Part of a short-format series discussing Chapter Three’s approach to digital strategy.
There's lots of stuff on the web, including your stuff! But what performance measures matter and how should you assess them when you're doing assessing content in advance of a redesign?
In my previous post on content strategy, I discussed why content strategy matters from the big picture perspective: what it is and why it matters especially when redesigning a site. In it I outlined five steps in the life cycle of web content: audit and analysis, strategic communications planning, content planning, content creation, and ongoing management. There's several ways people think of, partition and name these steps, of course, but ultimately the idea is that you think about the content you write, the format it's in, the people (or machines) involved in producing it, and the audience who needs it.
Here I’m going to zero in on step one (audit and analysis): why it’s important, how to do it, and how to apply the results to the subsequent steps.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is the process of systematically inventorying and assessing every piece of content on a website. This includes basic content pages, landing pages, blog posts, videos, slide decks, PDFs, and whatever other content types your website might have.
A content audit aims to answer the following questions:
- How is my content performing?
- What content are people finding valuable?
- How are people accessing it?
- Is it still accurate?
- What can be overhauled or repositioned and what should be gotten rid of outright?
Those tasks likely sound long and painful, but the process needn’t be. Automated tools like Screaming Frog and Dynomapper, coupled with information from Google Analytics are really helpful. Frankly, automated tools are critical unless your website is really small. Also, resource guides like those from Hubspot can assist with a deeper dive into the whys and hows of content audits, especially how they impact SEO.
Content audits are often directly tied to search engine optimization (SEO), namely whether or not your content pages embody the correct keywords and whether or not those keywords are delivering the desired results. Of course, SEO is about more than just front-loading your content with keywords (modern SEO looks at overall quality of content and other measures), so keywords -- those magic terms that lead users to this content, or that -- still matter, but not without thinking of the broader context of the site those words live on.
Before you start…
What is it you’re hoping to achieve with your content? Are you hoping to increase engagement and/or conversions across the website overall or are you hoping to drive traffic to specific pages or sections through improved SEO? Perhaps you’re redesigning your site and investigating a new site structure or seeking to get rid of content that’s no longer relevant or helping you.
Whatever applies to you, it’s important first to identify your goals before embarking on a content audit. This will inform what metrics you select for the audit.
Once you’ve identified your goals, it’s time to conduct the audit itself by way of the following steps:
Step 1: Inventory your content
The first step of any content audit is to take a snapshot of the totality of your content and classify it all. You’ll want to take note of page titles and URLs, date of creation, author (if known), content type (basic content page, blog post, video etc.), content goal, social media shares (if applicable), and additional comments. The automated site crawlers in Screaming Frog and Dynomapper are incredibly helpful for large sites.
Step 2: Set your evaluation metrics
Your measurement criteria will depend heavily on the goal(s) you've set out at the outset. Among the most universally relevant are:
- Total page views
- Bounce rate (percentage of visitors that leave a webpage without taking an action)
- Organic traffic
- Engagement rate
- Average time spent on page
- Number of unique visitors
- Pages per session
- New vs. returning visitors
- Traffic sources
- Core Web Vitals (see here for more information)
Depending on your site's measures of success, you may also want to track SEO titles and meta descriptions, comments, social shares, email metrics, and, if applicable, revenue generated.
Step 3: Crunch the numbers
If your website is small you can ascertain all the information from Step 2 through Google Analytics and fill in the data manually in an Excel spreadsheet. If you have a larger site, you’ll want an automated tool to do this as mentioned above. We like Screaming Frog and Dynomapper for their integration with Google Analytics but there are several others that offer integrations for your team to research and try out.
Step 4: Assess what’s working and what isn’t
At this point you should have an accurate picture of what people are finding valuable on your site, what needs some work, and what can be discarded. A long-form blog post that receives heavy traffic but has a low average time spent on the page means that the topic is of interest but is perhaps best dealt with in a different format. A page with a lot of visitors but a high bounce rate might mean the same thing, or that there aren’t enough internal links on the page.
All the data you’ve gathered matters. For example, you might have a resource page that is low traffic but what traffic it does receive spends a long time on the page, or has generated valuable backlinks, making it an obvious keeper. Keep track of what content types and subject matters (from the inventory step) attract the most visitors. A page of a similar format or topic that is less visited might simply be hard to find and benefit from SEO-focused editing.
Once you’ve completed this process, you will have an accurate picture of the current state of your website, and will be able to proceed to developing a full-fledged content strategy to support either your redesign and digital comms planning. We'll look at that in a future post.
In the future: Do it again
What’s working for you today won’t necessarily be working for you tomorrow. Content gets old fast and a page that might have been attracting traffic like crazy six months ago may no longer be doing so. A content audit is a snapshot of a moment in time on your website, and the more of them you do the more valuable the totality of your information becomes.
Having multiple benchmarks to refer to makes it easier to make informed decisions about your content strategy. For example, a page that was a top performer six months ago but now receives minimal traffic might mean that the subject matter is now obsolete, or it could simply mean that the information on it is out of date. By contrast, a low-traffic page that has experienced an uptick in visitors could mean that information has become more timely or important and may prompt additional resources shifted to making more of that content.
There’s no hard and fast rule on how often you should conduct a content audit; a website upgrade or content migration is an obvious time to do one, but content audits can be conducted at any time. A changeover in marketing and communications staffing might be a good time to do one, as it means a fresh set of eyes on a website’s content. Or you can schedule one for every six months, year, or whatever seems appropriate for your organization. The bottom line is to do them as regularly and thoroughly as you can!