I want you to think of your website as a garden. When you first plant a garden, everything is neat and tidy. There are no weeds and your flowers attract a steady stream of both butterflies and passers-by. But if you fail to attend to this garden, never pulling the weeds, never watering or feeding your perennials, then chaos will soon reign. The weeds will take over, the blossoms that once flourished will hang dead on their stems, and the only attention you'll get is from your homeowners’ association.
This is what happens to websites; good content, even new content, doesn't get the attention it deserves because of all the outdated, keyword-stuffed, weedy content languishing on the site.
A few weeks ago our very own SEO and content experts performed a content audit on our website and found pages upon pages of old content. Neglected for too long, with zero page views, this content was cluttering up the site and affecting its performance: bogging down the crawlers and load times. We knew we needed to take action, so we either pulled the offending content and tossed it into the compost bin or, if it was deemed savable, dead headed, fertilized and watered the pieces, thereby putting them in their proper place—directly in front of prospective clients.
I firmly believe that you should do the same. Google likes it when you clean up your site and update old content. Its content crawlers recognize that you are working to meet the ever-changing needs of your audience, and if you update in a meaningful way, Google will reward you handsomely.
Your Step-By-Step Content Audit Guide
The following guide will show you exactly how we performed our content audit, walking you through the process step-by-step. I hope that you take the time to perform the audit—yes, I know how busy you are, but trust me, it’s well worth the time spent—so that you can see exactly how much content has been slowing down your site and negatively impacting user experience.
Step 1. Copy an XML sitemap into an Excel document.
To get your website’s sitemap, go to http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml. When you enter your information, it will provide you with all the pages from your site. When you paste this information into your spreadsheet, be sure to right click and select "match destination formatting". This will make sure no formatting from the sitemap is transferred into Excel. Once you have pasted this xml sitemap you will notice a lot of code that you will want to remove. All you have to do to separate all the page URLs from the code is highlight all the information, go to "Sort & Filter" and select "Sort Z to A".
Step 2. In Google Analytics, download all the pages that have received visits over a specific period of time.
Your timeframe will depend on what you want to audit, but in general we suggest pulling pages from six months to one year.
To download the pages that have been visited, go to Google Analytics > Acquisition > Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Pull the list from “All Pages,” rather than. “Landing Pages.” This will give you a list of all pages on the site that have been viewed, and not just the pages through which visitors have entered.
Export the list in CSV(comma-separated values) format and keep the following fields: page views, average visit duration, entrances, bounce rate, and exit rate.
Step 3. In your Excel document, add the pages downloaded from Google Analytics that have received visits.
Step 4. Compare the lists and note which pages are present on both lists—the sitemap and Google Analytics.
Step 5. Take the pages from the sitemap list which are not duplicated on both lists. These are the pages on your site which have not been viewed.
Step 6. Take a look at the pages that have not been viewed and decide whether to update or remove.
To Update or Remove? That Is the Question
While it may be tempting to delete every piece of content that hasn’t been viewed in many moons, deleting content on your site is not a decision to be entered into lightly. Google rewards websites for updating old content, especially when the revamped content is rich and answers the questions people are asking.
To decide which pages to update and which to remove, ask yourself the following questions about each unviewed piece:
- Is the content relevant?
- Does it make sense?
- Is it in line with my overall site focus?
- Is it basically okay, but stuffed with keywords or over-optimized?
- Is it too short?
- Are there multiple, unviewed pieces about the same topic? (If so, pull the most relevant content from each page and create one detailed piece.)
If Your Answer Was Yes...
If a piece gets a YES to even one of these questions, it’s a good idea to go ahead and update the content piece in question. To make each piece count, you have to update your content thoughtfully and carefully, with your ideal client, patient or customer in mind during the entire process.
We'll consider the steps we use to update the old content we deem worthy of saving. First, look at your title tag and meta description. If it looks unnatural or boring (example: “Dallas Accident Attorney | Broken Leg Car Accident”), fix it. Pro tip: Think like your ideal client and be sure that your title, meta description, and headline catch the eye of the searcher and promise useful information.
Now move on to your body copy: the meat of the piece.
Identify and fix all spelling and grammar errors. Pro tip: For the best results, hire a professional copy editor to proofread your content.
Remove any unnatural or repeated keywords. Pro tip: Think in synonyms when strategically placing a few, natural keywords. Alternate attorney with lawyer, foot doctor with podiatrist, etc.
Revamp your piece to ensure that it thoroughly answers the question on the reader's mind. Your body copy must correspond with your title and meta description, or it will drive readers away before they get past the first sentence. You have to deliver what your title and meta description promise. Pro tip: Do not hold yourself to a certain word count. The longer, more in-depth, and informative your content is, the better it will perform. Google wants to give its users the best answers possible, so make your answer better than the other guy's.
Edit again! Because you just can't be too careful when it comes to your content.
Share it! There are many factors that could have caused your content to perform poorly, so give it another go by promoting revamped pieces on social media and your email newsletters. Pro tip: While you’re sharing the new content love, don’t forget to tell Google. By resubmitting your reworked pieces to Google Index you’ll have a better chance of being rewarded for your efforts.
Next, you’ll need to track engagement. If your content still isn’t attracting attention you may need to refine your approach. Perhaps your audience doesn’t care about the topic of the piece. If not, you’ll need to decide if you should remove the piece, or if you will rework it once again.
If You Delete, Delete With Caution
If you’ve decided to go ahead and delete pages—pages that can’t or shouldn’t be saved—great! Slashing weedy content will help your site’s ranking, as long as you properly execute a “301 redirect.” If you don’t know what this means or how to do it, you should ask your webmaster. Any webmaster worth his salt should be able to easily perform a 301 or 302 redirect.
Performing a 301 redirect is important, because without one, anyone who visits the deleted page will run into a dreaded "404 error" page. A dead end page like this not only frustrates the reader’s experience, it appears unprofessional and sends the wrong signal to Google. And don't be tempted to skip this step, even if the page hasn't ever been viewed. Don’t take a chance! Redirect properly!
But where to redirect? Whatever you do, don’t redirect to your homepage. Google doesn’t like this and neither will anyone who gets directed to your homepage when what he wanted was specific information on his rights to deny a breathalyzer test—or whatever search term they used.
Instead, when you redirect, send the reader to a page that relates as closely as possible to the deleted article. Use this guide to pick the best possible page for your redirect:
- First choice: Redirect to a relevant, related page.
- Second choice: Redirect to a relevant practice area page.
- Third choice: Redirect to an associated overview page.
Keeping the Weeds at Bay
We suggest that you repeat this process quarterly. If you don't mow the grass and pull weeds regularly, it will take you days to get your yard under control. But if you are diligent and take the time to weed and feed on a regular basis, the process will be quick and painless. The same is true for your website.
We hope that this information will help you spring clean the content on your site. To learn more about the hows and whys of content audits, listen to our webinar, The Importance of Content Audits and How to Do Them Well, or call Foster Web Marketing at 888-821-6914.