Content Audits & SEO Content Marketing
It used to be conventional wisdom that sites should churn out a high quantity of content without purpose. In other words, writing for writing’s sake.
But of course, Google got smarter. Now websites are punished for content that’s of low quality and isn’t well-optimized for certain target keywords.
Content matters more today than ever before, and the implications of a solid content marketing campaign that’s infused with a robust SEO content writing strategy will improve each stage of the sales funnel.
Despite mounting evidence that quality content correlates to better rankings, many site owners still aren’t monitoring their contents’ performance. A constant analysis is necessary to ensure that pieces are performing well, resulting in more leads and sales for the website.
A website content audit might be just what the SEO content marketing doctor ordered.
What is a Content Audit?
Content audits are a retrospective study of a website’s content performance. They involve a deep dive into past blogs and landing pages to uncover a variety of performance factors and inform decisions regarding new content.
How to Perform a Content Audit?
Create a content inventory
Start by creating a master sheet for your content audit that includes columns like Page Name, URL, Publish Date, Top Keywords, and a column for additional “notes.”
Creating a spreadsheet to inventory your articles keeps your blog postings organized and reduces the possibility of keyword cannibalization.
Next, you’ll have to go through your CMS and start adding posts to the sheet. This is a fairly manual process, although you can speed it up by using a web crawler like Screaming Frog to give you an exportable list of pages.
Use Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a content auditor’s best friend. GSC will show you which pages and keywords are responsible for driving the most organic clicks to a site.
The best part is you can compare clicks and search impressions between different time periods so you can start to diagnose fluctuations.
It’s a good idea to take the top performing keywords from each URL and add them to the “Top Keywords” column of your audit sheet. This will indicate whether keyword cannibalization has taken place (cannibalization occurs when keywords overlap among multiple posts, causing some to not rank as high).
What can be learned?
As you start documenting each piece of content on the site, you should notice which keywords are driving specific results.
Google Search Console shows which search queries your pages have been ranking for in search engine results pages (SERPs) and how many clicks they receive from search users.
In the notes section of your audit sheet, specify whether there are any keyword cannibalization issues (as mentioned above) and how those could be impacting your page’s performance.
As you accrue more content, it’s easy to lose track of which topics your website has already covered. You may have forgotten about blog posts that were written several months or years ago, and this can lead to the creation of duplicate content.
When Google sees multiple versions of a post, they will not always know which version should receive preference. Duplicate content is a major contributor to rankings deficiencies.
Common Auditing Tools
Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of tools you might want to use for your content audit. You can use some or none of these tools, but they may make your process easier.
Let’s start with the freebies:
Google Search Console
GSC is a free tool from Google that provides organic insights, reports coverage issues, and helps you keep your site healthy and thriving.
The performance tab will be your best friend during your content audit. This section will show impressions and clicks across every page for any given time period. Easily spot the most common keywords that users are clicking on from search to end up on your site.
GA is your website’s hub for all things analytics. This robust tool is a must-have for any site as it shows you who is visiting your pages, from what sources, and what actions they are taking on your site.
As far as its application on your content audit, Google Analytics is useful for showing details regarding visits to your site. If users are spending less time reading certain posts, it could be a sign that the posts are interesting enough and could require further optimizations.
You can also find key demographic info on GA. See what countries, states, and localities your visitors come from to better understand how you should create and optimize your content.
Ahrefs is one of the best paid tools you can use for SEO and content marketing. The “Top Pages” feature will show you which pages are driving the most organic traffic, and you can drill this down to identify the most highly trafficked keywords.
One of the oldest tools in the SEO world is Screaming Frog, which has been used to perform large-scale website audits for more than a decade.
With Screaming Frog, you can crawl a site in minutes and export the data into a manageable .csv file which can be implemented into your main audit sheet.
Website crawlers such as Screaming Frog help quickly check your website for common problems such as missing metadata, image alt text, status code errors, and much more.
The tool shows you title tag and meta description usage on your existing pages, page size, and more, helping you understand where your current SEO pitfalls exist.
How to Write SEO Content
Combining the disciplines of SEO and content marketing is vital if you want to improve the effectiveness of your website’s content. From this merger of disciplines we get SEO content writing.
SEO content writing is writing that caters to two entities, human beings (the ones who are reading your content) and Google’s search algorithm.
By integrating primary and secondary keywords into your content, you are giving Google a clearer picture regarding which terms they should rank you for. The trick is not to shoehorn these keywords; they need to be added in a methodical way so that the integrity and quality of the writing is not compromised.
Here are a few simple tips to writing better SEO content.
Audience First, SEO Later
We can’t stress enough the importance of catering your writing for humans. It’s okay to make a list of keywords you’d like to include, but don’t let the keywords dictate the style of writing.
An SEO content audit will convey whether your content is engaging for your audience. Simply look at the Google Analytics metric time on page to see how long users are spending reading your content.
Headlines are literally the larger text on your page, so make sure they are concise and interesting.
Your page’s structure should include a proper H1 heading, followed by H2s, H3s, and H4s that are keyword rich without sounding stuffy.
Headline prioritization should include your title tag for the page as well. The title tag is arguably your most important SEO writing component, as this should be keyword rich, descriptive, and the proper length so as not to get cut off in the search results. In fact, checking title tags should be added to your content audit best practices list.
Utilize Relevant Images
SEO goes well beyond the writing itself. When you audit and optimize pages, be sure to look at image usage. What types of images are you using?
If your answer is ‘stock images,’ there might be a problem. You want images that are extremely relevant to your organization as well as the topic at hand, which is why it’s so important for businesses to take their own photos.
It’s understandable that you may not be able to use your own photos each time, but remember this… images can rank on their own.
Google images is like another search engine, and it’s visited by millions of people everyday.
To learn more about your images, use the Google Vision API. This free tool allows you to upload any image and see what entities Google associates with it.
Define Realistic Goals and Metrics/KPIs
A content audit isn’t just about fixing some title tags and meta descriptions, it’s about addressing content needs based on your goals.
Goals can be wide ranging depending on the website, the industry, and the competition you’re up against.
Here are the most common reasons why a site owner should want to perform a content audit.
If traffic acquisition has been a problem for your website, it may be time to look at your existing content.
This is most common for newer websites, but it can also plague sites who’ve yet to develop a sound content strategy.
A content audit that’s aimed at identifying low traffic pages should determine which keywords, or lack of keywords, the page is ranking for. From here, you’ll need to determine how you can better optimize for those terms on each page. A tool like Ahrefs will come in handy for a traffic focused content audit, since you can utilize the “Top Pages” report to see which pages are bringing in the most traffic. You can then export these pages and implement them into your primary audit sheet.
Ahrefs offers a breakdown of the top viewed pages of your website, including an estimation of the traffic received and top-ranking keywords.
A conversion focused content audit will rely heavily on Google Analytics to determine where conversions are taking place.
If users are bouncing en masse from specific pages, prior to completing a conversion, you may want to look at ways to improve calls to action on those pages.
Google Analytics also has features that allow you to visualize your sales funnel. This shows you the page by page sequence that users encounter on their way towards making a conversion.
Improved engagement equates to longer “time on page.” In Google Analytics you can easily see how long users are spending on a given page before bouncing (bounce rate) or exiting.
Time on page provides a good sense of user engagement, but to fully understand how users are reacting on your pages you should use a heatmapping tool like Crazy Egg or Hotjar.
Heatmaps show the actions users take on your website. Viewing a heatmap helps you see the elements on a page where users click and interact with the most.
Click through rates (CTR) can be compared to getting a customer to walk through your front door. It’s the most essential metric at the top of your funnel, and it starts at the initial Google search.
If this is your primary focus, you should look closely at the way each page is presented on the search results pages (SERPs).
Checking how your website presents in search engine results pages (SERPs) helps ensure that each page appears as intended and entices users to click on the link.
Title tags and meta descriptions are vital. They need to be keyword optimized while also being enticing. The goal is to make people want to click and head over to your website.
Each title tag and meta description should be graded in accordance with that page’s click through rate (CTR is displayed in Google Search Console). If the CTR is low, you should consider having an SEO copywriter optimize that metadata to make them more engaging.
More content means there’s a higher risk of keyword cannibalization. If your site is struggling to rank for certain keywords, it could be thanks to too many posts that are in direct competition for those terms.
It’s easy to lose track of which keywords you’re targeting, especially as your content creation picks up over months or years. This is why a content audit is so valuable.
Taking stock of your content and keyword targeting will help your website avoid keyword cannibalization issues. It’s smart to continually monitor this and ensure that cannibalization doesn’t rear its ugly head.
What is wrong with keyword cannibalization? If Google is confused about which pages to rank, it will likely prevent your pages from ranking on page 1. Keyword targeting must be as clear as possible in order for Google to select the right pages to rank.
Inventory & Catalog Content
Once your goals and metrics have been identified, it’s time to start cataloging content. The style of your audit sheet may vary depending on goals.
If you’re focused primarily on traffic, the sheet should be organized from high trafficked pages to low trafficked pages. If you’re focused on conversions, you’d organize content based on conversion rate percentages.
Regardless of how you organize the content audit sheet, you should provide a notes section next to each page so that you and your audit team can specify what changes need to be made.
Let’s say there are two blog posts that are nearly identical. One was written 5 years ago, the other was written last month. The older post is barely getting any traffic, but it’s hampering the new post from acquiring significant keyword rankings. In this scenario, you’d want to leave a note reminding your team to create a 301 redirect that sends the old post to the new post.
The highlight feature is another way to differentiate specific requirements and needs for each piece of content. Like in the above example, you could highlight posts that require a 301 redirect, making them easier to identify visually.
Collect and Analyze Data
Once all content is inputted to your audit sheet, the fun has only just begun. It’s time to study the content on a page-by-page level based on your established KPIs.
Identify Underperforming Pages
Via notetaking, highlighting, and whatever other means necessary, start identifying the underperforming pages from your audit.
It might be a good idea to create a breakaway sheet from your original audit sheet that lists these struggling pages and includes actionable insights for improving them.
Evaluate Current Content Marketing Strategy
Once you’ve identified underperforming pages, it’s time to answer the question “why are these pages doing so poorly?”
To do this, you must take stock of your current content strategy. Try to address the following:
- Are you creating enough original content?
- How many times per month are you posting?
- Is new content indexed quickly?
- Which five posts are driving the most traffic?
- Do you have a link building strategy in place to improve the authority of your content?
Answers to these questions should become apparent based on the results of your audit.
Create an Action Plan
Next, you want to create an action plan that addresses current content pitfalls while helping your team develop new content to target new keywords.
Stage 1: Addressing Immediate Issues
Your action plan must start by remedying the most critical issues facing your site. These include issues like rankings drops, severe keyword cannibalization, or excessive loss of conversions on particular pages.
Fixes for these errors should happen right away, before any new content is created.
Stage 2: Identify Gaps in Existing Content
Once any vital needs are addressed, it’s time to take stock of your current content. Which keywords are you targeting and where should improvements occur?
This will involve further keyword research to identify terms that should be added to existing content.
Stage 3: Plan for New Content
Once initial fixes are addressed and rectified, it’s time to put a content plan in place for the new 3-6 months.
Although things may change during that time period, there should be a general sense of direction put in place.
Plan your content around potential new keyword possibilities and competitive research. .
Stage 4: Competitive Research
Competitive research should be ongoing, especially as SERP results change. If you begin to see a new crop of websites showing up on page 1, you need to analyze those sites right away to determine how you can implement a similar strategy on your site.
Continue to Edit and Evaluate Old Content
Content optimizations should be a fluid process. You’ll always be looking at ways to improve existing content based on shifting rankings and changing competition.
Put Processes in Place to Evaluate Content
A content audit is not just about the now, it should help you future proof your site. Based on the results, you should be able to see what specific processes need to be put in place to ensure that content remains optimized.
SOPs regarding keyword research, checking for duplicate content, and title tag/meta description optimizations should be noted.
Additionally, there should be measures in place to address emergency situations, i.e. a tank in rankings.
How Often Should I Perform a Content Audit?
Content audits should occur 2-4 times per year, oftentimes quarterly. If conversions or keyword rankings are exceptionally low, it’s possible you may need to schedule your audits more frequently than these intervals.
If you’re thinking about starting a content audit but you’re not sure where to begin, consider hiring a qualified third-party auditor. An experienced SEO and content auditor will be able to perform the audit fast and efficiently, plus they can assist with implementations.
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