The first quarter of a new year is prime time for marketing teams to assess the state of their content and find opportunities to optimize it for search, conversions, and monetization. Hopefully, your team has a documented content strategy to align strategic and tactical efforts. You’ve likely even considered how to execute a content audit—likely with some combination of spreadsheet templates and content audit tools to inventory and evaluate your content.
But what’s the right way to plan a content audit that’s relevant to your brand’s specific goals and strategy? Here are five ways to tailor-fit your content audit approach:
1. Set a purpose
Content audits are about more than just getting an inventory of published content. That’s why step one is to know exactly what you want to learn from your content. As with most analytical endeavors, it’s easy to get lost in the data if you don’t have a sense of what you’re looking for. Depending on how advanced your content marketing initiative is, your audit goals may vary.
If your content program is brand new or less than a year old, for example, here are a few questions you might want to answer in your audit:
- What themes does our content cover?
- Which audiences (roles or personas) are we speaking to?
- Is our content share-worthy and/or link-worthy? (i.e., Are we timely? Are we authoritative?)
- Is our content actionable?
- Is our content following SEO best practices?
If your program has been up-and-running for some time but you’re ready to assess how to improve and optimize, these additional questions can help refine your efforts:
- Which pages are broken, or redirecting?
- Which content themes resonate most?
- Do we address each of our target audiences (personas? roles? industries? across the funnel?)
- Which formats are most engaging?
- Is there a clear path for our users to find more, related content?
- Does everything have the appropriate level of metadata?
- Are we using SEO best practices in our formatting (H1, H2, etc.)?
- Are our articles too long? Too short?
2. Do the digging
Most content audits entail some level of scraping, pulling, crawling, or other unsavory-sounding verbs to understand, at the base level, what exactly exists out there. Before you roll up your sleeves, take the time to familiarize with what information each tool can grab for you—this could save you a world of heartache in the end from choosing the wrong tool (or neglecting to use one at all).
For example, Screaming Frog is a commonly-used tool that pulls every URL within a domain. It should also provide status codes (i.e. broken links, redirects, etc.); meta data (page title, description, keywords); and content data (i.e. outlinks, word count).
Something like URL Profiler, on the other hand, can integrate outside tools to give you deeper analysis—think Flesch Kincaid scores to help understand reading difficulty, Google Analytics data to help understand page performance, Moz rank to help understand page authority, and more.
3. Determine the scope
Audits can be super time intensive. Or, they can be quick and dirty. Gathering and aligning resources (time, money) with your goals will guide how you approach an audit.
If your team is dealing with a shoestring budget, you’ll want to do a few things to ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew: leverage free tools (obviously), limit how much content you audit (in breadth and depth), and rely a bit more on human analysis.
Quick content auditing tips
If time is the key constraint, you can expedite the audit by selecting a sample size and structuring your manual analysis with less detailed evaluation criteria.
Selecting a sample size of your content to audit—as opposed to a full audit of everything—can help reduce the amount of work you need to do, while still offering a great deal of insight about your content. After running an initial data crawl of your hub to understand how many total pages/URLs exist, define a smaller number using a tool like Raosoft, which can determine a sample size that is representative enough. With that (much more approachable) number in mind, define any sub-groups based on business goals or key themes to select your final group to audit (i.e. you might allocate more of the sample size to your top-priority category of content).
The other area to save time while not compromising quality is in the depth and structure of your manual analysis. While automated content audit tools can provide a decent amount of out-of-the-box insight, they lack a level of specificity—and may or may not answer some of the questions you set out to answer; you’ll need to incorporate some manual analysis.
While the inclination may be to add a column for deep color commentary on each item, taking a minute to set up your audit template based on individual goals can dramatically simplify your work. For example, if you wanted to understand if your content was actionable, you might simply add a column in your audit workbook (let’s be honest, your spreadsheet) that rates “Actionability” on a scale of 1-3, or more directly “Yes/No.” While this type of binary feedback may seem over-simplified, it can provide just the type of thousand-foot-view your team may need to prioritize actionable improvements.
4. Combine art & science
Once you’ve taken the time to extract data and analyze based on your unique business goals, it’s time to bring your audit home. While a spreadsheet can surely provide all the details at a granular level, taking the extra hour or two to focus the lens can really help your team to put things into perspective. This is where the magic of pivot charts come in. (Note, this is the time to grab a friend who understands VLOOKUPS—or, Google it.)
For instance, if your team wanted to understand “Which content is resonating with our audiences?” you might create a bar chart to showcase “Average Time on Page by Audience Persona” (combining insights from Google with your manual analysis) or “Social Shares by Category” (combining insights from URL Profiler and Screaming Frog or manual analysis).
Understanding your team’s unique goals and priorities will be key at this stage. As the saying goes: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Consider these visual summations of data your team’s stepping stones to get the content where you want it to be.
5. Share, plan, and act
Once you’re ready to bring the audit in front of your team, you’ll want to ensure it fosters measurable action. Sharing a brief summary deck, creating a roadmap for iteration, and enforcing accountability will be key to success.
Based on the data points gathered, highlight five or six key insights tying back to those initial questions your team established. Summarize your findings in each area with a report on current status, a recommendation for action, and a suggested KPI to track improvement.
After sharing insights, open the conversation to uncover any institutional knowledge gaps or assumptions. Then, discuss a plan of action with the team. Understand and document who will own which area, as well as what metrics to account for. Finally, note any missing data points that would have supplemented your analysis to ensure the next audit can get a layer deeper.
With a roadmap in hand, your team will have everything you need to optimize your content over the next year—and beyond.
Katie Del Angel was formerly a Senior Content Strategist at NewsCred.