How to do a content audit as painlessly as possible
Get a clear view of how your content helps (or hinders) your business goals. Here's a step-by-step guide for doing a content audit.
A content audit is the act of taking inventory of your content to understand it on two levels:
- How it’s working together as a whole (the bird’s eye view).
- How each piece is working individually (the view from the weeds).
It’s a task many dread, but one you shouldn’t sweat.
Content audits aren’t a necessary evil, but rather a smart and strategic way to review your past content efforts and get a clear view of how they help (or hinder) your goals.
In short, it’s a much-needed cog in the machinery of a working content strategy – and not difficult to do, once you know how.
There are seven basic steps to do a content audit:
- Set clear goals.
- Narrow your focus: choose a type of content to audit.
- Play content librarian (gather, organize, and categorize).
- Play content detective (audit and analyze).
- Assess your findings and make a plan.
- Take action.
- Tweak your content strategy based on your findings.
Let’s talk through each one.
How to do a content audit in seven steps
Consider this your content audit checklist.
The first thing you need to do before diving into your own content audit?
Figure out your goals – what are you hoping to get out of this whole thing?
1. Set clear goals
Ultimately, a content audit helps you understand how your content is performing and how you can improve it to meet your specific goals. Setting those goals before you get started is therefore very important.
Consider: What do you hope to accomplish with your content audit? Here are some common aims:
Goal 1: Improve your SEO to bring in more traffic and leads
Properly optimized content will rank better in Google, which will bring in more traffic and leads to your site.
That means, to hit this goal, you need to analyze your content to ensure certain benchmark optimization standards are in place for each piece, like:
- Meta title and description.
- Keyword placement.
- Structured content with keyword-optimized headers.
- Images with alt tags.
- Internal and external links.
- Whether your focus keywords are still winnable (keyword difficulty, search volume, competition).
You’ll also need to evaluate each piece, where it ranks in Google (if at all), and make a plan to update, rewrite, keep, or delete it based on its performance and how that fits into your strategy.
Goal 2: Improve engagement to ensure your content gets read
Engaging content is better at building trust and loyalty and converts better. With the goal of improving engagement across your content, your audit should focus on how readers interact with your pages and how you can improve their usability.
Look at metrics like:
- Social shares
- Page speed
- Bounce rate (keeping in mind a high bounce rate can be misleading – to get a truer picture of what visitors are doing, compare this metric in context with related metrics, like time on page)
- Link health (are any links broken? Incorrect? Do you have enough internal links?)
- Conversions (are people taking action after engaging?)
Goal 3: Improve your conversion rates to bring in more sign-ups, opt-ins, and sales
Improving conversion rates from your content is a matter of figuring out which pieces are converting well and which are not, as well as looking at the function and usability of your content.
On top of that, you’ll need to make sure you have content for every stage of the buyer’s journey. A content audit will help you identify any gaps you need to fill.
Some of the data you might look at with this goal include:
- Average time on page.
- Bounce rate.
- Conversion rate.
- Calls to action (quality, relevance, and quantity).
- Whether forms and other interactive elements work correctly.
2. Narrow your focus: choose a type of content to audit
Next, think about narrowing down your audit to a specific type of site content. This will make the task more manageable. For example, focus only on blog content, just on core website content, or solely on product or service pages.
The type of content you audit (or whether you choose to do a full audit of every single type) depends on the size of your website, your individual needs as a business/organization, and if one person is doing the auditing versus a team of people.
If you choose to do it by type, once you complete an audit, you can audit the other types with the same steps down the road.
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3. Play content librarian (gather, organize, and categorize)
It’s time to nudge your inner librarian into being. You’ll need her attention to detail and organizational prowess for this next part.
With goals and content type nailed down, it’s time to gather the URLs of the content you’ll audit and organize/categorize them so you can analyze how well they’re working.
While you can definitely gather and organize URLs manually in a spreadsheet (Google Sheets, Airtable and Excel are all good options), a content audit tool will come in handy at this point. A good one will gather the URLs for you along with associated data like backlinks, social shares, word count, and more. If you have a large site, this will save you a ton of time and headaches.
A few worthy content audit tools that do all this include Semrush’s Content Audit Tool and Screaming Frog SEO Spider. (Keep in mind: These tools rely heavily on your sitemap to do their job. If you don’t have one, you can generate one with a different free tool like XML-Sitemaps.)
If, however, you’re doing your audit manually, you’ll need to look in multiple places to find the data associated with each piece (for example, Google Analytics and PageSpeed Insights for metrics, WordPress or your content calendar for keywords, word count, and meta information, etc.).
Finally, don’t forget to categorize your content to make it easier to analyze. Here’s some information you might include in your spreadsheet, based on your goals:
- Last updated
- Word count
- Content type
Metadata and keyword information:
- Focus keyword
- Keyword difficulty
- Search volume
- Meta description
- Meta title/H1
- Social shares
- Average Google position
- Time on page
- Bounce rate
- Page speed
4. Play content detective (audit and analyze)
Here comes the fun part of this whole endeavor (yes, it exists!).
Put on your detective hat à la Sherlock Holmes and whip out your magnifying glass.
Once you’ve gathered the data, it’s time to analyze what’s in front of you and piece together insights and opportunities for action and improvement.
At this stage, it’s helpful to further categorize your content based on your goals. (If you’re working in a spreadsheet, color-coding is a great way to visualize each category, by the way.)
- Content underperformers – Which pieces aren’t performing as well as you’d like?
- Content winners – Which pieces are hitting it out of the park?
- Thin content – Which pieces are too short and unsatisfying for the topic they address?
- Outdated content – Which pieces are old or irrelevant?
- Missing information – Which pieces are missing key information, like a meta description, keyword-optimized headers, CTAs, or correct links?
5. Assess your findings and make a plan
After you’ve sifted through your content and further categorized it based on its performance, composition, or optimization, it’s time to decide what to do with each one and record that planned action in your audit.
You have four options: update, rewrite, keep, or remove.
Here are some examples of how to further categorize your content for future action:
- The piece is getting recent traffic but has some outdated aspects or areas you could rewrite/improve.
- The piece is mostly relevant but has a few outdated statistics.
- The piece is good content but is missing some metas or SEO opportunities that could help it rank better.
- The piece is thin and poor quality but targets a great keyword opportunity for your business.
- The topic is evergreen but the piece isn’t climbing in performance after at least 6-8 months. (Most experts recommend waiting at least 3-6 months to see results from content, but that depends on what results you’re looking for. It may take up to a year depending on your goals!)
- The content piece performs well (it pulls in decent or steady traffic, it converts well, or if people stay to read it and engage with your site).
- The piece is relevant, high-quality, and correctly optimized, but underperforming – it might just need more time to climb the rankings in Google.
- The content is 2-3 years old, irrelevant, thin, gets no traffic, and is poorly written or poorly optimized.
- The content is all of the above and targets a keyword that’s out of your scope (e.g., the keyword difficulty score is too hard, the competition includes major brands with much more authority, etc.).
6. Take action
By now, you have a content audit completed that includes a wealth of information. It’s time to act on it.
Start by assigning a priority to each content piece. For example, perhaps one piece that’s earmarked for an update is earning a ton of traffic right now. That would be a good reason to place it higher on your priority list, so you can take advantage of the extra traffic coming in.
Or, perhaps you want to start with the easiest, quickest action items (like fixing a few broken links or adding meta titles to pieces without them) and build up to the bigger tasks (like the pieces that need a wholesale rewrite). Learn more about upgrading your content.
7. Tweak your content strategy based on your findings
Doing a content audit is a learning experience, to say the least. To that end, don’t forget to analyze and reflect on it once you’re done. You can come up with some major takeaways you can use in your content strategy moving forward.
- How hard was it to gather your content assets and the related data? Would it be worthwhile to invest in tools to make it easier next time?
- Could you be documenting your content creation process better, such as in your content calendar?
- Are you keeping up with tracking and measuring your content performance pretty well, or did you come across some major surprises during your audit?
- How could you track and measure better in the future?
- Were there any gaping holes in your content? Could you tweak your strategy to fill these holes?
- Do you currently have a strategy and process for updating old content, or can you create one?
Note how deeply intertwined a content audit is with a content strategy. Don’t have a content strategy? You need one to ensure consistency in your content, meet your goals, track your performance, and stay organized.
Strategy is often what determines the difference between winning and losing content endeavors. 62% of the most successful content marketers have one, and it helps them reach major brand goals that lead to success.
Bottom line: Don’t put the horse before the cart if you don’t have a content strategy (or don’t have one documented) yet. Only do a content audit if you have plans to build one, or you have one in place.
Repeat your content audits regularly for the best results
Once you do a content audit, you never have to do one again. Right?
Wrong. Content audits should be repeated at least yearly, if not more often (quarterly is common).
Why? If you’re doing it right, your content ecosystem should be constantly expanding, much like the universe.
Additionally, basic content standards – like the ones Google sets for ranking – are always changing, too. If you aren't on top of auditing your content and consistently making changes, updates, and tweaks where needed, it will become irrelevant and useless to both consumers and your bottom line.
Create and implement a content strategy. Do regular content audits to ensure all of your pages are consistently working to help you meet your goals. Watch greater success come rolling in.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.