How to plan a content audit that works for you

How to plan a content audit that works for you

4 minute read

How to plan a content audit that works for you

4 minute read

How to plan a content audit that works for you

Lauren Pope

Content Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultant

Before I did my first content audit, I had a fixed idea of what one was: working alone, you looked at every single page of the website in detail and recorded the results in a spreadsheet. But I found my preconceived ideal didn’t work all that well in the real world.

The approach I described might be the archetypal content audit, but it’s a slow, painstaking process that doesn’t work for every team and project. The reality is: there’s more than one way to audit a website.

In this post, I’ll explain the four steps to planning an audit that works for you:

  1. Understand your context
  2. Choose the right approach
  3. Select your audit criteria
  4. Work out how to get it done

I’ll also share a content audit template that’ll help you get started.

Understand the context for your audit

Before you plan an audit, it’s a good idea to take a moment to consider the context.

The first question to ask is ‘why’? Why are you doing an audit? Why now? What’s the driving force? Is it because:

  • You’re about to embark on a full website overhaul
  • You’re new to your role
  • You’re preparing for a specific campaign
  • You’ve never done one
  • ... or something else?

Once you know why, the second question is ‘what’? What do you want to get out of the audit? What should the findings help you do? Is it to:

  • ‘Take stock’ of your content
  • Help you get familiar with the site
  • Understand usability issues
  • Spot gaps
  • Decide what content you’re going to keep, improve, cut etc
  • Work out how you can improve a specific journey or area of your site
  • ... or something else?  

Finally, ask ‘who’ and ‘how much’? Who will do the audit? Is it just you, or can you draft in help? How much time and money can you put into this? Do you have a timeline you need to stick to, or a deadline you need to meet?

Choosing the right approach to your audit

Once you’re clear on the context, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right approach to your content audit.

There are three main ways you can approach auditing:

  1. Focused: a quick, narrow audit where you study the pages your users encounter during a particular journey, or pages relating to a specific product or project. This approach is ideal if you’re auditing to inform work on a single campaign, product, service, journey, etc.
  2. Sample: a quick, broad audit where you take a representative sample of content from across the website. A sample approach is good if you’re short on time, but want to get an overview on as much of the site as possible. You can sample in different ways depending on your focus, for example: looking at the pages with the most traffic; choosing a handful of pages from each section of the site; or selecting a few examples of each content type.
  3. Full: a long, broad audit where you look at all (or close to all) the pages on the site. A full audit is for people with time and commitment (unless you’re lucky enough to have a small site). It’s a good thing to do if you’re planning a full website overhaul or redesign.

Select your audit criteria

The next step is to choose the criteria you will audit against. This will depend on the context and your approach.

There are three different kinds of criteria you can include in your audit:

  1. Inventory data: this is factual information about the page itself, for example, the title, URL, metadata,  word count, etc. You can get all this information quickly by using something like Screaming Frog or ContentWRX Audit to crawl the site and gather the data for you. You should include inventory data if you’re doing a sample or full content audit, or a focused audit that’s looking at a particular section of the site. For focused audits where you’re just looking at a journey and following a path, you may be able to skip this step.
  2. Quantitative data: metrics to help you understand how your content is performing. Depending on the context for your audit, these could be numbers relating to organic search performance, conversion, user experience, or all of the above. Again, you can pull the data from tools like Google Analytics. It’s a good idea to always include some quantitative data in your audit. You’ll also need some idea of benchmarks to help you make a judgement on performance.
  3. Qualitative data: data about the quality of the content. I usually shape this as a series of different questions to ask about the content. For example, is the page useful, usable, accurate etc? Again, this is essential for all audits, but the data you gather is flexible and depends on what you want to do because of your findings. This is the area of the audit that takes time and  that you can’t automate.

I’ve made a content audit template which has suggested criteria for inventory, quantitative and qualitative data you can use as a starting point. The template also has some handy spreadsheet formulas pre-filled to make matching up your quantitative and inventory data faster.

Work out how to get it done

The last step is to work out how you can get your audit done. Again, this comes down to the context for the audit, specifically who will do the work and how much time and resource you can put into the project. It’s worth remembering that auditing can be repetitive, and sometimes uninspiring, work. If your plan is to audit for eight hours a day, five days a week until the work is done, you may well get bored and make mistakes. Part of planning how to get your audit done should also be about how to keep things interesting.

Three ways you might approach your audit are:

  1. Gradual chipping away: if you’re doing a full audit and have a small team (or no team), you have little choice but to slowly, systematically work your way through. To avoid brain drain, I normally get on with my other strategic work in the morning (when I’m most energised) and save auditing for the afternoon as it’s repetitive work that doesn’t need as much brain power.
  2. Delegate or swarm: get other people involved if you can. For a full audit, you could ask subject matter experts or stakeholders to take responsibility for auditing a specific area of the site. If you’re doing a focused audit, you could try to get a team to ‘swarm’ the task and tackle it together in a single day.
  3. Rolling: if you don’t have a deadline why not make auditing part of your regular ‘business as usual’ and audit a few pages every week? This way you’ll always be on top of the task (and can make edits and improvements as you go).

Ready to start your content audit?

If you’re ready to run a content audit of your own, download our audit template.

Before I did my first content audit, I had a fixed idea of what one was: working alone, you looked at every single page of the website in detail and recorded the results in a spreadsheet. But I found my preconceived ideal didn’t work all that well in the real world.

The approach I described might be the archetypal content audit, but it’s a slow, painstaking process that doesn’t work for every team and project. The reality is: there’s more than one way to audit a website.

In this post, I’ll explain the four steps to planning an audit that works for you:

  1. Understand your context
  2. Choose the right approach
  3. Select your audit criteria
  4. Work out how to get it done

I’ll also share a content audit template that’ll help you get started.

Understand the context for your audit

Before you plan an audit, it’s a good idea to take a moment to consider the context.

The first question to ask is ‘why’? Why are you doing an audit? Why now? What’s the driving force? Is it because:

  • You’re about to embark on a full website overhaul
  • You’re new to your role
  • You’re preparing for a specific campaign
  • You’ve never done one
  • ... or something else?

Once you know why, the second question is ‘what’? What do you want to get out of the audit? What should the findings help you do? Is it to:

  • ‘Take stock’ of your content
  • Help you get familiar with the site
  • Understand usability issues
  • Spot gaps
  • Decide what content you’re going to keep, improve, cut etc
  • Work out how you can improve a specific journey or area of your site
  • ... or something else?  

Finally, ask ‘who’ and ‘how much’? Who will do the audit? Is it just you, or can you draft in help? How much time and money can you put into this? Do you have a timeline you need to stick to, or a deadline you need to meet?

Choosing the right approach to your audit

Once you’re clear on the context, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right approach to your content audit.

There are three main ways you can approach auditing:

  1. Focused: a quick, narrow audit where you study the pages your users encounter during a particular journey, or pages relating to a specific product or project. This approach is ideal if you’re auditing to inform work on a single campaign, product, service, journey, etc.
  2. Sample: a quick, broad audit where you take a representative sample of content from across the website. A sample approach is good if you’re short on time, but want to get an overview on as much of the site as possible. You can sample in different ways depending on your focus, for example: looking at the pages with the most traffic; choosing a handful of pages from each section of the site; or selecting a few examples of each content type.
  3. Full: a long, broad audit where you look at all (or close to all) the pages on the site. A full audit is for people with time and commitment (unless you’re lucky enough to have a small site). It’s a good thing to do if you’re planning a full website overhaul or redesign.

Select your audit criteria

The next step is to choose the criteria you will audit against. This will depend on the context and your approach.

There are three different kinds of criteria you can include in your audit:

  1. Inventory data: this is factual information about the page itself, for example, the title, URL, metadata,  word count, etc. You can get all this information quickly by using something like Screaming Frog or ContentWRX Audit to crawl the site and gather the data for you. You should include inventory data if you’re doing a sample or full content audit, or a focused audit that’s looking at a particular section of the site. For focused audits where you’re just looking at a journey and following a path, you may be able to skip this step.
  2. Quantitative data: metrics to help you understand how your content is performing. Depending on the context for your audit, these could be numbers relating to organic search performance, conversion, user experience, or all of the above. Again, you can pull the data from tools like Google Analytics. It’s a good idea to always include some quantitative data in your audit. You’ll also need some idea of benchmarks to help you make a judgement on performance.
  3. Qualitative data: data about the quality of the content. I usually shape this as a series of different questions to ask about the content. For example, is the page useful, usable, accurate etc? Again, this is essential for all audits, but the data you gather is flexible and depends on what you want to do because of your findings. This is the area of the audit that takes time and  that you can’t automate.

I’ve made a content audit template which has suggested criteria for inventory, quantitative and qualitative data you can use as a starting point. The template also has some handy spreadsheet formulas pre-filled to make matching up your quantitative and inventory data faster.

Work out how to get it done

The last step is to work out how you can get your audit done. Again, this comes down to the context for the audit, specifically who will do the work and how much time and resource you can put into the project. It’s worth remembering that auditing can be repetitive, and sometimes uninspiring, work. If your plan is to audit for eight hours a day, five days a week until the work is done, you may well get bored and make mistakes. Part of planning how to get your audit done should also be about how to keep things interesting.

Three ways you might approach your audit are:

  1. Gradual chipping away: if you’re doing a full audit and have a small team (or no team), you have little choice but to slowly, systematically work your way through. To avoid brain drain, I normally get on with my other strategic work in the morning (when I’m most energised) and save auditing for the afternoon as it’s repetitive work that doesn’t need as much brain power.
  2. Delegate or swarm: get other people involved if you can. For a full audit, you could ask subject matter experts or stakeholders to take responsibility for auditing a specific area of the site. If you’re doing a focused audit, you could try to get a team to ‘swarm’ the task and tackle it together in a single day.
  3. Rolling: if you don’t have a deadline why not make auditing part of your regular ‘business as usual’ and audit a few pages every week? This way you’ll always be on top of the task (and can make edits and improvements as you go).

Ready to start your content audit?

If you’re ready to run a content audit of your own, download our audit template.

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About the author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a freelance content strategy and digital transformation consultant, working with organisations that make the world a better, fairer, more beautiful place.

Lauren has been working in content and digital since way back in 2007 and since then has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including adidas, American Express, Microsoft and Tetra Pak.  

She lives in Brighton, and loves the Downs, the sea, dystopian fiction and bold lipstick.


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