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10 things no one tells you about a content audit

Written by and published

Have you ever been to the end … of your blog?

Dead end in content audit
I’ve been editing Raven’s blog for about a year now, but the blog has a much longer history. Recently, I discovered just how deep the content well goes when we undertook a journey to the center of the blog otherwise known as a (dum dum DUM) content audit, cataloging every blog post for the past 5 years or so.

10 things about content audit

I’ll be honest. There were points where I thought we would never return, but by the grace of the spreadsheets, somehow we did.

Now I return to you a changed Internet marketer, with 10 lessons to share. Heed them when your boss asks you to do a content audit, or you’ll be sorry.

1. Have a plan

First, make sure you know why you want to undertake such a task in the first place. In all likelihood, this process will consume many hours of your life – make sure it’s worthwhile.

Your reasons for conducting an audit will also affect how you go about it: Do you care about traffic or only conversions? Do you want to trash out of date content or rework it? Think through the types of scenarios you’re going to encounter before you dive in.

Our reason? We’re working on some changes to our website (more on that soon!) and also want to better focus the Raven blog in 2013 and beyond. We needed a content audit (or blog audit, in this case) to let us know what we had, what was out-of-date, what was still generating traffic and more.

2. You’ll need a map

raiders of the lost arc map effect photo
Our map was a spreadsheet with fields including:

  • Date: Date content was posted. This field helps for sorting the spreadsheet, particularly if more than one person is working on it.
  • Title: Blog post title.
  • URL: URL of post.
  • Author: Post’s author, particularly relevant now that Google authorship is in play.
  • Category: Establish your list of potential category options beforehand to avoid confusion here.
  • Keywords: A few main words your content focuses on.
  • Audience: Who the content is for. Bonus points if you’ve got your audience so laser-focused you’ve even given your audience members names and personas.
  • Evergreen: Check this box if the content can have a long shelf-life without many changes.
  • ROT: This category stands for “redundant, out-of-date or trivial” and these items are good candidates for elimination or a major overhaul. We added “off-topic” to this field.
  • Tags: If you employ tagging on your blog, this field is a good way to unify tagging conventions.
  • Traffic: Use Google Analytics or your favorite analytics tools. Make sure to determine a “fair” way to weight newer content, which has had less of a chance to get eyeballs.
  • Comments: If building a community is a focus, the number of comments each post got might be a useful metric.

3. You can’t automate it

There may be a few tricks you can find to speed up parts of the process (please, tell me about them in the comments) but eventually you’re going to get to the part that hurts: all this content needs to be read by a real person, ideally one who is familiar with your content strategy.
some basic SEO skills for content marketing

4. You will be bored

The audit itself isn’t particularly painful as much as it tedious. Once you get into the rhythm of evaluating your content, it should move fairly quickly – it’s just that there’s so much of it.

Luckily, you only need maybe 1/3 of your brain for giant chunks of the process. Seriously, you can probably watch half of the Criterion Collection during this process. Or seasons 1 and 2 of Raven favorite The League, if you’re me.

5. You’ll need some basic SEO skills

Or at least someone else you can work with on the issues that inevitably will arise from removing and/or redirecting content. At minimum, you’ll need to:

  • Watch for your own links to 404s
  • Know how to set up a proper 301 redirect with a plugin or change to your .htaccess file
  • Watch for links to pages on your site that are now 301s
  • Fix/remove broken images

6. It won’t always make sense

You’re going to uncover things that are so bad/weird/out-of-date they’re totally inexplicable when viewed today. It’s OK.

7. You might need a partner

Depending on the volume of content you’re working with and the deadline at hand, working with a partner or as a team can make sure you don’t go totally crazy getting the audit completed.

We liked working with a Google Doc so we could both access it at the same time and see what the other was doing to make sure we didn’t step on each others’ toes. Having one person start from the present and work backward while the other started at the beginning and moved forward also helped.

Pro tip: Use the filter capability in Google Spreadsheets to single out specific entries for your columns. Select all of your columns, then click Date > Filter from the menu. This will add a small down arrow on the first line of each cell from which you can choose your filtering criteria.


8. Don’t get lost

Things can get a little murky when you’re in the depths of this thing. Your audit fields, which once seemed so black and white, might need adapting midway through. Words like “evergreen” may begin to lose their meaning.

Don’t despair – just stay flexible. If you’re working with a team, communicate regularly to make sure everyone’s on the same page, all definitions are understood and processes are working. Call in an outside party to get some perspective if needed.

9. There’s treasure at the end

If you’ve made it this far, you’re well on your way to a successful content audit. Yes, there were pitfalls along the way, but now it’s time for your reward: there’s treasure at the end of your quest.

For one thing, you’ll have a much better grasp on every piece of content in your arsenal, which can lead to deeper, better linking within posts, a better grasp of brand history and unexpected new ideas.

You’ll rediscover forgotten ideas, unearth concepts you can tackle again from a different angle and uncover stuff that just didn’t get executed properly to give a second life.

If you’ve discovered a large cache of evergreen content, you can set it up to be posted regularly with a plugin like Tweet Old Post. Also check out: BlogWorld’s 5 WordPress Plugins to Highlight Past Content.

Once your spreadsheet is complete, examine it for insight into what kind of content has performed best. Patterns will emerge that can lead the way to a better performing blog. Do you need more videos? Fewer infographics? Are how-tos consistently popular?

10. You don’t want to do this again

Once you’ve made it through a full content audit, you’ll never want to see that evil, time-sucking spreadsheet again. Ignore that impulse!

With the process already in place (and fine-tuned, thanks to all your hard work), now is the time to add the cataloging of new blog content into your daily process.

It can be once a week or the minute you hit “publish,” but make sure to keep your content spreadsheet going, at least with the core details intact. (My plan is to go back and add analytics every reporting period).

After all, you don’t want to do this again, do you? Much like in Bill and Ted’s case, the sequel will be even less fun than the original.

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5 Responses to “10 things no one tells you about a content audit”

  1. Dawn Wentzell

    I’m curious – how long did you end up spending on this? I’m about to get a group of interns to start on a similar project and trying to estimate hours for them. Obviously this is a task that could go on forever if you let it, but I don’t think I’m allowed to do that to them 😛

    • RavenCourtney

      I think it took me about 2 solid weeks of devoting about half a day to it. Later I discovered some tools and tricks that could have made it quicker, and it also might have taken me longer since a lot of our blog content is about specific tools that are always being updated.