How to Perform a Content Audit

October 1, 2020

By Taryn Hefner

Taryn runs Marketing at Join It and is a lover of all things data! You can frequently find her experimenting in the kitchen, absorbed in a book, or brushing up on her Python coding skills.

View other posts by Taryn

We talk a lot on this blog about building membership practices and starting from the ground up. But what if you’re inheriting a membership organization like a nonprofit or another organization at a professional level? Where do you start? 

You might come into a website with a lot of content bloat; that is, pages that have been created or blog posts that have been written over the years that don’t necessarily fit your current vision for the organization. They might be stale, outdated, or just don’t fit your brand standards anymore. If this is your situation, it’s time for a content audit.

What is a Content Audit? 

A content audit involves taking a bird’s eye view of your website content and deciding which pages are performing well and which ones aren’t. You’ll then determine what gets to stay and what gets trashed. Then, you’ll be able to drill down to better optimize your content creation process based on your learnings. 

It’s best to do this process yearly, though you might adjust depending on how much your website publishes. If your publishing schedule is relatively thin, maybe once every eighteen months, but if you’re a content machine, perhaps every six months. You decide! 

How Does a Content Audit Help Your Website? 

Owning a website is a lot like gardening, actually! You have to prune regularly to encourage new growth. That said, the process of pruning a website is a lot more time-intensive than your backyard rose bush. 

On a small scale, having a few pages here and there that don’t serve your organization’s current purpose isn’t a huge red flag, and you may not need to address it right away. But for larger sites, especially ones that have been around for years, it can lead to frustrated users who can’t find what they’re looking for and lower traffic from search engines that can’t figure out what your site is about. 

Performing a content audit can have so many benefits for both you and your users: your users will have a better experience, and you’ll be able to better understand what works for your brand and avoid what doesn’t. 

How to Perform a Content Audit 

The ideal content audit is a multi-stage process, but you can adapt it to whatever fits your needs. Essentially, you’ll get all decision-makers to, well... make decisions! Go through the website and decide which pages get to stick around and which pages get the ax. 

Before You Get Started... 

Before you start making decisions, let’s get some housekeeping tasks done to set the audit up for smooth-sailing success: 

  • Decide on KPIs: What defines a successful page? More than one thousand conversions in 12 months? Users spending more than two minutes watching your video? Once you know what success looks like, you’ll have an easier time determining which pages you can trash. 
  • Website Crawl: Crawl your website using a tool like Screaming Frog, downloading your pages from Google Search Console or Google Analytics, or however else you prefer to gather all the URLs from your website. You’ll probably want to exclude any standard pages like your homepage or signup page. A content audit will usually just include blog pages but depends on the structure of your website. 
  • Create Audit Document: All the information you’re working from will live in a spreadsheet.  (Hate spreadsheets? Sorry, this will likely be a spreadsheet-heavy task. However, if your website runs on WordPress, there is a Content Audit plugin you can try instead!) Create the columns you’ll use in your spreadsheet. Some options include: 
    • URL
    • Total page visits (for at least three months, but a year is ideal to account for any seasonal fluctuations) 
    • Average time on page 
    • Creation date 
    • Meta title
    • Meta description 
    • Author 
    • Total social shares 
    • Conversions
    • ...Or any other metric you’ve decided to track! 

First Pass: The Ax 

Once you’ve done all the housekeeping work to get things settled for your audit, get all your decision-makers in a room and decide which pages get killed right off the bat. This will usually be anything that no longer applies to your business or organization. This also includes pages that don’t get any traffic, don’t lead to any conversions, and don’t apply to your current structure. 

Depending on how old your website is, this might look like a lot at first! Don’t worry. You’re cutting away the dead parts of the rose bush! You’ll focus on the roses later. 

During this process, you’ll also decide what gets kept. Significant traffic drivers, evergreen content, and conversion pages will be at the top of this list, but you’ll also likely keep some middle-of-the-road content that can use some editing or upgrading. 

If there is any hesitation about what to do with a particular piece of content, determine if you think it has potential with some reworking. If it does, keep it. If not, trash it. Your goal is to make big decisions at this stage. There will be time for hashing out details later. 

Second Pass: The Scalpel 

Now that you’ve done some hacking and have gotten the bulk of the decisions out of the way, it’s time for a second pass. This time, you’ll be using a scalpel to get more granular with your choices. 

At this point, you should only be looking at the content you want to keep. Work with your decision-makers and content creators to bucket these pages into two sections: Complete and Modify. 

Your Complete content will need relatively little work if it needs any at all. Ideally, you’ll just be able to write these pages off and not worry about them! You might want to update an image here or there or check that all the links on the page are still functioning properly, but these pages shouldn’t need major edits. 

Content marked as Modify will likely go to your content team (although maybe that’s just you on a different day of the week!) for more thorough edits. This might include updating research and rewriting the piece to fit your current brand standards or other large-scale edits. This can also include pieces that are too short on their own but could easily be combined with another piece. 

Tip: Keep in mind that you can then republish these pieces as part of your repurposing content strategy! 

Gathering Insights 

Once you’ve bucketed all your URLs into discrete groups, look at the commonalities between these pieces, and see what you can glean from them:  

Here are some questions to get you started: 

  • Which topics does my audience seem to prefer? 
  • What kind of format performs best? Written posts? Video? Infographics? 
  • What sort of topics drive high traffic but low conversions? 
  • Which topics seem to be unimportant to my audience? 
  • Are there pieces we thought would perform well that flopped? Or pieces we didn’t think would be outstanding but ended up being a top performer? 

The Creation Stage 

Now that you know what you have, you can get a better understanding of what you need. This stage is also called a gap analysis, and can help you find what sort of content you’re missing! 

Evaluate why your killed content didn’t perform well. Was it merely outdated, or did it not speak to a relevant part of your customers’ journey? Were your calls to action weak? Did it not thoroughly address the question your users came to find? These questions can help you pinpoint what sort of content you need to create in the future. 

For example, if you provide three services but found that your blog only discusses two of them, it’s time to create some content around that third service! If you’ve found that you attract a lot of traffic from keywords that don’t have a dedicated piece of content, create some so that your users have a place to land. 

This is also a good time to merge your findings with your competitor analysis! If you find that your competitors are talking about topics you haven’t discussed, ask why you haven’t touched on those subjects. If you can, it might be worth testing out some pages for those subjects and seeing how they perform!  

Wrapping Up 

The best piece of advice for running a content audit is to create and evaluate only what you need. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with metrics and styles and categories, but nothing is compulsory! Create what works for you and your organization, and you can always tweak it later on. 

Even though content audits are highly custom processes for each organization and each team that performs them, they almost always provide valuable insights into what’s working for your website and what’s not.