While spring is traditionally time for a clear-out, we often shy away from the boring ‘tidy up’ tasks. In the current climate when we might have some down-time as projects get paused, it seems like a good opportunity to pick up some of those jobs we’ve been putting off.

Rachel McConnell
Rachel McConnell
25th March 2020

Cleaning up your content essentially means starting with a content audit to establish what you have and what kind of state it’s in. If your site has grown organically over time without much of a strategy behind it, the chances are you have a lot of fragmented and inconsistent content, as well as content that’s out of date or not used at all by your customers.

Regaining focus and creating strategy for content takes time and effort, it’s not an overnight job. But understanding how your existing content needs to be improved is a great starting point.

In its basic form, a content audit allows you to assess your content against set criteria and work out what the action you need to take with the content. Some suggested criteria are listed below, but you may decide to pick just a handful of these depending on time, access to data, availability of brand guidelines etc.

Page views

How many people are actually viewing this page? Does this account for a high volume of traffic?

Bounce rate

How many people are leaving this page and not going anywhere else on the site. This might be a good thing (for example if the page is providing a phone number or a link to another site this might be the expected outcome) but if you’re hoping they go onto another part of your site but they’re not, then you’ve uncovered an issue with your content.

Findability on site

Can the page be easily found from your main navigation or is there a clear route to this content?

Findability on Google

How high does this page rank in search? Going through this exercise is a great way to also audit the metadata and snippet text (but more about that later).

Tone of voice

Is the content of the page reflecting your brand voice?

Accuracy

Is the content still relevant and up to date? Are there any typos or technical inaccuracies?

Alignment to principles

Does the content reflect your brand principles or design principles? For example if one of your principles is ‘Human’, you’d expect your content to sound human, be active (rather than passive) and feature real-life examples or people.

Value

What is the main thing you want users to do on this page? Does the main CTA reflect that? And are people doing what you want them to do from this page?

Usability

Is your content clear and simple? Is it structured in a way that’s easy to understand, or are users struggling. It might be obviously unclear, or you may have to dig deeper into user behaviour to find this out, for example by doing some more in depth usability testing.

How do I start my audit?

I’ve found that boring old spreadsheets work best. Sorry! I know some people use tools such as Airtable, but you’ll have to import the raw data first.

Begin by extracting a list of your site pages with a tool such as Screaming Frog and export the data into a spreadsheet. Remove the columns you don’t need and clean it up a bit. It’s also worth adding in a column to show what displays in search.

Begin by extracting a list of your site pages with a tool such as Screaming Frog and export the data into a spreadsheet. Remove the columns you don’t need and clean it up a bit. It’s also worth adding in a column to show what displays in search. Now create a column to add the stage of their journey a user is at for each page and the user’s goal for this stage. For example you might have ‘browse options’ as the stage, and then the user goal as ‘pick an option’.

Then create columns for the criteria you’re assessing against, so you’ll end up with something that starts to look like this:

Field labels on spreadsheet
Field labels

For the criteria you’re judging against, set some parameters and some conditional formatting. For example, for ‘Tone of voice’ you may want to say ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Somewhat’, with the cell becoming red for ‘No’, green for ‘Yes’, and amber for ‘Somewhat.’. Using this kind of RAG (Red, Amber, Green) rating system for your criteria will then help you see at a glance which pages are not up to par and will need to be optimised.

Spreadsheet fields showing red, amber, green
Your rating system coming to life

The review process

Your page assessments will take time, and if a stakeholder is responsible for the content it might take some time to ask questions, or identify the purpose of the page. It’s a lot easier when a content team have created (and are responsible) for all of the content as they have most of the answers.

I recommend picking off a few pages at a time, and you might want to prioritise your high-traffic pages first. It’s also worth adding a column for comments (what is the page doing well or not doing well?), you can also note any particular typos or issues you spot here. Also add a column to note the page owner, and the action that needs to happen next. Typical actions for the page might be:

  • Remove (page is no longer relevant or not being used)
  • Optimise (it needs updating or improving)
  • Merge (with another page that might have a similar purpose or similar content)
  • You might also want to add ‘Investigate further’ as an option for pages you don’t know enough about.

    How do I prioritise actions?

    If there are a number of pages that can be removed then clean those up right away. For the rest of the content, if it’s important for users and will positively impact your business when optimised, then prioritise it. If it’s not really adding value to users, then the existence of the content should be questioned with the content owner (you now should be able to demonstrate this through your rigorous assessment so make use of your audit in conversations). If you’re the content owner, then have a stern chat with yourself about how this content came to exist!

    Add a column to your sheet for High, Medium or Low priority to your spreadsheet so you know what you need to tackle now, next and later on.

    The other benefit of carrying out an audit is that it can help identify content gaps. You’ll find assessing the content against the user’s goal gives you a different perspective. Are you really giving them what they need at this stage of their journey? If not, add that to your comments column and record an action to improve it.

    Venn diagram showing user needs and business needs
    Where user needs and business needs overlap

    Your audit is going to be a long slog if you have a big website so think about attacking it in chunks, and set a target of maybe 30 pages a week. This makes it something that’s manageable to do in between other work or split across content team members. The more unruly your site, the longer this will take.

    The good news is that you now have a model for any new content. The criteria in your audit sets out a benchmark for future content requests — what’s the purpose, what will success look like, does it follow brand principles and style, etc? But content briefs…well that’s a whole new blog post!

    Once your audit is complete, you’ll have a clear, prioritised list for cleaning up your content, making your site content simpler, more relevant, and much more impactful.

    More about content audits

    Some very wise strategists have written great articles to help you learn more. Try these for starters:

    How to plan a content audit that works for you — Lauren Pope

    How to embrace (and gently encourage) the content audit–Kristina Halvorson