30 minutes to a better website: Why and how to do a basic content audit
If your website has been around a while, the chances are it has a significant number of pages. That blog you started back in 2009, the FAQ page you created in 2011, the product pages where customers buy from you that have been an integral part of your site since its inception. How much attention do you pay to these older pages? If the answer is “none at all” or “not much” then you need a content audit.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is the process of assessing the content on each page of your website to decide if it still meets the needs of your business. Ultimately, the aim is to understand what content on your site is working well, what content needs to be updated, what content should be replaced or removed and what content is missing from your site.
Do I really need to audit my content?
The short answer to this is yes. The long answer is probably. Unless your site is very new or very small, the chances are at least some parts of it will be in need of a refresh. More than that a content audit can help you:
- Identify content gaps which, if filled, could attract new customers
- Spot pages that need tweaking in order to boost sales and conversions
- Identify opportunities to improve user experience
- Identify opportunities to improve your search engine optimisation
How do I audit my content?
Running an in-depth content audit takes a fair degree of effort and, given time pressure, it may not be realistic for a small business owner to conduct one without outside help. However, even a basic content audit can pay dividends and that’s what we’re going to focus on here. This is something you should be able to get through in a couple of hours, a much more realistic prospect for a small business owner.
Step one – prioritise
Although a full content audit would place equal emphasis on every page on your site, if you’re pushed for time it makes sense to focus on the pages that matter most to your business. These pages are going to be things like: Your home page, product pages, lead generation pages, any pages that are part of a pay-per click ad campaign, any pages that have high traffic levels (you can get this information from Google analytics) and if you have a well-established blog, you should also include that.
Step two – analysis
Gather the URLs of your most important pages and put them in an Excel sheet, one per row.
Next, start gathering information on each of the pages. NB we’ll mention a tool called Screaming Frog a few times here. It sounds complicated, but it’s not and if you get to grips with it, any content audit you do will be much quicker.
You’ll need to get the following information:
Title – Get it either manually or by crawling with an automatic tool like Screaming Frog
Meta description – Get it either manually or by crawling with an automatic tool like Screaming Frog
Word count – Get it either manually or by crawling with an automatic tool like Screaming Frog
Visits per month – Get it via Google Analytics
Time on page – Get it via Google Analytics
After you’ve done this, add columns with the headings “errors” and “Keep/update/remove”.
When you’ve done that, you should have something that looks a bit like this.
Next, it’s time to manually assess each page. Look at each page in turn and consider the following questions.
- What is the purpose of this page?
- How well does this page meet that purpose?
- Are there any errors on this page? (Eg spelling, or factual)
- Is all information on the page up to date?
Be frank. Don’t give a page an easy ride just because you like the way it looks, or even because it’s generating revenue for you. If you find you can’t be honest about your site, ask a third party for their opinion.
Once you’ve answered these questions for a page, every column on your sheet should be full with the exception of “keep/update/remove”. So now, based on the information you’ve gathered, it’s time to make that decision. Think of the three options in the following manner.
Keep: This page serves a purpose that is relevant to my business and customers. It serves that purpose to at least a satisfactory standard. It has no errors or out of date information.
Update: This page serves a purpose that is relevant to my business and customers. However, it may not serve that purpose to a satisfactory standard and may contain errors and/or out of date information.
Remove: This page does not serve a purpose that is relevant to my business and customers.
Step three – Take action
Make the pages that need updating your priority. Focus on one page at a time and draw up a list of steps that need to be taken to bring it up to scratch. This might be a few tweaks regarding spelling and grammar, or it might be a substantial rewrite of the page. Take the time to draw up a mini-content strategy for each page you’re updating. Detail who the content is for, how it helps them and what needs to be changed to make sure it’s giving them the information they need. Then take the steps required to ensure the page matches the outcome you’ve described in your mini strategy.
Next, look at the pages you’ve decided to remove. Before you actually get rid of them from your site, there are a few more things to consider. Firstly, look at external links using a tool like Moz. If a page you’ve earmarked for removal has gathered good links from reputable sites, that’s a sign it was useful to someone at some point. Use this as inspiration. The content may no longer be of any use – for example it could refer to an outdated marketing technique – but there’s bound to be a similar subject you can create a new piece of content on, so create it.
Secondly, look at any internal links that point to the page set for removal. Update these pages to get rid of the link to the page you’re going to remove.
Then comes the actual process of removal. We’re not going to delete these pages, but redirect them to similar pages. So identify the page on your site that’s most similar to the one you’re going to remove (if you’ve created a replacement piece of content, use that page) and implement a 301 redirect. You can learn more about 301 redirects in section four of this guide.
Finally, don’t be fooled into thinking that because you’ve decided to keep a page, it’s perfect. There’s no such thing as the perfect web page. If you’ve decided to keep a page after your content audit, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. It’s just that any changes that will improve it aren’t immediately noticeable. So don’t forget to run A/B tests on your site to work out what can be made better. You can get started with A/B testing by following this guide.
A basic content audit can only improve your site so much. If you want to get the full benefit, you’ll need to run a full content audit. Content audits can get include as much information as it’s possible to gather about a site, but below is a brief overview of a more advanced form of audit than the one we looked at above.
- Carry out the steps above, but include every page on your site (use Screaming Frog to gather your URLs)
- Also gather data on the keywords your pages are ranking for (if any)
- Carry out keyword research to learn what phrases your site should be targeting (this guide will tell you how).
- Combine the data in the first three steps to work out 1) Which keywords you have acceptable content for 2) Which keywords you have poor content for and 3) Which keywords you have no content for.
- Take the same steps you did at the end of your basic content audit, but in addition create new content focused on the keywords that your existing content doesn’t cover.
Content audits aren’t difficult, although you may need to get to grips with some new tools along the way. The biggest problem is making time for them. Try to set aside a day a year to dig into your site’s content and understand how things are going.