Mike Roberts, the Founder of SpyFu, talked about lessons learned from a down and dirty SEO content audit in the second iteration of the Master Your Marketing (MYM) series, along with his teammates Patrick and Sidra. Acquisio is participating in the Master Your Marketing Series created by Main Street ROI based out of NYC. The series features talented martech speakers like SpyFu, Convirza, Optmyzr and yours truly. The series is a way for Main Street to share actionable advice from martech experts with the industry all season long.
There is one presenter per month this Fall, the first was Main Street themselves and this month SpyFu presented, talking about content audits. SpyFu is a tool for competitive marketing insight, so content audits are not really their bread and butter. Still they awesomely wanted to share their interesting story around doing a content audit on their own website, discussing the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned during the epic two-hour webinar.
We covered this webinar for our readers, including what a content audit is and how to perform one on your own site. Of course if you want to get more in-depth with the material presented you can watch the recorded webinar presentation here.
Why Do an SEO Content Audit?
A content audit is a process for taking a look at your existing content and improving it. It’s a health checkup. In SpyFu’s case the content audit didn’t include every single page on their website. It focused on their resource center where their videos, tutorials, product releases, blogs and other types of regularly produced content lives. Content audits should be done after you’ve accumulated content on your site. SpyFu says at least once per year.
When you do a content audit, you remove “dead weight” content, in turn proving a better user experience. Google loves this! Google wants you to have all great content and not get lost on your site with thin, duplicate, improperly formatted pieces. They want to easily crawl your site for high quality content and they want to see users clicking on it. Emphasizing your high quality content and getting rid of your low quality content can help your articles to appear more often in search engine rankings. There is no way to measure how Google reads the quality of your content, so the exercise of removing low quality content is done methodically using judgement and SEO logic.
Instructions and Tools to Help Review Your Content
SpyFu started their content audit by producing their sitemap from the Yoast plugin in WordPress. Then they fed the sitemap into Screaming Frog, a tool that provides a spreadsheet of your content links. With this spreadsheet of links, they fed the results into a URL profiler by Majestic. Doing this gave SpyFu free backlink stats for every page in their resources section organized by date, which is helpful for the audit and to determine the authority of each piece of content from Google’s point of view. The last part of the setup process was to take the full dataset and drop it into a Google Sheet. With a spreadsheet of content links organized chronologically and including authority stats, the audit is ready to begin.
Step 1: Identify Technical Content Issues
Start with the oldest content. Look for technical issues first. Technical issues can affect multiple parts of the site, including:
- 404 errors
- Duplicate titles
- Missing titles
- Missing meta descriptions
- Missing H1’s or duplicate H1s
- Duplicate content or thin content (Note: This topic is addressed in detail later)
Once you’ve identified errors you’ll be tempted to fix them right away, but don’t. First just identify the errors and move on! That way you’ll have an inventory of what needs to be fixed and you’ll be able to delegate fixes with your entire team at once. Even if it’s easy, just make note of it and keep going, because chances are it will lead to something else away from the audit.
Step 2: Determine Your Cornerstone Content Per Category
Organize the content according to priority themes, like product news or even more granular like all articles on SEO audits for example. The more specific and defined your categories are the easier your audit will be.
In every category that you’ve defined, identify the strongest piece of content. Your team can probably easily identify strong pieces in each category, but then you can cross-reference with technical metrics like social engagement as well as Google. Using an in-site search command you can ask Google what are the top results for your site, helping you gauge which articles are most favourable in their eyes.
Whichever article is the strongest in the end per category will be considered your “cornerstone” content. Remember though that this piece can change – it’s your content, so if you change your mind later it’s ok. If you find that there is no piece of content worthy of being a cornerstone, just mark that, it’s ok to have uncertainty and this will help you create stronger content moving forward. In SpyFu’s case there were clear winners per category.
Step 3: Make an Inventory of Easy Cornerstone Content Improvements
Evaluate your cornerstone content and ask easy questions:
- Is it outdated?
- Can it be salvaged?
- Should it be redirected?
These are questions to start with but each piece of content could have unique issues. So make a column in your spreadsheet for notes and actions about each article. Notes could say “needs new screenshots” or “republish with winter update” etc. Remember to just catalogue the actions needed and not actually do them.
Step 4: Address Duplicate Content Across Categories
Now ask the tough questions like do you actually need more than one article about this topic? If the answer to this tough question is no, you may want to consider redirecting duplicate articles in each category to the cornerstone content or absorbing one article into another. This could create a really long article about one topic, but Google loves that. SpyFu proved it, stating that the average top content in Google has about 2400 words.
If you have a blog that isn’t bad but isn’t your best in a category of similar content, you don’t have to remove it, you can just signal to Google that it’s not that important by canonicalizing it. Canonicalization is used by SEO’s to prevent duplicate content issues, where Google sees two identical or very similar articles and doesn’t know which to rank. Canonicalization doesn’t mean that one piece gets indexed and the other doesn’t. Ultimately Google still crawls both pieces of content and makes a decision.
If the content was really similar you could even consider redirecting one article to another. With a redirect Google will index one piece of content and not the other, with a canonical tag Google can still index both but will see that one is the same as the other. The main difference between redirecting a piece of content and canonicalizing it is Google’s ability to index the content.
A good case for canonicalization would be like a Digital Marketing Predictions 2016 and Digital Marketing Predictions 2017 articles for example. You would want to canonicalize the 2016 to the 2017 version or the most recent version in any case. That means adding a rel=canonical tag to the coding or using the Yoast plugin in WordPress to tell Google you have two similar pieces of content and you suggest one over the other.
Ok time for a quick recap!
Currently your spreadsheet has:
- Notes for any technical errors per article
- Your list of categorized content with cornerstone pieces highlighted
- Flags for any old content that needs to be updated
- Flags for any content that should be redirected
- Flags for any duplicate or thin content that should be canonicalized
Step 5: Time to Do the Work
Your spreadsheet is really handy to filter and work through all the content audit recommendations. You can use filtered views for team members to have a custom version of the same spreadsheet when delegating tasks out. Implementing all of the recommendations above will clean up your content and optimize your site map.
Once you’ve cleaned up your content you can tell Google you did so through Google Search Console. Use Google Search Console to determine how many pages have been submitted versus how many have been indexed. In SpyFu’s case only some of their content was being indexed. So in doing the fixes above, they were essentially pruning their sitemap, aiming to increase the number of pages being indexed. Having all your site’s pages indexed increases the credibility of your sitemap to Google. Note that you don’t have to submit your sitemap to Google, but it’s a good idea with quick results for better performing content in search engines.
Once your content audit for existing content is complete, you’ll want to ensure you’re creating high quality content moving forward. You can give all future content an SEO edge by doing some keyword research to direct and inspire new content moving forward. Keyword research helps to determine the best top-level keywords for your industry. Use the keyword groups to determine topic areas to focus on in each content category. While it won’t work for every article, try to use keywords whenever possible.
Meta descriptions can also be useful for SEO indirectly because they help drive click through rates on your content. While Google doesn’t use meta descriptions as a ranking factor, these handy content summaries that appear in the SERPs make people more likely to click on your content. Since click through rate is a ranking signal to Google, meta descriptions are indirectly helpful for SEO. Note that if you don’t provide a meta description or if you provide a bad one (like one stuffed with keywords) Google can override and display a different meta description. SpyFu observed that Google can allow more characters when they generate their own meta description for your content than when they accept yours in the SERP – in a way giving their meta descriptions an unfair advantage. In the screenshot from the webinar below, Google’s meta description is shown for a piece of content allowing 279 characters, while the one SpyFu wrote that Google accepted below was only allowed to show 139 characters.
The Yoast tool in WordPress is really helpful to score how well you optimized your content for search engines, including helpful suggestions and guidelines to improve each piece like keywords and meta descriptions.
- Find the right keywords to focus on moving forward. (If Yoast tells you in a new article that you’ve already used that keyword, go back and redirect, canonicalize or combine past articles targeting the same keyword).
- In the previous section, you flagged past content missing important SEO elements like H1s or meta descriptions. You want to make sure you’re including these elements in all existing content and new content moving forward.
- Write and create longer articles by combining similar ones. You can also consider redirecting or canonicalizing it.
- Include all your best practices moving forward
- Remember to work with a team for all of this activity
- Update outdated content, including screenshots! If the content is still relevant you can check to make sure the links etc. are still working and relevant and then you could refresh the date.
- Include video transcripts for video content and use cross links in your content to both internal and external articles.
- While A/B testing is good practice, it doesn’t work well for content, meta descriptions or really any SEO elements.
- Make improvements everyday
- Give yourself milestones for each section, it can be tedious, so work through it in chunks
- If you’re one person or don’t have a team to work through these issues, schedule a meeting for yourself to prioritize your own growth
- SpyFu Kombat and SpyFu Recon
- Google Sheets
- Yoast plugin in WordPress
- Google Search Console
- SEM Rush
- Screaming Frog
If you’d like to hear more from the Master Your Marketing Series, including Convirza’s presentation next month and Acquisio’s in November, go to Main Street ROI’s Master Your Marketing page.
Feature Image: Unsplash/Galymzhan Abdugalimov
Image 1: Screenshot by Chandal Nolasco da Silva. Taken September 2017 from YouTube.