The Why, How and What of a Content Audit
Two words, used together, guaranteed to get your content and development teams grumbling are content audit. Casually mention them during a weekly meeting, and you may find yourself an unwilling participant in a reenactment of The Crimson Permanent Assurance. The simple truth is that there are some people who love auditing, and then there’s the rest of us.
It is not uncommon to hear words like boring, tiresome or annoying thrown about in the context of a content audit, but with the proper plan in place it needn’t be any of these. Comprehensive content strategies, built around a detailed content audit plan, were previously something only large businesses worried about. But now blogs have become an essential component of any business website, regardless of size; and so too, content strategies and content audit plans are now needed by any business website with its own blog or CMS.
Admittedly, your first content audit is intimidating and challenging, but it allows you to put measures in place that simplify future audits. Any future changes to your website structure or UX will also benefit from having an up-to-date content audit plan in place.
Two of those questions show that a content audit is not just about collecting information, it is also about measuring and assessing the performance and quality of the information.
Preparing for Your First Audit
Though there are a variety of tools, services and plug-ins that you can use for certain aspects of your audit, but you cannot automate the entire process. The information you need for an effective content audit is:
- Page Title: The name of each page. This is usually the text between the <title> tag, but you can also use the initial <h1> text, especially once you start listing blog posts.
- URL: This is self-explanatory. Using the full URL will make future changes to your folder structure easier to manage.
- Author/Owner: Who wrote the content, and who is responsible for it. Author information is important once you start recording information for blog posts, particularly if you regularly accept guest authors. Owner applies more to large websites where different departments are responsible for certain sections.
- Last Update: The date on which the information on each page was last updated.
- Comments: Record important notes and comments relevant to each page. These could include a brief description of the content type (video resources, link list, etc.), and any errors that need to be corrected (missing links, incorrect logo, etc.).
- Keywords: Not Meta Keywords but a few of the main words each piece of content focuses on.
- Audience: Who is each piece of content aimed at. As part of your content strategy, you should already have determined the segments or personas that make up your audience.
- Content Type: This can be as detailed as necessary for your needs. At the very least it should state whether the content is evergreen or timely, and whether it is still relevant or out-of-date. Detailed, but optional, information would include whether it is a basic page, an informational page or article, or technical information. This information cannot be gleaned from a site crawl, but must be assessed by actually reading the content.
- Word Count: There is no ideal word count, but you will need this for analytical purposes.
- Traffic: The metrics you include here will depend on your own internal processes and preferred analytics tool(s). You may want to consider including social metrics – tweets, likes, shares and +1s. This is used to answer two of the questions listed by Slater: how do people find each piece of content, and how is each piece performing.
For a basic reference you can use Google Webmaster Tools. Using tools like Screaming Frog to do a site crawl can also give you quick access to additional information such as:
- Client and Server Errors
- Links (In, Out and External)
- Anchor Text
- Image URLs
You can also check our on-page optimization for keywords using free tools included in Positionly, which will easily tell you if there’s any room for improvement.
Some of this data is essential if you are preparing for a site redesign, or fixing SEO issues, but they aren’t necessary for a full or partial content audit – remember the five questions that a content audit should answer.
Analyzing and Interpreting the Data
Once you have completed your site crawl, import the data into a spreadsheet and format as necessary. If you have managed to collect all the information listed above, you will immediately notice that you have the answers to a content audit’s five basic questions. You now know:
- What content you have,
- Who is making the content,
- How people are finding it,
- How it is performing, and
- Which content is current or outdated?
While it is good to know all of this, it means very little without a bit of insight. Using both web traffic and social metrics as a guide, start looking for patterns in the following:
- Content Type. What types of articles generate the most, and least, interest: evergreen articles, or those linked to current issues or events? Look deeper into the results to see whether these are opinion pieces, how-to guides, product announcements, etc.
- Word Count. What is the typical word count of your most, and least, popular content? Don’t use this number as a rule, but as a guide. Just because your most popular articles are all over 1200 words long does not mean that all your future content should run to the same length. Not all topics warrant high word counts.
- Headlines. Is there a common structure or word usage in the headlines of the most, and least, popular content?
You have to remember that in order to understand what great content on your site looks like, you have to also figure out the flaws in your worst performing content.
What Comes Next?
Once you have completed your content audit – analyzed the data and compiled a list of suppositions (it might be too soon for conclusions) – you can enjoy a cup of coffee, and congratulate everyone on a job well done.
For all of five minutes.
Several actions need to follow a content audit, including:
- Using the information to refine your content strategy. You now have a better idea of why some content performs better, allowing you to perform actual tests to confirm. This, in turn, enables you to refine, or even reshape, your content strategy to improve the quality of all future content. If you don’t have a content strategy, then now is as good a time as any to start compiling one, using the information gathered by the audit as the building blocks.
- Repurposing outdated or underperforming content. During the audit you would have identified content that was either outdated, or not performing as well as it should. This does not mean that the content offers no value to your visitors and should be trashed. Rather find ways to update some of it, possibly to be more evergreen, and rewrite the rest, incorporating elements you have found in your best performing content.
Finally, turn the spreadsheet used in the content audit into a working document. Instead of doing a site crawl every time you decide to do an audit, add the relevant information for new content as you publish it. That way you always have the very latest information on your content, with only the traffic and social metrics needing to be updated when the time comes for a new audit.
Content audits are far from exciting, but the information gathered is vital not only in shaping your content strategy, but also in identifying stale or substandard content. Not forgetting that it is also essential anytime you start working on a site redesign, or need to identify and correct any SEO issues.
If you have never done a content audit before, then now really is the best time to start. As with many things, the longer you put it off, the longer it will eventually take you to complete it.