If you’ve been producing content for a while, I’ve got an unpleasant truth for you: some of it isn’t good. But don’t worry: a full audit and some content clusters can make it better. Find out how in this comprehensive article.
- Is your content working?
- The content mud gun
- What does the result look like?
- What is a content audit?
- How do you perform a content audit?
- Filter your data
- Create broad topics
- Play keep, merge, delete
- What are content clusters?
- How to build content clusters
- Time to pour yourself a cold one?
Is your content working?
This article is for anyone who’s been producing content for a while. You’ve likely created some well-written, informative and entertaining pieces. You may be very fond of it. Maybe some of your customers like it too.
But there are some pieces that don’t perform as well as they should (no-one reads the article explaining how to use your software), and some pieces that perform better than they ought to (why does that blog about Christmas opening hours get so much traffic?).
Your content isn’t working for you. Not the way it should, anyway. I’m here to tell you that it’s not your fault. You’re just another victim of the content mud gun.
The content mud gun
The content mud gun is a marketing tool used by everyone since the glorious days of the Internet. Content is king, or so the philosophy went, so more content meant you were a king.
It went like this:
“Hey, I’ve got a good idea for a blog!”
“Hey, I’ve had another good idea!”
“Write that too.”
“Hey, what about a list of my favourite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes?”
“Write that too. Content is king!”
The content mud gun launched content at the wall to see what stuck. But this approach can lead to irrelevant, duplicate, and competing content that confuses both person and search engine.
A content strategy can change all of that. And the first step in any great content strategy is to clean up that wall.
So let’s get to work.
Here’s what you can do to make your content the best it can be:
- A content audit
- Build content clusters
- Identify gaps
- Update, merge, delete, and create to fill the gaps and build content journeys
What does the result look like?
There’s no point in doing anything if you don’t like the end result, right? Well this process will change that muddy wall into a thing of beauty.
Doing a full content review will help you to update your content so that people can find it, enjoy it, and eventually make a purchase from you, as well as getting rid of anything that’s gumming up the works.
This means that your potential customers aren’t trying to hop from mud splat to mud splat, trying to find the content they need in order to decide if your brand is right for them. Instead, you’ll have drawn them a map that leads them right to where they, and you, want them to be: Conversion Land.
So let’s get this party started with a comprehensive content audit.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is a thorough review of the content on your website. It helps you identify which content is working well and what needs improvement.
You start by doing something called a crawl of your website. This mimics the way search engines like Google examine your site: a crawl identifies every page, post, image, and any other files along with all the data that goes along with them.
This can be a pretty daunting list, but don’t worry; I’ll walk you through it.
How do you perform a content audit?
First let’s start with the tool we’re going to use:
- software to crawl your site: I recommend Screaming Frog SEO Spider
- software to work through the data: you could use Excel, but I prefer Airtable
- Google Analytics and Search Console accounts for visitor data
- backlink data; I use Majestic
Screaming Frog is free to use up to 500 results; after that, you’ll need to sign up to their paid plan, which is currently £149 a year. That’s worth it.
Majestic is another paid service that currently starts from £39.99 a month. This, again, is worth it. You want to make sure you preserve any backlinks your content has earned; these backlinks are an important boost to your visibility. And if budget is limited, you can always cancel it after the first month.
And Airtable, Google Analytics, and Search Console are all free.
Run a crawl of your site
I won’t lie to you, Screaming Frog is a complex tool. It can be easy to get lost in all the configuration options. There’s a comprehensive user guide online, but here’s how I run a basic crawl:
- Start by connecting your APIs in the pane on the right. That’s Google Analytics, Search Console, Majestic.
- Google will ask you to put a date range on its data; I go for the previous 12 months.
- Go to “Configure” and select “Spider”.
- If you want to pull in extra details such as category or author information, jump ahead to the “Custom extraction” section.
- When you’re ready, put your URL in the search bar and hit “Crawl”.
- Sit back and have a well-deserved cup of tea while you wait!
- Once your crawl is finished, export it to CSV.
Categories and authors – custom extraction
This is an advanced feature of Screaming Frog that is super useful.
Getting category and author details for your content helps you figure out things like whether your categories need adjusting or which authors are getting the most traffic. Here’s how to do it:
Visit one of your blog articles in Google Chrome, find the author name, right-click on it and select “Inspect Element”.
The following steps vary depending on how the website is built, so a little improvisation may be required. But here are a few ways to do this. Select the line containing something like “author-name” and:
- Select “Copy” and then “Copy XPath”.
- Go to “Configuration” in Screaming Frog and then “Extraction”.
- Choose “XPath” and paste in the copied code.
- Rename the field on the left “Author”.
- Select “Extract Text” on the right.
Alternatively, select “Copy Selector” in step 1, and CSSPath in step 3.
Follow the same steps for the category information too.
Get your social data
Social shares are an important piece of data, so it’s worth including them in your audit. But where do you get that information? Personally, I get it from Buzzsumo’s Content Analyser.
Put your domain into the analyser, run the report, and export it to CSV. Import the Buzzsumo spreadsheet into a new tab in the audit CSV file, then use VLOOKUP to incorporate the data into your audit data.
Import your data into Airtable
Excel fanatics might be throwing holy water at their screen right now, but the truth is that Excel is too overpowered for what we’re trying to do.
Airtable, on the other hand, is great at grouping, labelling, and filtering records along with an easy-to-follow comment trail. In short, Airtable is great for organising content. So open Airtable and import your audit CSV.
Now that you’ve got your audit info in Airtable, it’s time to dig into the data.
Filter your data
You’ve probably noticed that Screaming Frog has generated a lot of data. Don’t panic; we don’t need all of it.
In fact, we’re going to hide all the columns except:
- Status code (so you can see if there’s any missing content)
- Title 1 (so you can see the headline and see the topic at a glance)
- Meta Description 1 (to see if this matches or, worse, is missing)
- Word count (to identify any thin content)
- Crawl depth (if the content is too buried)
- Last modified (how out-of-date the content is)
- GA Sessions (how much traffic it gets)
- GA % New Sessions (how many new visitors to the site the content gets)
- GA Bounce Rate (how many people do not go on to view more content)
- GA Page Views Per Session (how many pages a user visits after landing on this piece of content)
- GA Avg Session Duration (how long does a user stay on the site)
- Clicks (how many people click on it in the search results)
- Impressions (how many people saw it in the search results)
- CTR (click through rate)
- # Position (where does it appear in the search results)
- Majestic External Backlinks (how many backlinks does it have)
This leaves you with just the data you need. It might seem a lot still, but you’ll find it all useful. But, before you start digging into it, you need to add some more data. Yes, more!
Create broad topics
You need to collect your content into topic buckets. If your categorisation is on point, you might be able to use this. If it needs work, don’t worry. Simply create a new Single Select column in Airtable. Then start reviewing the H1 column and assign a broad topic to each piece.
And when I say broad, I mean broad. At this point, we hoping to have no more than roughly half a dozen topics. That’s not many, but we’ll drill down into more niche topics further down the process. Right now, we just need big buckets to pop out content into.
Once that’s complete, it’s time to play the content version of kiss, marry, kill: keep, merge, or delete.
Play keep, merge, delete
Create a new column in Airtable with four options: keep, update, merge, delete. Update each record based on the below.
Which content to keep
Content to keep will feature:
- high number of visits
- high number of pages per view
Once you’ve identified a piece of content to keep, consider if it needs updating. Updating old content ensures your valuable content remains valuable. You can update old content with new developments, or even just refresh it with some new content.
If you update a piece of content, be sure to change the publish date. If a reader is looking for up-to-date information and sees your piece was published in 2012, they won’t even bother to look at it!
Which content to merge
This is where those topics we created earlier come into play. Because, when it comes to figuring out which content to merge, the biggest candidates will be pieces with a low word count that covers the same or similar topic as another, more popular piece of content.
You may also want to consider merging pieces of content that address specific aspects of a topic and have decent figures, but that could be combined into a single ultimate piece that would perform even better.
Which content to delete
Don’t be afraid. The simple truth is that some of your content is doing you any good. You might think, “what’s the harm in keeping it” and the harm is that, at best, it’s using up your crawl budget. At worst, it’s actively damaging your brand.
Content to delete will feature terrible figures for visits, no backlinks, and can’t be easily merged with other content.
You should also delete content with low relevance to your brand. It doesn’t matter how much you like Pokemon trading cards, a blog about them doesn’t belong on the website for your chic restaurant.
Watch out for 404s
A note when merging or deleting: always remember your redirects! Don’t just leave a 404 error for a user to find. Instead, redirect the old URL to the new merged content, or the deleted page to something relevant.
If there’s nothing relevant to redirect to, at least redesign your 404 page to show a list of popular articles on your site or something similar. A standard 404 makes for a poor user experience. A well-designed 404 shows that you think about your customers’ experience even when it comes to error messages.
A customised 404 also boosts the chances the user will select a different piece of your content to consume, rather than being put off by the error and going elsewhere.
Now you’ve marked your content with keep, update, merge, or delete markers, it’s time to figure out how it’s working together.
It’s time to build content clusters.
What are content clusters?
Content clusters are pieces of related content grouped together to make it easier for both people and search engines to find and understand them.
Not, as you may have thought, a type of breakfast cereal.
Clustering your content is a great way to not only make your content easy to find, but it also helps you identify any gaps in your content offering and makes sure your delivering quality content journeys for your customers.
Here, let me show you.
How to build content clusters
Before we begin, a note on categories. If your categorisation game has been on point, this will give you a head start on the clustering process; you can skip at least step one, if not more. But, if you have the time, it’s worth reviewing your categories anyway. It’s so easy for mistakes to be made; duplicate categories, categories with only one post, or even empty categories can all occur with ease.
Right, let’s get to it.
Revisit those topics
Remember those topics we created earlier? It’s time to start drilling down from broad to niche. Group your content by topic and create a new Single Select column. Call this Cluster, and start determining specific, niche topics for your content.
Don’t get too specific, of course. The idea is that a cluster incorporates a grouping of content on a particular topic that is more niche than a category.
For instance, a category for Apple would be “iPhone”, a cluster might be “iPhone photography”. There’s scope for a number of articles about iPhone photography, but it’s a niche topic that sits under the broader category.
If you could only reasonably write one article on the topic, it’s too specific. A cluster includes pieces of content that cover all angles of a topic. For example, “iPhone photography accessories” isn’t broad enough to support more than one piece of content, so it isn’t a cluster.
Depending on how much content you have, you may need to repeat this step once or even twice. For instance, you may find you’ve got loads of content about iPhone photography that you can further subdivide into smaller clusters such as “iPhone night photography”, “iPhone advanced photography”, and “iPhone photography for beginners”.
Identify the pillars and the clusters
Now that you’ve discovered your niche topics, it’s time to choose a pillar. Content clusters consist of a central pillar piece and a number of small cluster pieces.
A pillar is usually a larger piece, often an encompassing overview of the topic, while cluster pieces support the pillar by going into more detail on specific points.
Sticking with our iPhone example, you might have found three pieces in the iPhone photography for beginners cluster: “The Ultimate Guide to iPhone Photography for Beginners”, “Best iPhone Photography Accessories for Beginners”, “Top iPhone Photography Apps for Beginners”, and “How to Easily Make Your iPhone Photos Look Great Without Expensive Software”.
The “Ultimate Guide” is the perfect pillar; it will encompass the entire topic in broad strokes, but the nitty gritty of certain niches (like accessories) can be covered off in a cluster without bogging down the pillar.
Mind the gaps
In building these clusters, you might have spotted that some clusters don’t have much content within them. Alternatively, there might be enough content, but there’s a glaring omission: perhaps you haven’t written that “Top iPhone Photography Apps for Beginners” piece.
This is one of the key benefits of a content audit. When you’re examining your existing content like this, fantastic opportunities just jump out at you!
Make a list of content pieces that should be in these clusters but aren’t, and decide on their priorities based on their value to your business, then work them into your content strategy.
Build the links
The way that both users and search engines find related content is via hyperlinks. If a cluster piece doesn’t link to its pillar (or vice versa) no-one knows the related is there.
Update your content to include natural links between cluster and pillar piece. As a rule of thumb, these links should go from one cluster to the pillar and perhaps back again.
If you want to link one cluster to another, ask yourself if the two clusters shouldn’t be one. After all, a cluster is meant to be an in-depth facet of the pillar. If there lots of links between two clusters, perhaps you’ve actually written two pieces about the same facet?
For example, if you’re writing about iPhone photography software and keep wanting to link to your piece about iPhone photography apps, perhaps you should combine the two pieces into an ‘apps and software’ piece. After all, apps and software are pretty similar!
If those links exist, it’s time to review them. If they don’t, it’s time to create them! Edit your pillars and clusters to include natural links to each other. These links are vital for the user experience and to tell search engines that these pieces of content are clustered!
Time to pour yourself a cold one?
You’re finished! For now…
Just like a content audit isn’t a one-off job, so this kind of clustering exercise should be done on a regular basis. This keeps your content well-organised for both people and search engines; the two entities you want to keep happy to enjoy success.
The other thing to bear in mind is that a content cluster is nice, but it’s not enough to have nice content. It needs to have a purpose. All of your newly updated, merged, and clustered content should ultimately be pointing users towards a conversion destination – somewhere the user can sign up, follow, make a purchase, however your organisation keeps the lights on.
You can find out more about conversion destinations, content journeys, and the point of content in my article about content strategies and why you need one.