Auditing content is the way marketers determine their current position before charting a new course. It’s an important early step in defining or altering content marketing strategy.
A content audit provides a comprehensive inventory of everything on your website, along with additional information that can help you see how each piece is performing. (In this case, we are only talking about website content, although other types of content do exist and may require auditing.)
I like the way Alina Petrova at SEMrush describes the process in How to Create an Awesome Content Audit in 5 Simple Steps [Updated for 2019]. At Moz, Everett Sizemore describes a similar process, although with different emphases, in How to Do a Content Audit [Updated for 2017].
In Alina’s post, auditing content consists of five basic steps.
The first step in a content audit is to choose the goals and metrics you will examine. This step is related to choosing overall content marketing goals, which we discussed in Setting Goals, Objectives, and Metrics.
The difference is that in choosing goals and metrics for your content audit, you choose the specific data you want your audit to produce to help you optimize the pursuit of your business goals.
For example, you might choose audit goals and metrics from one of the following categories:
- Improve SEO results. If you want more traffic, improved SEO results (by driving traffic to your site or ranking higher in search) would be an appropriate content audit goal. For this goal, examine metrics such as page views, average session duration, bounce rate.
- Increase audience engagement. If you want to improve brand awareness, increased audience engagement would be an appropriate content audit goal. For this goal, examine metrics such as likes, shares, comments, and mentions.
- Improve conversion rate. If you want to improve lead generation or sales, improving your conversion rate would be an appropriate content audit goal. For this goal, examine metrics such as number of leads, conversion, or ROI.
2. Perform a Content Inventory
The second step in auditing content is to inventory your web pages, social media posts, emails, and related material. Alina focuses on website content, and I will do the same.
SEMrush has a Content Audit tool, which you can use for free, provided you set up an account. Screaming Frog is also a good choice. There are many others as well. If you really want to dive deep on tools, Garenne Bigby at Dynomapper provides an excellent roundup in 33 Amazing Content Audit Tools for Easy Content Analysis.
The goal is to create a list of every page on your website, with titles, URLs, word count, and other data needed for your analysis. You might also want to collect information like:
- Funnel stage
- Content type (such as post or page)
- Content format (such as text, infographic, or video)
- Word count
- Date of publication
Once you’ve created your inventory, export it to a spreadsheet. Add additional columns for the metrics you plan to collect.
If you also rely heavily on offline marketing collateral, such as emails or brochures, add that content to your inventory manually. Better yet, start a separate worksheet and add columns for the metrics you plan to follow. They won’t be the same as the metrics you follow for your website content.
3. Collect and Analyze Your Data
Besides your page inventory, you might have to gather some data from offsite sources and add it manually. Search engine and social media analytics can also provide valuable information. Collect whatever data you are tracking to evaluate performance against your objectives, as we discussed above in 1. Define Your Goals and Metrics. Then add the data to your spreadsheet.
At this point, your content audit becomes a task of interpretation and analysis. Posts with high traffic but low time on page are somehow failing to meet your visitors’ needs. Posts that receive many visits but little engagement are failing to spark your visitors’ enthusiasm. Your job is to figure out why.
To complete your analysis, add a column to your spreadsheet and determine the status for each piece—Keep, Update, or Delete.
4. Draw up an Action Plan
Create an action plan to deal with existing content in the latter two categories. You can improve a piece by updating it with recent information, rewriting it, adding graphics or other media, improving the metadata, or fixing broken links. I cover strategies for improving your content in Reusing Content.
As you review your content inventory, you may spot gaps where additional content could encourage your customer to move through the funnel. Make plans to create appropriate pieces.
If you remove content, be sure to put appropriate server response codes in place—either 301 Moved Permanently (for redirections) or 410 Gone (for deletions). Don’t worry if this step seems forbiddingly technical—in the WordPress world, there are plugins that simplify the job.
5. Adjust Your Content Marketing Strategy
Adjusting (or creating) your strategy is the subject of this book. We’ll spend more time on the specifics elsewhere, but Alina’s general advice is useful here.
Learn from your successes as well as your failures. If something works, repeat it. If something doesn’t work, either improve it or try something else. Look at your competitors’ content and try to learn from it. (See 7. Perform Competitive Research for more information on this point.)
Above all, experiment. Try stuff. See what works. Whatever your results, you’re bound to learn from them. The point of auditing content is to quantify your results and highlight a path to improved performance.
What Is Content Marketing?
Setting Goals, Objectives, and Metrics
Optimizing Content for Your Audience
How to Do Keyword Research
Promoting Your Content
How to Create a Content Calendar