How to run a content audit to improve your SEO performance

When people start content marketing initiatives, they often have lots of new, exciting ideas and brainstorms about how they can generate lots of social attention, influence the influencers, and attract high-quality links.

However, it can be very easy to get carried away with all of these new ideas and concepts and forget that the best content for your brand, might already exist….

Content Auditing

The first step for us, in any content marketing project, is to perform a content audit.

This allows us to:

  • understand what content your users like to see (traffic, links, interaction, social metrics etc.).
  • analyse which content can be a) repurposed, b) better promoted or c) removed.
  • find opportunities for new content ideas.
  • make improvements to lift the overall content performance ratio of your site.

I remember finding Greg Boser’s post on SERP profiling extremely valuable last year, so I’m going to take you through the process we would use for content auditing. This uses Quaturo as an example. We have a very new site, which helps to keep things simple for now, and hopefully it’s a useful way to show how we would approach content auditing.

Step 1) Get a List of Your Indexed Content

In a post-Panda world, content auditing is essential—you need to ensure all your indexed content is working for you in terms of generating organic search—otherwise it may be having a negative effect on the reputation of your whole site.

So the first step is to get hold of all the content you have indexed on your site:

Quaturo is quite an easy site to analyse because it’s fairly new, but for larger sites, I would recommend using spidering tools such as ScreamingFrog or Linkdex.

Step 2) Dump All the URLs Into Excel

So now you’ve got a list of all pages indexed in Google, and you can start to analyse this much more closely.

In this case, I’m interested in seeing the link (and social) metrics for each page, so I have downloaded a top pages report from OpenSiteExplorer:

I’ve also ordered this by page authority so you can immediately determine what your strongest content is.

Step 3) Add in Analytics for Traffic Data

By mapping the analytics traffic data alongside this information, you can start to find insightful data about your content’s performance. This example looks at segmented organic traffic to our blog this month:

I would recommend you analyse organic search traffic to your pages, but also all traffic, so you can get a feel for overall content performance, not just search. If it gets you 1,000 visits via social media, but none via search, that doesn’t mean it’s bad content; it does show there’s potential to improve, though!

Step 4) Analyse Performance by Page, Not Keywords

A common mistake many marketers still make, in my opinion, is they analyse organic performance too closely at keyword level. I would suggest you analyse it by page instead.

By analysing content performance this way, you can start to make actionable, data-driven decisions. 

The important things to analyse here are:

a) Does your content have enough quality links?

b) Is it generating enough traffic?

 If the answer to either of those questions is no, then straight away you’ve got some tasks to add into your action plan. 

Step 5) Categorise to Make Data-Driven, Actionable Decisions

Now that you’ve got a spreadsheet which includes the performance of all of your content, I would suggest setting up conditional formatting to analyse this more closely.

I normally categorise content into a three different groups. The range in numbers will depend on the traffic volume to your site:

Once you’ve got your content organised this way, you can analyse its performance more closely. By putting this into a traffic-light system to group content, you are basically classifying this as a) good content, b) under-performing content, or c) poor content. This isn’t always strictly true, but it’s a good start.

Here’s where the actionable part gets started…

Scenario 1: Poor content (red) = low volume of traffic

Here I would ask questions such as:

  • How many links does the page have?
  • Could the quality be improved?
  • Is there potential to update and promote the content to attract more links?
  • Could you repurpose this content? Maybe turn it into a video, whitepaper, ebook, interview, etc.
  • Is there a better page you could redirect this to?
  • Do you need this page at all? Maybe you should remove or noindex this from your site if it no longer serves a clear purpose.

Scenario 2: Good content (amber) = average volume of organic search traffic

My main questions here are:

  • Can you turn good content into top-performing content?
  • Is your content attracting search traffic, but without a high volume of quality links? If so, one possible action is likely to be updating/refreshing the page to attract new links and increase search traffic.
  • Have you attracted high-quality links, but your content is underperforming in terms of search traffic? In this case it could be time to revisit optimising/updating that page to target new keyword opportunities. Ensuring it’s still relevant for your main target audience of course.

Scenario 3: Great content (green) = high volume of organic search traffic

Ask these questions:

  • It’s going great, but can you improve it even further? Just because this is the top-performing content on your site doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on improving it. Quite the opposite, in fact!
  • Can you update/refresh the content? This works especially well for seasonal content. You already know your audience likes this and it ranks well in the search engines. So rather than writing a new 2012 post, update the old page and strengthen it even further.
  • Can you learn from it? It’s been successful for a reason. Your audience likes it, it’s attracted quality links/social shares, and it’s generating targeted search traffic. So perhaps you should focus on creating more content like this. Build this into your content strategy and editorial calendars.

Step 6) Calculate Your Content Performance Ratio

To help prioritise the next actions you’re going to take, use the 80/20 rule where 20% of your content will generate 80% of your traffic/links.

But the way I like to analyse this, to make it actionable, is by figuring out how much of your current content is working well for you. By categorising in a traffic light system using Excel, I find this really helps, as you can generally assume:

1)     Green = Top performing content

2)     Amber = Good content – potential to improve

3)     Red = Poor content – under-performing

Based on that, I would add up the volume of green and amber pages, and based on the total number of indexed pages, figure out the content performance ratio.

For example, if you have:

–          750 (green and amber pages) / 1,000 (indexed pages)

–          = 0.75

–          Content Performance Ratio = 3:4 (or 75%)

I find this most useful for websites that have been affected by Panda as this gives a clear indication about the scale of changes they need to make to raise the overall quality of their content.

Obviously, you want the highest volume of top-performing content possible.

Step 7) Prove the Value of Your Content

By now, you’ve done the hard bit and analysed what needs to be done. You don’t want to lose all this work now, but you still need to make sure you get buy-in from your boss/client.

If they’ve got a £10,000 marketing budget to spend, the safe route is likely to be to spend this on paid advertising, or at least a model where they can understand the potential return.

You need to prove the value. I like to do this by providing SEO comparisons to paid search. Using similar metrics such as calculating the media value of organic traffic, as though you paid for each click.

For example, the search term “content marketing” in Google AdWords has an average cost per click of £4.01 at exact-match level:

So if you generate 1,000 visits per month for that search term, you know the media value of that keyword (if you were to pay for the traffic via AdWords) would cost:

–          1,000 visits x £4.01

–          = £4,010 per month

That’s the media value you’ve created via organic search each month, for just that single keyword.

Again, why don’t you apply similar keyword rules at a content level?

Let’s say you wrote five blog posts in September, all about content marketing, and in total they generated 500 visits via organic search.

Because this will generate traffic from a wide-range of long tail keywords, it makes more sense to use the lower broad-match price of £3.57. So…

–          500 visits x £3.57

–          = £1,785 per month

That’s £1,785 worth of extra media value you generated this month alone, not to mention the incremental value you’ve added. This means you can get a value of what this is worth—£357 per post, to be precise! So if you wrote ten posts of a similar quality in October, you can get an understanding of what that’s potentially worth to you.

As a final step, I would add a media value column into your spreadsheet so you can assess what your content is currently worth. Then you can prove the value in increasing these figures if you were to focus your effort towards improving the site’s overall content performance.

Hopefully this has shown how you can analyse your content to get insightful data so you can make decisions to drive your content strategies.

It’s definitely worth spending the time and effort getting to know what type of content works on your site before rushing in head first with lots of new ideas. It sounds obvious, but it really is the first step to establishing yourself as an authority online, just by focusing on giving your audience what they want.

How do you approach your content strategy? Please share your ideas in the comments.

**Kevin Gibbons is the founder of Quaturo, a leading content marketing agency in London. Follow him on Twitter here.**

Kevin Gibbons is UK managing director of BlueGlass – he has been involved in digital marketing since 2003 and frequently speaks/writes at industry leading events and publications. Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter.

by Kevin Gibbons
  • This is an incredible post Kevin – so much detail!

    With the Google algo updates, the quality of our client’s on-site content has become a much higher priority for us in our SEO work, so the process you’ve provided above has definitely been of benefit.

    We’ve done aspects of this type of analysis in the past, but never to this degree of detail.


  • Thanks for the comments guys! Just to explain the background behind this post, I started to look at developing a content audit strategy because I got a bit bored of old-fashioned SEO audits.

    The problem was that at the end of a huge document of analysis, the outcome was too often a) you need more links, or b) you need more content. I could have told you that at the start! So why not just focus on creating great content and generating natural links instead? 🙂

  • Now only writing quality content is not enough to attain complete success, a lot more goes into making your content popular and market them. Good blog post and things were explained in simple yet effective manner.

  • What a clever and simple way to rate the own content!
    Thanks for the guide. 🙂

  • Hi Kevin, thanks for sharing this information it’s so great to see how other people carry out these tasks. Do you think it would also be good to include entrances, rather than pageviews, or does looking at pageviews give you everything you need?

    • Thanks for the comment Liz – I’d recommend looking at both entrances and pageviews.

      As with anything, a single metric alone can be misleading – but entrances would help provide a clearer idea about direct organic performance of that specific page – while pageviews would tell you more about it’s overall popularity within your audience.

      • Thanks Kevin- I’ll be putting a custom report together in Analytics to help with mapping the data together – which is likely to be the bulk of the work I feel! 🙂

    • Thanks for the advice Kevin. Have carried out the audit as specified above and the results have been rather surprising. Posts I thought would be popular aren’t, and those that were quickly put together with quick advice fixes have been most popular. Definitely a learning point on content generation! May thanks again.

      • Thanks Lee – that’s really great to see people following up and actioning this!

        Great to see there’s some interesting results in there too 🙂

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  • Kevin, great ideas! I specifically liked how you used the AdWords data to prove the value of inbound marketing. This will certainly be handy for us as a small SEO agency to persuade clients to invest more in organic rather than PPC. I’d also like to add (this is nothing new but thought might be worth mentioning) that even before we create content and then calculate the traffic and PPC value, we look at the search volume for closely related keywords that we plan to use in the article and based on the Slingshot traffic curve estimate the traffic we can get based on various positions in Google SERPs. Then we estimate our average conversion rate and come up with the $ amount that can show ROI.

    • Thanks Oleksiy – I definitely agree, you can take this one step further by predicting revenue and ROI values, as opposed to traffic volumes/media value.

      I would calculate this by multiplying an average order value with your average conversion rate – normally broken down at a category-level for e-commerce sites.

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  • Is the purpose of all pages to acquire traffic? Is more traffic always the goal?

    These are two of the greatest midunderstandings on web today.

    First – not all seo traffic is same. There is a different cost to acquire bottom of funnel traffic vs. acquiring and nurturing top of funnel traffic.

    Second – content that nurtures is often different from content that acquires – which often leads to these pages being poor at attracting traffic.

    You need to understand goals first otherwise, you are just a hammer who thinks everything is a nail.

    • Marston, the goal is to scale quality traffic that converts, (either directly or indirectly) – Michelle did a great post on this here:

      So while I based this on media spend valuations – we would often take this a step further and use revenue figures (calculated using average order value and conversion rates). That way you can get a much clearer idea about what that traffic is worth to you.

  • Truly a great approach, I agree it’s better to update an old page rather than doing a new one. I just got done doing that myself.

    • That’s great – there’s definitely some hidden gems if you look through old content. Really useful way to learn what type of content works, if nothing else.

  • Great post, Kevin! I love seeing posts with data-driven analysis. (It helps me know I’m not crazy for doing it too!) I especially love #7 on proving the value. =)

    • Thanks Angie – I think that’s often an important point that is too commonly overlooked.

      The rest of it is pointless if you can’t get anything done! 🙂

  • Thanks Michael – that’s a really interesting point. And perhaps in this case it would make a lot more sense to break this down further into reviewing authors individually.

    e.g. Who are your top authors? What is the top content they write? What content isn’t successful? etc… So that they can learn how to make a greater impact from their writing.

  • Not a bad ratio. But for sites like ours, multi-author professional trade industry news, what the author needs to know is their relative rank in terms of: pageviews, time spent, and some measure for both I call “enagement”. Then they need to know how to each measure, test, and improve.

    Here is a small, and somewhat dated, article on an alternative measure of engagment:

  • Thanks for the comments guys!

    @Mikael – when you start to work with medium-to-large sites – that’s definitely the time to start looking at tools to improve efficiencies. I just didn’t want the post to look like a tools demo 😉 There’s some great crawling tools out there though, such as Screaming Frog, Xenu Link Sleuth (it still has it’s uses!) – my preference is Linkdex (as it pulls in analytics traffic data alongside page metrics such as external/internal links). So that makes it easier to make things actionable – then you can almost have a checklist to run through; does it have enough internal links? external links? Is the content good? is it well optimised? etc…

    Monthly searches – yes definitely. For the post, this was more of a manual decision process – but when doing this at scale you’d definitely want to automate search volume into the way you filter data. I normally like to do it both ways too (setting a minimum and maximum) – e.g. if it’s above 1,000 searches a month – but less than 100,000. That way you can target keyword phrases which you can realistically rank for, saving the more competitive terms for your top, killer content!

    @Shaad – absolutely. Social metrics are great way to judge the performance/popularity of content and GA social reports is a great way of analysing this. Try using tools like too – and if you’re analysing content on a WordPress blog the Social Metrics Dashboard is really useful.

  • Great post Kevin! Love posts that make you roll up your sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty of doing actual work stuff 🙂

    In addition to what you’ve mentioned, I’d also suggest pulling reports from the ‘social’ reports in GA. The level of information is awesome, and gives you a great insight about the virality of your content by channel (and in the case of G+, by who shared it).

    Great stuff once again! 😉

  • Very interesting post Kevin and I can definitely follow the idea behind it.

    What am curious to know is how you would go about doing this for a medium site… maybe +200 pages or more?

    If you find that your Content Performance Ration is… 20% (and you weren’t hit by Panda), would you spend time evaluating/expanding/deleting each of the 80% pages?

    I would imagine that I could take forever to do.

    Also, it doesn’t look like your example takes the total available monthly searches into account. I would assume that the total number would play a vital part as well when give a red/orange/green color?


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