Content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) remain two of the best strategies for increasing traffic to your site—and growing your reputation at the same time. Even better, the two approaches work together so tightly and beneficially that they’re often treated as practically indistinguishable.
The longer your content marketing campaign runs, the better. You’ll build an archive of more content, attract and build more links, and ultimately generate more traffic. But there’s a problem that comes into play with long-running campaigns.
Over time, your content will decline in value. 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 Some of your content will become outdated.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 campaign will suffer because of it.
That’s where a content audit comes into play. With a content audit, you’ll evaluate the current state of your onsite content, including posts from the past and present, then use that information to cull, combine, and improve your content. If done right, it should improve your average visitor’s experience and simultaneously help you increase your search engine rankings.
Let’s start with a brief overview of what a content audit is, and ultimately what it’s meant to help you do. In this guide, we’re going to explore two primary applications for your content audit:
Before you can execute these initiatives, you’ll need to follow three high-level steps:
If this overview seems vague or overwhelming, don’t worry; we’ll use separate sections to explore each of these concepts in detail.
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:
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.
But why are we doing this in the first place? In the course of your discovery, you’ll likely encounter some 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?
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 content audit, and how to find and analyze the relevant metrics to guide your strategy.
You’ve got a list of articles, blog posts, whitepapers, and other pieces of content that simply aren’t working for you. Should you delete those posts and just move on?
You may not need to. Through the process of SEO lensing, otherwise known as content consolidation, you can take all the best elements of those articles and recombine them in a complete and much higher-quality form. This is highly beneficial because it preserves some of the content you spent so long creating, while also maximizing the potential of your strategy.
The term “SEO lensing” comes from the effect of a magnifying glass or similar lens. If you hold a magnifying glass in such a way that it captures sunlight and focuses it onto a single point, an otherwise benign collection of sunbeams can instantly become powerful enough to burn a hole through most materials, or start a fire from kindling. Similarly, if you take the unimpressive power of a menagerie of separate posts and focus them into an all-encompassing piece, you can ignite an otherwise lukewarm strategy.
There are a few main steps to this process.
First, you’ll take the time to identify pieces of “diffuse” content. In many cases, these will just be the “bad” blog posts we identified from earlier; they aren’t generating enough traffic or aren’t detailed enough to stand on their own. However, there’s one additional element we need to consider—their topical focus.
Generate a list of all the blog posts that have disappointed you in some way, and try to evaluate them in terms of their broader focus. For example, our SEO blog might have articles like “How to Correct Inaccurate Local Citations,” “How to Write Better Local Content for SEO,” and “How to Get Better Online Reviews for SEO,” but these all relate to the broader topic, “local SEO.” You can establish topical connections and what constitutes a “broad” or “specific” topic at your own discretion. The point here is to identify posts that, by themselves, are disappointing, but together or in a different form could serve an important user need.
Next, you’ll need to discover some points of overlap. In other words, how do these diffuse, discrete pieces of content relate to each other? Are there opportunities to eliminate redundant sections? Are there ways to segue one article into another?
There are a few approaches you can take here, but the easiest is to group similarly-themed articles together in batches, and review them together. For example, you might have 10 posts that all have something to do with local SEO. Are some of them entirely redundant? Does one article seem to serve as a follow-up to another? Do you have an article that thoroughly covers a sub-topic that’s only mentioned in passing somewhere else?
If after this step, you have some “islands” of content that don’t relate to any other posts, you’ll need to decide whether you want to update them or delete them entirely.
Let’s assume you now have a batch of posts with a similar topic, and you’re ready to stitch them together into a single, comprehensive post. How should you go about this?
If you’re eliminating or combining posts that have existing links, it’s important to set up 301 redirects. A 301 redirect will divert traffic to a new location without compromising the functionality or authority-passing value of the original link. It also shouldn’t harm your SEO strategy, as long as your new destination is relevant to the original link context and similar to the original destination. All links pointing to the individual “bad” posts that once occupied your blog should automatically divert traffic to your new, comprehensive post.
It’s a bit tricky to set up a 301 redirect if you don’t have any technical experience, but there are a few different routes you can take. If you’re using Apache, you can edit your .htaccess files, adding a line like “RedirectPermanent /obsolete-article-1.html http://www.yourdomainhere.com/new-article.html”.
If you’re using IIS on a Microsoft Windows Server, you can set up 301 redirects with the Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager, found in Administrative Tools in the Start menu. Once you select a site, you can use (or install) the URL Rewrite module. With it, you can add an inbound rule like “Old Domain Redirect” or “Old Page Redirect” to forward traffic from an older URL to a new one.
There are a few other alternative methods to set up a 301 redirect as well, but all of them result in the same final outcome.
If you’re starting a 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 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 tools you need to direct your strategy when you begin executing it.
Let’s start by setting your initial goals. What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish with your 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:
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.
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:
Once your strategy is conceptually sound, you can start digging into the metrics that will, hopefully, guide you on the rest of your 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.
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 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 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.
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 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—it’s completely free.
With it, you can scope out the following metrics:
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.
Backlinks should also play a heavy role in your 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
It’s also important to use this 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?
If you’re wondering what a content audit looks like in practice, you’re in luck; we actually did one for ourselves, and quite recently.
We started with more than 1,300 URLs—and while many of these links were to decent blog posts and internal pages, the end result was a cluttered mess that neither search engine bots nor users appreciated. We had redundant blog posts competing with each other, pointless internal pages, and a number of articles that simply weren’t performing. Once we dug into the analytics, we quickly realized our content lacked direction—and that we were missing out on some major opportunities.
We started by removing some of the blog posts and internal pages that simply weren’t relevant anymore, and those that didn’t have any real value. Then, we completely restructured and redirected all our categories and tags, streamlining our system of organization.
From there, we started our most intensive work—using SEO lensing to combine elements from many different underperforming posts, and convert them into singular, much more detailed posts. For example, take our page on Local SEO; it’s the combination of more than 15 different blog posts, but if you read it today, it looks and reads like one massive, comprehensive guide. Our page on Online Marketing is the combination of more than 20 different posts.
In this small section, we took 35 individual posts, and consolidated them to just 2. So now, instead of having 35 pages that weren’t generating much traffic, weren’t ranking, and weren’t of interest to our customers, we have 2 content juggernauts that are pulling thousands of visitors and climbing the rankings for some highly competitive terms. It’s a perfect, real-life example of quality over quantity.
Though we started with over 1,300 URLs, we eventually ended with less than 300. And if you take a waltz through our SEO blog, you’ll see the fruits of our labor firsthand.
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, you’ll need to take steps to refine your approach to content marketing 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 goals, contact SEO.co today for a free consultation or get in touch for info on SEO pricing.