Conducting a Content Audit: How to Update Old Posts
A content audit is a qualitative review of all your content assets. The information collected from a content audit can be used to identify:
- Opportunities to improve organic search performance.
- Content to repurpose into various formats such as a webinar or eBook
- What makes content strong or weak.
- Inconsistencies. For example, does the tone and voice represent your brand, are all product names properly recorded, do images have a similar look and feel?
Overall, a content audit determines what content is performing and what isn’t. From these findings, you can better strategize and plan the best content for your brand.
Once complete, the content audit will help you and your team use time more effectively when creating content because you’ll know what will generate results.
Simplifying the content audit
A content audit could be a one-time, full-blown analysis of every single piece of content on a website. But there could be thousands of posts to sort through. If you have a small team, other priorities and little-to-no time, a content audit can be a daunting project.
To simplify it, think of the content audit in two parts:
1. The top-performing content: An ongoing process that involves measuring and analyzing patterns of successful content to plan your editorial calendar.
2. The detrimental content: A one-time process that prunes content that may be hurting your website’s ranking and user experience.
By segmenting the audit in these two parts, you get a better perspective of how your content is working for your brand and what’s stopping it from reaching its full potential.
Before looking at the two segments, discuss and record the metrics that demonstrate success for your team. Do you want blog posts to generate specific goal completions like a newsletter subscription or content download? Does success mean lead generation?
These success metrics will guide your content audit to ensure the future state of your content marketing program returns meaningful results for your business. Now, let’s look at the two content audit segments.
1. The top-performing content
By assessing patterns of your top-performing content (whether it’s a high organic ranking or Facebook engagement — you set the metric), you can plan your content with data-driven insights.
Before the “auditing” process even begins, you can start to collect info about your content by creating a content inventory.
The content inventory
In an article from Content Marketing Institute, a content inventory is defined as a “collection of data about your content. … It’s a comprehensive list — typically a spreadsheet — of all content assets, ideally across all content types, channels and distribution formats.”
With this inventory, you are “enabled to operate from a position of knowledge so that you can make decisions based on data.” Planning your content is no longer a guessing game or a list of vague keywords.
Using this tracking template, begin to collect data about each of your posts. We started using this template over a year ago to get a high-level view of our content. Now, we don’t have to put in the work of doing a full content audit when we already have information recorded.
How do you make the content inventory part of your day-to-day schedule? After every post is published, you can fill in the qualitative information for that post — things like post type, topic, visual assets included, etc.
Then, set a time frame that you’ll collect the quantitative information for each post — metrics like pageviews, average time on page, bounce rate, etc. This is also a good time to analyze the information to look for patterns and signals of success.
Looking for patterns
This spreadsheet is a great tool to identify the parts of a post that are working and those that aren’t. Perhaps content with the most pageviews falls into a certain category or all have a similar word count. That’s an indicator that this content resonates with your audience.
Though top performing content is already working for your brand, there is still opportunity to improve it further. For example, if your goal with a content audit is to improve organic traffic, optimizing a top post could increase its click-through rate (CTR), driving more traffic to your website.
Use Google Search Console to find posts with the top impressions. Posts with high impressions, but low clicks have opportunity to improve. Google is displaying this post in search results, so people are seeing it, but they’re not clicking. This is when you’ll want to update the meta title and description to show that this post is valuable to the user and relates to the keyword or long-tail phrase that you are targeting.
2. The detrimental content
The 2011 Google Panda update began prioritizing high-quality sites in search results. Sites that practiced keyword stuffing, published a lot of duplicate content or provided shallow and unhelpful articles, may have moved down in ranking.
The Panda update is old news and keyword stuffing is rare nowadays. But if you’re at a company that hasn’t touched low-quality content from 2011, or you don’t even know what’s been published before that time, then the detrimental content needs to be found and managed.
Unlike identifying the top-performing content, when you prune your indexed content for posts that might be detrimental, the process only occurs once. The content inventory is meant to be an ongoing routine for gathering information about your content to consistently track what’s working and what’s not. But you may find that the posts that aren’t working could be optimized and improved to start showing results.
How to find the detrimental content
First, use a tool to crawl the website and find errors and other issues that will be helpful as you begin your audit. For example, Screaming Frog helps find broken links, redirects, duplicate content and other SEO issues that could greatly impact the SEO performance of your website.
Next, filter your inventory spreadsheet to see which pages have no clicks or sessions. Or, again, use a tool (like SEMrush) which pulls lists of pages, along with recommendations for improving the SEO value for each piece of content.
The inventory and these tools will show you which content isn’t performing. According to this article from Moz, “causes of content-related penalties often fall under three major categories: quality, duplication and relevancy.”
Duplicated posts can be found with the help of one of the tools mentioned above. Though Google’s algorithms are designed to pull the correct, original page in search results, setting up a 301 redirect from the duplicate page to the original content will ensure that these pages are not competing. It’s also a good practice to use consistent internal links throughout your website such as “http://www” or “http://”.
Pages with broken links, obsolete information on an old product, or references to old data that no longer accurately illustrates a trend, provide no use to your web visitors. If these types of posts are still receiving organic clicks, then it’s likely that users’ behavior sends negative signals to Google. Unhelpful content causes readers to click the back button to continue browsing search results. And they probably won’t continue to browse your site.
In this sense, obsolete information could negatively impact your search results. However, this is a great opportunity to update the content with recent data and trends.
As for quality, look for pages that are presented in a way that’s hard to read. For example, a post that’s formatted in one long block of text, has no bolded copy or headers, or contains no visuals, etc. Pages with low readability may be considered low-quality from the perspective of a user. Employing readability best practices will provide a better experience, boost the quality of the piece, and potentially help with search rankings.
To delete or not to delete content?
When is a post harmful enough that it’s worth deleting? This is a debatable topic in the SEO community, but it’s important to note that deleting or keeping content may not be the magic touch that solves your ranking problems.
John Mueller at Google wrote in a Reddit thread:
“A higher page count means nothing … There’s (still) no magical ranking factor that results in a site ranking better if it has more pages indexed. If anything, anecdotally from conference presentations & talking with folks, large sites that reduce the number of indexed pages end up ranking better (usually from cutting out cruft, merging similar content, etc). Of course, if you have more things to say about the niche that you’re in, by all means create more great content for it, but if you’re thinking about just splitting your existing content out across more URLs, that’s unlikely to be a good strategy for search.”
The main takeaway from John is that sites that reduced their indexed pages only did so if they also improved the quality of other pages.
A blog post from cognitiveSEO explains that you should only index the pages that you want to rank. “Otherwise you might end up polluting your rank. Those pages filled with obsolete or low-quality content aren’t useful or interesting to the visitor. Thus, they should be pruned for the sake of your website’s health.”
This post also suggests pruning posts “gradually and know exactly what you block so you do not block entire folders to be crawled or block the Google crawler from accessing important sections of your site.”
However, even if this content does not help with current rankings, that old content could provide ideas for new blog posts that could be rewritten or optimized with proper SEO best practices that Google views as high quality.
Saving time on content production
Overall, a content audit helps improve page ranking because it gives insight into what works for your company, and what doesn’t. Then you can find trends and capitalize on those findings to create content that you know will perform well.
Developing a content inventory and conducting an audit takes time initially, but it will help your marketing team save time on content production in the long run.