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What Is a Content Audit and How Can I Conduct One?

We’ve been talking quite a bit about content governance, and more broadly, content strategy. If we haven’t been perfectly clear—you need to get your content house in order in 2020.

Content strategy is a big umbrella that incorporates various tactics. You’re considering your processes for content creation and content marketing. You’re evaluating content performance with Google Analytics. You’re tweaking your content for SEO, considering user experience, and managing backlinks—and I wish I could say that’s the bulk of it.

In a sea of tactics to organize your content, the logical first step is a deep dive of its own: the content audit.

What Is a Content Audit?

I want you to imagine something.

In front of you, right now, is an Excel spreadsheet of your organization’s entire content inventory. Every piece of content is cataloged by content type, location, page title, word count, and backlinks. You have a clear picture of all of your landing pages. Not only that, but you’ve taken it a step further. You’ve included SEO information like target keywords. There’s data from Google Analytics like page performance, bounce rate, inbound links, and social shares. You sleep peacefully at night knowing that you have an organized repository of all of your content. When staff have questions about content, they know that you’re their go-to person.

No, really. Imagine it. Close your eyes. Reach out and touch it. I’m here to tell you that it can be yours!

A content audit is an accounting and analysis of content, usually in the form of a spreadsheet containing certain metrics and evaluations. And frankly, it will make your life much easier. Not only will it make you more strategic, but it will greatly improve the conversations your organization has about your content. The purpose of a content audit is simply to have eyes on where your content is and what your content is doing. It helps you evaluate how your content is performing so you can tweak it, prioritize it, or get rid of it. It also helps you identify duplicate content, which is generally a no-no.

Your website is vast. Liken it to outer space. There are more stars and planets than the eye can see—cosmic belts of content all connected by different systems and galaxies. Even NASA’s best aren’t just going by memory, and you shouldn’t either. How could you possibly know where everything is on your website? If you could see a map of every piece of content, how each references the other, and where they live on your website, you just might feel like you’ve boarded a rocket ship.

Structuring Your Content Audit Spreadsheet

Let’s look at an example content audit for a university. Universities tend to have quite a bit of content, and that requires some top-notch content strategy. If you’re not at a university, your data points may be different, but the idea is universal.

Hierarchy & Page Title

Hierarchy helps you understand the structure of your website and how pages are related to each other. This way, all subpages under your main navigation are accounted for. Here’s how to understand the numbering system: your main navigation pages (including your homepage) are your 0.0, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc. Any pages that live directly as a subpage under a main navigation page (like the Admissions at State University page in this example) are assigned the same first number and then a subsequent number like 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.

Page Title (which should be reviewed by your SEO specialist) identifies precisely what the heading on each page should be.

Spreadsheet of page titles with corresponding page numbers

URL & Purpose

Current URL gives you easy access to the existing page as you and others continue to review the audit. In my opinion, if you’re taking the time to document every page, you may as well include a link for easy accessibility later.

Purpose describes why the page exists in the first place. This may be the most important part of your content audit. Every page has a job it’s doing for your organization, and if you can’t identify one, you probably don’t need that page. It can also help you identify pages that have similar purposes. Just identifying this similarity can help you become aware of how to more clearly outline the differences between pages (or if those pages can be combined into one).

spreadsheet with current URL and purpose

Action & Metric

Desired action explicitly states what you’d like the user to do from this page. Here’s a tip—get granular here. Be specific. It’s usually not enough to simply say “apply.” And for the record, “learn more about…” is an acceptable response for some pages but it certainly shouldn’t be the desired action for most of your pages. Getting organizational buy-in on the action we want the user to take can be helpful as you move into design. Is the page set up for this action to be easy and valuable?

Success metric describes how the content team can determine if the page is working well. In this case, it’s the number of viewbook downloads or applications received. You’ll need your Google Analytics set up correctly to do this. If you’re not getting viewbook downloads, the page is not successful and you should consider changing your design.

spreadsheet with desired action and success metric

Page Roles

There’s no point embarking on this time-consuming project if you don’t incorporate maintenance into the audit. Remember, content strategy is a guide. It’s how you plan for and produce your message. Then, it’s how you evaluate and refine that message over time. Identifying who is responsible and the role they play for that content keeps everybody in the know and on the same page (pun intended). Many organizations have three distinct roles for each piece of content: the writer, the manager or editor, and the subject matter expert (SME). For some pages or some smaller organizations, one person could be listed for all 3 roles.

spreadsheet with web content manager, subject matter experts, and content writer

Additional Columns

You could add galaxies of information to your content audit as your needs require. For example, you could include a column for Accessibility which notes if each page meets accessibility standards. You could have a column called Recommendations that denotes pages that need revision, whether it’s a few updated numbers or a complete overhaul. Remember: any pages that include stats or reference research can quickly become outdated. Or, as we noted earlier, you could add columns for SEO keywords, Google Analytics data, etc.

Content Audit Tips

Isn’t it exciting to think about bringing this level of organization to your content strategy? An investment in the resources it takes to map out all of your content ensures that your new content always fits somewhere and that your old content doesn’t become outdated. A content audit also helps inform your content marketing strategy and other digital marketing efforts.

Before you get started documenting your current content, keep in mind that one person should be leading the audit process (and it’s probably best if that person is in marketing or communications). This doesn’t mean it can’t be a team effort, but one person should be in charge of overseeing the full content audit. That person should also set the rules for how information gets logged and how content is evaluated. And note: on average it’s safe to assume around 15 minutes of analysis per webpage.

When documenting your spreadsheet, be sure to record what you see, not what you assume or feel. Google shows no subjectivity when determining content performance. No search engine does. Set yourself up for success by accurately documenting your content with the structure outlined above. Include those data points from Google Analytics I had you imagining about! It’s all about getting the best possible picture of your content.

This article was originally published on Associations Now.

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