Website content audits are a critical part of web governance.
Larger sites can benefit the most from a content audit, as they are the most likely to have thin or outdated content.
During a content audit, we take a full inventory of the pages on a site and evaluate whether they will be improved or removed.
Pages that are marked for removal should be 301 redirected to an appropriate page. Pages that remain should be updated and possibly fortified with internal links.
Auditing site content at the onset of a SEO cleanup is usually necessary in these cases:
- Site has received a manual Google penalty due to thin or duplicate content.
- There is lots of outdated information on the website.
- The number of site pages are in the high hundreds or thousands.
- It has been many years since the last content audit.
- A major redesign of the website is being planned.
Content Audits Take Time and Effort
Gathering/auditing all the content for a site and evaluating it can be a huge job.
There are different ways to go about a site content audit. Moz has an extensive content audit guide, which is a great example.
If your website is relaunching after a redesign, it’s useful to have your SEO company do a content audit of everything to see how things can be organized better.
The reason you might do this is to separate things into more logical categories. Another reason is to eliminate old news, and get rid of blog posts that are no longer relevant. Perhaps you have old events, coupons, or announcements that are out of date. These can be sent to the trash heap of history.
With extremely large sites, content audits become even more important because of SEO. The larger the website, the more outdated information slips through the cracks.
What Sort of Pages Might Need to Be Evaluated in a Content Audit?
On many sites, blog articles are a catch-all for different types of information. Information like events, coupons, sales, or press releases are sometimes all published as blog posts. These would be better suited as micro content or custom post types.
Events can be added to a calendar that deletes the public post after the date passes. Press releases can have their own category or post type. Sales or coupons can be metadata attached to product pages, instead of stand-alone blog posts.
A close friend of mine recently did a content audit of a large site and found hundreds of posts just like these. These were all blog posts that served no practical purpose in the present day, but still existed on the site, and in the Google index.
When customers come to your site and find old, outdated information, it makes it look like no one is paying attention to the website.
By cleaning up old articles, your site becomes more useful to your customers, and more trustworthy to Google. Stripping away the cruft is a good thing to do every so often.
On WordPress websites, categories and tags are ways of organizing information. Categories and tags are two taxonomies, but your development team can also add custom taxonomies. But tags and categories are often abused or diluted to the point of being meaningless.
Choose One Category for Each Article
Categories are often used as a way to denote several different topics a post could belong to. Each blog post should have a single category, and not multiple categories.
Google is looking to sort your information in a logical manner. By having a single category for each article, you’re making it much clearer how your content should be sorted.
The URL structure of many web pages includes the category slug as part of the web address. In cases like this, you don’t want to have a blog post in multiple categories. If Google sees these two different web addresses containing the same content, that looks like duplicate content. We only want to have SEO friendly URLs on your site.
The best policy is to have one category for each post.
If several categories supply to the same page, figure out which category that article fits best. This also helps focus each article on a single subject, and keeps it from rambling into different areas.
Another place to look when doing a content audit is that what tags are associated with each blog post.
The Biggest Misconception About Post Tags
Many people use WordPress tags to mark what keywords they want the post to rank for. Tags in WordPress sites do not make your site rank higher for those keywords.
If categories (in WordPress) are a top-level means of sorting information, tags are a secondary way of sorting information.
But what I see all too often is sites with hundreds if not thousands of tags, often applied at random.
You should use only the amount of tags that you need, and no more.
Adding tags should be done for the use to add people searching your site, not to try and make pages rank higher in Google.
If you have a website with lots of content, it would a good idea to look at your post tags.
Consolidate the tags that apply to only one or two posts, and condense those into another tag.
Getting a handle on your categories and tags will help your site visitors and Google understand your information more clearly.
Refresh Outdated Information, or Delete It
There are times of when it’s useful to get rid of a lot of content.
Information becomes old. Things change and some articles may no longer reflect the current state of your profession. Some articles can be combined, amended, or edited to reflect what is currently true in your industry.
Google is looking for sites that deliver the most accurate information. If there are pages on your site that are no longer accurate, it may be time to trim the fat, or bring those pages up-to-date.
Think of your site visitors when doing a content audit.
When evaluating a page, consider what a customer may think if they land on that page today.
With that information be relevant to them? Or would it seem out of place? Does the information there make sense today? Or will it confuse your customers even more?
Content audits give you a chance to bring up all the data on your site up-to-date, sort them into the correct categories, or even create new post types to put that information in.
A few more words on trimming the fat. Many people have done experiments with this, where they’ve strategically deleted a large percentage of their site content. At some people have found success with this and even seen their site traffic go up. My thought on this is keep what is relevant to your customers today, discard which that which will not be relevant anyone going forward, and evaluate what remains.
Content Audits and Website Redesigns
Doing a content audit before you do a site redesign is important. By getting an inventory of your content, it allows you to create a site structure that makes sense.
What paths do customers take to find information on your website? The way that you sort the content and information into buckets on your website should make sense.
Making things easy to navigate, easy to read and understand are all part of user experience. Making your site user-friendly, mobile-friendly, and easy to navigate plays a large role in your overall search rankings.
Filling Content Gaps
Content audits on existing sites have another purpose. By evaluating what content you have on your website, you know what content you need to produce.
If you inventory what content you currently have, you can tell what you need to produce. The goal is to make your site topically relevant to your customers and search engines (in that order).
For example, if you’re trying to rank for a certain search phrase, and you don’t mention it anywhere on your site, it’s going to be really hard to rank for that search term.
If you want to rank for a certain keyword phrase, you must have pages that discuss it at length.
You might not be ranking how you expect because you don’t have enough information on that topic to be authoritative. The solution is to publish more on that subject, and answer questions people are typing (or speaking) into their devices.
Sometimes that the content gap is what’s hurting your search rank.
Look at what you actually want to rank for. Then look at the pages that are ranking above you. Do they actually mention the search term? Do they have a deep amount of knowledge on their website about that subject? It may be there is less information on your site about a given topic than you even realize.
Search Engines Understand Semantics
Search engines have become intelligent about what’s on your website. Google understands synonyms, antonyms, and phrases that mean the same thing as your target search phrase. Don’t be afraid to use variations of words. make your material sound natural — as if you were saying to someone face to face.
Now that most smartphones have voice recognition, more searches are going to become conversational.
Google applied the “Hummingbird” update to it’s algorithm in 2013 in order to take advantage of the way people are searching (on their phones, using Siri or Cortana).
Since then, even more devices are being used, and most have voice recognition.
Voice search is going to continue to become a bigger opportunity for content creation and SEO. Remember to create content that humans would enjoy, and not write like a robot.
Assessing Your Site Versus the Competition
Lastly, content audits give you a chance to see how you stack up against your competitors.
You should never try to directly copy what other people are doing, It’s good to analyze why some people might be ranking ahead of you, and figure out a strategy for closing that gap. But never plagiarize or try to copy someone else’s content style. Instead, find your own voice.
If you’re going up against competing sites that have a long history on the web (10+ years), chances are they’re going to have more content than you do. They may have more back links as a result. Back links are an incredibly important part of SEO.
One way to close the gap on the competition when it comes to SEO is to create more content than them. This is easy to say, and much harder to do.
Now, it’s really going to depend on who you’re trying to gain ground on, and how much content they already have. Another factor is how long they’ve been around. Google seems to give the benefit of the doubt to long-established companies over newer ones.
If your main competitor is a nationally known brand with thousands of pages of information, and you’re a local brand with ten pages on your site, you have a long ways to go to catch up.
The way you can beat pages that are ranking ahead of you, is to go deeper into a subject and be more helpful than the current top-ranked page.
Google ranks pages, not sites, for each search query.
That said, Google does look at brand signals for an indicator of how much it should trust your site. These usually include off-site factors.
If you’re behind larger competitors, you have to try and close the content gap. You won’t be able to do it all in a week, or possibly even a few months. SEO is a long-term commitment.
Look at how helpful you are competitors are to their customers versus your own site. Do they match up evenly or is there a great disparity?
Final Questions to Consider
What content can you put on your site to make it more useful for the customers you’re trying to attract?
Why might the sites above yours in the search rankings be more appealing to their customers?
What questions do your customers have? (On the phone, in emails, on social media)?
Are you answering those questions with content on your website? Or is there an opportunity?
What are the things your customers might be looking for (on your site or a competitor site)?
If you can answer these questions, and analyze the content you have on your site right now, you’ll have a good idea of what you need to do. A content audit will tell you what resources you’ll need to dedicate to a creating a credible brand.