Website content audit: the key things you need to know

With CIPD thinking about re-designing it’s website, we started to ask ourselves, what content do we have already, what do we need or want to keep?

No one really knew what a website ‘content audit’ entailed, so I did a review of the literature out there (there’s a bibliography at the end of this post) and put together a guide for my colleagues. You may find it useful if you’re about to embark on a similar journey with your organisation’s website.

What is a content audit?

A content audit is an accounting of all currently published web content, with all the details recorded in a spreadsheet.

Karen McGrane and Melissa Rach, Content Strategy for the Web.

A content audit will tell us exactly how much content we have on A content audit falls into a number of classifications, an inventory – that is an organised list of all of the pages and the content assets (text, audio, video, images, documents – PDF, ppt, doc. etc.), and an audit – that is the content’s quantitative metrics and its qualitative values. For example the qualitative measures of a site’s content will tell us, amongst other things, how much is inaccurate, off-message (ie doesn’t align to brand and Tone of Voice guidelines), what is too wordy for mobile, and so on. Quantitative measures can tell us where the content sits, what assets we have in what formats, as well as when it was created/last updated, who the content owners are, and so on (assuming there is metadata to help with these).

To paraphrase Karen McGrane a content inventory will tell us ‘what’s there’ and the audit will tell us ‘is it any damn good?’

A content inventory tells us ‘what’s there’ and the audit tell us ‘is it any damn good?’

An audit also encompasses statistical analysis of page-level web traffic; in order that we can determine what content is high value for our visitors, what pages are people interested in visiting but bounce straight off, and what content is languishing unread (and is it unread because it can’t be found, or because its not relevant to our audience)?

Given the importance of optimising the site for mobile (see Appendix: The Mobile Network Through 2018) the content audit should also include qualitative and quantitative criteria that will enable you to evaluate the content’s appropriateness for mobile consumption and responsive site design. For example character counts of headings (quantitative) and editorial factors such as wordiness/succinctness, consistency of style (qualitative). It will help us to determine how search-engine optimised the content is, how accessible, and how usable.

A content audit will also form the basis of any content migration work from the current site to the new site, in terms of determining what is worth migrating, what can be migrated ‘as is’ and what needs re-work: updating, rewriting, re-structuring, re-tagging, etc. as well as tracking migration activities. The content audit can also help with a gap analysis; given that CIPD is undergoing large scale strategic change, and that mobile includes new capabilities (eg geo-location), what content do we not have that perhaps we should have on a new and responsive site?

The content inventory/audit also helps with the information architecture of the new site, by providing a map of what’s already there. And in the final stages of a web re-design and content migration project, the content audit forms the basis of a governance and maintenance strategy going forward.

A content audit is typically captured in an Excel spreadsheet. The audit is followed up by (and the ‘audit’ process should always include) an audit report where the micro-level findings are interpreted and communicated at a more general level.

It’s often in those deep-level pages that the content is less-than-perfect – most in need of deleting or updating.A content audit should be exhaustive. It is tempting to audit just the top-level pages, or a set of sample pages. Given that most people land on a website via a search engine, many visitors may never navigate through from the top-level hierarchy, but rather land on pages deep within the site architecture. It’s often in those deep-level pages that the content is less-than-perfect – most in need of deleting or updating. And given that the content audit forms the basis of the migration strategy, it is important to audit every page.

What can be automated, and what can’t?

The content inventory (ie the list of every page on the site) and much of the quantitative audit work can be automated.

However, the qualitative audit must be done manually.

Technology doesn’t replace the context provided by human review.

Karen McGrane, Content Strategy for the Web.

Format of a content audit

A content audit takes the form of an Excel spreadsheet, commonly with the quantitative metrics recorded in columns on the right and qualitative values recorded in columns to the left. Commonly – and most logically – the audit is organised by site structure and should include the following content valuation categories.

Quantitative categories

Some of this data may be automatically retrieved. Talk to your web administrators.

  • Unique ID – assign one to every line in the inventory
  • Site section – where it sits in the site hierarchy
  • URL
  • Page type – landing page, research report, contact page, Factsheet, etc.
  • Page title (title – text that appears at the top of the browser window; appears [in bold and underline] in search engine’s result page)
  • meta tag contents and character count (What’s displayed on the search engine’s result page is taken from the title tag, the URL and the first 150 characters in the meta name="description content=" " tag.)
  • Character/word counts for Headings h1 and other structural tags (eg body, h2)
  • Format and downloadable media assets (eg text only; podcast only; text and video; text and pdf, Word doc, ppt., etc.)
  • Source – in house, content partner, users
  • Technical home – which WCMS, fed via API?
  • Metadata, particularly related to search

And qualitatively is that metadata useful, appropriate?

  • Date created and/or last updated

And qualitatively is it still current/relevant/appropriate?

  • Expiration date assigned to the page (if any)
  • WCMS template used
  • WCMS location – for migration purposes
  • Technical constraints – any Flash or other technology that won’t work on some mobile devices?
  • Member only, open, registration required?
  • Content owner – and/or who last updated the page
  • Traffic and usage stats
    • No. of page views (page rank)
    • Date last visited
    • Bounce rates
    • Absolute unique visitors
  • Duplicate content – so as not to be competing with ourselves in search results

Qualitative categories

Qualitative factors are often categorised on a rating scale, for example poor, satisfactory, good, excellent, or 1–5, etc. Audit criteria, in particular ratings, must be articulated and agreed up front in measurement guidelines before the audit begins.

  • Mobile optimisation requirements
    • Identify content types that may require re-formatting/re-sizing for mobiles, eg tables; large images or complex infographics; columned text; lists etc.
    • Identify text that does not observe good web writing practice (eg short, simple, ‘inverted pyramid’ style, consistent and optimised headings that support ‘skimming and scanning,’ etc.) See my forthcoming blog post on Great Web Writing for details.
  • Search engine optimisation requirements – does the content (and assets, eg image file names) include keywords (and in the right places)? See my forthcoming blog posts on Great Web Writing and Search Engine Optimisation for more on this.
  • Accessibility – in order to meet the requirement of the Equality Act (2010) it is recommended that CIPD’s website meets WCAG 2.0 Priority 2 (AA). In qualitative terms this involves auditing:
    • Use of plain English
    • Support for auditory ‘skimming and scanning’ of headings and links
      Tagged foreign words, terms and definitions
    • Tables and non-text data such as infographics, bar/pie charts provided in HTML
    • Use of transcripts and closed captions for audio/video assets.
      (See my forthcoming blog post on Accessibility for more on this.)
  • ‘Actionability’ – how clear is the call to action (be it ‘buy’ or ‘share’)?
  • Audience – which customer personas does this content serve/address?
  • Business value – are there any KPIs that we might want to measure the content against?
  • Brand/Tone of Voice guide – is the content in line with the new guidelines?
  • Style guidelines – tense, punctuation, grammar, spelling, consistency of terminology, etc.

There may of course be other criteria to include; in fact the list of qualitative and quantitative evaluation criteria must be determined by the business as a whole, in line with the web requirements as well as the business’s strategic objectives.

Audit report

The spreadsheet represents the ‘deep dive’, but the findings need to be analysed, tailored and communicated to stakeholders. To that end the audit is condensed and interpreted in an audit report and/or presentation.

The audit report should comprise of three parts:

    1. Audit overview – goals, process, scope, audit categories and criteria for evaluation (particularly for qualitative measures)
    2. A path to the raw data – for those who want to see the spreadsheet, provide an explanation of how the spreadsheet works
    3. Findings
      • Summary of overall conclusions and recommendations
      • Major findings (often best communicated visually)
      • Data summaries for all categories

Category-based suggestions for improvement (with examples)

Paraphrased from Content Strategy for the Web, Karen McGrane.


  • Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailey, The Language of Content Strategy
  • Margot Bloomstein, Content Strategy at Work
  • Erin Kissane, The Elements of Content Strategy
  • Karen McGrane, Content Strategy for Mobile
  • Karen McGrane, Content Strategy for the Web
  • Sarah O’Keefe and Alan S. Pringle, Content Strategy 101

Appendix: The Mobile Network Through 2018

Research by cisco (taken from Mobile Mythbusters, Rachel Johnston and Joe Pairman of Mekon.)

Mobile data traffic will reach the following milestones within the next five years.

  • Monthly global mobile data traffic will surpass 15 exabytes by 2018.
  • The number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the world’s population by 2014.
  • The average mobile connection speed will surpass 2 Mbps by 2016.
  • Due to increased usage on smartphones, smartphones will reach 66% of mobile data traffic by 2018.
  • Global mobile data traffic will increase nearly 11-fold between 2013 and 2018.
  • Mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 61% from 2013 to 2018, reaching 15.9 exabytes per month by2018.
  • By the end of 2014, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2018 there will be nearly 1.4 mobile devices per capita. There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices by 2018, including machine-to-machine (M2M) modules—exceeding the world’s population at that time (7.6billion).
  • Mobile network connection speeds will increase two-fold by 2018. The average mobile network connection speed (1,387 Kbps in 2013) will exceed 2.5 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2018.