Do you know how all the content on your website is performing? All the good, all the bad, the average? More to the point, do you know why it’s performing the way it is? Whether it’s part of a complete overhaul or just a health-check on your site, conducting a content audit once in a while is essential for digital performance and a host of other reasons from brand equity to content strategy.
A content audit is best carried out by an expert in content design. But if you have limited resources, it’s perfectly possible to do one yourself, provided you have access to analytics for your site (ideally through Google Analytics or a similar package), a decent grounding in digital and an idea of what good and bad content look like.
Assuming you can tick those boxes, here’s our step-by-step guide for how to conduct a content audit of your site. First, some essential questions answered.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is a qualitative assessment of your content informed by quantitative data.
First you look at how your content is performing with an in-depth assessment of engagement metrics on your site using analytics. (That’s the easy bit.) Then you look at your content in minute detail to figure out why those metrics look the way they do.
Why do pages in a certain subfolder have so few sessions? Why do articles in a particular format have such low dwell time? Why do other pages have such low bounce rates?
What it’s not
A content audit is not simply a content inventory (i.e. what content you have) – that’s much more simplistic. It’s also not a tool or an automated process. There are parts you can automate for efficiency, but it’s fundamentally a manual process based on judgement.
Some guides to doing a content audit will give you scoring mechanisms and frameworks. These can be useful if your job is to present your findings back to other stakeholders, but usually they’re not necessary. It’s enough to know the good and the bad; the most important thing is knowing what to do about either. This isn’t a box-ticking exercise – it’s about getting practical insights that you can take action on to improve the performance of your content and give users a better experience on your site.
Why do a content audit?
A content audit is a forensic assessment of how good your content is and, crucially, why. There are lots of reasons you’d want to know that.
The first, and most obvious, is simply to know how you can consistently produce content that performs well.
When we talk about ‘performance’, we’re talking about a page’s quantitative performance, as shown by the data from measurement tools (namely Google Analytics).
So, generally, it refers to a page’s metrics in relation to the average values of that page’s category for:
- Sessions (usually organic visits)
- Bounce rate
- Average session duration (aka dwell time)
- Pages per session
This is a major concern firstly for SEO purposes. If your content shows low engagement across the board, that’s sending a lot of negative signals to search engines about the quality of your site.
Even more obviously, it gives you a material insight into how people are experiencing and interacting with the content on your site. It’s nigh on impossible to overstate how important that is for your digital marketing strategy.
Then there’s brand management: how consistent is your content? Does it all properly reflect your brand and your values with the right tone of voice? Does it conform to any style guidelines you have? A forensic look at your content will usually reveal a few areas for improvement.
Finally, if you don’t have a style guide or even a content strategy, a content audit should be your starting point. A close look at what’s working for you and what isn’t will give you tons of inspiration, and will validate in cold, hard numbers what your audience do and don’t want to see, read and hear about.
What will you get out of a content audit?
You’ll get a detailed understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your site’s content. That can give you a huge range of outputs, including:
- User journeys
- Information architecture
- Page recipes and templates
- Style guides
- Content strategy
- Gaps in your existing strategy
- Content calendars
- New formats and concepts
- New editorial processes and workflows
- General areas for improvement, both at page- and site-level
- How to get rid of irrelevant and low-quality content
And that’s just for starters. In general, a content audit will help you do more of the good, less of the bad and to find any gaps in what you’re doing.
How long will a content audit take?
For a small-to-medium-sized ecommerce site (say, a few hundred pages) you can cover most of what we’ll go through in two days. Really, it’s a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question.
If you’re stretched, you can do a basic content audit in a day or so, but if you have time on your hands, then you can spend as long as you want really getting into the detail. It also depends on whether you need to write up your findings for presentation to other stakeholders – this can often take longer than you might expect. As a rule of thumb, allow three days of effort.
What do I need for a content audit?
- Access to an analytics package for your website
- Data from said package for at least three months (ideally 12)
- Basic knowledge of digital best practices (particularly UX, copywriting and design)
- Some understanding of editorial principles and what can make content ‘good’ and ‘bad’
If you don’t have the first two, it’s a non-starter. You might still find it useful to do a content inventory and a subjective assessment of how good your content is, but you obviously won’t have any data insights to validate your ideas.
If you’re struggling with the latter two, a good starting point is the book Content Design by Sarah Richards.
These are the basics covered, so on with the show. Here’s our step-by-step guide to doing a content audit.
1. Pull all your engagement data
Firstly, download all the engagement data for your site for the past 12 months. If you’re enterprise-scale and unaffected by any major seasonal peaks that it would preclude, you can do six months if it makes the scale more manageable.
We’ll be working with Google Analytics (GA) in each of our examples, but the principles remain the same. In GA, go to Reports > Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages.
Then, in the top-right of your browser, set the date range you want:
Make sure your report is set-up to include at least:
- Landing Page
- % New Sessions
- New Users
- Bounce Rate
- Pages / Session
- Avg. Session Duration
These should usually be the default parameters in GA’s Landing Pages view. You can use the All Pages view, but you may need to make some adjustments. Landing Pages is essential if you’re focused on traffic acquisition and plan to use your audit to help with content strategy.
If you want to focus on conversion, you’ll need Transactions and Revenue too. These can be useful in any case as another indicator of performance.
Hit Export and get the report in your chosen format. We work in Excel, just because we find it simplest.
2. Organise your data
You should have a usable spreadsheet – add filters to the header row and you’re pretty much ready to go.
From here, you can divide up your site into logical areas or simply into its subfolders by using text filters. These are usually essential as you’re not going to audit every single page (unless you have a very small site). You’ll be using your data to find a sample of the highest highest- and lowest-performing pages for each category and/or subfolder. This will allow you to compare like with like, to progress through your audit logically and to make the whole thing more manageable.
Use text filters in Excel or Google Sheets to divide up your data
To find the highest and lowest performers in each category, we use a weighted average of different metrics, but you can simply order by bounce rate (highest = worst, lowest = best), average time on page and pages per session (more = better). It should go without saying that this isn’t an exact science for lots of reasons, not least the reliability of your data, but for our purposes, we’re just going to assume that it’s more or less accurate.
It’s usually a good idea to set a threshold for number of sessions to try and get more valid data – pages with very few sessions have a low sample for their respective engagement metrics. The minimum threshold will depend heavily on your site’s traffic but a benchmark is at least 50-100 sessions.
Now you’re ready to start auditing.
3. Audit time
Now you’re going to take a selection of low performers and high performers for each category, and audit them. What that means is opening the page to figure out what’s going on. By examining a few specific aspects of the page and its content you’re going to find out what makes your good pages good and your bad ones bad.
In this section we’ll go through each of the aspects you’re going to audit. You’ll need to look at a few different pages for each category – ideally at least two high performers and two low performers for each category.
For example, on meltdigital.com we might divide the site into its main subfolders:
It’s often a case of two or three different category pages (say, service lines or product types), sub-categories under those, product pages and editorial pages or articles. Treat each category separately and try to spot patterns as you go.
As you assess each page, keep notes on its metrics so that you have them handy, and jot down your audit findings in your document of choice – Word, Google Docs, PowerPoint, Evernote, whatever you want. We tend to work in good old Word docs, but if you’re planning to present your findings then you might prefer to work in a format suitable for that.
[Disclaimer: it does help if you’re an expert in content and UX – someone who knows what makes a first line work, understands how dangling modifiers create ambiguity and can explain the numerous evils of the nefarious words ‘click here’. But anyone with a decent grounding in digital marketing can have a productive go at this.]
‘Content’ can be an ambiguous term. Very often, when people say ‘content’ they’re actually just referring to text (as in ‘content writing’).
So to clarify: when we talk about ‘content’, we mean absolutely everything: images, video, and text including marketing copy, product information, tiny fragments like pricing and the wording used in menus and navigation items – the lot.
But the first thing we’re going to look is copy – the words on the page.
This is a whole article in itself, so we’ll be brief. You’re on the lookout for good and bad copy. You can assess that by focusing on four points:
- Micro: Are there typos? Grammatical errors? Inconsistencies in spelling and orthography?
- Macro: Is any lengthy copy well-structured with a logical flow? Does it actually make sense?
- Utility: Does the copy actually cover the subject? In adequate detail? Or is just marketing guff?
- Style: Does it waffle or get to the point? Is it written in language and a register appropriate to the target audience? Is it overly technical? Not technical enough?
- Tone of voice: Does it sound like your brand? Is it formal or relaxed? Friendly or corporate? Does it use any banned words or phrases in your brand guidelines?
This is far from exhaustive but it’s a good start.
Check out some of our copywriting resources for more ideas on what to look for:
3.2 Formatting and layout
Can you see a well-laid-out, clearly structured page that’s easy to navigate? Or is there just one huge block of text? A well-formatted page will usually make full use of the different elements available with HTML, with scannable subheadings, different typefaces for different jobs and separate paragraphs.
Plenty of white space is essential, even on a page that needs to be busy (for example, a product listing page). The ASOS website makes good use of space on its category pages:
If you’re not sure about a piece of formatting, it can be useful to see what’s going on with Chrome’s Inspect tool. If you haven’t used this before, it’s a bit of functionality built into Chrome that gives you an easy side-by-side view of the page and the HTML that makes it up:
Right-click on the page in Chrome and hit Inspect to see a page’s formatting information and more
It’s more user-friendly than trawling through the page’s source code, and can often give useful insights into why something looks a bit off. It can also give you ideas for how a page might be better structured, whether that’s through basic formatting, the use of tables or wholesale changes to your page template.
Finally, the Inspect tool also lets you view the page in mobile mode. Make sure you do this with a sample pages, especially if you’re seeing discrepancies in performance between mobile and desktop, and, obviously, if you rely particularly heavily on mobile traffic. You can toggle the view using the button highlighted here:
Not so long ago there was a school of thought that pretty much went Images = good. That, for some reason, if a page doesn’t have images on it, no one will engage with it.
Now, for certain types of page that’s totally valid. Think of a fashion retail site. Imagine a product page without any images. Not going to work.
But here’s the thing about the best-performing, highest-converting fashion sites: they invest in high-quality product imagery that serves a specific purpose. People don’t generally buy jeans without seeing them first. But if a page is, say, a short article giving a few simple ‘how to’ tips that don’t require any visual explanation, it might be better with text alone.
Images for the sake of images are pointless and will usually end up forcing you to clutter your site with stock imagery that makes you look less and less unique and interesting. The web is littered with pointless generic images that are there out of a misguided intention to ‘break up the text’. No need for a diatribe on the pitfalls of stock imagery here, but if it has a lightbulb or a handshake in it, think twice.
So when auditing images, there are the basics – is it high-enough resolution? Is it the right size for the page template? Does it have a useful caption? Does it have appropriate alt text? But make sure you consider the appropriateness of the image itself. If a picture tells a thousands words, any image that isn’t doing a specific job is saying a whole lot of negative things about your site to the user.
3.4 User journeys
First consider what the page’s purpose is. Very likely it’s a landing page to acquire traffic from SERP listings, but it may also attract visits from other pages on your site, or serve another purpose. Plot its place in different user journeys and assess whether it’s up to the task.
Next put yourself in the shoes of the user. You’ve arrived on the page from a SERP and you have an idea of what you’re going to get from the page. Scan the page. Is it what you were expecting? Does the content deliver on the promise of the page title and H1? Once you’ve done everything there is to do on the page, what do you do next?
It’s worth considering a separate user journey-mapping exercise alongside your content audit, but it’s still important to keep the user journey in mind while auditing.
3.5 UX, usability and content design
Until relatively recently it wasn’t a given that content and UX massively overlap one another. Which is absolutely bonkers. The two are inextricably linked. Without at least a basic understanding of UX you cannot create really good content for the web.
Some points of UX and usability are an extension of the copy audit – does the page use clear language? But think more in pure digital terms. Is there underlined text that looks misleadingly like a hyperlink? Is the main navigation hidden on the page? Is there any essential information missing? Is an ad unit obscuring the content?
If it’s a transactional page where the user will have purchase intent, is there clear product information showing details and pricing? If it’s an editorial page, is that made obvious with text layout?
Are there any cardinal sins, such as colours that would be troublesome for colour-blind users or the words click here?
Be ruthless with this part of the audit. You might know full well why some imperfections are there, but don’t let that become an excuse. This is the part of the audit where you sometimes find not just content improvements, but technical ones too.
If you need some pointers on UX, these two pages are your starting point:
Metadata can sometimes be the key to a page’s mysterious under-performance when you’ve exhausted all other possibilities. Say you have a page with surprisingly low traffic or a really high bounce rate. It seems to be pretty good quality – a well-written article, properly formatted – and you just can’t figure out what’s going wrong.
Check the page title – maybe it’s incorrect and putting users off in the SERPs or affecting optimisation (or, likely, both). Check the page description for the same. Sometimes these can reveal one-offs, but a look at your metadata can also reveal site-wide SEO issues.
We’ve taken a page-by-page approach to the whole process, but there are a few ever-presents that you should take into account too. Menus, breadcrumbs and your site’s main navigation are the most obvious ones. Check that they’re all usable.
Then there are site-wide issues. These are sometimes more along technical lines – page speed, for example – but it’s still worth making a note of anything you come across.
What to do with the findings from your content audit
By the time you’ve worked through all that, you’ll probably have ended up with a pretty hefty document. You’ll have started out with a goal, but refer back to the FAQs at the start for the different things you can do with it.
Whatever you’re planning to use your content audit findings for – a business case for a site rebuild, a new content strategy, an editorial brainstorming session – make sure you save it somewhere it won’t disappear into the ether. You might not end up getting everything you wanted from the exercise right away – budget for that new site, more copywriting resource – but you never know when your findings could be useful in the future. We’ve done audits that kept bearing fruit over two years later. Your imagination and, yes, your resources are the limit, but at least you’ll have a much fuller picture of your overall content game.
If you’ve got any questions about content auditing – or content in general – we’re always happy to talk. Get in touch with us below.