Do you know exactly what content you have on your website at the moment? If you’re anything like the average business trying to function online, you only update your content on occasion, and might not review your existing content at all — and in your defence, the reasoning behind that approach is fairly reasonable… on the face of it.
After all, the content you’ve already put out is presumably fine or else you wouldn’t have posted it, and it doesn’t seem like it warrants additional time because it’s easier and more productive to focus on creating new content. You make something, post it, and then move on to pastures new.
But you’re making a huge mistake if you assume that old content is no longer valuable or even significant to your website today, and there are several big reasons why. I’m going to explain them in this piece as we explore what a content audit involves and then consider why you need to invest in regular content audits.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is (as the name suggests) an audit of content, which is to say a comprehensive top-to-bottom review of all the content you provide through your website. Every live blog post, every page, everything that can be accessed — the full range of content is collated into a massive list, all in aid of getting an all-encompassing situation report.
The audit will look at numerous elements for each piece of content, such as:
- Metadata: page titles, page descriptions, image alt text, etc.
- Microdata: how the content is tagged.
- Headings: how the content is structured using H1s, H2s, etc.
- Page speed: how quickly the content loads.
- Keywords: what topics the content covers.
- Rankings: which search terms the content ranks for, if any.
- Traffic: how often the content is visited, and from where.
- Mobile-friendliness: whether the content renders well on mobile devices.
- Uniqueness: how heavily the content overlaps with other content on the site.
- Freshness: when the content was created, how recently it was updated, etc.
Because of this, a content audit is a great way to follow a standard SEO analysis. How exactly the information will be displayed — and in what configuration — will depend on what kind of audit you undergo, because (as we’ll see next) there are different kinds.
How can you carry out a content audit?
This depends on your needs and the size of your website, because a content audit can painstakingly examine 50000 pages in one case and take a shallow look at 20 in another. You can perform a content audit manually, but it simply isn’t practical in most cases, so companies with significant quantities of content are best served using auditing software to partially automate the work.
There are numerous options available (some paid, some free) that vary in functionality, going from tools that can gather basic data on the internal structure of your website (such as Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider) to full solutions that can integrate page data and analytics (such as Blaze, or the paid version of SEO Spider).
Why are regular content audits worthwhile?
If you’ve read through everything thus far and wondered why you’d want to undergo a content audit, then you likely haven’t thought about what exactly it can achieve. Let’s take a look at some reasons why content audits are worth investing in:
Long-term performance data is valuable
The analytical procedure of regular content scheduling tends to be very myopic. A post is given a position in the calendar, sent out, and tracked for a while to see how it performs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it ignores what happens afterwards — imagine focussing on movie box office performance without taking home media sales into account — and doesn’t give you the detail you really need.
By ensuring that you schedule and follow through with a regular content audit, you’ll achieve a much broader and more in-depth understanding of how the various parts of your website are performing. If a certain post brought in a lot of traffic to begin with but has been steadily decreasing in value, you can investigate why, and if you discover that a post you’d forgotten about has been producing a steady trickle of conversions over time, you can figure out what it’s doing right so you can attempt to replicate that effect.
You might even notice some pieces that were drafted but not quite finished, giving you easy opportunities to polish them off and release them. This is surprisingly common, particularly in the B2B world — it was found in 2013 that 60-70% of the contentproduced by B2B organizations was going totally unused, and it seems unlikely that this problem could have been solved since then.
Technical standards are always changing
As technology marches on, the quality of internet browsing keeps getting better. The average mobile UX of today is enormously better than that of, say, two years ago. And in an effort to further this improvement, new technical standards are steadily being released, motivating those lacking foresight to do something to get their work up to code.
We can see this with the transition from desktop interfaces to mobile-first designs, the move away from Flash and towards the less resource-intensive HTML5, and the shift from HTTP to HTTPS. Sites that were highly optimized before these changes were suddenly unfit for purpose — cumbersome and sluggish security risks. With this rapid rate of change, it’s become standard practice for a startup to forgo a manual website build and use a third-party CMS (whether an all-purpose blog builderor a scalable beginner-friendly ecommerce system) to avoid having to get involved with the necessary technical updates.
And for content, we can see it with updates to search algorithms and the acceptance of microdata. Pages used to rank through simply stuffing keywords, but this doesn’t work today and will just get a site penalized. Schema.org tagging has become valuable not only for improving indexing but also for creating content that can be served in chunks in the form of featured snippets in SERPs.
Regular content audits will equip you to quickly notice when an old page is no longer adhering to current standards, allowing you to make a prompt decision about how to proceed. If your content is lacking, you can improve it — if your system doesn’t support things like structured data (or isn’t mobile-responsive, as unlikely as that sounds today), you can migrate your content to a more suitable system and continue from there.
Links break and information becomes outdated
Linking is extremely important for SEO, both external and internal. Search algorithms need links to find new pages to index, and rely on link signals to determine how trust and authority flow throughout the online world. But websites rise and fall, and sooner or later some of your authority links will break. Maybe the target pages will be taken down, or the URLs will be changed without recommended redirects — either way, your content will be negatively affected.
As well as highlighting broken links so that you can remove or change them, a content audit will help you pick out important evergreen pieces that haven’t been updated in a long time. Perhaps one of your pages that still brings in traffic is full of advice that no longer applies, giving a negative impression of your business whenever someone reads it and notices its flaws. You can update that content, making it accurate again and perhaps retitling it (a “2017 Guide” can easily become a “2018 Guide”).
And if you’re extremely unhappy with old content, feeling that your newer material is vastly better and more representative of what your business is today, then you have two options: you can find the time to improve it, or simply remove it. The latter is absolutely a viable option, particularly if a piece is only going to make readers less likely to view you favorably. Content audits don’t lay out actions — they just make you aware of what’s going on.
Where a simple SEO checklist just spits out some figures, a content audit requires you to take a deeper look at your pages. In that respect, it’s like an intimidating health check — it takes time, it isn’t much fun, and the thought of it makes you expect the worst. But if you don’t do it, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities for easy wins, and the content you produce in the future — not matter how good — will be sullied by association.
So invest some time and money in running regular content audits, perhaps starting with once every 6 months and scaling up if you get on well. Over time, you’ll find that you develop a much stronger understanding of where you stand and how you can improve your content process to achieve better results.