Content audits should be a regular part of a healthy web maintenance cycle. You may also find yourself going through a content audit as part of a site redesign, especially if regular audits haven’t been happening. A content audit can be a daunting task, and it can test the relationships between content creators and site clients, so spend a bit of time setting yourself and your team up for success.

Set Clear Goals

Content audits can have different goals: are you looking to lean out your site by getting rid of archived content? Are you preparing to take your site in a new direction? Perhaps you’ve noticed an issue with usability or consistency that you’d like to address. Whatever the issue, take the time to document it and set clear, measurable goals against it. Without this step, you won’t be able to show that you were successful, or determine why not if you weren’t.

Your goal (or goals) should have three parts: an issue, an action and an outcome. For example, if you are going through a content audit in preparation for a site redesign, your goal might be:

Issue: Our site’s content needs to be assessed before moving into the redesign.

Action: Our content audit will determine who owns which pieces of content, if that content is up to date, and will prioritize which content will move into the site redesign.

Outcome: All content will be documented with a site owner, marked up to date or needs an update, and be flagged as ready to move, not moving, or needs rework

Making this process a part of your regular web maintenance cycle can give you valuable insight into what pieces of content are lurking in your ecosystem, as well as helping you identify content that might be missing from your current environment.

Be Clear With Your Process

Content audits can quickly become messy without a disciplined process and documentation approach. You’ll need a few tools, including a site crawler (Screaming Frog, XML-sitemap, Crawl Monster, or whichever tool you prefer), access to your analytics (Google Analytics, or your native application’s), and depending on your goals, you will likely need a keyword analyzer (Keyword Planner, SEOQuake, or your preferred tool).

Once I have a list of URLs, I prefer to work in Excel to track the status of each content piece because it is straightforward and familiar for teams to work in. It is easy to sort and colour-code with a few simple rules.

Bring In Your Analytics

Analytics should play a starring role in every decision you make about your site. It’s common for content audit to be initiated by analytics findings or be tied to a desired analytics outcome. For example, a content audit goal might be to look at the bottom 10% of your content in terms of page views and decide to modify, retire or repurpose that content, with the desired outcome of a measurable bump in page views for those areas.

Remember that page views (or any other single statistic) show an incomplete picture of what’s going on; for example, content that has been on your site for five years may have a high overall page view count simply over time, while your newest content may be unfairly judged as low performing. However, you can still get valuable performance insights such as opportunities to tweak keywords or presentation to reinvigorate past top performers or ideas about new content that takes its cues from evergreen pieces.

Aside from single metrics, a content audit focused on your top processes can also be valuable in finding bottlenecks or underperformers that are keeping your users from buying what’s in their shopping cart or signing up for your newsletter.

Complete the Cycle: Measure Success

This is the easiest step to skip, but don’t. Take a snapshot of your analytics, sales, conversions and whatever other measurable are relevant to your business goals before you do the audit, and a few months after you finish it. If you see improvements in your goal areas, or if you don’t, you’ll be able to look at why you were successful or not, and what you can do next time to achieve better results.

None of these steps will work unless you have buy-in from everyone who will be participating in the exercise. By spending the time up front to agree to common goals and practices, you will save yourself a big headache down the line, and end up with better quality content.