Over time, your content may eventually decline in value to your desired audience.
A full SEO content audit process can help extract the following issues with your website content:
- Mixed content
- Duplicate content
- Content cannibalization
- Internal links issues & opportunities
- Content quality control
- Content that is TOO light
- Content that is TOO heavy
With the help of AI, search engines are getting better at detecting content that does not best serve the user.
Some of your articles will be from your earliest days, and they may not be as detailed or well-written as your more mature pieces.
Some of your content will become outdated. Some of it will simply cease to be relevant to your modern priorities.
Whatever the case, your old articles will no longer bring as much value as they should, and your SEO will suffer.
That’s where a website content audit checklist comes into play. With a website content audit checklist, you’ll evaluate the current state of your onsite content, including posts/blog post from the past and present, then use that information to cull, combine, and improve your content. If done right, it should improve your average website visitors experience and simultaneously help you increase your search engine rankings.
Table of Contents
Content Audit: An Overview
Let’s start with a brief overview of what a website content audit checklist is, and ultimately what it’s meant to help you do. In this guide, we’re going to explore two primary applications for your SEO content audit:
- Cleaning up “bad” content. Goal one is cleaning up your “bad” content. Over time, your site will accumulate content that’s out of date, out of touch, or out of your page elements. A SEO content audit will give you the chance to get rid of these pieces, upgrade them, or otherwise transform them. With less “bad” content on your site, you’ll have a simpler, more streamlined sitemap data—and a better reputation with both search engines and human visitors.
- SEO lensing (aka, content consolidation). Goal two is using the “SEO lensing” strategy, or content consolidation, to combine and transform your older pieces of content (and new insights), ultimately producing much longer, more impactful, higher-quality pieces. Think of it like Voltron-ing your content, except instead of a giant super robot, you’ll end up with a thorough article that attracts lots of links and improves your brand reputation.
Before you can execute these initiatives, you’ll need to follow three high-level steps:
- Asking initial questions. It’s a good idea to set some specific objectives for your organization, and define the areas that concern you the most. For example, are higher rankings in search engines your main priority? If so, which target keyword terms are you targeting? Are you more interested in getting a higher conversion rate? And is this type of SEO audit meant to serve as a one-and-done way to improve your existing assets, or is it establishing the foundation for your future content strategy?
- Gathering data. You can likely spot some underperforming and underwhelming articles on your own, relying on your instincts and past experience. However, your strategy will be much more effective if you rely on objective data. After setting a course for your goals and content direction, you’ll start gathering the sales metrics necessary to evaluate your past content performance.
- Reviewing data. Then, you’ll analyze the structured data in combination with your own subjective takeaways and come to a conclusion about not only your existing content, but what type of content will help you most in the near future.
If this overview seems vague or overwhelming, don’t worry; we’ll use separate sections to explore each of these concepts in detail.
Cleaning Up Bad Content
Remember, goal one is cleaning up the “bad” content on your website—the content that’s simply taking up space and not providing any value to your domain or your users. But what, exactly, do we mean when we say “bad” content?
There are many potential definitions, but these are some of the most applicable:
- Content that’s too short (or too long) to rank. In the early days of SEO, it was common to churn out as many blog posts as possible, diversifying your URL structures and optimizing for a much wider range of long-tail keywords and phrases. But these days, longer content is where it’s at. In the strictest sense, content length doesn’t have a direct bearing on your rankings; on any given search engine results page (SERP), you can find entries with 300 words, 1,000 words, 10,000 words, and everything in between. But generally speaking, longer content tends to perform better; because it contains more information, it’s more likely to attract citations. And because it’s rich with natural target keywords and phrases, it’s more likely to turn up as relevant for related searches. Accordingly, any short blog posts (i.e., less than 1,000 words or so) could probably be improved with expansion, combination, or simple removal.
- Content with no backlinks. Links are the ultimate conduit for SEO success; not only do they offer a direct channel for authority to pass, directly increasing your rankings, but they also forward referral traffic data, which can boost the visibility and shareability of your page. If you have a piece of content that’s been published for months, but it hasn’t attracted or earned a single link, it probably has no place in your strategy; it isn’t generating any authority for you, and the fact that it has no links is a good indirect signal that the content just isn’t that noteworthy. The only exception here is new blog posts, which may not have had a fair chance to generate backlinks.
- Content with bad syntax or poor wording. This is one of the more subjective factors to evaluate, but it plays an important role in your strategy. Google’s search bots have built-in quality evaluators; in other words, they can tell the difference between eloquent, clear content and poorly written, clunky content. Google publishes a list of its quality rater guidelines (and boy, is it comprehensive). While there are many indications of quality that Google looks for, many of those factors tie back to common themes of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (or E-A-T criteria). If your content reads like it was written by a non-native speaker or someone who isn’t an expert, it’s not going to do much for you; even if it somehow ranks in SERPs, it’s not going to form a good impression with your readership.
- Content with little traffic. This is where Google Analytics seriously comes in handy. We’ll explore some of the metrics you can analyze in Google Analytics tools a bit later in this guide, but for now, understand that your most important (and most valuable) content is going to be the content that attracts the most traffic. There are many potential sources of traffic, including direct traffic, organic traffic (from search engines), referral traffic (from links), and social media traffic; cumulatively, these serve as an indication of how well your post has performed. If your article isn’t getting much traffic from any source, what is it really doing for you? It’s time to get rid of it or transform it.
- Content that’s outdated. At SEO.co, we write a lot of content about SEO. Makes sense, right? But back in 2001, we might have written about the importance of stuffing exact-match keyword phrases or even the same keyword into as much onsite content as possible, and building links only on forum posts whenever you get the chance. Things have changed dramatically since then, so if we had content like this on our modern site, it would be downright laughable—or potentially provide inaccurate information to newcomers. “Outdated” doesn’t necessarily mean old; it means “no longer relevant,” so keep that in mind. Some blog posts written in 2001, like a positive review of the first Lord of the Rings film, might still be perfectly relevant. Also, outdated content doesn’t always need to be discarded; sometimes, a simple update is all that’s needed.
- Content that isn’t ranking as intended. Google’s search ranking system isn’t entirely predictable, so sometimes your best-laid plans will go awry. The long article you wanted to rank for “best cheeseburger recipes” is somehow ranking for “cheeseburger cookout ideas,” and the “cookout ideas” post you created doesn’t seem to be getting any ranking traction at all, but seems to be getting a ton of referral traffic. This is a bit of a mess, and it’s not exactly clear what the “right” solution is, but with a few adjustments, you can probably get yourself closer to the results you originally wanted.
- Content with messy organization. Sometimes, you sit down to write a long post about a complex topic (like, say, how to diagnose an engine problem), and there’s just no simple way to organize things. You might end up with a meandering post that’s hard to parse. This is bad for your readers, obviously, because they might have trouble following your logic or finding the section they need. But it’s also bad for search engines, since they rely heavily on H1 headers and other structural data to “understand” the structure of your post (and in some cases, provide users with excerpts). Any messy blog article from your past is begging to be cleansed, one way or another.
If you find articles that fit many of the above criteria (and many of them do go hand-in-hand), you can be resolute in your decision to cull it.
Why Should You Clean Up Bad Content on Your Website?
But why are we doing this in the first place? In the course of your discovery, you’ll likely encounter some blog posts you just subjectively like; you think they’re educational, or entertaining, or both, yet they don’t have any links or much traffic to speak of. Why would you spend time cleaning these?
- Negative customer experience. What are your immediate thoughts when you read a blog post that’s outdated, poorly written, or inaccurate? You probably laugh to yourself, leave the page, and write off the brand altogether. Customers who encounter “bad” content aren’t going to be engaged with your brand. At best, they aren’t going to be more likely to convert. At worst, they’re going to think your brand is behind the times or unauthoritative. Because of this, it’s almost better to have no content at all than “bad” content; removing these posts proactively will spare you the consequences of having customers encounter them.
- Higher bounce rates and lower rankings. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that poorly written blog posts have higher bounce rates and exit rates, meaning they’re more likely to be the last thing a person sees before they leave your site. This plays into the “negative customer experience” effect, but it’s worth calling out on its own, because bounce rates are about more than just a lost conversion opportunity. The higher the bounce rate of a given page, the less likely it is to rank, and in extreme cases, your bounce rate may completely prevent your page from achieving visibility in SERPs.
- Traffic and ranking diffusion. We also need to consider the effects of traffic and ranking “diffusion,” which occurs when your efforts are inefficiently split between competing resources. For example, let’s say you currently have 5 blog posts covering a broad topic like how to buy an engagement ring. Each of these posts is doing okay, ranking around position 10 for keyword terms related to engagement rings, and getting about 100 visitors a month. But consider the fact that top-ranked entries in SERPs far outperform even the second-highest ranked entries, and returns diminish further from there. If you combined those posts into one capable of getting the top position, you might get 10,000 monthly visitors (instead of the 500 between your 5 discrete posts).
- Crawl rate effects. Google populates its SERPs based on stored information in its index. It builds and maintains its index by “crawling” different sites with an automated bot (Googlebot). The more complex your site is, the longer it will take Googlebot to crawl your site, and due to the number of landing pages involved, more potential crawl errors could arise. In some cases, Googlebot’s crawl rate could even interfere with your server’s bandwidth, which could cause performance issues for your users. You can manually adjust Googlebot’s crawl rate, but that still won’t solve some of the bigger issues. Overall, it’s much more efficient to simply clean your content base and reduce the number of URLs on your domain.
- Streamlined navigation. The simpler, smaller URL structure is also beneficial to users. If they’re looking for a specific piece of information, like how to plan an office holiday party, they don’t have to bounce back and forth between 10 similarly-named articles; they can go to a single, comprehensive source. Also, overall navigation will be streamlined. Think of it this way; if your site has 2,000 URLs, how many clicks, on average, will it take for a user to find the page they need? You can do some “six degrees of separation” math to figure this out, and if your landing pages are tightly interlinked, this figure can be lowered, but users will always be able to get to their intended destination in fewer clicks if there are fewer URLs to choose from.
At this point, you should understand what constitutes “bad” content, and why you should clean it. In the next section, we’ll discuss one of the best cleaning methods: SEO lensing and content consolidation. From there, we’ll discuss how to prepare for your first SEO content audit, and how to find and analyze the relevant metrics to guide your strategy.
Questions to Ask When Performing a Website Content Audit
If you’re starting an SEO content audit for the first time, it’s natural to feel a bit intimidated. There’s a lot to consider here, and few obvious “right” or “wrong” answers. You’ll need to dig into your content performance all the data before you can start making decisions, but before that, you’ll need to understand what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. This section will help you better understand your goals, and give you the SEO content audit tool you need to direct your strategy when you begin executing it.
Setting Your Goals
Let’s start by setting your initial goals. What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish with your SEO content audit? Obviously, you want to improve your content strategy, but what does that really mean?
There are several competing objectives you could potentially be after:
- Ranking. Search engine rankings and SEO progress are a common top priority for businesses, and for good reason. Getting to the top of a SERP can practically guarantee relevant traffic to your site for as long as you hold the top spot and simultaneously restrict traffic to your competitors. You’ll also get brand visibility benefits by being featured prominently. If this is your top goal, you’ll need to focus more heavily on search engine metrics and make decisions that favor your potential rankings—potentially at the cost of subjective user experience.
- Traffic. Traffic and search engine rankings tend to go hand in hand, but it’s important to think of them as distinct concepts. If your ultimate goal is getting more traffic, search engines may only be a secondary priority; for example, if you have a piece of content ranking halfway down most SERPs but it’s getting 10,000 hits a month from its backlinks, you can hit all your traffic goals without improving your rankings at all.
- Customer experience. How important is customer experience to your strategy? You might be getting a lot of traffic, and you might be dominating the SERPs, but how do people feel about your brand? Are they engaging with your calls to action? Are they telling people they know about the quality of your content? If you’re optimizing for customer experience, you might need to sacrifice some technical SEO components for the sake of providing streamlined content, and an overall better experience.
- Thought leadership. Do you want your brand to be known as a thought leader in the industry? And more importantly, how important is this factor, compared to how much traffic and rankings you’re getting? Thought leadership is about more than just attracting more people to your site; it’s about making a statement and building a reputation for yourself as an authority in the industry. In many cases, it’s a much longer-term strategy than traffic acquisition or SEO, since its emphasis is on building your reputation.
- Future-proofing. Sometimes, your SEO content audit is less about boosting your marketing results and more about creating a more sustainable system. If your site has been messy and hard to navigate for years, your top priority might simply be cleaning it up—and keeping it easy to maintain for as long as possible. If that’s the case, you might turn your emphasis to future-proofing. In other words, you’ll be creating the most sustainable, manageable system possible for the years to come.
Are you aiming for a combination of all these goals? Are some more important than others? Are there priorities for your business that aren’t on this list? There aren’t any right or wrong answers here, but understanding your goals and motivations can help you substantially if you’re forced to make a hard decision in the near future.
Website Content Audit Questions
In the next major section, we’ll explore how to gather the data you’ll use to begin the true “audit” process, but during that process, there are a few questions you’ll need to keep at the forefront of your mind:
- Which posts and pages are underperforming? An audit, in any capacity, is an inspection with the intention to uncover errors or problem points, and that should be your intention here. Which posts and landing pages are underperforming? Where would you like to see improvements? Be critical and discerning here; this is your opportunity to make positive changes everywhere, so don’t give a pass to mediocre content just because you think you can’t do better.
- Which metrics are most important to you? What does “underperforming” really mean? You’ll be using objective data to determine which posts need to be addressed, but with so many data points to choose from, how will you determine which data are most important? Refer to the goals you set (or at least considered) in the previous section, and make a list of the metrics that matter most to you. For example, are you most concerned with the backlinks pointed to your content, which will support both your search engine rankings and total traffic? Or are you more concerned about user experience metrics, like the number of conversions on each of your landing pages, or time spent on web page? Again, there isn’t a right or wrong way to prioritize these factors, but you need to know what’s most important for your business.
- How will you “clean” your underperforming content? The “bad” or underperforming content on your site needs to be addressed, but as you’ve seen, there are multiple ways to address it. Are you more interested in cleansing the bad material altogether and starting from scratch, or would you rather reuse as much of your old content as possible in the form of new, bigger-and-better posts? If you’re like most businesses, you’ll want a bit of both—but that leads to another important question.
- How will you determine what to cut and what to reuse/reinvent? If you’re going to discard some posts altogether and repackage others with SEO lensing, how are you going to discern between these two candidates? If you find a mediocre post that categorically belongs with some of your other stronger material, will you spend the time rewriting and updating it to fit? Or will you determine it to be beyond saving? In the latter scenario, which performance metrics or subjective evaluations will get you to this point?
Website Content Audit Data
Once your strategy is conceptually sound, you can start digging into the metrics that will, hopefully, guide you on the rest of your SEO content audit journey. In this section, we’ll explore the most important data that will guide your SEO content audit—and where to find it.
Gather Your Full Site URL List
To start, you’ll need to pull some raw data from your own site. Generate a full list of your site URLs; you’ll use this for several different purposes. There are a few easy ways to do this. If your site has fewer than 500 URLs, you can use XML-Sitemaps.com for free to generate an XML sitemap with all your URLs. Otherwise, you can use a tool like ScreamingFrog to generate a list of URLs; this content audit tool(and others like it) will also help you discover broken links, point out duplicate content, and visualize your site architecture.
This is going to be an important high-level content audit tool for you; you might be surprised to see just how many URLs you have, and how few of them are actually bringing value to your site. It’s also going to be useful in helping you set goals; for example, if you have 1,500 URLs, you might try to whittle those down to 700.
While you’re at it, generate a list of all the categories and tags associated with your blog. This can be done manually without much effort. Are there categories or tags that no longer make sense for your content strategy? Are there some that are hardly used? This is your opportunity to evaluate and restructure this system to fall in line with both your SEO goals and your customer experience strategy.
Rely on Google Analytics Historical Data
The easiest way to determine how your content is performing is to look at historical data. How has this content performed in the recent past? Has it provided a lot of value to your site, or has it been disappointing? In this endeavor, it’s hard to recommend a content audit tool higher than Google Analytics; Google Analytics is incredibly robust, can help you visualize metrics across different sections of your site and in different time intervals, and best of all—Google Analytics is completely free.
With Google Analytics, you can scope out the following metrics:
- Organic traffic. Under the Acquisition tab, you can generate a report to tell you how much traffic each of your pages is generating. From there, you can break down the type of traffic being generated. organic search traffic refers to website visitors who discovered your site in search engines, and is a good reflection of your pages’ individual ranking potential. Pages with little to no organic traffic aren’t providing much value from their search engine rankings; even if they’re ranking for a handful of terms, they aren’t generating many clicks.
- Referral traffic. In the same area in Google Analytics, you can look at each page’s referral traffic. This is a reference to the amount of traffic coming to your site via external links. You can also break this down by individual links, determining which of your external publishers or which external citations are proving to be most valuable. If a page isn’t getting much organic, referral, or other types of traffic (like direct traffic or social media traffic), it’s a good sign that it needs to be cleaned as part of your audit.
- Bounce rate/exit rate. In the Behavior tab, you can take a look at your bounce rates and exit rates to determine how compelling your content is. Bounce rates refer to people who visit the blog post and leave without exploring further, while exit rates refer to people who leave your site after visiting this page, regardless of which pages they’ve visited on your site previously. Generally speaking, the higher these rates are, the less engaging your content is. There are exceptions, of course—you might just lack enough internal links to invite readers to explore further—so for internal links use bounce rates and exit rates in the context of other metrics.
- Average time on page. Also in the Behavior tab, you can look at the average amount of time spent on your pages. The longer this is, the more engaged your users are; of course, this must be considered alongside the length and depth of the content itself. Still, your SEO content audit should be optimized to favor pieces of content with high “average time on page” metrics and select low “average time” page for content updates, SEO lensing via 301 or complete deletion via 404.
- Conversion rates. Conversion rates aren’t necessarily a direct byproduct of content quality, though content quality can play a role in producing conversions. Take a look at the conversion rates of your best (and worst) pieces of content, and see how they stack up. It can help you break the tie when you have a blog post that’s performing reasonably but could be a suitable candidate for SEO lensing.
With Google’s intuitive search feature, you can also generate on-demand reports for things like “worst pages by bounce rate” using natural language. Experiment to see what you come up with.
Conduct a Backlink Audit
Backlinks should also play a heavy role in your SEO content audit evaluations. This is partially because they serve as an indication of value (content that has earned many powerful links is usually high-quality), and partially because they’re existing assets you may wish to preserve. If you set up 301 redirects, you can usually preserve the authority gained and maintained by your incoming links, but the more dependencies you have, the more it makes sense to preserve your existing structure.
There are a few ways to conduct a backlink audit, but the most straightforward is with Google Search Console. Google Search Console has several helpful analytics features, some of which we’ll discuss in detail in an upcoming section, but for now, head to the Search Traffic section, and click “Links to your Site.” Here, you’ll be able to evaluate the number and quality of links pointed to your site. You can also click “Your most linked content” and generate URLs of your best-performing site content (and worst-performing site content).
You can also use a third-party tool like Moz’s Link Explorer, which also gives you the opportunity to scope out competitors’ sites and see how your link profiles stack up.
Use Rank Tracking Tools
Search engine rankings can be tricky to track, since Google intentionally tries to keep these metrics opaque (so as not to encourage rank manipulation). However, there are an assortment of third-party seo tools you can use to see how the pages of your site are ranking for keywords relevant to your brand. Top names in the industry include SEMRush and Ahrefs, though there are many options available.
Most rank tracking tools will give you detailed metrics, including your average visibility, how your rankings are changing over time, how much traffic you’re getting from your positions, and even how your competitors are performing. Use these data to determine which of your pages are providing the most value to you through search engines and which ones leave something to be desired.
Check Out Google Search Console
Remember when we visited Google Search Console earlier? There are a few more ways you can use this tool to evaluate the performance of your onsite content.
- Keyword analysis. With the Search Analytics bar, you can generate a detailed report to help you analyze your performance for different keywords and phrases. This isn’t as precise or as illuminating as you might want it to be, again, because Google likes to keep ranking information somewhat opaque, but it should help you better understand your positions and how those positions are helping or hurting you. Under the Queries tab, you can organize your results by Clicks or Impressions, then review how specific pages are performing under the Pages tab. It’s good not just for helping you weed out bad content, but also helping you find powerful, overarching topics you can use for SEO lensing.
- Broken links. Broken links are a bad deal all-around; if there are pages of your site that simply aren’t working, it’s your responsibility to get rid of them (or fix them). Head to Crawl > Crawl Errors to generate a list of any and all errors Google has encountered while crawling your site. There are many types of errors that could appear here. Sitewide errors include DNS errors (where your server is down, usually temporarily), Server errors (where infinite load times or server overload prevent Googlebot from crawling), or Robots failures (related to your robots.txt file). More commonly, page-level crawl errors result from 404 errors, which could be due to a wide variety of root causes.
- Schema markup and structured data. You can also check to see how your content pages are appearing in SERPs by heading to Search Appearance > Structured Data. There, you’ll see a preview of what search users might see when they perform a relevant keyword search. Sometimes, this can illuminate a low-organic-traffic issue, or help you determine just how appealing a piece of content is to new users.
Content Audit Data Review aka “What Do I Do Now?”
After consulting these sources, you’ll be left with a massive pile of data. You’ll have a long list of URLs, and metrics in multiple dimensions to help you understand the context of those URLs. So what are you supposed to do now?
Keep your goals at the forefront of your mind, and come up with a system of comprehensive evaluation and/or categorization that works for your business. As a generic recommendation, we can tell you to use a marking system to note your best-performing and worst-performing content in several areas. For example, you can use multiple columns in a spreadsheet featuring all your URLs, and mark each URL as “good” (green), “bad” (red), or “neutral” (blank) in each of several categories, one for each column; you can create columns for organic traffic, conversions, links, or any number of other metrics. Eventually, you’ll see patterns emerge, and you’ll be able to mark entire URLs for deletion, retention, or transformation.
Once you have this markup complete, you can refer to our initial sections on discerning “bad” content and SEO content lensing.
Action Plan Recap
As a review, here is a brief review and recap of each action (or inaction) you should take on your page-by-page review of your site:
- Leave as-is. If the content is “good enough” to compete and already ranks, sometimes the best course of action is: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
- Improve. You may have content in your arsenal that needs serious updating to either quality or the data included may be outdated. Identify pages or those pieces that are not worth trashing and give them a hearty refresh.
- Delete & 404. If something is non-performing and has no links pointing to it, it is sometimes best to simply delete it from the index and let it die.
- Consolidate & Redirect. Consolidate pieces that are similar and redirect them all to a single masterpiece.
- Noindex. If a page should stay live, but does not need indexed, it is sometimes best to mark it as noindex and remove it from search.
It’s also important to use this SEO content audit as an opportunity to set new content standards for your brand. You might be efficiently weeding out your worst-performing posts, and stitching them together in much-improved, comprehensive articles, but what are your future onsite posts going to look like?
Take this time to set some new standards for your content moving forward. How long should these posts be? What keywords and phrases will you be targeting? How often will you publish? What steps are you going to take to future-proof your work?
Starting Your Website Content Audit
Are you ready to conduct a content audit for your own website? You can follow the steps in this guide if you’d like, or you can contact us for a bit more hands-on help.
Either way, after conducting your content audit & content gap report, you’ll need to take steps to refine your approach to content marketing strategy and SEO. You’ll need professional writers to help edit and polish your existing assets, as well as writers to continue writing excellent content with your new, higher-quality standards. If you’re looking for a new partner in your content marketing strategy goals, contact SEO.co today for a free consultation or get in touch for info on SEO pricing.