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How to find out what's wrong with your content

How to find out what's wrong with your content

5 minute read

How to find out what's wrong with your content

5 minute read

How to find out what's wrong with your content

Tara Shioya

Founder and Principal of Epigram Content Strategy

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It’s that beast in the room that nobody wants to talk about: Your organisation’s website. Everyone knows it’s not delivering the business results your organisation wants. Bounce rates are high. Engagement is low. Nobody can pinpoint what’s wrong, and by extension, how to fix it.

It’s more than likely your website issues are content-related. After all, content is the “meat” of your website, the key to an exceptional user experience. It’s the information that users want – and the information you want them to have – about your organisation, your brand, and your products or services. If your content isn’t performing, your website won’t deliver.

A content audit will help you identify and prioritise content problems, so you can make your content and your website more purposeful.

What’s a content audit?

A content audit is a systematic analysis of key pages of a website, using a standardised set of criteria or questions to evaluate how well the content supports business goals, meets user needs, and reflects usability best practices.

Google Analytics and other web analytics tools can provide valuable insights into user behaviour, by showing you what users are doing on your website. However, they don’t tell you what’s wrong with your content. That’s what a content audit will do.

Types of content audits

There are numerous types of content audits. However, most are based on questions crafted to elicit either “yes/no” answers or qualitative scores on a low-high scale (typically, out of 5 or 10).

Scoreable content audits yield quantifiable results, which help product owners summarise and communicate needs to stakeholders. Immediately below is the scoring system for the content audit I recently conducted for a global professional association. In consultation with the client, I defined a set of criteria for each of the four primary target audiences (personas), and then audited key sections of their website.

An example scoring system for an organisation's content audit.

Whenever possible, I use the qualitative method to audit content. This approach generates more detailed results, and helps organisations “see” and prioritise pages or sections of their website that need improvement. Heat mapping using different colours is an effective way to show clients “hot” and “cold” zones for content.


Heat mapping helped stakeholders to quickly see "hot" and "cold" areas of their site content. Here, the "cold" light blue shows pages that are least effective.

Heat mapping helped stakeholders to quickly see "hot" and "cold" areas of their site content. Here, the "cold" light blue shows pages that are least effective.

When an organisation has limited time or other resources, a “yes/no” audit is better than no audit at all. This method will help an organisation identify at least in broad strokes pages that are working or not working for specific criteria (e.g., “Are there spelling or grammar errors on the page?” or “Is the content broken into digestible pieces?”).

Your content audit framework

To audit your content, you or your content strategist will use a content audit framework – essentially, a tricked-out spreadsheet, with a list of pages to be audited on the "y" axis and a set of audit criteria across the top, along the "x" axis. The criteria used should be based the business and user criteria specific to your organisation and your goals, plus general usability best practices for content.

A content audit framework I recently developed to audit an enterprise customer service application.

A content audit framework I recently developed to audit an enterprise customer service application.

Business criteria

What are the specific business goals that your content should support? For example, one of your organisation’s goals is to increase the number sign-ups for a free trial or demo of your product. The associated criterion might be, “How well does the content prompt users to sign up for a free trial?,” with a top possible score of 5/5 for “very well.”

Use your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – if you have them – to inform your audit criteria and align your audit with your organisation’s overall goals.

User criteria

What do your primary target users want? How well does your content fulfil these needs? User criteria can be specific to your product or organisation (e.g., “How easily can users sign up for a free trial?”) or they can be more general (e.g., “How easily can users find product key information?”).

In many cases, a content audit will show that a website serves the needs of its users well but doesn’t do much for the business (or vice versa). Ideally, your website should perform well in both categories.

Tips for getting the most out of your content audit

If you’re working with a content strategist to audit your content or even conducting an audit on your own, here are a few tips that will help you get the most useful results from your work.

1. Don’t try to boil the ocean.

Select key pages or sections of your website to audit based on their value to your organisation or their value to your target audiences. Use Google Analytics or another web analysis tool to identify low performing areas of your site.

2. Define your criteria carefully.

Audit criteria should be meaningful and measurable. Consult with stakeholders to define the “top 3” business goals that your content should support. If your organisation is using KPIs, incorporate them into your criteria.

3. Standardise scoring.

If you’re planning to audit a large number of pages, and will have multiple people working with you on the audit, define and agree upon how to score pages. Make sure everyone understands why one page deserved a “5” while another page merited only a “2.”

Prioritising content efforts

A content audit is an invaluable tool for measuring how your organisation’s content is truly performing. Use these insights to identify areas for improvement and prioritise your organisation’s content efforts – and improve the overall user experience on your website!

It’s that beast in the room that nobody wants to talk about: Your organisation’s website. Everyone knows it’s not delivering the business results your organisation wants. Bounce rates are high. Engagement is low. Nobody can pinpoint what’s wrong, and by extension, how to fix it.

It’s more than likely your website issues are content-related. After all, content is the “meat” of your website, the key to an exceptional user experience. It’s the information that users want – and the information you want them to have – about your organisation, your brand, and your products or services. If your content isn’t performing, your website won’t deliver.

A content audit will help you identify and prioritise content problems, so you can make your content and your website more purposeful.

What’s a content audit?

A content audit is a systematic analysis of key pages of a website, using a standardised set of criteria or questions to evaluate how well the content supports business goals, meets user needs, and reflects usability best practices.

Google Analytics and other web analytics tools can provide valuable insights into user behaviour, by showing you what users are doing on your website. However, they don’t tell you what’s wrong with your content. That’s what a content audit will do.

Types of content audits

There are numerous types of content audits. However, most are based on questions crafted to elicit either “yes/no” answers or qualitative scores on a low-high scale (typically, out of 5 or 10).

Scoreable content audits yield quantifiable results, which help product owners summarise and communicate needs to stakeholders. Immediately below is the scoring system for the content audit I recently conducted for a global professional association. In consultation with the client, I defined a set of criteria for each of the four primary target audiences (personas), and then audited key sections of their website.

An example scoring system for an organisation's content audit.

Whenever possible, I use the qualitative method to audit content. This approach generates more detailed results, and helps organisations “see” and prioritise pages or sections of their website that need improvement. Heat mapping using different colours is an effective way to show clients “hot” and “cold” zones for content.


Heat mapping helped stakeholders to quickly see "hot" and "cold" areas of their site content. Here, the "cold" light blue shows pages that are least effective.

Heat mapping helped stakeholders to quickly see "hot" and "cold" areas of their site content. Here, the "cold" light blue shows pages that are least effective.

When an organisation has limited time or other resources, a “yes/no” audit is better than no audit at all. This method will help an organisation identify at least in broad strokes pages that are working or not working for specific criteria (e.g., “Are there spelling or grammar errors on the page?” or “Is the content broken into digestible pieces?”).

Your content audit framework

To audit your content, you or your content strategist will use a content audit framework – essentially, a tricked-out spreadsheet, with a list of pages to be audited on the "y" axis and a set of audit criteria across the top, along the "x" axis. The criteria used should be based the business and user criteria specific to your organisation and your goals, plus general usability best practices for content.

A content audit framework I recently developed to audit an enterprise customer service application.

A content audit framework I recently developed to audit an enterprise customer service application.

Business criteria

What are the specific business goals that your content should support? For example, one of your organisation’s goals is to increase the number sign-ups for a free trial or demo of your product. The associated criterion might be, “How well does the content prompt users to sign up for a free trial?,” with a top possible score of 5/5 for “very well.”

Use your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – if you have them – to inform your audit criteria and align your audit with your organisation’s overall goals.

User criteria

What do your primary target users want? How well does your content fulfil these needs? User criteria can be specific to your product or organisation (e.g., “How easily can users sign up for a free trial?”) or they can be more general (e.g., “How easily can users find product key information?”).

In many cases, a content audit will show that a website serves the needs of its users well but doesn’t do much for the business (or vice versa). Ideally, your website should perform well in both categories.

Tips for getting the most out of your content audit

If you’re working with a content strategist to audit your content or even conducting an audit on your own, here are a few tips that will help you get the most useful results from your work.

1. Don’t try to boil the ocean.

Select key pages or sections of your website to audit based on their value to your organisation or their value to your target audiences. Use Google Analytics or another web analysis tool to identify low performing areas of your site.

2. Define your criteria carefully.

Audit criteria should be meaningful and measurable. Consult with stakeholders to define the “top 3” business goals that your content should support. If your organisation is using KPIs, incorporate them into your criteria.

3. Standardise scoring.

If you’re planning to audit a large number of pages, and will have multiple people working with you on the audit, define and agree upon how to score pages. Make sure everyone understands why one page deserved a “5” while another page merited only a “2.”

Prioritising content efforts

A content audit is an invaluable tool for measuring how your organisation’s content is truly performing. Use these insights to identify areas for improvement and prioritise your organisation’s content efforts – and improve the overall user experience on your website!

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About the author

Tara Shioya

Tara Shioya is the founder and principal of Epigram Content Strategy, which is based in Vancouver, Canada. She specialises in helping organisations create “content with purpose.” Tara believes that a solid content strategy is essential to provide direction and focus to all of an organisation’s communications. It also helps to ensure that content creation resources produce desired results.

With more than 20 years’ experience, Tara has worked with a range of organisations, from higher education institutions to Fortune 100 companies, to plan and create targeted, effective digital content. Past clients include Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Georgetown University, and Novartis.

A veteran of the dot-com boom, Tara was a pioneer in developing and promoting content strategy as a distinct discipline and specialisation within UX.

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