How to Perform a Content Audit

One of my favorite things about going to conferences is all of the exciting ideas you come away with. At MozCon 2013, which just ended yesterday, the focus was on creating quality content strategies.

But unless you’re building a brand new company right now, the site you’re working on probably already has a good amount of content. It might be tempting to ignore it and set off on a new campaign, but there are a number of reasons you want to analyze the current content on the site first:

  • You can learn which content is most successful by identifying pages that are already doing well
  • You can learn what doesn’t work and steer away from that
  • You can find holes in the types of content you provide
  • Clever content attached to a shitty site will not make those shitty pages convert, it will make visitors abandon the clever content
  • Duplicate content or an excess of low quality pages could hurt your site as a whole, including that new, mind-blowing content you’ve just added

You can spend a few hours perusing the site, reading some product descriptions and blog posts, and form an opinion based on what stood out to you. But a loosely structured audit won’t give you the whole picture. To really understand the quality of the entire site, you need to assess each page* on the site with standard metrics, so that they can be combined to describe the site as a whole.

*Each page is obviously ideal, but if you’re working with a massive site or simply don’t have the time to do a full audit, use analytics to get a sampling of popular, average, and low traffic pages. Also, you only need to look at the last year to half a year of blog posts.

Here is a spreadsheet that can help you do that:

The spreadsheet has ten columns, which offer a brief assessment of the page type, traffic, external shares, and quality:

URL

If you’re lucky enough to have this option, use your CMS to get a list of all of the URLs on your site. If you can’t do that, use a crawling tool like Screaming Frog to get a list of all of the pages on your site. Just be aware that it can only find pages that are linked to the homepage or are in the sitemap, so you may miss some orphaned pages. (Hopefully you found those in the technical audit, though!)

Page Type

Use the page type column to categorize your pages. You can be as broad as separating “home,” “navigation,” “product pages,” and “blog posts;” or as specific as breaking out the types of products or blog posts. The decision should be based on how carefully you want to assess sections of your site. If you want to use this data to filter your blog post themes or product categories, be sure to separate those out.

Content Type

Different types of content drive different actions from visitors. Customers go through different stages before they actually buy, and you can try to get their attention at any stage:

Awareness, Trigger, Search, Consideration, Buy, Stay

Awareness

The “awareness” stage for your customer is the “branding” stage for you. Some examples are:
    • Any “about us” pages
    • Pages that promote good deeds the company has done, or other topical information about the company, like the press room
    • Awesome content aimed at your target audience but not necessarily about your products

Trigger

At this stage, your content will “trigger” visitors to switch from knowing about your products to actively wanting to purchase them. These can often be fun, like:
    • Stories about people using your products and how they helped them
    • Content that helps people solve problems that are related to your products
      • Ex. REI has an awesome section of their site called learn that just helps visitors with camping/kayaking/rock climbing/general outdoor adventures.

Search

People enter the “search” phase when they think they might want to convert, but they want to study the product more in depth first. These will often be benefits of the product or frequently asked questions:
    • Blender vs food processor
    • Can food processers blend liquids?
    • Average price of blenders

Consideration

This stage comes once someone decides they want the product, but they’re not sure which brand to choose. This content should explain the value of your brand over others:
    • Reviews
      • Pro tip: Make sure that your reviews are readable by search engines. To check if Google can read them, search for “cache:www.yoursite.com/your-page” in Google and see if it shows the reviews
    • Search for “best [product]”

Convert

These are all of the pages that help people buy your product. Most of them are the pages between when a visitor hits “add to cart” and when they confirm their purchase. Those pages don’t need to be optimized for SEO (or even in search engines’ indexes), but CRO changes often make the biggest impact here. Other support for buying, like demos and free guides, are “buy” pages as well.

Stay

After visitors make their purchase, content that encourages a lifetime relationship falls into the “stay” category. Everything that you offer in a customer portal – order tracking, customer care, member benefits, etc – is a part of the “stay” process.

As you go through your list of pages, filter them into one of these six stages. If you use the spreadsheet I provided, you can look at the Results tab and see how many pages you have in each stage.

You don’t necessarily want to have one of each. But, use them to ask yourself questions about where you’re spending your time on content. Do you only have a handful of awareness pages and don’t have a strong brand? Do you have a lot of search pages but they’re not delivering much value?

Highest Daily Visits

You want to get an idea of the traffic a page brings in. But, if you just look at traffic overall, blog posts will look insignificant next to articles that you link to year round, and important seasonal products could look like they get little to no traffic.

That said, if you don’t have a seasonal business or don’t have articles versus blog posts, you can use the number of visits you got in the past six months to identify what content is more topical.

Conversions

What counts as a “conversion?” I purposely left this vague, because there are a number of conversions you could count:
  • If you’re an ecommerce site, you might want to put in the profit so that you can compare pages that sold a few expensive items to pages that sold many cheap items fairly.
  • If you work for a B2B site, you can count the number of leads you acquired.
  • If you run an informative site, you can count the number of pages/visit or the average time on site.

Value: PA (Page Authority) and # of Shares

Even if a page doesn’t directly lead to conversions, it could be bringing value to potential customers and gaining links and shares. Links and shares bring awareness (regardless of the actual page being shared), increase search engine rankings, and indicate respect – and probably staying power – of the person linking or sharing.

You can count the number of links or the number of linking domains, but I like Page Authority since it combines the number and Authority of the links, including the internal links you’ve pointed to the page.

Quality

Gauging quality is tricky by itself, and it’s even harder when you’re asked to put quality into a number. But, without a number and clear reasoning, you’re going to have a difficult time explaining to your boss or client why they generally have “low quality” content. I usually like to rank quality on a scale of 1 - 5 because it’s simple but gives you the flexibility beyond “awful,” “medium,” and “exceptional.”

There’s always going to be a certain amount of personal preference that leaks into your rankings, but here are a number of questions you should think about to keep you on track:

  • Is the text easy to read? Does it have short, clear sentences? Is content broken into sections and easy to skim paragraphs?
  • Does the content feel like it was written for humans or computers? Is there redundant keyword stuffing? Awkward placement of phrases for keyword stuffing?
  • What’s your gut feeling: is it the right tone for the audience?
  • For the home page:
    • Does the page explain who the company is?
    • Does the page explain what the company does or sells?
  • For navigation pages:
    • If someone entered the site from a navigation page, would s/he understand where s/he was? Include a short description of this selection at the top of the page, as well as branding.
  • For ecommerce pages:
    • What is the tone like? Is it a hard sell? Soft sell? (You may want to do some CRO to find out which works best.)
    • Is the text focusing on telling the visitor to buy rather than explaining why the visitor should buy?
  • For blog posts:
    • Why would someone want to read this? What would they gain from reading this? Is that relevant to the company?
    • How often does the company post? How regularly do they post? Can visitors figure out when they can come back to read new posts?
    • Look at the comments – do people seem engaged? Is it filled with comment spam? Is the company responding to comments?

Potential Penalties: Unique & > 150 Words

Just to be careful, note if the page has duplicate content or doesn’t have enough content.

To check if a page has duplicate content, pick a sentence and search for it in Google with quotation marks surrounding it. Google will return a list of pages with that exact sentence. If multiple pages have the same sentence, check a couple more sentences, though: one paragraph at the beginning or in the sidebar won’t make a page duplicate content.

Pages should usually have the brand name and a bit of explanatory text above the fold. If the top of the page is filled with many images, it may appear to be more ads than content to Google and be penalized by Panda. If the design is clearly ad-free but has under 150 words, it will be difficult for search engines to understand the content on the page.

Fill Out the Provided Spreadsheet

The great thing about doing detailed work like this is, you’ll cover the audit from multiple angles. By going through each page individually, you’ll identify all content that could eventually cause a penalty and needs to be removed (or flag content that could eventually be a problem). By looking at the traffic, links, and quality, you’ll be able to compare all of the pages on the site to find the most outstanding pages, which could very well spark an idea for your content strategy. And, by putting all of those metrics together, you can look at the site as a whole and identify which type of content you’re lacking, and where your content strategy should fill holes.

 

For those of you who have done content audits in the past: is this how you do content audits? What would you add? Comment below!

Kristina Kledzik

Kristina Kledzik

Kristina joined Distilled as an SEO after working as an SEO/SEM/Web Analytics Specialist for the University of Washington. Kristinah264 // Kristina always knew she wanted to work with computers, but avoided computer science classes in college...   read more

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24 Comments

  1. Kristina - thank you for this awesome article! We're going into another content audit and this was good info and validation for the task at hand.

    Quality can indeed be tricky, but I found a solution that works well and builds a bridge with the UX team. Our criteria for quality will map to the UX field's facets of user experience (usable, useful, desirable, accessible, credible and findable) to form a six point scale per URL.

    The common language will help drive consensus on the quality of insights produced. Hooray for audits!

    reply >
    • Alex Morask

      Josh,

      That's an excellent idea. Never really thought of coordinating the quality measurements with UX. The problem I'm having with our current audit is that we're working with an absolutely massive site (over 3 mil indexed pages). Obviously, all of these pages are not being accounted for, but still, we're finding that when working with big sites, applying a quality score to each page is extremely difficult and time consuming.

    • Kristina Kledzik

      Josh - using a quality score already set by the UX team is a great idea! I'm always in favor of integrating more with other facets of online marketing, so I'll have to keep this in mind next time I'm working with a client with a UX system in place. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Kristina, Great article! I will definitely be trying this out for a few clients.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Thanks! I find that giving clients spreadsheets like this that explain your reasoning can make your final report much more persuasive.

  3. I appreciate the thought that went into this.

    That said, I must respectfully disagree with the approach and mindset. I had to read the article three times to be sure it wasn't an elaborate put-on.

    Maybe it's a case of colliding worlds. I'm a former editor, TV news executive, and non-profit executive who thinks the whole approach suffers from the dread affliction of phony rigor masking what is always a subjective quality assessment.

    The idea the hidden truths will be revealed by having lots and lots of rows and columns in a spreadsheet that attempt to measure the unmeasurable is unpersuasive.

    Which is not to say we should go to the other extreme and operate on gut instinct. (Lord knows, many editors make that mistake.)

    But I really think there are two types of people in the world: people who believe that spreadsheets are imbued with magical, mystical powers. And those of us who are more skeptical!

    The irony is that the two worlds are coming ever closer together. I work on content development with some top authorities in their fields -- including scientists and authors. Can't we all get along?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      I understand where you're coming from. The quality of content is indeed subjective, and it can be worrisome if someone tries to apply too much objectivity to it (which can result in boring pages filled with facts and stuffed with keywords).

      But the spreadsheet is just a tool to help you analyze the entire site rather than skimming a few pages and making assumptions. If you look at the metrics I included, the most important ones are subjective: Page Authority and shares are external subjective quality assessments, and the 5 point Quality column is your internal assessment. The fact that you record it as a number - simply to allow you to compare it to other pages in a large scale - does not make it any less subjective.

      There are two reasons I love spreadsheets for performing content audits. One, is that just by having a spreadsheet to record your quality assessment, you will be more likely to look at each page from all angles. If you were tasked to figure out the quality if a site, and you did it taking casual notes as you went, you would probably read a few product pages, a handful of blog posts, and make notes where something stood out to you. But would you check each and every page to see the number of webmasters who have chosen to link to it? Would you always check for social shares, even if the page doesn't display that? Those are external quality assessments, and often they're even more important than internal quality assessments. By having specific columns that highlight the important ways to rank the quality of a page, you'll look at each page from all angles.

      Second, by recording the quality for all pages, I think you get a better view of the entire site. As humans, we like outliers, and we pay more attention to them. Say that you looked at fifty blog posts, and twenty were atrocious and thirty were decent. Because you were upset by the low quality of those twenty blog posts, you'll be tempted to apply that ranking to the entire blog, arguing that you simply saw too many extremely low quality blog posts. But if you were recording the quality score of each blog post, once you were done with your assessment, you would see that there were actually more decent blog posts than bad blog posts, and would temper your overall assessment.

      In conclusion - and to address your last point - I certainly hope we can all get along! If I were your consultant, and you saw the report that I wrote up after using a spreadsheet like this, I don't think you would feel that our opinions were so divided!

  4. Rajesh Magar

    Nice and full of information. Content type segments are really revolutionary process and completely good enough to win with any business niche website.

    Will definitely add in to our content strategy onward.

    reply >
  5. Kristina, thanks for sharing this straightforward guide. I found a number of holes in my current approach that your procedure has filled. The content type idea is game-changing for me.

    Evernoted. Shared. :)

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Glad you liked it! That piece was shared with me originally by the amazing Adria Saracino. You can read some of the blog posts she's posted on our blog here, or follow her @adriasaracino

  6. Nice article. But I have a query in my mind. Are these tools useful of self monitoring for quality content and marketing is a sufficient task..???

    reply >
  7. One more thing that you could do when it comes to content audits is to look at the high search exit and high bounce pages on your website.

    Then analyze what may be the possible pitfalls leading to this. A neat tool is Click Tale that records user activity on the website.

    You could also have a kind of questionnaire on these pages in the form of pop up and ask users the reason why they were leaving the pages. They after all are the best guides to help you take corrective measures.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      All good points!

      Content audits can be massive, so I tried to pare this down as much as possible. But it's great to add extra metrics that are key indicators, like exits/bounces. :)

  8. Your tips are really useful Kristina!

    Since we are into education field, we need step by step e-mail marketing campaigns to be organized. This guide will also help us in creating great e-mail marketing campaigns for promoting each course.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Awesome! I used to work in the education field, so it holds a special place in my heart.

      And, education is all about content. :)

  9. I want to go to MozCon!!!

    This is a really great piece, Kristina. I've just started out with my own company and this really helps me understand how to produce a great content marketing plan.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Josh

    reply >
  10. Kristina, can you describe how you rank Page Authority? Is this also a gut judgement based on your knowledge of industry leaders or influential websites?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Sorry, I should have been more specific! Page Authority is a metric created by Moz, which is their approximation of how authoritative search engines would see a page. You can find the number (from 1 to 100) here: www.opensiteexplorer.org.

  11. Kristina – thank you for this wonderful article!

    Content is always king. :)

    reply >
  12. Great post, I need to perform a couple content audits so this was an awesome refresher. Thanks for sharing.

    reply >
  13. Thanks so much for posting this Kristina! Definitely answered a lot of questions and I have no doubt that it will wind up helping me with clients in the future.

    reply >
  14. Hi Kristina,

    Great read and thanks for the tips. I love evaluating content strategies to further improve conversion and the overall authority of the website.

    It's a great strategy to use, was this from the MozCon 2013.

    Thanks

    Danny

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Nope, this was written during MozCon, but wasn't actually discussed in any of the lectures. :)

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