How to do a content audit

If you want to find out how to do a content audit, this video is a good place to start. In 30 minutes, you’ll get an introduction to content auditing, including:

  • what a content audit is
  • why you should do one
  • 4 different approaches you can take
  • how to choose criteria to audit against
  • how to do the auditing itself
  • how to turn your findings into action

I’ll also share lots of tips that I use to make auditing quicker, easier, and more effective. This video was filmed for my ‘How to do a content audit’ event.

Prefer to look at the slides?. Download the presentation as a PDF.

Prefer to read? Skip to the video transcript.

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Ready to do a content audit?

If you want to do a content audit, but need a helping hand to get started, take a look at my content audit toolkit.

Content audit toolkit

Find out what’s really going on with your website. This toolkit is made up of 12 modules and 4 templates to guide you through planning and carrying out an effective audit. Spot ways to improve your user experience, increase conversion, and reduce your carbon footprint.

Who’s it for?

The toolkit is for anyone who wants to get to know their website inside out, whether it’s 100 pages or 100,000 pages.

You can use it as training if you want to learn a new skill, or to support you through the process of doing an audit.

What can it help with?

  • Increasing sales and retention: Identify improvements to your content, and make a positive impact on KPIs like sales and retention.
  • Spotting gaps and opportunities: See what’s missing from your site and reveal opportunities for new content.
  • Cutting your carbon footprint: Reveal outdated, unused content that you can delete to cut the carbon footprint of your site.
  • Improving your user experience: Highlight ways to improve the experience your users have on your site through better content.
  • Getting a prioritised to-do list: Get a clear idea of where to focus your time and effort to improve your content.
  • Saving time: Don’t waste time defining criteria and building spreadsheets – they’re all included.

What’s the cost?

The toolkit costs £295 for the standard version, and £595 for the premium version. (No VAT.)

The standard version is free if you work for a charity with an income of £100,000 a year or less. Just email me at lauren@lapope.com and I’ll get you sorted. (Be sure to use your charity email address.)

If you’re unemployed, unwaged, or in financial hardship and this will help you on your career path, you can pay what you feel (£0, £1, £10, £100 whatever). Email me at lauren@lapope.com for access. This operates on integrity, so you don’t need to provide evidence of your hardship – I believe you. I trust that people will not use this option to get a discount on something they can afford but don’t want to pay for.

Video transcript

Let’s talk about how to do a content audit. This is our agenda, we’re going to look at what a content audit is, and why you should do one. We’re going to look at different approaches you can take to auditing, how to choose the criteria you’re going to audit your content against. We’re going to talk about actually how to do the audit itself. And then finally, we’ll finish by looking at how to turn your findings into action.

What is a content audit?

Let’s start at the very beginning, though, what is a content audit? At the most basic level, it’s a review of the information on your website. Working page by page, you look at how your content is performing against different qualitative criteria and quantitative metrics. The objective is to understand what content you have, what state it’s in, and how you can improve it.

It sounds pretty simple, right? And at a basic level, it is very straightforward. But at a deeper level, there’s a lot of complexity. There’s so many different questions you’re gonna have, as you go through this process. How do you find every single bit of content on your website? Do you need to audit every single page? And if not,

how do you choose which ones to include and which ones to exclude? How can you make sure that you’re judging pages in a consistent way and in an objective way, as well? And what criteria should you look at to make sure that you’re considering your content from every angle.

And that’s the point of this, it’s to give you some routes through that complexity so that you can do an audit of your own without making all those painful, costly mistakes that I know that I made when I first started auditing 10 or 15 years ago.

Why do a content audit?

Before we get on to the how, I want to talk about the why. And to do that I want to look back at content and the reasons that it boomed and how we think of content.

The explosion in content 10 to 15 years ago happened because people were thinking about content using a media paradigm. It was a big moment, because content wasn’t like advertising where you had to pay for space, you had to pay to get eyes on your messages, on the information that you wanted to convey. Compared to that, content was an endless commodity. Compared to that content was free, you could just keep making more and more and more of it. You know, why not build a bunch of new microsites every single year? Content’s free, it’s limitless. Why not write five news stories a day? Content’s free and it’s limitless, we can have as much of this as we want.

And that thinking in many ways has stuck with us. Even though our approach to content has got significantly more sophisticated over the years, the predominant behaviour that I see when it comes to content these days is publish and move on. Put something on the website, and then forget about it, don’t measure it, don’t maintain it, don’t iterate it, just move on to the next shiny thing and keep hoarding all of that content in the background.

The problem is, our websites suck as a result, they’re dusty archives full of information that’s out of date or no longer relevant. It’s hard for users to find what they need, because there’s just too much stuff. The IA and the navigation start to creak under the weight of everything they weren’t designed to carry. And all that low quality content is pretty bad for search too.

Content isn’t free. If it exists, you’re eventually going to have to do something to maintain it. And the more content you have, the more that’s going to cost.

Content has an environmental cost too. All told, the Internet uses more electricity than the UK. Content needs to be hosted on a server, those servers need energy, the more content you have, the more energy you’re burning. So if that content has no purpose, if it’s out of date, or if it’s irrelevant, that’s a massive waste. So deleting old, unnecessary content is really important. That’s going to cut the carbon footprint of your website as well as improving the user experience.

And sometimes when I say this, people say if they’re coming up for a big website redesign, you know, well in that case, why don’t we just delete everything and start again. But the trouble is creating content has a carbon cost too.

Gerry McGovern, who’s a real expert on this issue, found that for one of his clients creating six pages of content emitted as much carbon as manufacturing a smartphone. So it’s really important to find the good stuff and keep it if you want to minimise waste and minimise your carbon footprint.

And as you’re probably starting to see, I think that if you work in content, auditing is a responsibility. It’s something that you are obliged to do for your users and for your planet.

The good news, if you’re not particularly excited about either of those reasons for auditing, is that there’re some really great other reasons to do it that are far more business focused.

An audit can help you to prepare for a website redesign or refresh. It’s a great opportunity to think about what you’re going to do with all that old content before you start, make a plan and don’t just rush into panicked migration at the end.

It’s great for taking stock. If you’ve just started a new role and you’re not really sure what you’ve got, an audit is exactly what you should be doing.

It’s great if you’ve got one of those 10, 15, 20 year-old websites with hundreds of 1000s of pages that feel completely out of control. An audit is how you begin to tame it.

It can help you cut risk from old out of date content, because old content can be really dangerous, especially if you’re in a regulated sector. I’ve heard so many examples of old content putting organisations at risk of a lawsuit. And even one instance where content was actually implicated in somebody’s death. Because an organisation was providing out of date medical advice in an old PDF that they’d forgotten about.

If you’re launching or relaunching a new product or service, if you’ve got a big campaign coming up, then it’s really important to make sure the supporting content that sits around that is all up to code and an audit will help you do that too.

Ultimately, what an audit is going to do for you is help you identify opportunities to improve your content. And there are so many potential improvements just waiting for you to take the time to find them. And making them can unlock all sorts of exciting benefits, like better conversion, better retention, and more.

Different content audit approaches

So if you’re sold on doing an audit, the next step is to decide what approach you’re going to take. And there are four main ways that you can go about it depending on your situation. 

The first is a full audit. So this is very broad, where you look at every single page on the website. 

The second is focused. So this is a narrow, specific approach, where you just look at one section, one journey, one product. The third is a rolling audit, where you don’t have a deadline, and you audit little and often, perhaps just a few pages every week or every month. 

And the fourth and final is a sample audit. And that’s an audit where you look at a broad representative sample of all content from across your website.

Different approaches suit different situations and different types of sites. To help you think about which one you’re going to choose, ask yourself these three questions: Why are you doing the audit? How big is your site? And how much time do you have?

For example, if you’ve got a small website, only 100 or 200 pages, and you’re about to do a redesign, I’d say do a full audit. It’s not going to take long, and it’s really going to help you plan for the redesign and the content migration. Doing the full audit now will save you bags of time later on.

If you’re auditing because you want to support a campaign then a focused audit is ideal, you just look at the relevant content.

If you’re short on time, have a big site and don’t have a deadline, then I’d recommend doing a rolling audit, it’s a really pragmatic way to start getting the benefits of auditing.

Sample audits are probably the most pragmatic approach for scenarios with a deadline. A full audit might be realistic for that kind of 200 page site scenario that I mentioned earlier on. But it’s definitely not realistic if you’ve got a 200,000 page site, that’s really going to take you weeks and weeks and weeks, if not months and months and months. With a sample audit, you can go really broad, you can get a good overview of everything on the site. And you can adjust the size of your sample to the time you have available. 

Picking your sample’s a bit of an art. I try and make sure that I pick content from all of the navigational sections of the site. And then I also look at examples of each content type, content written by different authors, content owned by different teams. And I’d also use the analytics to guide me as well, I’d look at a few pages that have the most traffic. And then I’d also dig into them to find ones that have unexpectedly low conversion, unexpectedly low engagement or something like that. And by kind of using the numbers to guide you, hopefully you’ll find some really good opportunities for improvements.

It really is quite a fiddle, and a difficult task to do this. So make sure you allocate time for this part of the auditing  process and give it some full consideration.

I find that I can audit about six pages an hour, so about 10 minutes per page. Some pages take much longer, you know, if you’ve got a really important page, your homepage, a key category page, a really significant product page, you’re going to want to give that time, but you’ll be able to skim through other pages much, much faster.

Content audit criteria

Now we’re going to talk about setting criteria. In order for your audit to be as systematic and objective as possible. You need to get a list of criteria to review your content against.

Don’t be tempted to think that you can just look at the page and know what’s not working. Criteria are really important because they give you a system, they give you some objectivity. So make sure that you’re auditing against a defined list.

To think about what criteria to use, explore the kind of qualities that you want to see in content and what your objectives are. Think about what you need to know in order to improve your content or in order to decide that you’re going to delete it or archive it, then write a question or find a metric that you can use to get that information. 

You’ll also want to create a way of standardising your answers. For example, you could use a point scale of 1 to 3. Or you could use a binary yes, no. If you use a scale, I’d really suggest using some guidance on what warrants the different scores, so that you can make it really obvious what you’re looking for and be very consistent in your results.

These are some of the key areas that I would look at when I’m auditing. So the first one would be strategy. So for that, I’d be asking a question like, does it support this particular strategic goal? And maybe I’d list out every strategic goal so I can get an idea of that. 

For some sites, I definitely look at conversion. So that could be a metric like a conversion rate, or it could be as simple as ‘Is there a call to action on the page?’ 

Usefulness is a really important one for thinking about the user experience of the content. A good question for this will be something like does this help the reader with something they want to find, learn, or do. This assumes that you know something about your user and that you can understand their needs well enough to answer that question.

Accuracy is really important. Is the page up to date, are all kinds of claims and facts evidenced? And do they have sources?

Clarity is a great one to look into as well, is the page clearly structured using subheadings, paragraphs, bullets? Is the information in the right order?

Accessibility is a really important one as well. Accessibility is quite tricky when it comes to auditing because lots of elements when it comes to accessibility, are about design and content working together. They’re technical as well. But I think it’s important to just focus in on the things that content can help with. And that could be something as simple as do all images on the page have appropriate alt text?

Readability is another really important one as well. I’d recommend the Readability Guidelines wiki for giving you some really good sources of questions for that. An example would be something like is it using sentence case consistently throughout? 

Inclusivity, again, it could be a question about using inclusive and empowering language. 

Findability. So looking at how easy this is to find, either through search or through navigation. You could look at things like is there a title tag and meta description? How many clicks away is it from the homepage? Can you actually navigate to it? 

Engagement is a really good one as well. And an example of a question around this will be something like does the content speak about the reader or to them? 

And then finally, brand. And that could be something like is the brand voice recognisable? Is the tone appropriate?

Try really hard to make sure your criteria are as objective as they possibly can be. Something like ‘is the content interesting?’ is a very subjective question. You could answer it in lots of different ways. So it’s not a great thing to use in an audit. Instead, think about the criteria that indicate that something’s engaging, like a well written headline, like showing as well as telling.

There’s always going to be a degree of subjectivity in some questions, but try and keep it to a minimum where you can.

Doing a content audit

Now let’s talk about actually doing the audit. 

This is the process that I would take. I’d start by preparing a content inventory, and we’ll talk about that, and what it is in a moment. 

Then I’d set up an audit spreadsheet, which has the inventory of URLs as rows and your criteria as columns. 

I’d work through all the pages one at a time reviewing it against the criteria and writing notes as I go.

Let’s talk about content inventories for a moment, the inventory is different to the audit. The inventory is just a list of all your pages. And there are a few different ways that you can go about creating this. You can use tools to crawl your site for you and create a list. You can export pages from your CMS if you if your CMS allows that. You can export pages from Google Analytics, you could use your XML sitemap, and you can also export a list from Google Search Console too.

In my experience, a web crawler like Screaming Frog is the best option. I found that this creates the most thorough, consistent list and it’s also very easy. You put in the URL, and it does the job for you. Come back in half an hour or an hour depending how big the site is, and it will have the list.

If you’re not going to use a crawler, and you’re going to do something like use data from Google Analytics or use data from Search Console, I would say you need to use two data sources and combine and dedupe that data because I’ve found that other methods can be really patchy, even downloading things from a CMS can be patchy in my experience. So protect yourself: use two data sources.

As well as the URL it’s good to include some other data about the page in your inventory too. These are some of the things that I would look at including – just anything that’s going to help you categorise content, break it down, understand more about it later on.

And a tool like URL Profiler can be really handy for situations like this. You put in your list of URLs, and it will go and gather lots of data for you like your title tag, your meta description, it will tell you if there are any images on the page without alt text, it will give you a readability score.

You can also use ImportXML, which is a formula in Google Sheets to do some very simple things like this as well. So it can scrape different elements of the page like the h1 Heading, the title tag, the meta description, the author, which can save you some real time.

So then, the next step is to create your audit spreadsheet, which should look something like this. And I’m just going to open a spreadsheet now. So this is the example from my content audit toolkit, which is available for sale on my website. This is using data from my own website. 

So you’ve got your URLs. And there’s a couple of small little things in here. So when you paste in your URL, you can see the Import XML will go and start working out the h1 for you, it will also work out what section of the site piece of content is in, the path and it will calculate the page depth as well. 

You can also fill in your other inventory data here. So you’ve got your content type and content topic which you can complete as you go through. Then for your criteria, you’d be looking for something like this. So each column reflecting a different question, this is my section on usefulness. And then I’d use data validation just to speed up the process of filling it in later on. 

The other thing that I would include, right at the end, is a section for notes and comments, so that you can fill that in as you go along.

And also a section where you can decide whether you’re going to keep improve, delete, or archive the piece of content.

This is the content audit toolkit, which as I said, is something that I sell on my website. I just thought I’d give you a quick look at what it is and how it works. So you can have a think about whether this is something you might be interested in. There are 12 modules, which take you through a step by step process from running an audit from the very beginning, thinking about your reasons, getting buy-in from your clients, your colleagues, your boss, your peers, whoever it is that you need to convince. Lots of suggestions for choosing your audit criteria, information about judging your content, a step by step process for creating a content inventory, setting up your spreadsheet, lots of information on how to choose a sample of content if you’re going down that sample route as well. And then finishing off with information on how to analyse and share your findings. And also make sure those findings turn into action.

It also comes with four templates as well. So there’s the planner, which helps you map out how you’re going to do your audit and make decisions about it. This is also quite a useful document to share with stakeholders as well to keep them up to date and to get them invested in the first place. 

There’s a template for an inventory as well, which has some tips and some formulas to help you do some of those things a bit more quickly, like use the Import XML or work out the section of the site that the content’s in. 

There’s the audit spreadsheet itself. So the one we were just looking at. And then finally, there’s a report. So a presentation template to help you communicate your results in the most effective way possible and help get people invested in change.

Content auditing top tips

Okay, we’re gonna go back to the presentation now. So some top tips for how to tackle the audit itself. 

The first one is use VLOOKUP to automatically match data in your spreadsheet. So when I first started auditing, I didn’t realise that this was a thing, maybe you’ve known about it for ages, and you think I’m an idiot for not realising this sooner. But what this formula will do is if you’ve got a URL, it will go and look for that URL in the spreadsheet and pull out the data. So if you want all of it, if you’ve got one tab in your spreadsheet, which has all your data from Google Analytics, VLOOKUP will then pull that into inventory for you. And that’s all part of the templates in the toolkit.

I definitely recommend working one page at a time and reviewing all the criteria. Don’t be tempted to look at each page for each criteria one by one, that’s going to take you much much longer. 

As I mentioned a couple of times now I think it’s really important to take notes as you go through. Just note down anything interesting that you’ve noticed and improvements that you want to make. Otherwise, when you get to the end, you’re not going to remember all of those little things that you’ve spotted and that knowledge is going to be lost. 

Taking screenshots of those things will really help, it’s so important for illustrating things when you get to your report as well.

I’d also say to start writing your report as you go. So when I’m auditing, I tend to have another document open, where I note down the trends and patterns that I’m seeing, I’ll put the screenshots in that too. It makes that process of report writing so much faster when you get to the end, because you’re going to know exactly what you want to say.

I would suggest that you can cheat if you run into a bunch of pages that are very, very similar. So a couple of examples of that. One would be something like biographies. If you’ve got content that follows a very similar template that’s very structured that you know was created in a very similar way, you can probably just look at one or two examples, and then copy your scores down across for every single page of that type.

Another example would be old news stories, if you’ve got news stories from 10 years ago that nobody’s looking at, they have no traffic, I think it’s a safe guess to say that that content can just be deleted or archived. So again, just look at one or two examples to check yourself, but then just copy your scores across.

And then always make a decision about whether you’re able to keep improve, delete, or archive as you’re going through. I think it’s helpful to make decisions at a section level, not necessarily an individual page level, just because it speeds up the task and also content is sometimes interconnected. So if you treat each page as kind of a single entity, when actually it’s part of an ecosystem of content, you might make a mistake, you might kind of break something, or leave users in a position where something doesn’t make sense because another page is gone.

Auditing is hard. It’s really, really useful, which is why I feel so enthusiastic and passionate about it. But just being realistic, it is a challenging thing to do. A few years ago, I committed to doing a massive audit in two weeks. And on paper that was possible, but it meant that I needed to audit all day, every day for that whole period. And it’s not an experience I would ever want to repeat, it was really, really grueling. And I’ve learned that I need to limit the amount of time that I spend on auditing. Two hours a day is about right for me. If I do any more than that, and I get a bit sloppy, or I feel really kind of tired and drained at the end of it. 

It’s repetitive, detailed work. Some people really thrive on that, but a lot of people don’t. And if you’re one of the people like me that don’t, these are some things that I found really helped me take care of my wellbeing while I’m going through this process. 

The first one is get help, you can easily get other people auditing with you. If you make sure that your criteria are objective and specific and you’ve described exactly what you’re looking for, then you can enlist help from people who aren’t necessarily content experts.

A really practical tip would be to use two monitors, if there’s any way that you can do that, it makes a massive difference to how quickly you can do things because you can have the website open on one screen. And you can have your audit screen, your audit spreadsheet open on the screen. It’s also a bit kinder to your eyes to use a bigger monitor if you can access one.

Keyboard shortcuts can save you loads of time too. So brush up on those if you’re not familiar with them already.

As I’ve already mentioned, only do a few hours a day unless this is the kind of work that you really thrive on. The other thing I found for me is that there’s some times of day that are better for me to do this kind of work than others. And for me, it’s the afternoon because I’m normally ready for something quite repetitive by that time. The morning, that’s the best time for me to do strategic deep work. And I get bored more quickly, if I try and audit in the morning when my brain is fizzy.

Taking breaks is really, really important as well. I tend to use the Pomodoro method where I’ll do 25 minutes of auditing and then take a five minute break. And during that break, I’ll make sure I stretch, I’ll make sure I rest my eyes by looking out of the window instead of looking at the screen. And this is so important because when you’re doing this kind of repetitive work, it’s repetitive in your body as well. And you’re also going to be focusing really closely with your eyes. So you need to make sure that you kind  of rest your muscles and rest your eyes as well. 

For a psychological boost, I’d say check your progress, write down how many pages you’ve done and how many you’ve got left to do. Seeing yourself slowly chipping away at that total is really satisfying. And it’s important to kind of make sure that you see that you’re making progress and you’re getting towards the end of the task.

And then finally, and this one is a tough one, I’d recommend just focusing on the audit. It’s very easy to get distracted by all the things you want to fix and the scale of the changes that you want to make. But just focus on the audit, that’s the task at hand. You’re going to  come back to all of this stuff that you want to do later, you’re going to prioritise, you’re gonna break it down. It’s not going to be missed, but just focus on the audit to start off with.

Turning a content audit into action

And that’s what we’re going to talk about next: how to turn it into action. Because if you do an audit and you don’t change anything as a result, then I think you’ve wasted your time. I find it really hard to believe that anybody can audit a website, and they wouldn’t find at least a couple of things that they’d want to improve.

Here’s some of the things that I would recommend you do to make sure change happens as a result of all of your hard work. 

The first one would be to write a report. Really straightforward, gather together all of your findings, try and make it really engaging.

Something that can help you do that is thinking of your big spreadsheet as data and not just words. And by that, I mean, treat it like you would any other spreadsheet, any other data set, filter it, make some pivot tables, make some charts.

So some stuff that I’d always look at doing is comparing stats for different areas of the site, you know, is the ‘what’s on’ section more engaging than the ‘about us’ section. Which part of the site gets the highest scores in terms of usefulness, that sort of thing. 

I’d also look at something like what’s the kind of distribution of page views across all of the pages, because a lot of the time you find that there’s maybe four or five pages that account for 60% of all page views. And perhaps that’s something that you need to do something to address. Or maybe it just means that there’s loads of content that you can delete. 

Really digging into the numbers and treating it like a data set will come up with some really interesting stats.

The other thing that I’d suggest is writing a one page version of your findings, and perhaps leading with some of those stats, highlighting the key trends, highlighting the big recommendations. Not everyone is going to want to read your enormous deck about your audit. So make sure that you’ve got something that’s easy to share and easy for people to engage with.

Another thing is to make sure that it doesn’t feel too negative or overwhelming, make sure you’re focusing on how to fix things and making those recommendations. Alternatively, if you don’t know how to fix it, that’s fine. But maybe suggest what you’d like to do to find the solution to the problem.

A really good thing that gets people engaged a lot of the time is quick wins. And by that I mean those simple, easy, fast changes that are going to have an impact. A lot of the time, it’s going to be something like adding in title tags and meta descriptions because people miss those all of the time. Or it might be that you find a bunch of important pages that don’t have any kind of call to action. And you can really see how those little things can get people very excited about the work that you’ve done and the potential and the value that you’re going to unlock.

And the final thing I’d say is just shout about it. Share your audit report in meetings, post about it on Slack, you know, pull out a different fact or a different stat every day for a week, have a lunch and learn session where you take people through the key findings, put it out in your internal company newsletter, whatever channels you’ve got available, make use of them. Because other people will be interested in this, they might want to do something with the data and they might be able to help you make changes too.

So to recap what we’ve covered…

Content audit is a review of the information on your website.

Regular audits are the right thing to do for your planet, for your users and for your organisation. 

There’s significant business value that you can unlock by doing this.

You don’t have to audit every single thing. You can choose a sample of content, you can audit just one section of the site. Or you can do a rolling audit where you look at just a few pages every week or every month. 

Try your best to be objective and specific with your criteria so that you’re auditing all of your pages in the same way, that you’re being really consistent and you’re going to come up with really reliable results. 

Use the tools on offer, whether that’s a crawler tool, like Screaming Frog, something like URL Profiler, or just learning as many Excel formulas as you can to speed up the process. 

It’s hard work, so take care of yourself, make sure that you take breaks, make sure that you

use two monitors if you possibly can, learn your keyboard shortcuts. 

And then finally, the most important one: act on what you learn so that you get the full value out of this amazing piece of work that you’re going to do. 

Thanks very much.

 

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