How to Do a Content Audit (the Strategic Way)

Content marketing is one of the few marketing channels that gets more valuable over time. Pay for an article once, and you can generate traffic, links, and sales from it for months to come.

To a point. Traffic to older content naturally decays. Without a strategy in place, early results (if they ever happen) soon fade to nothing. To complicate matters, blogs can easily become so crowded that it’s difficult to stay on top of every single article.

Enter the content audit.


What the Heck Is a Content Audit?

A content audit is a structured process for evaluating the performance of your content. It’s an answer to the crucial question: Is my content marketing strategy actually working?

A content audit helps you:

  • Understand which articles are performing well and which aren’t. Publish a hundred articles, and you might assume that traffic to your blog would be distributed fairly evenly across each of those articles. In reality, most blogs have a handful of hyper-successful articles that generate the bulk of their traffic (like the diagram below) and many that contribute little. A content audit helps you find these outliers, emulate the success of your best performers, and move away from less successful approaches.
  • Choose the right content lanes to achieve your goals. Different types of content are best suited to different business goals. SEO content offers a predictable source of organic traffic, but it’s often too specific and utilitarian to be shared widely and generate huge numbers of backlinks—something that thought leadership content is better suited to. A content audit can help identify “gaps” in your current use of content.
  • Optimize your site structure to improve the performance of your content. Your website structure can help or hinder the performance of your content. It can group related articles together and make it easy for readers and search engines alike to access and understand this content—or it can bury your content a dozen pages deep.
  • Unlock greater ROI from your existing content. Most content marketers spend their time and energy focusing on new content, but a content audit allows you to generate better results from content published months and years in the past. It can help reveal the right strategy for future content, sure—but it can also generate more revenue from the money spent on content in the past.
How to Do a Content Audit.png

Importantly, a content audit boils down to an educated opinion on the current strengths and weaknesses of your content. Many audits are little more than context-less data dumps of keywords and page load times. In order to be useful, that data must be able to inform an opinion about what needs to change (and what doesn’t).

Content Audits vs. SEO Audits

A content audit is not the same as an SEO audit—though they sometimes intersect, they are different tools designed to achieve different goals.

Ask a guitarist and a music producer to critique a song and, chances are, you’ll get different feedback. The guitarist might focus on the individual guitar riffs, the effects used, or the techniques employed during the solo. The producer might consider the song structure, the vocal harmonies, or the overall production values. Neither criticism is right or wrong—its usefulness just depends on the type of feedback you want.

The relationship between SEO audits and content audits is similar:

  • An SEO audit is useful for improving your website’s search performance or fixing technical SEO problems but leaves many crucial elements of content performance unexplored: it can’t analyze the efficacy of non-SEO content, like thought leadership, sales enablement, or lead generation content, and it isn’t designed to pass comment on the subjective quality of your content—like messaging, tone, or user experience.
  • A content audit is designed to look at the totality of your content marketing. It incorporates elements of an SEO audit, like keyword analysis, technical SEO, and site structure recommendations—but it also focuses on the dozens of non-SEO factors that influence the success of each blog post. Conversely, elements of SEO that don’t influence your content marketing—like the performance of product pages—are given less attention.

An SEO audit is useful for understanding the search performance of your content, but to understand the bigger picture—how well your entire library of content serves your bigger, broader business goals—a content audit is a better tool.

Do I Need a Content Audit, Really?

Content audits are most valuable when a company has consistently published content (that is, on a weekly or greater cadence) for over a year. At this stage, most blogs have enough content to become unwieldy and harder to analyze, and many articles are old enough to benefit from updating.

We’ve found two core problems that can be solved with a content audit:

  • Your content strategy isn’t working. Here’s a common scenario: company X realizes that content marketing is important, so they start publishing content each and every week to see what sticks. A year or two later, and they realize that nothing has stuck—traffic is flat and leads are sporadic. Without an overarching strategy, they’ve struggled to gain traction, and they need to reset.
  • Your content strategy is working. . .but it could be better. Some blogs become so big that overwhelm and decision paralysis are real issues. These companies often have hundreds of blog posts and thousands of monthly sessions, but the sheer number of articles, content properties, contributors, and go-to-market strategies becomes unmanageable. These companies know that their content could perform better—but they don’t know where to start.

Recognize either of these two problems, and there’s a good chance you could benefit from a content audit.

How to Do a Content Audit

The basic premise of a content audit is simple: you collect data—like traffic, keyword rankings, conversions, and links—from all of your articles in a big spreadsheet.

That process of data collection can be useful in some circumstances—it might be that you’ve started a new role and you’re looking to take stock of the company’s existing content inventory. But it has limitations. Answering even a simple question like, “what are my best-performing articles?” can quickly become problematic: Is a high-traffic, low-conversion-rate article good or bad? The answer: it depends on the goal you’re trying to accomplish.

“Is a high-traffic, low-conversion-rate article good or bad? The answer: it depends on the goal you’re trying to accomplish.”

A spreadsheet of a thousand data points can tell any number of stories. Like our earlier example of both a guitarist and a music producer analyzing a song, you’ll get better results from your analysis if it’s focused on a particular area or problem. With that in mind, the first step of a content audit isn’t diving into the data—it’s narrowing the scope of the audit and working out where you want to focus.

1. Identify Your Main Area of Focus

Though it might feel counterintuitive to limit the scope of your audit, prioritization is key. Any type of data analysis can become big and complicated. By starting with a smaller, concrete goal, you greatly increase the likelihood of your content audit actually achieving the goal it set out to achieve.

Chances are, there’s a solid reason you started googling “content audit.” You’ve encountered a painful problem or a source of anxiety and you’re hoping that an audit can help. It might be that:

  • Your organic traffic is declining month-over-month.
  • You have too much content, and you need to free up some headspace.
  • You have a hunch that there are technical problems limiting the search performance of your content.

Recognizing this problem provides a focal point for your audit, a way to guide the data you collect and make sense of it within the context of a broader business goal. Each problem requires different data points to understand and different strategies to solve. Each problem will take your content audit in a different direction.

Most articles experience plateau and decay phases

If this process feels a little cart-before-horse, don’t worry. There’s no need to have a fully-vetted hypothesis at this point—even a simple hunch is useful for focusing on the types of data that will prove most useful.

2. Choose Your Data Points

Most “how to do a content audit” posts recommend collecting every metric under the sun, but that can be problematic—too much data can overwhelm and make it harder to reveal the story hidden within. There are a few core data points that are almost always useful, like traffic and conversions. Beyond those, it’s better to choose additional data points sparingly using your main area of focus to guide your selection.

If organic traffic is declining, article traffic and keyword rankings provide a useful starting point. If you have too much content, article traffic and conversion data will help you identify articles that can be “pruned.” If you’re worried about technical SEO, Core Web Vitals and linking structure will steer you in the right direction.

Data pointExamplesUseful for understanding...
...which articles generate the majority of your website visitors.
Traffic sourcesOrganic Search
...which distribution channels drive most traffic or most conversions.
ConversionsNewsletter subscribers
Free trial sign-ups
...which articles contribute most to bottom-line goals.
Keyword rankingsCurrent keyword rankings
Historical keyword rankings
Total keyword rankings
...the search performance of content relative to other articles.
External linking structureBacklinks
Referring domains
Domain authority effective your content is at generating backlinks from other websites.
Core Web VitalsLCP, FID, and CLS...the technical performance and load times of your content.
On-page SEOMetadata (meta descriptions, etc.)
Header and page title tags
URL slug easily search crawlers can understand the content of your pages.
Content typeSEO
Thought leadership
Sales enablement your content marketing efforts are distributed.
Social media performanceSocial shares
Likes popular your content is on each social media channel.
SitemapAverage number of linking pages
Most and least linked pages
...the ease of transit between related articles on your site.
Engagement metricsTime on page
Bounce rate
...the behavior of visitors once they discover your content.

There’s one crucial data point missing from this list, and that’s because it can’t be quantified: the subjective quality of your content. Data-heavy audits can make it easy to overlook important qualitative hallmarks of quality:

  • Are your articles difficult to read because of weird formatting or typography?
  • Could you convey more information by including more graphics?
  • How well do your articles align with current company messaging?
  • Or most telling of all—are your articles just boring?

Each of these qualitative data points can have a huge impact on content performance, but they won’t show up in a generic auditing spreadsheet.

3. Choose Your Tools

A content analytics tool like Google Analytics is the primary tool you’ll need to run a content audit. It provides access to those core data points—traffic and conversions—from earlier, allowing you to separate good content from bad. To get started, export your chosen data points and import them into a spreadsheet.

Beyond that, other more specialized tools can provide additional context and data, ranging from paid tools like website crawler Screaming Frog (great for quickly importing all of your article URLs into a spreadsheet or analyzing on-page SEO at scale) through to free tools like Animalz own Revive (designed to quickly identify articles suffering from content decay).

ToolTypeHelps collect...
Google Analytics
Content analyticsTraffic
Traffic source
Engagement metrics
Google Search ConsoleContent analyticsKeyword rankings
Core Web Vitals
ReviveContent analyticsTraffic
LighthouseContent analyticsCore Web Vitals
Screaming FrogWebsite crawlerAll article URLs
Internal links
On-page SEO
Keyword researchKeyword rankings
Competitor content performance
On-page SEO

Each additional tool brings with it more data—and the potential for greater complexity. Most first-time content audits will be well served by a modest combination of one content analytics tool, one website crawler, and one keyword research tool.

Use our free tool Revive to discover articles that need updating

4. Use Your Data to Make Strategic Recommendations

Data points are just numbers—strategic interpretation is what makes them useful, revealing a practical plan of action to get you from where you are to where you want to be.

Tackle your analysis in chunks. For each of your chosen data points, run through these three simple analytical framneworks:

  • Review historical performance. How has your data changed from month to month and year to year? Changes in growth rates and drop-offs in crucial metrics like referring domains or keyword rankings can help reveal concrete problems to tackle.
  • Compare to industry benchmarks. How does your data compare to similar companies? Even if your traffic is growing, it’s possible that you aren’t growing fast enough relative to your competitors—and exploring their content strategy could be extremely lucrative. (We have useful content marketing benchmarks here: The Animalz Content Marketing Benchmark Report 2020.)
  • Look for outliers. Which data points stick out as exceptionally good, exceptionally bad, or just exceptionally weird? These outliers make it easy to identify successful content types to replicate and unsuccessful content types to ditch.
See our traffic benchmarks in the Animalz Content Marketing Benchmark Report 2020

If you’ve limited the scope of your audit to a single primary problem and chosen your data points accordingly, your analysis should lead you toward a useful recommendation. Here’s a theoretical example of that thought process:

  • Problem: Website has low domain authority.
  • Data: The number of backlinks per article, content type.
  • Analysis: Our SEO content generates almost no backlinks; our thought leadership content generates most of our backlinks.
  • Strategy: Shift focus for new content away from SEO and toward thought leadership; refresh and re-promote old SEO content to generate new backlinks.

Below are some of the most common recommendations we make in our content audits:

RecommendationDescriptionLearn more
Refresh contentUse traffic and conversion data to find articles suffering from traffic decay that need updating.Content Refreshing: How to Win Traffic by Updating Old Content
PruneIdentify low-impact content that can be safely removed to increase your crawl budget and make it easier to navigate your blog.How QuickBooks Nearly Doubled Traffic by Deleting Half Its Content
Build content hubsUse internal linking structure and keyword data to identify “de facto” hubs and spokes and recommend new hubs and spokes for core keywords.Great Writing Isn’t Enough. Here Are Two SEO Frameworks for Growing a SaaS Blog.
Identify high-leverage keyword opportunitiesCreate content to target low-hanging keyword opportunities (e.g., keyword gaps between you and your competitors).Here Are Three Ways to Improve Your Keyword Research
Identify missing content lanesChoose a new content lane to add to your strategy (e.g., create thought leadership content to improve social distribution and generate backlinks).Use These 8 Content Creation Lanes to Flesh Out Your Strategy

New Revenue from Old Content

Most content marketers spend the majority of their time and energy thinking about future content. Our tools and processes—editorial calendars, keyword research documents, you name it—are biased toward content creation. And when you’re starting out with content marketing, that allocation makes sense. You need to publish to see what works and what doesn’t.

But today, well over a decade after content marketing hit the mainstream, many blogs are sitting on years of accumulated content. Locked up within those paragraphs and page headers are thousands of dollars of unclaimed revenue. Small changes, like updating old posts or tweaking your site structure, can generate new traffic, new leads, and new customers.

A content audit is the tool that reveals those opportunities. It helps you to see beyond individual articles and understand exactly how well your content serves your business goals. It can help shape the direction of all future content—and it can unlock unclaimed revenue from your existing articles.

Ready to start your audit? We can help.