If you’re in the business of content, you need to perform a content audit. And yet—37 percent of content marketers never complete one. Whether rebranding or launching a new website, onboarding a new client, or simply starting a new campaign, you can’t measure improvements and growth without establishing clear baselines.
A content audit ensures you know what content you have and don’t have. It helps you focus content creation and curation efforts on gaps in your inventory. An audit prevents investment in duplicate content. It enables you to identify and replace or remove outdated content, determine which content can be reused and repurposed, and improve the quality of your existing content.
Imagine you’re setting out on a classic “discover yourself” cross-country road trip. Some free spirits out there might argue that going without a map is the best way to start the adventure. Which is fine, if you’re ok with getting lost along the way, missing out on landmarks and opportunities you were looking for, and constantly struggling with breakdowns and time inefficiencies.
Which is also what you get when attempting to launch or execute a content strategy without a content audit to serve as your road map.
A content audit helps you develop and navigate a content strategy. It enables you to allocate and analyze all your existing content to identify what’s working and what isn’t. A content audit not only informs how you optimize existing content, but also the content you develop in the future.
Purposes of a Content Audit
There are many reasons to undertake a content audit, but the main one is to identify and qualitatively analyze your existing content.
For example, a content audit provides valuable insights into:
- Which parts of your site generate the most traffic, and which pages convert the most users.
- Which pages or posts within your site bounce users away, and (hopefully) why.
- Identifying optimization opportunities for existing content to improve its ranking.
- Pages that could be consolidated together to minimize overlap.
- Which pages lack relevancy and could be removed from the site altogether.
- The posts and pages on your site that rank best and engage users the most.
- Which pages and posts on your site “should” be ranking.
- Any gaps within your content strategy you can create new contact for.
- Identifying and prioritizing the different content assets of a new client or campaign.
- Which pain points within your site, content, and UX you can quickly fix.
Now let’s examine how to conduct a content audit. It can be a daunting task, but how do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
A Content Audit Overview
This table of contents is for those looking for quick tactics and improvements.
Getting Started: Tools and Documents
Content audits are hard work that can devour a lot of your time—but the benefits are absolutely worth it. You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are and where you’ve been.
To get this process underway we need tools to help scrape the data. We also need to develop documents and spreadsheets to help organize our analysis.
Let’s start with the tools required to conduct a successful content audit. There are many tools available that all prioritize different values in how they analyze and present data.
These industry trusted tools collect the URLs and metrics needed for the reference documents that inform a content audit:
- Google Analytics (GA) Solutions
- MOZ Open Site Explorer
- MOZ Keyword Explorer
- Google Webmasters Tool
- Hemingway App
There are three main documents to create for reference in a content audit. They are: a Content Inventory spreadsheet, a Keyword Research spreadsheet, and a Content Strategy document.
The first should look something like the screenshot below, and include all your pages, posts, and any metrics you focus on. Include relevant information such as title, target keyword, subpage, subfolders, anchor text, and backlinks. (To fully understand metrics and which ones count, download The Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing Analytics & Metrics eBook.)
Develop the second spreadsheet after you build a Content Inventory. A Keyword Research spreadsheet helps identify any content gaps and/or retroactive optimization opportunities that need addressing.
A content gap is a keyword or topic within your niche you have yet to develop content for. For example, a “comprehensive search marketing agency” specializing in SEO, PPC, and content for B2B companies will need to address all the keywords those verticals target. So, if you are writing on just SEO and content, you have a content gap in the PPC keyword niche that needs addressing.
This is where a content strategy document comes in. It should combine a broad overview with detailed action items for use as a roadmap to the future.
You’ll spend most of your time in the content inventory spreadsheet during a content audit.
Depending on the metrics you look at and what you audit your content for, this spreadsheet should have all the necessary data and links needed to facilitate qualitative analysis.
It should end up looking something like the screenshot below, with your own twist of course.
Now let’s organize this spreadsheet to reveal the most useful insights.
Start off by identifying and allocating all the content posts within your domain. There are many online tools that can scrape this data. One popular tool many content marketers turn to is Screamingfrog.
Tools like Screamingfrog create a CSV of all your site’s URLs for uploading to your spreadsheet.
With all the URLs collated, you can then upload them into a KPI scraping tool. You can either automate the KPI scraping or tackle it manually. While the latter option will take longer, you end up with a more granular understanding of your content.
Depending on the metrics you want to improve, you’ll need to examine different sources to collect your data. Content audits should be comprehensive, which means looking at more than just basic metrics.
For starters, you need to cover the necessary optimization data to see what’s working and what isn’t. For example, each URL in your content inventory should include data such as:
- Primary keyword
- General description
- Meta Description
- Word count
These metrics focus primarily on your pages’ and posts’ keyword orientation. Such data points essentially tell you what terms you are trying to rank for, and how well you’re doing.
After the basics, start looking at how well each post is engaging users. Metrics that focus on this include:
- Click-through rate (via Google Analytics)
- Average time on page (via Google Analytics)
- Read percentage (via HotJar screen recordings)
- Bounce rate of page (via Google Analytics)
- Moz Page Authority (PA)
- Anchor text of backlinks
- Targeted backlink destination URL (via SEMrush)
- External pointing links (via Moz OSE)
- Social likes (via BuzzSumo)
- Social shares (via BuzzSumo)
- On-page conversions if applicable (via Google Analytics)
At this point, your content inventory should be very robust. But to go one step further, you can add in custom data to get a really granular picture of your content’s performance.
Search is becoming more universal and users more omnichannel. To adapt to this, some content marketers have changed their content strategy to target a greater share of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), as opposed to just aiming for the number one ranking, or the featured snippet.
“Share of SERP” is a new comprehensive search marketing model meant to target all the different link types on a single search engine results page. Taking up more market share for your more profitable keywords helps to not only generate more leads, but also supply the demand to create new leads.
Instead of just publishing content aimed at generating backlinks to improve search ranking, content marketers are now leveraging guest posts as actual lead gen sales funnels. This means such content has even more metrics to track how well it’s generating leads. Some important metrics include:
- The domain authority (DA) of a target backlink
- The page authority (PA) of a target backlink
- MQLs (marketing qualified leads) via a post
- Actual on-site conversions from a post
You can find these metrics by examining reverse goal paths in Google Analytics. Crazy Egg shows how to check your reverse paths in GA and optimize for your ideal user experience.
The main point of a content audit however, is identifying which pages are crucial conversion bridges, and which posts generate the most MQLs and SQLS (Marketing and Sales Qualified Leads respectively).
When developing content, how you leverage keywords helps determine how well it ranks. Because of this, a content audit stresses the keyword orientation of your titles, headers, and copy. (If you’re serious about ranking well, also check out The Future of Search Engine Optimization: 5 Ways to Adapt Your Content for 2017 eBook.)
All this information should be in your content inventory already. Which should make this a bit easier.
The next item to build is a keyword research spreadsheet. It will contain data that informs how you optimize existing content, and the content you need to write in the future.
Let’s look at three different cases of keyword orientation. The first is an already optimized post that is good to go. The second needs more keyword optimization. The third post is simply miss-targeted and should either be removed or its keyword changed.
Title: Is Social Media Important for B2B Demand Generation
Primary Keyword: B2B Demand Generation
Topic: Social Media
Title: Optimizing Your Internal Linking Strategy: Weaving a Sticky Web
Primary Keyword: Internal Linking Structure
Topic: SEO, Technical SEO, Site Architecture, Link Building
Title: Easy Ways to Make Your Website Stand Out from the Rest
Primary Keyword: ?
Topic: Web Design, ?
Case Study Analysis
As you can see in the first screenshot, the first post is well targeted and uses the right keyword. Not only that, it targets the long tail modifications of those keywords and the user queries associated with that keyword. By directly answering user queries, the post is more likely to rank because it’s more relevant to actual user search entries.
The keyword is also used in different variations and different long-tail forms of the keyword throughout the post’s different headers. Make sure any internal links within your pages use the relevant keyword and proper anchor text. All this data should be in your content inventory waiting for you.
In the second screenshot, although the post is targeting the right keyword, its title isn’t exactly keyword oriented. You can’t see it, but the post also lacks a meta description. This is a quick fix you can add to your keyword research spreadsheet.
Copy and paste the URL and title to your new spreadsheet and input the necessary keywords to target when you go back and edit the piece.
Looking at the last screenshot, we can see that the piece is altogether misrepresented by the keyword it targets.
There are two choices: rewrite it or trash it altogether.
You may find you have far more irrelevant content than you realized when performing an audit. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. Trimming the fat is part of the process!
I mentioned above that prioritizing which pages you send backlinks to is one way to start leveraging content to generate leads rather than just links. Because of this, a content inventory should include data such as anchor text and backlink destination URLs (along with the domain authority and page authority of each).
You can pull all this data from SEMrush, or use the good old MozBar to check each post’s authority yourself.
While in SEMrush, check out which of your pages to use as backlink fodder. I.e. which pages generate the most conversions and actual revenue for your business. These are the posts that need the most backlinks, and where you want your traffic flowing. These should be the focus of your audit.
It’s not hard to lose track of backlinks and where you are pointing them. Especially if you are performing an audit deep into a content campaign in which you’ve published a large amount of content (I’m talking triple digits here at least).
If you notice some of your best posts sending backlinks to less valuable pages, add this action item to the keyword research spreadsheet. Backlinks, anchor text, keywords—they’re all related after all.
For a really granular content picture, you can even upload readability metrics into the content inventory or keyword research spreadsheet.
Yes, readability and user experience are hard features to report on. But not impossible. Add these metrics to your spreadsheets for an idea of your posts’ readability:
- Word count: obvious enough why this is important.
- Paragraphs: this number should be high—don’t bore readers with endless copy.
- Hemingway Score: this is a great tool for any writer. Prose should be direct, without too many long sentences, and easily consumed. The Hemingway app analyzes anything you paste into it for a readability score. Unlike paragraphs, this score should be as low as possible.
It takes time to copy and paste each blog post into Hemingway to get your score, but it pays off. You’d be amazed how many posts fall to the wayside just from being too wordy.
The average reading grade in America is eight. That’s a good level to aim for. However, it’s also important to remember that no writing or editing tool is always right. They’re guidelines, not ironclad laws. These data points are meant to inform your content strategy decisions, not make them for you.
At this point your content inventory and keyword research spreadsheets should be brimming with valuable data. Your content inventory should have all the necessary metrics required for informed and qualitative decisions about existing content. The keyword research spreadsheet should contain all the necessary insights to inform content decisions for the future.
They should look something like this:
Now you can examine exactly what your existing content needs to improve its ranking and user engagement.
There are basically five decisions to make about a specified content item during a content audit. Add a drop-down column at the end of the spreadsheet to record your final verdict on any given content item for future reference.
The five actions are as follows:
- Keep: A post has passed inspection and is approved to keep as is on your site.
- Optimize: A post is high in value, but isn’t as technically optimized as it could be. Requires back end improvements to boost its ranking.
- Remove: The content is either irrelevant or a simple horror show you no longer want associated with your brand. Commit it to flames.
- Repurpose: Certain posts may be too long, too wordy, or target too diverse keywords. They can be turned into different forms of content such as eBooks, videos, or serialized blog posts. Some pages may also be too short, but relevant enough to one another to consolidate into a single page. These also fall under “repurpose.”
- Update: Some posts are topical. Others are meant to be updated from time to time. For evergreen posts remember to address the date they were last updated to ensure you keep them fresh.
These actions only address content you’ve already created. The real insights from a content audit come when you identify gaps you’ve missed and the corresponding content required moving forward.
Once you’ve spent enough time combing through your spreadsheets, you’ll start to notice trends. And you’ll start to notice gaps in your strategy.
These are the treasure chests you’ve been drawing this map for! You should see which long tail modifications of primary keywords you’ve missed in the keyword research spreadsheet. Trends or affiliated posts you could’ve been developing will become clear. As will where your content strategy has veered off course or dipped into boredom.
Moving forward, leave no stone unturned when targeting keywords. Especially when developing content strategy. While focus and segmentation often yield a higher success rate, that doesn’t mean you should neglect the rest of your readership.
This is the last of the three key documents. If you are performing a content audit as a third party, it’s the only one you give to your client.
A content strategy document should start with a general overview of the content audit. The general overview should provide clear-cut and quantifiable statistics about how much content was audited, the number of pages to be changed, and the metrics you focused on.
The intro should look something like this.
Then you can dive into detailed tactics and strategies. This is where the keyword research spreadsheet comes back into the picture. It will show the content gaps and keyword mishaps you can easily fix and assign as action items within your content strategy.
Make it clear which changes are the priority and why. That way there’s no miscommunication and the audit won’t have to be redone. (For a while at least.)
You’ve eaten the elephant. The whole darn thing—one massive bite at a time.
Now you can sit back and loosen your belt buckle as you pass the data onto someone else in your team.
Content audits may be long and arduous processes. But if you know what to look for and how to prioritize it, there is no better way to analyze your content’s performance.
You can take a content audit one step further. Consider building an ideal customer profile (ICP) to pair with your audit to really supercharge your analysis. If you haven’t built out an ICP yet, here’s a quick how-to guide from Lead Genius.
There are also plenty of automated content audit tools available, such as the below examples:
Make sure you choose the right time to perform a content audit, such as re-launching a website or commuting a blog. Audits are best leveraged at times of change in your campaigns.
Regardless of how you go about it, remember that content audits will often drastically change your approach to content strategies and content teams. For a practical guide to creating a documented content strategy (which you can also use in parallel with a content audit), download The Content Marketing Pyramid: A Framework to Develop & Execute Your Content Marketing Strategy eBook. Any questions—let us know in the comments!
Sean Thomas Martin is the Growth Marketing Manager at Directive Consulting—a digital marketing agency based in Southern California specializing in comprehensive lead gen search campaigns for ROI-driven B2B firms.