How To Conduct A Content Audit Step-By-Step

It’s a fact that even the best content writers and search engine optimizers occasionally strike out with a new piece of content.

For whatever reason, and despite your best efforts, not everything you publish is going to be a hit.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, it will get buried, fail to rank in search results, and basically contribute nothing to your overall goals.

Don’t erase things you worked hard on or leave them to slowly fade into obscurity.

Instead, use these less-than-successful pieces of content to figure out where you went wrong, take action to correct it, and use that new knowledge to create stronger new content.

But before you can do that, you need to know which of your webpages are underperforming. And that requires a content audit.

If you’re not sure how to do that, don’t worry.

In this piece, we’ll explain what a content audit is and why it’s important and then give you step-by-step instructions for performing your own.

What Is A Content Audit?

A content audit is a process of systematically inventorying and evaluating your website’s currently published content.

Often, it will be directly linked to SEO efforts, as the goal is to have content that is not only packed with important keywords but also answers specific search queries.

The content you could be auditing runs a gamut of formats and could include:

  • Webpages.
  • Landing pages.
  • Blog posts.
  • Product descriptions.
  • Videos.
  • Slide decks.
  • Whitepapers.

If you’ve never done a content audit before, this can sound like a daunting and boring task.

Don’t worry – it’s not nearly as bad as you imagine. But before we dive into the process, let’s talk about why it’s an important process for organizations of all types and sizes.

Why Do You Need To Audit Your Content?

Nothing is immune to the passage of time, including your content.

From geocentrism to who discovered the Americas, things that were once considered irrefutable facts become incorrect all the time. And if anything, the internet age has accelerated this process.

This is exactly why regular content audits are important. They will help keep your content up-to-date and improve your search engine rankings by addressing the following questions:

  • What is your existing content?
  • Is this content valuable?
  • How do people find it?
  • How is it performing?
  • Is it still accurate?

The answers to these questions will help you ensure your content is of high quality while helping you stay aligned with your content marketing strategy.

How To Conduct A Content Audit

Now that you know why you need to audit your content regularly, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of how to do it.

Step 1: Set Your Goals

There’s a lot of work involved with content audits, so to ensure you’re not wasting your time and energy, it’s important to start with clearly defined objectives about what you want to accomplish.

You should have at least one goal that will be the driving factor behind the audit and then determine the metrics with which success will be measured. These could include things like:

  • Improving SEO results for specific pages or your entire website.
  • Increasing engagement and/or conversions.
  • Removing outdated or redundant content.
  • Improving the standard of existing pieces of content.
  • Deciding on a new organizational structure for your site.

Step 2: Collect And Categorize Content

Once you have defined what you’re hoping to accomplish, it’s time to work on inventorying what you have published.

First, determine which types of content you’re going to be reviewing and collect their URLs.

You can either do this manually via an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet, or you can use an online tool like HubSpot, Semrush, or Screaming Frog.

(Pro tip: If your site is larger than a few pages, you will likely want to use a content audit tool.)

Once you have a spreadsheet with the content targeted by your audit created, it’s time to categorize it. (Note: Some online tools can do this for you.)

You’ll want to track the following for each piece of content in a separate content details audit spreadsheet:

  • URL.
  • Author.
  • Which team produced it? Content team, social team, SEO team, etc.
  • Time: How long did it take to produce the content in its entirety?
  • Title.
  • Date.
  • Content type: Is it a blog post, infographic, case study, etc.?
  • Content goal: What was the point of producing the content: backlinks, traffic, conversions, etc.?
  • Word count.
  • Comments.
  • Shares: break this down by social network and total.

This will keep you organized as you determine which existing pieces are okay and which need to be updated or removed. How you structure this information will be determined by your goals.

You may also wish to indicate what products or services this content supports, the keywords it’s targeting, and the word count.

Step 3: Track Metrics And Analyze Data

Now that we’ve got the bones of our audit created, it’s time to take a deep dive into how it’s performing.

You’re looking for tangible KPIs that allow you to assess the health and performance of your site.

The content data portion of your audit needs to come with its own handy dandy Excel doc, just like this one I created

Perform A Past Audit

Before we get into the data, you must backtrack and audit your past-produced content.

Knowing how the content you’ve published performs will help you gauge what kind of content you need to create in the future — and what kind not to create.

This part of your content audit will be time-consuming, at least in the beginning.

You’ll need to decide how far back you want to begin your content audit and then gather all of the content URLs for that time period.

I recommend going back at least one year and gathering data for how your content performed the year before.

Collecting all of your past content URLs doesn’t have to be a manual process, though.

Luckily, many website analytics tools like Google Analytics or Semrush’s Content Audit tool can quickly inventory your content based on your sitemap data. These can provide you with a list of content URLs to audit.

Semrush Content Audit toolScreenshot from Semrush, January 2023

Prepare Yourself For Ongoing Audits

Once you’ve caught up and added all of last year’s content to your Excel doc, you can repeat this audit activity for new content weekly.

It will be much easier to keep track of your content and audit it regularly when you’re only having to go back one week to input data.

Add the data from the next section to your Excel doc and upload the most recent numbers and statistics every week.

Over time, take note of any drastic changes.

Sometimes content, especially evergreen content, can take months before it really takes off.

Metrics To Track

Here are the metrics you’ll want to track for your content data audit:

Comments

A properly moderated comments section can add valuable user-generated content to your blog posts and articles.

If one of your content goals is to build a community on your website, you will want to know what content types and topics generate conversation.

Use the UGC link attribute to ensure you’re compliant with Google’s requirements for link markup.

If you don’t allow comments on your blog, check for comments on your social media posts about your content.

Social Shares

Some marketers brush off social shares as vanity metrics. However, monitoring your content’s social popularity can help you discover the topics most likely to intrigue specific social audiences.

Businesses that know most of their conversions come from Facebook, for example, would want to create content popular with Facebook audiences.

Analyzing which posts had the most social shares on Facebook in the past is a good way to find out what topics may do well in the future.

Organic Traffic

Ideally, your content will receive a lot of organic traffic.

If you aren’t getting organic traffic, that could be a potential red flag.

Perhaps there is something wrong with:

  • Your content strategy.
  • How you’re distributing the content.
  • The content type.
  • The content itself.

By evaluating the organic traffic metrics regularly in your audit, you’ll know when you can pat yourself on the back or when you need to start over.

Bounce Rate

Are website visitors arriving on your webpages and exiting without engaging with your content?

If Google Analytics cannot detect scrolling, clicks, or other interactions with your content before a user leaves, it is considered a bounce.

And if you have a high bounce rate, that could be a sign of bad content.

Ideally, your content is a gateway that leads a user from a search to your website, entertains or informs them, and then guides them to more content, depending on their needs.

An extended time on the page in conjunction with a low bounce rate signals “sticky” content that keeps users intrigued enough to continue on to more of your content.

Unsure of what a good bounce rate is?

A range of 26% to 45% is average for retail and ecommerce sites, whereas B2B sites will fall into the 25% to 55% range. For blogs, this number can be as high as 90%.

What’s acceptable for you will depend on your niche.

Backlinks

Bring on the backlinks – but only the good backlinks that give us a lot of boost and credibility, please!

You need to track the backlinks that your content regularly produces for two big reasons:

  • Your backlinks will change over time. The first day you publish a new piece of content, you may gain two to three backlinks. Let a week go by, and maybe now 10-12 backlinks have appeared. A year down the road, you could have 589 backlinks to one piece of content as it is promoted, discovered, and shared.
  • Not all backlinks are good. Sure, 589 backlinks might sound like a good thing, but not if 500 of those backlinks are potentially dangerous to your website, lead to spam, paid, or lead to a poor website. You may want to consider removing those unnatural backlinks.

Time On Page

If your content is a long-form blog post of 2,500 words and the average time on the page is 18 seconds, something is wrong.

This metric will inform you if your content just isn’t right for your audience or if it is, and you need to create more content focusing on topics just like it.

Unique Visitors

We want lots of unique visitors viewing our content and increasing the number of views the piece of content gets.

The more views, the more chances of return on investment (ROI) from content like conversions, engagement, shares, and backlinks.

Pages Per Session

How many pages is the user looking at after viewing your content?

What pages are they going to?

A blog post about the best winter coats can encourage a user to click on links within the blog post and shop around on your website for different coats. They may even make a purchase, which is the ultimate goal of any business marketing.

New Vs. Returning Users

Are you attracting a new audience with this piece of content?

Returning users are great. Returning customers are even better.

But we also need to aim to attract new users with our content. Ideally, you want to see a good mix of both.

Traffic Sources

Learn where your traffic is coming from by defining your main traffic sources.

If a majority of your content’s traffic is coming from Facebook, post more of your content on your Facebook page.

If hardly any is coming from your email newsletters, it may be time to restructure them.

Conversions

If your goal for a new piece of content is to generate 100 conversions in the first quarter (let’s say email opt-ins for your email newsletter), you need to add a column and track the number of conversions coming in from that piece of content.

Perhaps in the first week, there are only two conversions, and you begin to doubt the content entirely.

Let two months go by, and continue to audit each week. You may notice that now, the content has produced 140 total conversions, not only hitting your goal but surpassing it.

Auditing on an ongoing basis helps to give the figures you’re seeing valuable context, enabling you to make smarter, data-backed decisions.

Additional Information To Track

If you want to add more details about your content, here are some ideas of what to track.

SEO Title & Meta Description

Add columns to your spreadsheet for these SEO fields on each piece of content.

It will help when optimizing your content in the future to see all of the SEO titles and meta descriptions you’ve used in one place.

UTM Parameters

Keep track of specific promotional campaigns for each piece of content by logging any custom UTM parameters you used to track your content.

These may come in handy when you’re creating UTM parameters for new content or when you’re looking for data on past content in Google Analytics.

Leads Sales

If you have conversion events set up in Google Analytics, you can see which landing pages generate the most revenue.

Visit the Pages and screens report under Engagement to see which pages on your website are leading to conversions.

This will give you insight into the types of content and content topics that make a positive impact on your ROI.

Email Metrics

How well did your content perform when you shared it with your email list?

If email engagement is an important goal for your content, you’ll want to keep track of your opens, clicks, and forwards to see which content performs best.

Repurposed Content

Have you taken a collection of posts and turned them into an ebook or vice versa? Keep track of the content you’ve repurposed.

Combine metrics from the main content and additional pieces of related content to see how repurposing benefits your content strategy.

Top Keyword Ranking

Did a particular piece of content stay at the top of the SERPs for its target keyword phrase?

Note the best keyword rankings and how long they lasted to determine which types of content have long-term search wins and which types have short-term search wins.

Influencer Reach

Did you work with any influencers to get the word out about your content? Note the influencers that generated the most traffic or social shares for content.

You may want to work with them again in the future for similar types of content.

Step 4: Take Actionable Steps And Develop A New Content Strategy

By now, you should have all the information you need to determine what content is working and what isn’t. Now it’s time to use that information to create a plan to improve it.

Add another column to your spreadsheet to indicate what action you need to take for each piece of content. This could include deleting, refreshing, rewriting, or reusing.

Determine the priority for each action. Deleting content is quick and usually easy.

Refreshing may consist of minor updates to facts or links. A complete overhaul, on the other hand, could be a massive undertaking.

You may find it helpful to add a priority column to your spreadsheet to keep track of what’s most urgent.

Because your content audit should have hot topics and successful posts at the top of your mind, this is also the perfect time to develop a new content strategy.

Define how and why your marketing content will be used, as well as how it will help you achieve specific goals.

For more information on creating your own content strategy, click here.

Summary: Audit Content Often

Content audits are not the most glamorous part of marketing, but they’re absolutely essential.

Remember that what works today may not work tomorrow, and your top-performing pieces can become quickly outdated.

To ensure you’re getting the most out of your hard work, you should regularly perform content audits.

It’s the best way to keep an eye on the overall health of your website. It will also help you spot new opportunities and reach your goals.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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