If you don’t review your content, then you don’t know its value. You don’t know what is doing well. In all likelihood, this means you’ll be missing opportunities for improvements and wasting resources where they aren’t needed. The best way to make sure you’re not falling into this trap is to audit your content. But how should you go about it? Here, we run you through the fundamentals of content audits and show you the potential you can unlock for your website if the auditing process is done right.
It’s often said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Most online marketers have heard that “Content is King” or have twigged that Google talks a lot about “relevant” or “high-quality” content. These are important principles. Unfortunately, simple messages and buzzwords aren’t enough to guide marketers in developing an effective content strategy in what is a highly competitive and complex environment. As a result, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year on the production of online content, yet 80% of this goes unseen by its intended audience.
It’s human nature to crave attention, and for businesses, their livelihood depends on users coming to their website. Therefore, the desire to gain more prominence in the organic search results is certainly justified. However, search is basically a zero sum game. If 100 sites create a brilliant piece of content about selecting the right sneakers, Google still can’t show all 100 results on its first page. At most, users will see 10 organic links, maybe a Featured Snippet and potentially other integrations like a Knowledge Graph, an image box and a video carousel. But it’s a race. It’s not just about ticking boxes, it’s about creating content that performs better than the output of your competitors.
As more content is produced – even with the best intentions – the competition gets stiffer and the proportion of invisible content on the internet continues to rise. If businesses respond by pumping more resources into their content departments, and simply produce more content, the problem is only going to be exacerbated. This isn’t a strategic approach to the issue – it’s an attempt to win the online battle via attrition that only results in bloating the market and increasing waste on all sides.
Enter the Content Audit
A more effective way of tackling the problem is to look at the content you’re producing and try to understand it better. These means conducting an analysis, or content audit. If carried out properly, an audit can help you achieve the following:
- make connections between the content on your website and your company’s goals
- uncover gaps in your content offering
- find hidden opportunities for improvements
- help you structure your site so that you are maximizing your content’s potential
Clearly, blindly adding more and more content is unlikely to help reach any of these goals. You might get lucky and fill a gap or you might produce something that improves your domain’s organic search performance, but if you haven’t done your homework, then you’re charging into battle without a plan, and are more than likely going to get outflanked by your competitors who follow a more strategic approach.
Video: Step-by-Step Guide to Content Audits
For any fans of audio-visual content, here’s the recording of our recent webinar about content audits, where Marlene Borst, Key Account Manager Content at the Searchmetrics Digital Strategies Group, and I show you content audits can help you uncover your potential. You can watch the video here:
An Analysis Audit in Four Acts
With potentially thousands or tens of thousands of landing pages on a domain, you’re going to need a structured way of conducting this analysis. We recommend dividing a content audit into four main stages:
- Initial content assessment
- Performance analysis
- Structural analysis
- Benchmark analysis
We’ll describe each of these in more detail now.
1. Initial content assessment
Some content marketers might find working with spreadsheets intimidating and/or soul-destroying – content is supposed to be about words and emotions and not about data and tables! However, the great thing about Excel (or your spreadsheet tool of choice) is its flexibility. You can pull together data from numerous sources, sort it, filter it and make use of relatively simple functionalities like conditional formatting to get quick, helpful insights.Your range of data sources will depend on your own setup, but commonly they will include Google Analytics, the Google Search Console and an SEO software platform like the Searchmetrics Research Cloud, among others. Viewing all the data in one place makes it extremely quick and easy to spot gaps. For example, a simple column filter can instantly show you which URLs are missing a meta description, giving you a great starting point for basic optimization measures.
2. Performance Analysis
The next step is to analyze the performance of your pages. By looking at keyword rankings and traffic potential, you can identify those URLs that have the greatest optimization potential. A good rule of thumb is to look for keywords with:
- high search volume
- a good, but not excellent ranking (e.g. position 4 to 30)
- low level of competition (e.g. based on the cost-per-click of keywords)
These KPIs, all of which can be viewed in the Searchmetrics Research Cloud, can act as a good guide for identifying high-potential pages. In your specific case you may have other indicators that should also be considered, such as the average basket value for product purchases.
Once you’ve found URLs and keywords that look like good candidates for optimization, a good way of seeing how to optimize the pages is to check out the content itself. With content analysis software like the Searchmetrics Content Experience, you can assess the strength of on-page content by looking at performance factors such as word count and the inclusion of relevant keywords. If the page you’re targeting for optimization has sub-standard content, then improving the quality of the text is a great place to start.
But, as mentioned in the beginning, there is often just too much content on your website. It’s sometimes not about improving existing or adding new content; it’s more about getting rid of content that’s out-dated, not relevant for your target audience or doesn’t have a brand fit anymore. Underperformance and low search volume are always first indicators of where to start, but always check the content goals and match these with your strategic direction. Often, pages have a key role internally, and therefore a right to exist.
3. Structural Analysis
As websites expand, categories, sub-categories and standalone content sections are often added on the fly, resulting in domain structures that are near-impossible to follow, with the user experience resembling The Place That Sends You Mad in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. Obviously, this should be avoided if users are to be encouraged to stay on (and return to) your page. Furthermore, a well-structured site is much easier for a search engine crawler to navigate, meaning that more of your content can be correctly processed and indexed, giving it a chance to appear in the organic search rankings.
When restructuring the content on a site, it makes sense to take a top-down approach. First, directories should be established for the website’s main topics. Then, content pieces can be assigned to the relevant directories. Finally, the structure of individual texts can be analyzed to ensure their information architecture communicates to users in an appealing, effective way.
Working from the top down is an excellent way of spotting overlaps in topics, where directories can be eliminated or merged together, and content pieces that may address near-identical topics and are only creating confusion, without adding any value for visitors to your site.
4. Benchmark Analysis
The first three steps of the content audit have dealt directly with the content on your own page. The fourth step, a benchmark analysis, involves looking at the pages competing within your search environment. This doesn’t mean that you try to duplicate a competitor’s content – or even their strategy – but, for example, looking at the keywords your competitors rank for is a good way of identifying potential topics that might be missing on your own site.A benchmark analysis goes beyond an introspective look at your own website and uses the available data to analyze what is making those around you successful. This gives you a more rounded understanding of what ranks well in organic search within your industry or topical niche, and helps you make optimizations that can lead to real improvements in performance.
To summarize, content audits:
- create transparency and give you an overview of your content
- help identify content with the potential for quick optimization
- reveal redundant content that can be eliminated from your website
- create a clear, targeted structure for your website and its content
- lay the foundation for the creation of a content strategy
- are an investment in the performance of your content
One last question: When should I do a content audit?
The easy answer is: Now!. There is never a bad time to gain a better understanding of your content and its structure, and see where your areas of potential lie. That said, there are certain milestones in the life-cycle of a domain where a content audit is of particular value:
- website launch or relaunch
- change in the company’s strategic direction
- change in the company goals
- observation of visible drop in website performance
Of course, rather than wait for performance to fall, regular audits (e.g. annually) can help prevent any decline before it happens. The organic search environment is constantly evolving, as your competitors become more sophisticated, Google updates its algorithm and user expectations change over time. A content audit won’t solve all your problems overnight, but it will give you a detailed understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and set you off on the path to realizing your potential.