposes helps you to identify any weak spots in your site’s SEO. By cataloging the different tags, word counts, optimized images and other elements that are associated with each content asset on your site and comparing them to your current page rankings, you should be able to determine what changes need to be made to improve your site’s natural search performance.
- Content Marketing – Another great reason for performing a content audit is to assess the current status of your content marketing efforts. Instead of looking at page optimization factors, you’ll concentrate on things like page length, visit metrics and social shares to determine how your audience is responding to each content piece you’ve created (and, consequently, how you should alter your content marketing efforts in the future).
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t do both. While you’re digging through your SEO metrics, you might find it easy to simply jot down your content marketing data as well. Or, you might be approaching your content audit from a slightly different perspective. Whatever the case may be, being clear about your intentions ahead of time will help to streamline the process and minimize extra effort.
What resources do I have available for my content audit?
To be quite frank, a good content audit is a time-consuming process. If you’re currently swamped with other priorities, undertaking such a massive project may not be the best use of your time or energy.
But if the project must be done, keep in mind that you do have options. Instead of undertaking the entire audit process by yourself, delegate some of the data gathering steps to another employee in your organization or to an outsourced worker hired through sites like Guru or Elance. You also have the option of completing only small sections of the audit at any given time, or paying for tools that help to automate parts of your research process.
What do I hope to get out of my content audit?
Finally, be clear about the reason you’re conducting a content audit in the first place before you begin. If you aren’t going to take action based of the data your audit gathers, you might as well skip the process altogether!
Any of the following are potential content audit goals. You may have others that are not on this list, and you’ll likely have more than one in mind as you go through your audit.
- Identify ways to improve organic search performance
- See which past content marketing pieces have performed best
- Determine which content topics your audience seems to prefer
- Locate gaps in the content you’ve provided for different stages of your sales funnel
- Generate ideas for future content pieces
To see how this all plays out in real life, let’s put together a sample scenario… John runs a small software company that’s developed a SaaS budgeting tool. He’s invested in content marketing for about a year, but he isn’t sure whether or not all the time he’s spent blogging, creating videos and releasing infographics has paid off. As a result, he decides to conduct a content audit to see how his individual content pieces are performing and what – if anything – he should do differently in the future.
Because John only has five employees – all of whom are busy wearing multiple hats already – he decides to take on the audit process by himself. As a result, he decides to keep the scope of his audit small, checking only the content he’s created in the past year and tracking only a few variables that indicate success to him.
The Content Audit Process
If you’ve finished your homework, it’s time to get started! Take the following steps to complete your website’s content audit:
Step #1 – Create a spreadsheet of all your content assets
Unsurprisingly, the first step in completing a content audit is to… find all your content! You have two different options for doing so: using a crawling tool likeScreaming Frog to identify all the URLs on your existing website or manually enter them into your spreadsheet as you. Keep in mind that you’ll be recording various metrics for each URL you’re tracking, so copying and pasting them one-by-one doesn’t actually take much longer than using a crawling tool.
Enter all the URLs you find into an Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet, leaving plenty of columns for the data you’ll gather in Step #2. Or, if you’d rather not reinvent the wheel, you can add your links to any of the following freely-available content inventory and audit templates:
- Content Inventory Spreadsheet – MaadMob
- Building the Mother of All Inventories – Waltzing Mathilda
- Content Inventory and Audit Template – Kevin P. Nichols
- A Map-Based Approach to a Content Inventory – Boxes and Arrows
- Content Audit Guide and Template – 4Syllables
Now, let’s check in with John – our sample business owner. Because his site is small and he’s pressed for time, he uses Screaming Frog to create the URL list pictured below:
Step #2 – Gather asset data, depending on your audit objectives
Remember those columns I mentioned earlier? Now’s the time to set them up and fill them out!
The exact data points you’ll want to gather will, again, depend on the goals of your audit, as well as the complexity you want to achieve. Although the lists below may look daunting, it isn’t necessary to collect data on every possible variable. In fact, you may be able to achieve the goals you set for yourself with only a handful of possible data points!
Potential SEO data points to gather:
- Page Title
- Target Keyword
- Meta Description
- Page Headings Used
- Inbound Links
- Images Present
- Image ALT Tags
- Date Last Updated
- Page Visits (measure for at least three months, if possible)
- Page Entries and Exits
- Page Bounce Rate
- Average Time on Page
- Broken Links
Potential content marketing data points to gather:
- Word Count
- Type of Content (article, blog post, informational page, landing page, infographic, etc)
- Content Condition (out-of-date, evergreen, etc)
- General Topic
- Assigned Tags or Categories
- Content Owner (as in, who is responsible for editing it)
- Number of Comments
- Number of Social Shares
- Accessibility on Desktop and Mobile Devices
- Call to Action
- Associated Sales Funnel Stage
- Conversion Data
Other items to track:
- Content Inventory Date
- Page “Score” (determine your own grading scale to quickly assess content effectiveness)
- Page Status (keep, modify or discard)
- Date to Re-Review in the Future
- Additional Notes as Needed
Once you’ve selected the data points you’ll measure as part of your content audit, it’s time to do the heavy lifting of data collection. Let’s see what John has been up to… Since his primary goal is to determine what’s working with his current content marketing strategy, he decides to evaluate the following metrics:
- Page Title
- Page Visits (measure for at least three months, if possible)
- Page Bounce Rate
- Average Time on Page
- Number of Social Shares
- Conversion Data
- Page “Score”
While he could track other pieces of data as part of his audit – and probably glean additional insights from doing so – analyzing only this limited number of metrics makes it possible for John to complete his content audit while juggling his other responsibilities. The way he looks at it, he can always go back and add more to his analysis if he has the time!
To find the data points he’s decided upon, John uses the following resources:
- Screaming Frog gives him the page title tags for each of the URLs he’s tracking
- Google Analytics provides page visit, bounce rate and average type on page data
- The Social Metrics plugin gives him the number of times each post has been shared socially
- Act-On, the marketing automation program he’s using, gives him conversion data by page
Once John is done gathering this data, he goes back through his list and assigns a score to each page on an “A-to-F” rating scale. Pages that receive “A” scores are his cream-of-the-crop, top performing pages, while those that earn “F” scores are ones he’s embarrassed to find on his site. He also adds a note to his spreadsheet showing the date his audit was created for the purpose of planning future audits.
Step #3 – Analyze your data in order to draw conclusions
If your site is large, expect the data gathering process to take a long time. It’s not uncommon for audits to take days, weeks or even months to complete, depending on the size of the website and the organizational resources that are available for the process.
But even if your content inventory is completed quickly, you’ve still got another important step to take – actually putting all of your information to use!
To be sure you’re getting something substantive out of your content audit process, you need to establish a set of recommended actions you’ll take once the audit is complete. And in order to do that, you need to dive into the data you’ve collected in order to draw conclusions.
Unfortunately, there are no “hard and fast” rules that say, “If your content data indicates [this], do [that].” Instead, you’ve to look at the data you’ve gathered and see if you can identify any trends that could inform your eventual recommended actions.
Take a look at John’s spreadsheet below and see if anything jumps out at you:
Here are a few observations you could make:
- Visitors stay an average of two times longer on John’s video blog posts than they do on his text blog posts. This could suggest that John should allocate more of his future content creation resources to video production.
- John’s highest conversion rates appear to occur on the blog posts he publishes with list post titles. As a result, he may want to add more posts like this in the future.
- Although John’s infographic posts have the most social shares, they have the lowest conversion rates overall. This could suggest a few different things. John could be reaching the wrong people with his social media marketing efforts, the calls to action on his infographics could be weak or he could be creating infographics on the wrong topics. John will want to dig deeper into each of these possible conclusions and determine whether he should change his approach or continue to enjoy the potential SEO advantage that comes from having more social shares.
After further exploration, John decides to take the following actions after the completion of his content audit:
- Rewrite or remove all content pages that scored lower than a “C” in his analysis.
- Spend more time promoting his highest-converting pages on social networking sites.
- Create four evergreen content pieces that are similar to these highest-converting pages.
- Commit to publishing at least one new video post a week.
- Develop more content on the topic of budgeting, relative to other categories.
Now it’s your turn! Use the results of your content inventory to come up with 5-10 actions you’ll take after completing your audit, based on any patterns that emerge from your data. Then, set deadlines for yourself in order to put these actions into play and block out whatever time you’ll need to do so on your calendar.
One important thing to note here… When you’re staring down the mountains of data your content audit may generate, it’s easy to find yourself struck down by analysis paralysis. Basically, there are so many conclusions you could draw and so many things you could do, that you wind up doing none of them. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap!
Realistically, you’re never going to be working with perfect information, in a perfect environment. You may look at your data and ultimately draw the wrong conclusion about what’s causing the patterns you’re seeing. And, as a result, you may take actions that actually work against your website – even though it’s much more likely that a thoughtful analysis will help you to make substantial improvements to your site and its content. As long as you’re tracking your metrics and regularly revisiting the content audit process, you’ll see these shifts occurring and be able to remedy them long before they become big problems plaguing your site’s performance.
Taking Your Audit Further
If you’ve caught the auditing bug while going through the content analysis process, you can always take the skills you’ve learned to expand your audit further:
Look at your competitors’ websites
So now you know everything there is to know about your own content, but keep in mind that you don’t exist in a bubble! The performance of your content will always be tied, in some ways, to the content that your competitors put out. Even if their pieces don’t directly prevent visitors from seeing yours, there is a limited number of consumers out there and they all have a finite amount of attention. If they’re using all their energy focusing on your competitors’ content, they may not have enough mental focus left to pay attention to yours.
Conducting an audit of your competitors’ content is similar to assessing your own, but with a few limitations. There are a few metrics that you may not be able to pull without having direct access to your competitors’ website and accounts. Bounce rate, average time on page and conversion rate are three in particular that are difficult to assess without accessing the site’s Google Analytics profile or marketing automation account.
But that said, there are still plenty of different things you can track. You can estimate the number of links pointing at your competitors’ content pages using tools likeMajesticSEO, and you can measure social shares by counting them yourself from their social profiles. It won’t be a complete audit, but even conducting this limited level of assessment should give you plenty of actionable data on areas where your competitors are currently outperforming your site.
Track offsite content performance
Another way to expand your content audit is to include your off-site content assets (if they’re relevant to your audit goals). For example, if you’re assessing the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts, you’ll want to include as much data as possible on any infographics, slide decks or other external content pieces you’ve released to promote brand recognition and viral sharing.
Again, your ability to track the metrics listed above on these content pieces will vary based on the sites hosting them. Gather what you can, but also look for other types of data that are unique to external content sources. As an example, looking at your Google Analytics account should show you the number of visits that each external piece sent to your site. Comparing referred visits across external content pieces can be a great way to determine the direction of your next big content release.
Expand the audit process to other marketing channels
In addition to assessing your offsite content pieces, you can apply the audit process to your other marketing channels. If you run print ads in trade publications, try to determine how many inquiries you’ve received from each ad (hint – this is easiest to do if you record the source of your first touch with a new prospect in your CRM after your first conversation). Or, take a close look at your email marketing campaigns. Is the content in your autoresponders still up-to-date? Do you have some messages that have a higher open rate than others?
When it comes down to it, a content audit isn’t just a one-off process you should conduct once in a blue moon. It’s a mindset that you should apply to both your website content and the other marketing channels you use. By carefully inventorying your existing content pieces and assessing the data you’ve gathered for each item, you can make informed marketing decisions that will help you to save time, cut costs, grow your brand and improve your overall advertising ROI.