Does your website content deliver the most possible value for your organisation? Does every page support the needs of your users and drive them towards taking valuable action? Is your content optimised for the channels where you’re promoting it? Once your site reaches a certain size, these questions can be difficult to answer without undertaking a proper content audit. This post sets out a content audit methodology which will help you increase the value generated by your website.
Aim to increase the value of your site
The larger your website grows, the harder it is to keep track of how each piece of content is performing. A content audit is a systematic way of assessing the value that each page delivers towards your strategic goals. They also help identify how that value can be increased. A content audit can also help you identify which of your content types and styles work and which don’t.
Content audits should be carried out regularly on sites which publish large amounts of content. There are also times when a content audit is necessary regardless of your publishing frequency: prior to a website redesign/rebuild; when you’re about to make significant changes to your product/service offering, or customer journeys; when the behaviour of your audience changes in some significant way (e.g. the majority accessing your site via mobile devices); and before a rebrand.
Plan around strategic business goals
To generate the most possible value for your business, the content of your website must support your strategic goals – the goals of your content strategy – whether those goals are to sell widgets, drive app downloads, or simply capture email addresses. As such, the page metrics you choose to gather and analyse should be very closely aligned with those goals.
What this inevitably leads to is a mixture of metric types: both quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative metrics include data points like pageviews, conversions, comments, backlinks and social media shares. It’s usually pretty easy to gather and manipulate quantitative data for all your pages. (Useful tools include analytics packages, your content management system and site crawlers.) This often leads us to lean on quantitative data a little more heavily than we should.
Qualitative data is trickier. It includes answers to questions like ‘Is this page on-brand?’, ‘Is this page well-written?’, ‘Does it support the customer journey?’
When I first did a content audit six years ago, my spreadsheet was almost entirely populated with quantitative data. There was only one column dedicated to qualitative data: a score out of five for ‘Quality’. These days I’d put a lot more emphasis on qualitative measures. It’s more time-consuming to generate and might necessitate bringing in other stakeholders to help judge, but numbers alone can only take us so far.
Time is valuable, so it’s worth emphasising again: only include in your analysis metrics which have a direct bearing on your strategic business goals. So much data is available to us now that it’s tempting to include everything, but that just gets overwhelming. If ‘Average time on page’ is irrelevant to whether users go on to complete a goal, then leave it out of your audit.
Consider limiting the scope of your audit
Here’s a dirty little secret about content audits: they’re almost never followed up. At least not entirely. In most instances, the audit will identify many more areas for improvement than we actually have the resources to address. Therefore, to make sure we’re making the most of the time we spend on the audit, we should consider limiting its scope to the areas of the site where we think we can generate the most value.
You might restrict your audit to a specific section or content type (e.g. blog posts) but, to be more effective, I suggest planning your audit around a specific business goal. For example, you might feel that your conversion rate for product sales via the website is too low and want to look into how your content can help improve it. In that case, you’d perform an audit of all content related to that goal e.g. the product pages themselves, category pages, and any blog posts which link to specific product pages.
This approach also makes the selection of relevant metrics easier. If your goal is to boost organic search traffic then you can safely ignore any metrics which don’t have a direct bearing on search rankings (like the aforementioned ‘Average time on page’).
Whatever goal, or set of goals, you choose to focus on, don’t take on more than you can handle. A comprehensive content audit may look impressive, but if there’s no time left for implementing its recommendations, it’s useless.
Gather only reliable data
Not all data is created equally. Packages like Google Analytics, SearchMetrics and LeadForensics bombard us with metrics that promise insight and illumination, but they’re often poorly understood or, worse, downright misleading. I’ve already mentioned ‘Average time on page’ – a Google Analytics metric – a couple of time in this post because I often see people reference it for measuring user engagement. Unfortunately, it’s a broken metric: if the next web page a user visits is on a different website, Google records time on page as 0:00, regardless of how long the user actually spent looking at it.
Similarly, the dashboard of a social sharing plugin might record how many times the URL of a page has been shared from that page but not the number of times the URL has been shared. The general rule is, if you don’t understand how a metric is generated, don’t use it. The best analytical mind applied to bad data can only come up with a bad analysis.
On a related note, be careful when combining data from multiple sources into a single spreadsheet. A common error is to confuse Google Analytics metrics which work at the session-level with those that work at the hit-level. Another is to use a pivot table to aggregate metrics across variants of a URL (e.g. with and without parameters) and forgetting to convert averages or percentages into absolute values first.
Output a content improvement workflow
To be effective, your content audit has to output a set of actions for you or your team to perform on the website. Decide what these potential actions are up-front, based on the resources and time you have available. This will also save you poring over metrics that are irrelevant – there’s no point grading each page on the quality of the copy if you have no budget for rewriting the copy.
These actions might include:
- combine with page x and delete
- delete and redirect
- optimise for SEO
- add image
- no action
Each page might have more than one action associated with it, so you might want to dedicate a column in your spreadsheet to each potential action. This will help you filter by action type and generate estimates for how long the improvement work will take.
The resultant workflow should be easy to share among the people who’ll be carrying out the improvement work. Ensure that it gets updated as actions are carried out.
Running a content audit is the only reliable route to systematically improving the performance of your existing website content. Before embarking on an audit, you should determine exactly what your goals are. Make sure that they are closely aligned with your strategic business goals. And ensure that you have the resources to implement the resultant actions. Don’t just follow a set recipe for what data you should be looking at and how you should be analysing it: your approach should be tailored to your goals. If you keep in mind that you want to improve the value that your content offers to both your users and your business, you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
(If you really want a content audit recipe, then this one from Buffer, with a downloadable template, is a good jumping-off point.)