If you want to gain a deep understanding of the content on your current website, see what’s working well, and what’s not doing so well and how you can improve it, then you need to run a content audit.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is a when you take stock of your content inventory. You review and analyse the content and check if it’s meeting its goals. You work out what’s working well, what’s not, what you need to improve and how that needs to happen.
The outcome of a content audit is a deep understanding of a website’s content, its inter-relationships, its issues and a plan for creating a better user experience.
How do you run a content audit?
The best content audit is run in a systematic way.
First, decide what you want to get out of the audit. Once you know what the overall goals are, set the criteria for what you will review and analyse.
A content audit is much like a stocktake at a supermarket where store management wants to know exactly how many products they have of everything. They want to know how little tins of tuna with lemon and cracked pepper they have in stock, both on the store shelves, what’s ‘out the back’ in storage, and how many have been pilfered by sneaky shoppers.
I worked as a casual for years in a supermarket as a teenager. And I loved stocktakes—the overtime rate was great—unless I was the one stuck in the tinned goods aisle counting all those little tins of flavoured tuna.
Doing a supermarket stocktake is not that different to running a content audit. You count the things, you remove the out-of-date things, you group the things that belong together, you pull out the damaged goods, you move the stuff that doesn’t belong back to where it does, you tidy the shelves. You get an overall sense of how much stuff you have, where it sits and what you need to do to create a better customer experience.
A content audit is a great first step before redesigning the site’s information architecture (also known as the IA and what the menu labels are called) and as part of a content strategy. You need to know:
- what content you have
- what topics it covers
- if the content serves users well
- where the gaps in information are
What does a content audit cover?
Usually the content you audit is on a website. But a content audit can extend to other formats. It can cover content published elsewhere, including:
- on social media sites
- in books and eBooks
- on a course platform
- on publishing platform like Medium or Steemit
Part of the audit will be collecting and analysing objective data—like Google Analytics metrics. But most of an audit’s intelligence comes from your subjective interpretation of the audit criteria.
Who can conduct a content audit?
Anyone can run a content audit. But to get the most out of it, and because the review process needs that subjective analysis, the person running the audit needs to be unbiased. It’s a good idea to bring in an external consultant to run the audit because they will be clinical in their review (pick me! pick me!).
The person running the audit needs to be a highly experienced web content specialist. They need skills covering broad domains such as:
- user needs analysis
- best practice online writing and content presentation
- Google Analytics analysis
- SEO analysis
- best practice UX design principles
- content accessibility
- brand analysis
Why do a content audit?
There are many reasons why organisations audit their content (or hire someone to run the audit for them).
I’ve audited websites for large organisation with 1000s of web pages. I’ve also worked with smaller businesses with fewer than 100 web pages. Size doesn’t matter. Small and large sites benefit from the outcome of a content audit. The main difference is the time it takes to audit a large site versus a small site.
I’ll let you in on a content auditing secret.
You don’t have to audit every single page in a website to do a good content audit.
If you’re staring at a spreadsheet with 1000s of web pages, you might have just slid to the floor in relief. A bit like when another 15-year-old casual is given the flavoured tuna tins to count and you skip that aisle for cake mix.
Often, it’s enough to ensure you check page types.
A page type is a unique type of content or template. Page types could be a news story, a blog post, a product page, a landing page, a contact page, a team member profile page, etc. Each of these is a page type.
A website might have 1000s of old news stories or press releases. It might have 1000s of products. You don’t need to check every single one. You can check 10 of each page type and you’ll quickly learn 80% or more of what’s wrong with them. It’s not a good return on investment (ROI) to review each individual page in a large site. It would take far too long and you’d start dreaming you were trapped in a spreadsheet cell. True story! It’s happened to me several times when I’ve spent many hours working on a content audit, deep in spreadsheet land.
If an organisation’s website needs work, they probably already know this. But what they don’t know is exactly what those problems are and how deeply they penetrate the site. A good content audit will unveil the issues and note how widespread they are.
But there are many other reasons why people run a content audit. The reasons can cover any and all of these situations:
1. The website is being redeveloped, migrated or merged
When planning a website redevelopment, a content audit is a great place to start. It will help with migration planning. Once you redesign the IA, you’ll need to know where to map the old pages to under the new IA.
Similarly, if the project is to merge several websites into one, then you’ll want to take stock of your content inventory across multiple sites in the whole content ecosystem. This again will help you see the breadth of content and map the content to its new home.
You’ll uncover out-of-date content or time-sensitive content you can archive.
You’ll work out which service, product or information pages need an overhaul.
Overall, a content audit will help with the next phase of content strategy development.
2. The content first published no longer fits with the organisation’s current vision
A lot can happen between the day a website is first published and years later, when it’s overgrown, has had many people contributing to it and has moved on from its original vision.
Here, I would score the content against criteria relating to brand alignment and the organisation’s business goals.
I’d mark the pages that don’t fit the current goals for archiving.
3. The organisation has developed a content marketing strategy and wants to know what content they have that fits with that
When an organisation sets their brand pillars (what they want to be known for) they then need to audit their existing content to see which content they already have that aligns with their big picture vision.
They might also want to create and schedule evergreen social media posts and need to know which content they can repurpose and promote.
Here, I’d set the audit criteria to assess which topic the page belonged to. Those that don’t fit the brand pillars I’d mark for review and possible archiving.
Those that do fit the brand pillars, and depending on the quality of the content, I’d mark those for review and repurposing.
4. The content needs to be search engine optimised (SEO)
If an organisation hasn’t done any strategic SEO work, then during an audit you can run some basic SEO content checks.
Note that I’m not referring to a full technical SEO website audit. I’m referring to on-page SEO analysis only. This includes:
- keyword analysis – which keywords is the page ranking for?
- metadata – does the page have a meta description that follows best practice principles?
- images – are the images properly named and do they have keywords in the alt tags?
- are the keywords in the headings?
- are there keyword synonyms in the text?
5. The organisation wants to ensure their content is accessible
Because government departments and agencies need to meet mandatory accessibility standards, I always include accessibility checks in a content audit.
The main things I check are:
- readability metrics – what reading grade level is the content?
- PDFs – is there a HTML alternative?
- Video – are there captions?
- structure – does the content logically flow?
- images – is there text in the images not explained in the alt tag and HTML text?
6. The content needs a marketing check
Your client might want to check their content inventory and map it to a particular stage of the user journey in the buying cycle.
In this situation, I’d check:
- the target user persona – does the page meet the user persona’s goals?
- which stage of the buying journey the user is in – is the content targeted to the user at the awareness stage or at the buying stage?
- calls to action (CTAs) – does the page have a clear CTA?
- media check – is the page supported by the right kind of media such as video and images like Pins for easy sharing?
- the content topic – does the page fit bit under the brand pillars?
- the content quality – does the content reflect well on the brand?
After a content audit, I give my client a content audit report that summarises the issues the audit uncovered and provides recommendations for what next steps to take to meet their content goals.
I think of a content audit outcome as a roadmap that outlines the tasks and activities needed to improve the website so it meets its user goals. It’s a clear snapshot of exactly what the next steps should be and a time estimate for actioning each task.
If you’re interested in undertaking a content audit for your organisation and would like me to steer it, let’s chat.