Ultimate Guide to Content Auditing
We always hear about evergreen content, but how can we make sure our content really does stay relevant? In this episode of Tea Time SEO we discussed how we should be approaching content audits to make the most of our content, which doesn’t always mean producing more content! Greg Bernhardt, Daniel Heredia Mejias and Laura Monckton shared some tricks for approaching content audits and keeping our content relevant.
Chapter 1 - 7 Core Concepts to approaching a Content Audit
I wanted to approach the activities you undertake before you look for opportunities and the individual tactics. I want to come from where your mindset should be at, what concepts you want to be thinking about, so that you can bucket your individual tactics into those, and know what you’re doing is holistic. I’ve identified seven core concepts that I pay attention to when I first begin evaluating the content on whatever client or personal websites I’m looking at.
Accessibility - Identify barriers. Don’t make people work
Firstly, accessibility, by this I don’t mean disability accessibility, like we’re used to, but simply the freedom at which crawlers and users move throughout your site to consume the content that you’re producing. This includes the classic crawlability issues which are very technical like indexability issues. You can have the best content in the world, but if crawlers and users can’t find the content, it doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, you need to be identifying what the barriers are for crawlers looking for content within your site. We’re talking navigation, internal search, on-page ease of mobility, etc. Don’t make people work to consume the content that you’re trying to give them, make it easy. It should be brainless to consume the content that they’re looking at, and across your website.
Relevance - Evaluate topical signals
Relevance is a huge one, right? Maybe one of the biggest is how to evaluate the topical signals that your content is giving off. Everything is a signal. Sometimes we look at big chunks, a specific image or paragraph, and ask, what is it communicating to Google and users? But we can be granular, we’ve seen machine learning and natural language processing down to the character, so, a single word can sometimes matter.
Don’t take anything for granted. Make sure all the signals on the page are communicating exactly what kind of topical relevance you’re trying to communicate. Sometimes we talk about having a creator’s bias. If you’ve written the content, or if you’ve made the page layout, we have an inherent bias. We think what we’re putting forth is innately understandable because we were deeply involved in the creation of it. But that doesn’t always exist with a third party looking at the content; it may not be so understandable. So, don’t take what you’ve done for granted. There are all kinds of tools to help you understand how crawlers are looking at content. You can use natural language processing tools like WordLift and Google’s NLP API, to help you look at your content more objectively.
Identity - Consider the strength of your internal web graph
Next, we want to talk about identity, and identity is tied to authority, and that’s all tied into internal linking. So, consider the strength of your internal links, internal web graph, and future support for it. I like to think of specific web pages, as an analogy of villages, towns and cities. What are the connections and relationships? The roads into content, those roads are hyperlinks within your website. You can send relevant signals to that content through anchor text and text around those links. But what do we share with the most important content piece and the big important cities of the world? They have the most roads. The biggest city in history, Rome, all roads lead to Rome. So, whatever your most important content piece is, make sure you’ve got those roads, those interlinks to that content.
Intent - Does the purpose of the page = purpose of the consumer?
Next, we’ve got intent. Intent has been a hot topic for the last few years. Simply put, does the purpose of the page match the purpose of the consumer? We have our big buckets of navigational, informative, commercial and transactional intents. For example, you’ve got a site on lizards and a wiki page on lizards (which is informative in intent), but someone hops on that page and wants to buy a lizard. Well, the intent is a mismatch, so they’re bouncing back to the SERPs.
There’s a new tool by the awesome duo at Snippet Digital, called keywordinsights.ia. It matches the keywords that you are targeting for specific pages, and tries to figure out the intent of the keyword based on the SERP listings on page one. So, if you have a keyword that is showing mostly transactional pages, but the page that you’re trying to rank for is informative, well, you’ve got a mismatch. You need to go back to the drawing board to pick another keyword or make that into a transactional page.
Value - What does the consumer gain?
Let’s talk about value. Value is what the consumer gains from the consumption of that content. So, you can assess value as the content is either under satisfying, satisfying, or over-satisfying their intent. Really, we want to over-satisfy that intent. We want to satisfy why they got there, but also give them something more. We know what that feels like when we go to a page, and, “Ooh, that’s exactly what I looked for,” and “Wow, my universe just exploded with the offering that they’re giving me”. Sometimes that has to do with a level of comprehensiveness. It doesn’t mean it is analogous with length. Back in 2010, everything had to be at least 500 characters of content. But that was blown away. It’s just whatever the intent is. If someone was looking for a definition, give them the definition, it doesn’t have to be a 500-word definition. But we always want to be asking if the content that we have is comprehensive enough to over-satisfy.
Structure and UX
Next, structure and UX. Obviously, how you organize your content is important for crawlers, but also for people. People understand conventions of categorization and taxonomy, with tagging, and classification. It matters to Google and to your audience. So, that’s a holistic consideration of structure in UX. We can look internally as well on-page for specific content. Do you have a logical heading structure? Do you have lists that are easy to scan? Also, media, what kind of media offerings do you have? Not everyone wants to consume content in the same way. Not everyone wants to read. So of course, you want to have text, but do you have a video offering? Do you have an audio offering? Do you have an imagery offering? Do you have next-level offerings like virtual reality and augmented reality? I think that’s going to be the next revolution coming, especially for e-comm. So, get on that.
And finally, organic performance. This is probably where a lot of people start. You hop into Google Search Console and Google Analytics. You do a comparison of the last three months’ data versus the previous three months’ data. You see what losses you have for clicks, and that’s what you focus on to regain those losses. One of my best ways to find thin content is in Google Search Console. Go to the Coverage Report and look at the excluded filter, and then the label “crawled but not indexed”. That’s a signal to you that Google has seen, crawled the page, but doesn’t value it enough to put it into their index. It’s a misconception that Google indexes everything. They don’t have the resources or time for that, so they evaluate whether it’s valuable to them. It’s a clue to see which pages you thought were indexed, and valuable, but Google’s saying it is not. They don’t give you too many more hints other than that, but it’s a good start. Naturally, you want to do a lot of SERP analysis too. You’ve got a certain page, you’re losing clicks, find out what your competition’s doing, how they’re ranking so well, do your gap analysis.
Chapter 2 - 5 Tips to Remember when Auditing your Content
Clarify the role that the content will play
First of all, once you are going to take over content, it’s important to understand what the purpose of creating content is. Sometimes, when you speak with your in-house team, agency, or client, you might think that they are creating content just for the sake of it and that there is no clear strategy behind it. So, it’s important to challenge them, ask them what the purpose of their content is. This is a good chance to set benchmarks and create KPIs to evaluate the performance of the content that you are going to optimise or you are going to create.
Be Organised but ready for improvisation. Think outside the box!
We need to be organised, but remember that every website and project is different. You need to be ready to improvise, to challenge yourself and say, “Okay, I have gone over this checklist, but maybe there is something that I can do differently.” So, take the opportunity whenever you do a content audit to be original, to be creative.
Approach content audits from a holistic SEO perspective
You need to take your content audit from a holistic perspective. So, it’s important to run a technical audit when you are doing a content audit, because it is possible there has been content that is under-performing, and maybe not because of the content quality, but because there is a technical blocker.
For example, the descriptions or the metadata formulas are not big enough, maybe there is a problem with the internal linking and how Googlebot is able to access your post. This is very typical, for instance, with pagination in blogs as I often find many problems in this area. Googlebot and other search engine bots struggle to find the content, so it’s important to make sure that everything is as smooth as possible.
Web performance optimization is a key aspect of Content Audits. You can have the best content on your page, but if it takes 20 seconds to load the page users will not wait. They will bounce back, and nobody will see your content, so it’s important to make sure that your page is as fast as possible. The template headers are also very important. Sometimes pages have messy templates. They have too many H1s and not enough H2s, it’s important to take advantage of the header structure to optimise your pages for the keywords that you would like to rank for.
You should also be analysing what your competitors are doing. This will give you insight into the topics they are covering and the technologies or the type of content that they are using. Maybe they are using a plug-in which enables them to show dynamic content. Maybe it’s something that the users are searching for and you should have as well, or maybe they have infographics and videos. Take the opportunity to go over what your competitors are doing, because this could be what the users are searching for and how you should be adapting your content. Some of your competitors might be using some Schema markup that you could be interested in using as well. Check it out and see what the competitors are doing. So, it’s important to take it from a holistic perspective, because at the end of the day, the content is there, we need to take into consideration what the framework should be.
Even though I am not obsessed with checklists, I think that it’s good to be organized and to have a reference point. When I run a content audit these following points are the steps that I follow.
URL Selection and Keyword Mapping
First of all, you have selection and keyboard mapping. What are the keywords that we would like to target and with what URLs?
The content gaps are related to our competitors’ analysis. What are our competitors doing? Or what keywords are they covering that we are not? When it comes to branded searches, it’s important to answer what the users are searching for. You might need to create dedicated content to answer the most important questions and queries that your customers or potential customers might have.
When we talk about toxic content, it does not mean content which is going to penalize us. We mean cannibalisation and waste of ‘crawl budget’. For instance, if you see that there is a section of your website which is not bringing any traffic, you should not index it because there is no one searching for it. When it comes to off-page content, it’s important to go over your link profile and disavow the poor quality links that could be toxic.
Do we have contextual links, anchor text, pagination? It is good to contemplate the option of adding breadcrumbs which can benefit the internal linking.
What under-performing content could be quick wins for your website and CTR improvements? It’s important to go over the branded searches. Take advantage of those branded searches because they are customers, or potential customers that are close to returning because they already know your brand.
The Schema opportunities are also related to the competitor analysis, but also about investigating if there is any Schema markup that could be suitable for your business.
It’s good to categorize keyword clusters, as there might be different clusters that serve different purposes. We can differentiate the branded cluster, the top of the funnel cluster, the money keywords, etc
Last but not least; topic relevance. It’s important to not create content just for the sake of creating content. So, we need to differentiate and understand why this topic or content is relevant for our business. Are potential customers interested in that, or is there some content that could bring traffic, but not benefit our business?
And finally, there are SEO software tools like Authoritas as well as programming tools like Python, in the market that can speed up the content audit. So it’s good to start automation, because at the end of the day, it will make your life much easier. It’s very important to automate things because you are likely to make mistakes when you are doing very tedious or very boring work related to, for instance, getting data from different tools. It’s important to automate your workflows and your content audits as much as possible to avoid making mistakes and save you time.
Chapter 3 - Processes for Content Auditing
Set an assessment criteria
My first tip is to set up an assessment criteria upfront, depending how big your website is and how much content you have, this criteria will help you filter through and make the audit more manageable for you. It’s important to align that criteria with your objectives so you can keep, cull, or re-work what’s most important to you. That might mean taking a closer look at your personas, going back to basics by making sure if a piece of content is hoping to either engage users, build the brand, or focus on conversions.
Think about what ‘good’ looks like for you in your industry. One industry page might look completely different to another industry, so benchmark against your competitors to understand what good looks like for your sector, and then you can understand where you’re performing against those benchmarks.
Draw on as many data sources available to you
This leads me on to drawing upon all the data sources available to you. For example, Screaming Frog and Google Analytics. Take a look at what you’ve got with Screaming Frog and cross-reference it with Google Analytics, see which pieces of content are getting traffic, or if it once did and then petered off over time. If it is receiving traffic, where is that traffic coming from? Also, cross-reference with Google Search Console and your keyword ranking reports, make sure that your content pieces, if they do have traffic in the organic search landscape, aren’t losing traffic, you only want to build upon the traffic they have.
Having said that, it’s also worth being mindful of other channels. For example, I’ve seen a blog that wasn’t ranking well from an organic perspective, but had really high engagement rates and good volumes of traffic coming from social. So, don’t forget to consider the bigger picture, talk to your teams and understand the business needs as a whole. You don’t want to lose a piece of content that’s working well for your users or for your sales team.
Decide how to action the audit findings
It goes without saying that the audit should lead to action. Decide upfront how you’re planning to tackle the audit findings, especially if you’re in a bigger team. Outline responsibilities from the start, set yourself some deadlines and have those checklists, which David and Greg shared, to help keep you on track and not forget anything as you’re working through. The checklist might look different depending on how the content is performing and what the objectives of that piece is. If it’s getting good traffic, ranking well, and is still relevant in date, that’s brilliant, but then you might want to consider what the exit rate is like.
Can you signpost the user to another piece of content or add in another relevant next step to retain and engage that user further? There’s always small improvements and tweaks that we can make. If it used to get good traffic, but it’s dropped off, or if it’s been indexed in Google but not ranking very highly, you will want to update that. Take a closer look at your meta tags, refresh your copy, is it keyword optimized, can you add any additional value into that piece, all of the things that have been mentioned earlier. Some of the content may need rewriting or re-working completely, it might be that it’s really content light, and in hindsight, you might want to expand on the topic completely.
This is where I’ve really found Google’s guidance to self-assess your quality content helpful. It gives you a guide to be really critical. Greg mentioned earlier about that creator bias, having a checklist from Google to really question if you meet the searcher intent here, are providing value to the user or being unique and original in my content. Sometimes having these questions from an external source can really drill you down into what you need to do to be top of the game. If you’ve got more than one piece of content on the same or similar topic, consolidate them. Having multiple pieces of content can cause mixed signals. 10 blogs definitely are not better than one. Make sure that any unpublished content is redirected to the next relevant alternative destination as well.
Prioritise your fixes
When you’re updating, make sure that you prioritise fixes so everyone’s time is tracked and think about how you can use your time most effectively. I won’t say quick wins, because we don’t say “quick wins” in SEO, but prioritize editing content where you can see the most impact sooner and then prioritize the longer stuff afterwards. Look at where there are gaps in your content and consider where competitors are succeeding ahead of you. That might be a strategy you employ to get yourself in the running.
Last but not least, iterate! Take stock of what you’ve got, look at what’s working for you, and refer back before taking a step forward. Look to edit and repurpose existing pieces of content rather than simply building blindly on top. You don’t want to be creating content for the sake of it. Audits are time consuming, and maintaining your content should be an ongoing part of your day-to-day workload. It’s a crucial part of the content lifecycle, and reiterating and editing content will be much more efficient in the long run.
Like most things in SEO, Content Auditing is not a ‘fire-and-forget’ exercise.
As any green-fingered gardener will tell you, you need to prune your garden several times a year for it to blossom. So, re-visit your Content Audit regularly. Perhaps, when there’s been a major core algorithm update you might just want to hit ‘refresh’ and see what needs pruning and cultivating next.
What to do next?
About our authors
Greg Bernhardt is an SEO Strategist for Rocket Clicks with over 20 years of experience in web marketing and web technology. Over the past year, Greg’s interest has been focused on semantic, site performance, and Python SEO. While working with Python, Greg created and writes Python SEO tutorials for importsem.com.
Daniel Heredia Mejias
Daniel Heredia Mejias is currently working as a SEO Product Owner in the Egaming industry, taking care mainly of SEO technical stuff, he started his adventure in the SEO field four years ago in Barcelona, before moving to Malta where he’s been living for two years and a half. In 2020, taking advantage of the lockdown and despairing at home he created a blog posting many tricks to automate some SEO tasks with Python and started to play video games more often to feel closer to his friends.
Laura Monckton has 6 years of marketing experience, and in the last 2 years, she’s been delving into the depths of SEO. Content has always been an area of enjoyment for her, with a degree in English and experience in copywriting. She’s a CIM qualified digital marketing specialist for a mid-market software company, with first-hand experience supporting a large website, auditing blog content and championing best practice. In this last year, she has kept herself busy by consuming books to discuss at a book club set up by friends, lots of DIY, a house move and a new pup. Netflix has come in handy for passing the time too!