Your site visitors (and the footprints they leave in your data) can say a lot about the content you should create. Here’s how we use data to glean insights.
By Caleb Malik
When you first start developing content, you may have to do some guesswork. Will my site visitors find infographics useful, or will they skip right over them? What’s the appropriate length for articles? What topics will resonate most with readers?
As you publish content and earn ever-increasing site visitors, you can begin to gather data on user behavior and use it to make conscious decisions about the content you create going forward. Not only that, but completing an audit can help you see your content through a broader lens. When you step back from each individual piece of content and see the greater body of work, you can identify content gaps that need filled, and detect opportunities to improve on previous content.
Here’s the process we recommend for auditing content.
1. Gather the necessary data.
You’ll want to start by pulling data from several different sources. First, you’ll want to go to Google Analytics. Set the timeframe to include at least the last year, then navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. From here, you should download a full list of your URLs with their corresponding KPIs.
You also should crawl your site with an SEO spider like Screaming Frog. This process will provide page URLs, along with their corresponding page titles, meta descriptions, content length and more.
Further, we recommend you use Google Search Console to download a full list of URLs with their corresponding organic clicks, impressions, CTR and average position.
Completing an audit can help you see your content through a broader lens. When you step back from each individual piece of content and see the greater body of work, you can identify content gaps that need filled, and detect opportunities to improve on previous content.
2. Define what performance means for you.
At the end of your content audit, you should have a clear understanding of why some content performs well, while other pieces don’t.
Often, “best-performing” content is content that gets the most pageviews, but that’s not always the case. If you’ve set up goals in Google Analytics, you may define top performing content as that which drives the most goal completions. Or maybe it’s the content that most effectively drives traffic to your product or service pages. Defining performance is going to be different from organization to organization.
A pitfall to avoid: Don’t put too much faith into bounce rate and time on site if you haven’t configured your Google Analytics account to capture this data more accurately. The out-of-the-box Google Analytics set up is notoriously inaccurate on these metrics, and even a configured account isn’t completely perfect.
3. Group best- and worst-performing content.
When grouping content, your goal is to find a sampling of your best- and worst-performing content to compare. This step is particularly important if you have a large body of content to analyze — you’d be buried for months if you tried to read, thematize and compare the metrics of what could be thousands of pages.
To illustrate, let’s say that you’re defining performance by pageviews. We’d recommend you start by identifying pages with a higher than average number of pageviews. In doing so, be careful not to let outliers skew your average (e.g., if an article has three times more pageviews than any other, don’t include it in your calculation to find the average).
Also, pageviews can be skewed by paid media dollars, which creates a problem — even a weak piece of content can get a lot of pageviews if you put enough dollars behind it. If you use paid media to drive traffic, you’ll want to account for this intervening variable.
One way to do this is to take the data you pulled from Google Search Console and cross-reference pages that perform best organically against your list of articles that have a higher than average number of pageviews. In doing so, you may find pages that are high in overall pageviews, but that drive little organic traffic. These articles should be viewed with skepticism and may need to be removed from your list of top performers.
Once you have your list of top performing pages, pull an equal number of pages that are your worst performing.
4. Compare best- and worst-performing content.
In this phase of the audit, your goal is to identify the differences between your best performing and worst performing content.
To illustrate, a healthcare organization might group content into categories like cardiology, neurology and emergency medicine. With these broad categories developed, this organization might want to drill down into subcategories. Cardiology, for example, might consist of subcategories like cardiovascular exercise and heart surgeries.
Having developed these subcategories, it might become clear that cardiology content appears more than any other theme in the top-performing content list, but 90% of the cardiology content is about exercise to cardiovascular health. This would be an incredibly useful insight for future content development.
Organize by content type. Certain content types will outperform others, so it’s crucial to go through your best- and worst-performing content to compare how content types — listicles, Q&As, posts, infographics and the like — are distributed across the two groups.
For example, you might find that quizzes appear three times more often in your best-performing content than in your worst performing content. Likewise, you might find that infographics perform poorly on their own, but when combined with a standard blog article, the two together outperform either type of content on their own. Findings like these will help you direct your efforts toward creating content that is most likely to perform and may guide you to reorganize old content more effectively.
Build additional hypotheses. The two steps above should always be taken when completing a content audit — but don’t stop there. An audit is a great time to answer questions related to content development. For example, during past content audits we’ve tested factors like content length and content age to determine if these factors impact performance. Consider how variations in your content might impact performance and additional hypotheses should emerge.
Identifying Content Gaps and Critical Errors
While a content audit is primarily focused on learning what works so you can replicate that success, it’s also an opportunity to recognize errors you’ve made. During your review, you may realize that many of your pages don’t have meta descriptions, or that you’ve written multiple articles that cover the same topic, or that you’ve allocated a large percentage of content development to one audience while ignoring another. These issues may go overlooked during monthly content planning, but if you’re critical during your content audit, they should be easily identified.
The Outcome of Your Content Audit
When you’re done analyzing, you should have key takeaways that inform content development going forward. You should know what topics perform best, which formats are most effective, where you have content gaps and so much more. With this data, you can make informed decisions about content strategy and ensure that content has the greatest impact on business results.