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Management | Aug 1 2018
Jessica Greene on November 11, 2019 (last modified on November 8, 2019) • 31 minute read
It’s harder—or at least far more time-consuming—to conduct an SEO content audit, to step back and look at your content library and site as a whole to determine:
And if you’ve never performed a content audit before, it’s even more difficult. You might not even know where to begin.
To help you get started with your first SEO content audit and work your way through the process as efficiently as possible, we asked 133 agencies, content marketers, and SEOs to share the tools and processes they use when auditing their own and their clients’ content.
Then, we organized all of the responses into this 10-point checklist you can use to conduct an SEO content audit for your website:
Editor’s note: Want a quick way to see how your blog content is performing? Grab this free Blog Quality Metrics dashboard to get a quick overview of key blog performance and engagement metrics like goal completions, pages per session, and dwell time.
Conducting an SEO content audit is a time-consuming process under the best of circumstances, and it can quickly spiral into inefficiency if you haven’t taken the time in advance to determine the who, what, how, and why of your audit.
For example, are you just looking at content issues (on-page SEO), or are you also looking at off-page and technical SEO issues like broken backlinks and slow page speeds? It’s important to define these things upfront.
For the record, the majority of our respondents look at aspects of all three facets of SEO—on-page, off-page, and technical—when conducting a content audit:
“One great reason to conduct a content audit is to determine if an organizations’ content is persona- and value-driven,” says Lisa Loeffler of Influencers Management Group. “Many organizations lead with their stories and do not focus on how they solve customers’ challenges or pain points.”
“It’s important to begin with a buyer/reader persona,” says Jeffrey Aspacio of RedLettersPH. “Creating personas will help you identify what types and which styles of content are needed.”
“Knowing detailed information about particular personas—like their demographics, industry, position, interests, goals, challenges, and pain points—can be used as guides on what topics can better address the needs of the target audience,” Aspacio says.
“Understand the main purpose of your audit,” says Alice Stevens of Best Company. “Are you focusing on a specific kind of content on your website? Is your site having SEO trouble? Has it experienced a decrease in traffic? Are you looking for everything that can be improved?”
“A content audit is a very time-consuming task, so make sure you understand why you are doing it and what you hope to get out of it,” says Tung Dao of Avada Commerce.
“Set goals that are clear and measurable,” says Polly Kay of English Blinds. “They should be as specific as possible; for instance, improving your page ranking by a set figure or achieving a higher search result of a certain number of increments.”
“This provides you with direction to inform the way you conduct your audit, what you measure, and how you assess your findings, and the successes you achieve as a result of actioning them,” Kay says.
“Keep your content principles in mind,” says Shine Colcol of SafetyCulture. “A clear understanding of your principles will allow you to easily identify areas for improvement.”
“Our core principles include creating high-quality content, driving the right sign-ups, and being ethical,” Colcol says.
One of the fastest ways to make a content audit take much longer than it needs to is to try to conduct the audit without the assistance of the right tools.
To uncover the most helpful tools to use for an SEO content audit, we asked our respondents to weigh in with their favorites. Ahrefs, SEMrush, Screaming Frog, Moz, DeepCrawl, Surfer SEO, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console came out on top:
And while tools certainly help, remember, they won’t do everything for you. As Patrick Garde of ExaWeb Corporation says: “Automation may speed up the task, but you still must manually review your content carefully.”
Here’s what our respondents love about some of their favorite content auditing tools.
“Ahrefs is one of my all-time favorite content and SEO tools,” says Andrew Vinas of T3. “It’s a powerhouse of a platform that gives users access to useful information like domain analysis, page analysis, backlink reports, and rank tracking.”
“In addition, Ahrefs provides insight on a website’s top pages where users can see which pages of their website (or a competitors’) are the most valuable in terms of traffic and CPC.”
“Another useful feature is the Content Gap report which sheds light on keywords competitors are ranking for but your website might not be.”
“Overall, Ahrefs is a top-notch SEO and content tool that can be extremely helpful during the content planning and research, monitoring, analysis, and auditing process,” Vinas says.
“We use SEMrush for site audits,” says Anil Agarwal of BloggersPassion. “It helps you with so many things, including content audits, backlink audits, technical SEO audits, and so on so you can easily find and fix all the site issues to boost your organic rankings.”
“SEMrush’s content tool will tell you how many keywords should be on the page, what should be in your headers, the optimal content length, and much more,” says Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design.
“While it’s not possible to do a comprehensive SEO audit with only one tool, Screaming Frog is the closest thing you can get,” says Lexi Grafe of Elementive.
“Be sure to take advantage of Screaming Frog’s Google Analytics and Google Search Console integrations. This will save you a tremendous amount of time while giving you a good idea of how each blog post is performing along with an overview of the technical SEO issues present,” Grafe says.
“It provides a workable system to conduct content audits on a frequent basis,” says Nathan Finch of Aussie Web Hosting.
“Content audits vary drastically from niche to niche,” says Leonard Raleigh of Telapost SEO & Content Marketing.
“I have seen thin content on ecommerce pages, soft 404s generated in Search Console, problems with YMYL content on health websites, and problems with sites displaying completely different content to mobile users than desktop users.”
“Deepcrawl is an excellent tool for discovering many of these issues with a few clicks,” Raleigh says.
“We don’t believe in going after quick wins, but we discovered a fast way to revive content that may have missed the mark,” says Paul Teitelman of Paul Teitelman SEO Consulting.
“We’ve published (what we felt was) really high-quality content that didn’t show us the results we were looking for. But then, we ran a TF-IDF analysis on it.”
“Using a tool like Surfer SEO, you can get TF-IDF data that shows you the data behind the keyword data. It can show you the most popular non-keyword-words that the highest rankers for this search term have used.”
“Knowing these supporting and tertiary words can show you sub-topics that the top-rankers are talking about, which could flag gaps in your content.”
“This is basically like giving your keywords a nitro boost, and we have successfully used it to give underperforming long-form content new life,” Teitelman says.
“Audit and improve the SEO performance of your content by taking a dive into your Google Search Console account, specifically analyzing your top pages and queries that are generating impressions and clicks,” says Brian Jensen of Congruent Digital.
“There’s no simpler way to see how Google is evaluating your SEO content optimization than to see what queries it’s finding relevant to a page or a post. Following this simple tip can not only reveal many content optimization opportunities but also inspire new ideas for fresh content,” Jensen says.
“Site Checker Pro is a free tool that gives your website a thorough SEO audit,” says Janice Wald of Mostly Blogging. “I learned so much about SEO from correcting the errors that Site Checker Pro pointed out.”
“It will examine your heading tags and everything else a website needs to perfect. SEO errors will cost your company a strong position in the SERPs, which will result in a loss of money,” Wald says.
“Morningscore is a tool that provides a quick overview of your website’s data and health,” says Michael Kirkegaard of Nutimo Consult. “You get a report of many of the most common things in an SEO-audit, such as keywords, link profile, traffic, how your website performs compared to your competitors, etc.”
“There are almost endless areas that can be improved in your SEO profile all of the time, and this tool will show the decision-maker where to start. It shows your critical and technical on-site score and where you can improve both internal and external factors.”
“This is a good first step to make your SEO-strategy competitive,” Kirkegaard says.
“Our proven, working process of on-page analysis and content audits is as follows,” says James Gregory of Agency Backlinks Company.
“There are a lot of ways you can do an SEO content audit, depending on how your site is structured, what your goal is, etc.,” says Adam Thompson of ReliaSite. “My method is simple but powerful: compare your target keywords versus your ranking keywords versus your existing content to find opportunities.”
“Here’s how I do it:”
“With a little filtering and sorting in Excel, you can now answer the following questions:”
“Before you do anything, you need to get organized,” says Gary Stevens of Hosting Canada. “I’ve seen so many people attempt to perform a content audit without organizing their website at all. They just try to go through each webpage haphazardly.”
“The very first thing you should do is create a list of every single one of your URLs. This will allow you to start off on the right foot. You can track what you have gone through on each webpage using a spreadsheet,” Stevens says.
“Access the sitemap to get the most complete view of the content on the website,” says Adam Rowan of Page 1 Solutions. “The sitemap will provide a full picture of just how much content might be buried within the site (including blog posts, webpages, and more).”
“Don’t limit yourself to auditing just the pages found by a site crawl, Google Search Console, or analytics tool,” says John Gower of 420 Interactive. “These can all miss pages that are orphaned (without any internal links) on your site.”
“Make sure to also export a full list of all pages on your site via your CMS to get the entire landscape. You may find lots of these orphaned pages which could be good candidates for revitalizing if the content is valuable, or removing/merging with another page if it’s not,” Gower says.
Once you have a list of all of your URLs, you’re ready to start setting up your content audit spreadsheet.
“Take time to gather all the content URLs and other relevant information like traffic, keyword rankings, social shares, bounce rates, etc.,” says Karel Räppo of Bryton. “All of this should be in one big spreadsheet so you can easily compare and make decisions about optimizing, deleting, or updating content.”
“I would recommend using a tool like Screaming Frog to pull all the data and then organizing everything into your template: URLs, titles, metadata, focus keywords, images and alt text, personas, CTAs, internal links, overall performance, and the actions that need to be taken on each,” says Maria Milea of Inbound FinTech.
“I always record all the company’s existing blog posts, including the date each was published, updated, the author, and what the blog’s category is,” says Ellie-Paige Moore of the bolt way.
“When conducting a content audit, one of the most important things to understand is how each piece of content on your website is performing,” says Jim Robinson of ClickSeed.
“You not only want to get a complete inventory of your content, you also want to understand how users are interacting with your content and what kind of inbound signals are associated with each URL,” Robinson says.
So adding data to your spreadsheet is important, but it’s also important to “always make sure you are pulling the appropriate data points to make informed page-level strategic recommendations,” says Robbie Richards of robbierichards.com. “A wrong step can spell disaster.”
“It is highly recommended to focus on the most important, highly relevant metrics,” says Zarar Ameen of Canz Marketing. “The metrics that align with your business goals are actually what is important for you and what you should be interested in.”
Anna Caldwell of The Loop Marketing agrees: “Set yourself up for success by narrowing your focus and choosing 2-3 metrics to measure.”
“A proper content audit always starts with clear goals and metrics that relate to what it is that you are trying to accomplish with your content,” says Kristin Savage of TrustMyPaper. “Step into the process with those goals in mind before making any decisions, and you will have a much easier time reaping the benefits of your efforts.”
Here are some of the metrics our respondents recommend tracking in your content audit spreadsheet.
“If I started working on an existing site that I’ve never worked on before, I would begin the content audit by looking at the impressions data in Search Console,” says Antti Alatalo of Cashcow.
“I would filter all the pages of the website and look for the pages that have zero impressions. If these pages haven’t gotten any impressions for an extended period of time, they likely have no value in terms of SEO.”
“We used to publish tons of content on our websites that got zero impressions or clicks. Once we removed the irrelevant content, we saw a nice jump on impressions and clicks on the other pages,” Alatalo says.
“A lot of website owners will focus on looking at audience search volumes to infer traffic growth from campaigns such as Google Ads or organic search via SEO techniques,” says Corey Batt of Clickburst. “However, this data can be skewed by other sources, including website visitors from social, email making campaigns, etc.”
“To get an accurate picture of their traffic based on source, they can instead go to the Acquisition Overview tab in Google Analytics which breaks down traffic by source. This will allow them to track their marketing efforts via type so they can ensure they’re getting a sufficient return on investment,” Batt says.
“When doing a content audit for my website, we are guided by two metrics: organic traffic and conversions,” says Adam Hempenstall of Better Proposals. “We take a deep dive in Google Analytics to find out which articles are performing well in terms of visits and conversions, and we prune those that are not up to our expectations.”
Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers also takes this approach: “When conducting a content audit, we want to measure which piece of content has the highest traffic-to-leads ratio or, in other words, what kind of content has the best conversion rate.”
“Once we find these pieces of content, we replicate the conversion techniques used in that piece to other content, we optimize these pieces of content to drive more traffic to them, and we also create more content related to this topic,” Aufray says.
Editor’s note: Get a quick overview of which blog posts are driving the most organic traffic and conversions by grabbing this free Organic Blog Traffic dashboard.
“Use Google Analytics to measure engagement and assess all the content articles by the number of page views, average time spent on page, and bounce rate,” says Lana Volkov of SERP Wolf.
“Even if your page ranks well, being able to understand the user experience will help you create stronger website content,” Doughty says.
And David LaVine of RocLogic Marketing says to “look for content that has a high engagement rate but doesn’t get a lot of traffic. This shows there’s interest in the content, which likely means it’s doing a good job satisfying intent for the people that do find this piece of content.”
“Now your goal is to figure out why it’s not attracting more people. Start by looking at the previous page path to see how people are getting to the content. See what search terms the content is ranking for. Check your linking and navigation structure.”
“You might boost your results significantly with some relatively minor tweaks,” LaVine says.
“When listing pages, make sure to also extract the number of social shares,” says Victor Antiu of Sleek Bill. “The social shares might give you additional insight into what works on social or if some content has more shares than backlinks.”
Once you’ve gathered all of your data and have a spreadsheet full of valuable information about your content and its performance, it’s time to dig into that data and find your opportunities.
“Usually, the lowest-hanging-fruit opportunities when it comes to an SEO content audit (assuming basic technical things are taken care of) is to identify striking-distance keywords that the blog ranks for,” says Takeshi Young of Optimizely.
“Striking distance keywords are keywords where your site ranks between positions 2-15. These are great opportunities for improvement because the content is already ranking pretty high, and you can improve the ranking further by improving the content or internal linking,” Young says.
Brooks Manley recommends looking for “high-volume keywords ranking just outside the top six or seven positions. “Don’t waste hours updating a post that ranks for a couple low-volume, non-valuable keywords.”
“If a post is ranking in the eighth position, you can often move it to the top position by adding videos, infographics, and FAQs to the post,” says Jitendra Vaswani of BloggersIdeas.
“The big goal is to create a pillar page strategy,” says Eric Melillo of COFORGE.
“We create a top-level page or post based on a broad term closely aligned to our core business model. Then, we rally subtopic articles uncovered in our content audit by linking from the pillar page to the articles. Finally, we create a reciprocal link from each subtopic post back to the pillar.”
“This creates a topical relationship which always boosts rankings for us and our clients,” Melillo says.
Claudio Pereira of Uku Inbound agrees: “Identify any internal linking opportunities there might be for your content to form and maintain topic clusters. Identify any blogs or pages on your website with a similar content theme/topic, and be sure to link to the pages/post together via hyperlinking the relevant text.”
“It’s extremely important that your content doesn’t appear to be dated,” says Andrea Loubier of Mailbird. “If you still have blogs on your site titled ‘The Best of XYZ of 2017,’ then you have a real problem. You want your company to be relevant, so that means your content has to be up-to-date, too!”
“We’ve helped many companies succeed with their content marketing by only releasing a few quality pieces each month,” says Andres Tovar of Noetic Marketer. “I use the ratio 3:1 for this strategy. For every one new piece of content, you have to update/upgrade three pieces of content.”
“The idea here is that if you have limited resources, you cannot come up with dozens of blog posts 10,000+ words each month. If you have multiple pieces that are 1,000 words, each month you will add more content to them until you reach 10,000 words, 20,000 words, or whatever your goal is.”
“This way, you can make sure your content never gets old, and you will always end up with high-quality pieces of content,” Tovar says.
“It’s important to refresh your content not just for Google but also for users,” says William Chin of My Wife Quit Her Job. “Will users want to read an article that’s three years old or something that was updated yesterday? Will users want to see a ‘this was awesome in 2016’ post in your content?”
“Being relevant means being current. Make sure your content reflects that you are alive and updating your website,” Chin says.
Finally, in addition to finding opportunities for ways to improve your existing content by reviewing your audit data, many respondents said you could also find opportunities to fill gaps in your current coverage.
Use your audit findings to answer these questions.
“Make sure your website answers all buying-related questions,” says Dustin Rodgers of JingleSPOT. “Try AnswerThePublic to verify you’re answering questions that people are asking. “If not, then people have to find their answers on another website, and you lose them.”
“Assemble a list filled with all your current content and another with all the content your target reader is interested in and see which content you’re missing altogether,” says Radomir Basta of Reportz. “This has to be done manually and will take quite a bit of time.”
“Check which stage in the buyers’ journey every blog post is relevant to,” says Michiel Koers of Topic. “Make sure there is a balance in articles with topics that speak to people in the awareness, consideration, and decision stages.”
“Always look at your content audit with context by aligning the content with a persona and the stage in the buyer’s journey that it’s targeting,” says Bryan Arnott of 256. “You’ll get a much better idea of how each piece is performing.”
“Use a content gap analysis tool to see what keywords your competitors are ranking for but you’re not,” says Patrick Sullivan of Points Group. “See if any of the keywords that come up lend themselves to building content pieces around them or if you can re-optimize existing pieces of content to target any of them.”
“I’m a big believer that if you want to rank well in Google, you need to keep your site as small as possible,” says Alexandra Tachalova of Digital Olympus. “That means the fewer pages you have, the better.”
Rachita Sharma of Girl Power Talk agrees: “In business, it is always important to identify and get rid of the dead weight.”
“My number-one priority when conducting a content audit is to determine how well each piece of content is performing on the website,” says Stuart Cooke of Levity Digital.
“If the answer to these questions is low or zero, then I would look to either redirect the page to consolidate it with another relevant piece of content on the site, try to update/re-write to the content to improve its quality and relevance, or delete it entirely,” Cooke says.
Lots of respondents agreed and offered these tips for dealing with weak, underperforming, and thin content.
“I gather all content that has similar topics and grade each piece of content based on the traffic it gets, the keywords indexed on Google, and strength metrics,” says Henry Chen of Syncoria. “Then, I just 301 redirect the thin content to the ones that are generating the most traffic and keywords.”
“Thin pages that get no traffic are huge anchors that take the wind out of your site’s sails,” says Cayley Vos of Netpaths. “Combine these short pages into longer destination pages with 2,000 words or more, and make sure to add permanent redirects from the depreciated pages to the new ones.”
“Evaluate pages on similar topics that can be consolidated into a large anchor piece of content,” says Leslie Handmaker of Paycor. “Taking a deep dive into a subject could prove to be more valuable for the user and earn a high volume of traffic via long-tail queries.”
“When dealing with a legacy blog that has already hundreds of existing posts, the first thing you need to do it to separate the wheat from the chaff,” says Tad Chef of onreact.com.
“Some posts will be outdated and still get traffic that goes nowhere or bounces; other posts are new or not yet ranking which could convert but don’t get the attention deserved.”
“The obvious choice is, of course, to find the hopelessly obsolete ones and redirect the traffic to those that cover the same topic but are much more current.”
“Of course, you can update or rewrite existing content, but that takes more effort,” Chef says.
However, Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing also recommends that you “find a way to preserve whatever content you can. You can often salvage content for internal linking opportunities or repurpose unused content into streamlined landing pages.”
“Whatever you have, use,” McLoughlin says.
“My approach to SEO, in general, is to do what is best for the visitors,” says Paul Maxey of 10x digital. “Prioritize audit recommendations and updates based on what is most helpful for your visitors and start with the obvious changes first.”
“Check for indexed pages that don’t provide useful information and stop them from being indexed. When making decisions, ask ‘Will this benefit my audience?’”
In addition to looking for overall ways to improve the quality and performance of your content, conducting an SEO content audit is also a great time to look and see if your site suffers from some common issues.
“First things first, I would scrape the entire website or blog using Screaming Frog to ensure proper SEO tags have been written and addressed,” says Evan Hoeflich of Evan Hoeflich Marketing.
Hoeflich is not alone. In fact, when we asked our respondents to rank the importance of several different issues you might uncover in a content audit, “missing an SEO title, meta description, or H1” came out on top:
“Map every single blog URL to a keyword,” says Jonas Sickler of Terakeet. “Failure to target keywords is the root of so many SEO problems, including duplicate content, keyword cannibalization, and misaligned search intent.”
Alex Chenery-Howes of Yellowball agrees: “Proactive keyword research is fundamental to a quality content audit, especially if the website has not been optimized for SEO.”
“It’s okay to have pages that are strictly for users, but learn to recognize the difference between pages that are strictly for navigation or pages that could potentially target queries for search,” says Nunzio Ross of Majesty Coffee.
“We have a big content team, and over the years, we’ve published a lot of content through both our team and guest posts,” says Lauren Pope of G2. “One thing our team recently did was pull an audit of how many of our internal pages weren’t linked to other articles, and we spent the last month connecting those pages.”
“This helps with a few things: Google indexing, web crawling, and, most importantly, the user experience. We had great content that people couldn’t find if they weren’t looking for it, and that was a mistake!”
“Focus on your internal SEO as well as external. Backlinking, guest posting, and all of that other stuff won’t matter if your website isn’t healthy. It really does start from within,” Pope says.
“If you’re auditing a large site that’s been around for a while, there’s a fair chance it will have lots of broken backlinks,” says Joe Williams of Tribe SEO. “I’d use a tool like Ahrefs to identify and fix them. This may be by recreating missing pages or 301 redirecting the broken backlinks to the next most relevant pages.”
“Make sure you don’t have any keyword cannibalization issues,” says Dominic Wells of Onfolio. “This actually comes up more than most people realize. One good way to do it is to export a list of all the keywords you rank for, then sort everything and look for duplicates.”
“In the instances where you end up with two different articles ranking for the same keyword, you likely have a cannibalization issue. The exception is if one article is on page one and the other is page four or five or something.”
“Cannibalization is where two articles compete and Google doesn’t know where to rank either of them, so maybe you have one article position 14 and another position 18. If you then deoptimize one article or 301 it to the other, thus removing the issue, the surviving article ends up ranking much higher,” Wells says.
“Check your image sizes every single time,” says Corey Haines of Hey Marketers. “Images that are too big, not compressed, or not optimized can really slow down your page speed score, and going through to optimize them all can make a bigger difference than you’d think.”
“Scraped content is an often-overlooked problem,” says Leonard Raleigh of Telapost SEO & Content Marketing. “The number of websites I come across I come across whose content is being stolen and duplicated around the web never ceases to amaze me.”
“This can and does lead to decreased visibility, traffic loss, and/or demotions in rankings when algorithm updates roll out,” Raleigh says.
“One SEO content audit tip that is often overlooked is to check pages for readability,” says David Leonhardt of The Happy Guy Marketing.
“Readability is important to SEO for multiple reasons. The most obvious is that it is a quality measure of the page, albeit not likely the most significant. Readability also determines how likely others will link to the page; a difficult-to-read page will more likely be abandoned by a potential linker.”
“Readability also can affect bounce rates. The more readable a page, the longer a person is likely to keep reading and the more likely that person is to click through to another page on the site,” Leonhardt says.
“Update your links,” says Samantha Tetrault of Samanthability. “Linking to more recent articles will help search engines crawl your website more efficiently, plus they keep users on your page longer.”
“When approaching a content audit, we find our SEO and UX tactics and strategies are intertwined,” says Emily Gorman of Foundation Marketing.
“Ignoring UX will negatively impact how much time a user spends on your website, how many pages of your website they explore, whether they value your content enough to return, etc. If your UX is a weak link, it’ll be challenging for your site to achieve high rankings in the SERPs.”
“So when you’re conducting a content audit, consider both SEO and UX best practices,” Gorman says.
Finally, when your audit is complete, it’s time to send your results to your clients, boss, coworkers, employees—anyone who needs to make decisions surrounding or changes based on the issues and opportunities you discovered.
Our respondents offered several tips for sharing the results of your content audit.
Finally, create a to-do list of the changes that need to be made. “Your audit may be sent to many in a company, but the to-do list is the document that will be needed if real changes are to be made,” says Eric Hebert of Evolvor Media.
Dominique Jackson of Copper agrees: “Make a plan of action for what to do after the audit and prioritize it by order of importance and amount of work needed to be done.”
Finally, once your SEO content audit is finished and you’re making changes, David Kamm of iBeam Marketing Consulting Services recommends “documenting any significant SEO-related changes in your Google Analytics timeline annotations.”
“This will help you track the impact of your work over time,” Kamm says, “hopefully spotting some positive cause-and-effect patterns along the way.”
Management | Aug 1 2018
Management | May 31 2018