How to run the perfect content audit

6 minute read

In my last couple of posts, I looked at the 7 reasons why you should audit your content and 3 steps to prepare for an effective content audit. Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and look at how to run the ultimate content audit.

Run your content audit

Let’s recap. By now, you should have an inventory of your content and you know what data you want to gather. For larger sites, let’s also assume you know who’s on your audit team. It’s time to run your content audit.Here are five things you’ll need to consider:

1. Do a pilot

No matter how well you plan your audit, you can’t account for everything before you start. If you’re auditing with other people, you’ll need to run a pilot - one that involves the whole audit team. Even if it’s just you, try and identify someone you can bring into the project - if only as an occasional sounding board.

Typically the pilot involves giving everyone on the audit team the same sample of content to audit, say 5-10 items from each area of the site. Allow everyone a few days to do the task and then come back as a group to discuss it.The pilot helps calibrate the team’s approach to auditing. This is especially important for qualitative data where answers are quite subjective.The pilot also helps identify areas that may prove harder than first expected. Maybe you’d thought it would be easy to identify decision makers for most bits of content, but in reality this information is hard to come by.

2. Identify where you can save time and effort

Your pilot will give you an idea of how difficult your audit’s going to be. It gives you a chance to adjust your approach to meet your deadlines and to fit everyone’s schedule.You may need to remove certain data from the audit. Or sample some of it. This is an especially useful approach for qualitative data. If you’ve got 300 press releases do you really need to rank each one individually for usability? Chances are you’ll get the same insights from a representative sample.

3. Set realistic deadlines

Most people on the audit team will be auditing as an addition to their day jobs. And because it can be long, repetitive work, audits have a tendency to drag. You’ll need to set strict deadlines, but be realistic about how much auditors can take on.

4. Set regular project catch-ups

Once you’re up and running you’ll need to meet regularly with the other auditors. As with the pilot, the aim is to ensure that you have a forum in which to raise problems with the audit and to ensure everyone’s data is consistent. They’re also a good place to check that everyone’s on track to meet their deadlines.

5. Tell your organisation what you’re up to

When it’s done, your content audit is a crucial source of business intelligence and can help influence a range of business decisions - from operational ones, such as digital resourcing, to strategic ones, such as setting publishing objectives. It should be much more than a spreadsheet that only a few content folks ever look at.You can maximise your chances of getting organisational engagement by communicating widely about your project. You’ll certainly need to make sure senior leaders know about the project and why it’s so important. Then use any available internal channels to:

  • Talk about the project kick off - who’s involved, what you aim to achieve, when you hope to finish and how you’ll share the findings
  • Publish regular project updates as you’re doing the audit, as well as trends and highlights from the emerging data
  • Communicate the results, talk about next steps and what actions you hope the organisation will take

But more on that later…

Analysing your data

Okay, so you’re all done, and you have A LOT of data. But what’s it telling you?

Analysing quantitative data

Some quantitative data lends itself to relatively quick and easy analysis. You can filter your data to isolate things like:

  • Pages that receive the least amount of web traffic
  • Content that’s not been edited or modified in a long period of time
  • Pages that do not have owners
  • Pages with a high bounce rate or reading age

This data is telling you that there might be problems with this content. Is it sufficiently popular, important or up to date to warrant being on the site?Think about combining metrics to get a better idea of how well your content’s doing. For instance, if the estimated reading time for a piece of content is high, but people are spending a long time on this page, it might be a good thing. People are taking the time to read it. However, if people are spending a long time on pages that have a high reading age, this might suggest the content is difficult to understand.

Similarly, a high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing. If you’ve got a high bounce rate on pages where people spend a long time, maybe that’s okay. Maybe users get everything they need from this content and don’t need to hunt around your site for more information. It could indicate that this content is focused and effective.

Depending on the way you set up your inventory, you can create custom formulas to crunch the data and combine metrics.

Analysing qualitative data

Hopefully, you’ll have a lot of ranking scores for the qualitative aspects of your content, which makes it easier to analyse. However, there’ll be a lot of hidden assumptions behind these scores, so you’ll want to analyse your qualitative data in a group.

Get your audit team together to go through your findings.

A good way to analyse large volumes of complex data is to use affinity mapping. For those who’ve not done this before, it involves writing your insights and observations onto post-it notes, sharing these with the group and then clustering them into themes.If you’ve already done some quantitative data analysis, you might want to share your findings with the group beforehand and discuss whether you agree with what the data is telling you about your content.By the end of this session, you should aim for group consensus on the findings from the audit. These will form the basis of the recommendations report you feed back to the organisation.

Taking your analysis further

The really interesting analysis comes when you combine your rankings with hard data to get more nuanced insight into your content.Try doing things like:

  • View pages within a particular section that have been scored poorly for usability
  • View pages across the site aimed at a particular audience group
  • View pages that have a bounce rate of more than 70% and a reading age of 12 or above

You're run your content audit. Now, take action

What you do next will depend on your project goals. Here are some common courses of action.

Get rid of stuff

Almost all websites have too much content on them. One of the most useful things an audit can do is help you shed content. After all, smaller, more focused websites are easier and cheaper to manage.It’s common for content audits to use ‘ROT’ analysis to earmark content for deletion. Is your content ‘redundant’, ‘outdated’ or ‘trivial’? If so, maybe it should go.Your data should make it fairly easy to spot the ROT:

  • If few people visit a page, maybe it’s redundant (or buried – check its position in the site structure)
  • If content’s old and not been edited for a long time, maybe it’s outdated
  • If content’s got a high bounce rate and low average time on page, maybe it’s trivial

As bloated as many websites get, it’s surprisingly hard to convince people to delete content. To get anywhere you’ll need senior-level support. Circulate the content you’ve marked as ROT to the people who own it. Make it clear to them how the evidence from the audit backs up your decision. Tell them it’ll be removed by a certain date if they can’t tell you why it needs to stay. Make sure senior leaders will back you up.

Content improvement

Even if you’re lucky enough to remove the ROT, you’ll still be left with lots of content that needs improving. Your content audit will show you where to focus your efforts.For instance, you can prioritise pages that get high volumes of traffic but that scored low for usability. Or pages with high bounce rates that scored low for actionability. You’ve got the data now to make informed decisions.

There’s a bit of work to do before you start editing content. You’ll need an idea of exemplary content to model your improvements on. Your content audit can show you the good stuff as well as the bad. Use this to create your recommendations for style, structure, and tone of voice.(Psst: When you’re ready to embark on your content editing phase, GatherContent can help you easily manage the process of creating and collaborating on content).

Allocate resources

Your audit can help show you who’s doing what on your website: who’s publishing, who are editing and who are making strategic decisions. It can show the content that’s not being managed or maintained by anyone. You’ll need to make sure that every piece of content has an owner - someone responsible for looking after it, and that every owner is the right person for the job, not just someone who’s acquired content by default.

Go forth and audit

It’s not the easiest or most glamorous task, to run a content audit, but what you get in return can be incredibly powerful. The knowledge you gather through this process will tell you a huge amount about your organisation, your audiences, and will underpin everything you do online beyond that point.

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Content Audit Spreadsheet

A template to audit your content inventory to identify gaps and gain insights around your content.

About the author

Luke Chaput de Saintonge

Luke is a content strategist with more than 10 years’ experience working for public and private sector clients.

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